Updated: Apr 27
The 2022 NFL Draft heads to the bright lights of Las Vegas this Thursday. Like any would-be high roller heading for the gambling capital of the world, thirty-two NFL teams are about to place their bets on the finest talent emerging from the college football ranks to be the future of their franchise. "Leaving Las Vegas" after the weekend, who will have hit the jackpot or could "The Hangover" be a more fitting epitaph for the teams who don't improve their teams with their available picks?
Off Season Trades Stir Up The Draft Order
Aaron Rodgers stays in Green Bay for another three years, making him the highest paid player in the NFL, but the Packers lost a key part of their offense. Davante Adams headed for Sin City to join his former college quarterback team mate Derek Carr in Las Vegas, signing a five year contract worth $141.25million. Green Bay received the Raiders' first and second round picks this year (nos. 22 & 53) in exchange and have five picks in the first 92 players available.
Tyreek Hill was the other big name receiver to move in the off season, leaving the Chiefs for an ambitious project and big pay cheque in Miami. Kansas City received five draft picks, including the Dolphins' first-rounder this year.
Last season, Matthew Stafford's trade from Detroit took the Rams to a Super Bowl win. As a result, a run on quarterback moves unsurprisingly dominated off-season conversation as title contenders looked for the missing piece to their championship puzzle. Tom Brady's heralded retirement lasted a mere six weeks before he returned to chase another Super Bowl in Tampa Bay. Two potential future Hall of Fame quarterbacks, Russell Wilson and Deshaun Watson, left Seattle and Houston to chase titles in Denver and Cleveland respectively. Watson's arrival at the Browns puts Baker Mayfield's career in a precarious situation. The No.1 overall pick in 2018 has asked for a trade and is currently weighing up his options.
Aware of a comparatively weaker quarterback class coming out of college this year, NFL general managers have been snapping up experienced talent available rather than take a punt on a lesser pool of talent coming out of college. The Carson Wentz experiment in Indianapolis lasted precisely one season after which Frank Reich jettisoned his former Eagles QB to Washington. The Colts snapped up Matt Ryan from Atlanta as his replacement. Ryan's spot at the Falcons was filled by Raiders backup Marcus Mariota. Former No.2 overall pick Mitchell Trubisky was picked up by the Steelers who have a Ben Roethlisberger-sized gap to fill.
Weak Quarterback Class
Five quarterbacks were taken in the top fifteen picks of the 2021 Draft, a run unlikely to be repeated in 2022. The leading quarterbacks in college football, Ohio State's CJ Stroud, Alabama's Bryce Young and Oklahoma transfer to USC, Caleb Williams, all remain in college football this year. There is no Trevor Lawrence emerging this year as the consensus No.1.
There are, however, some promising signal callers available. Liberty's Malik Willis, an electric dual threat quarterback, and Pitt's Kenny Pickett, a four-year starter in college who broke Dan Marino's school record for touchdown passes, are likely to be the top two passers taken. Look for Carolina at No.6, Atlanta at No.8 or Seattle at No.9 to call either player's name. Cincinnati's Desmond Ridder, Matt Corral from Ole Miss and North Carolina's Sam Howell all have a chance of being picked in the first round. Pittsburgh at No.20 and Detroit, with their second first round pick at No.32, could provide new homes for any of these three quarterbacks.
Great Receiver Class
While Davante Adams and Tyreek Hill were snapped up, Julio Jones and former LSU and Browns team mates Odell Beckham Jr and Jarvis Landry are amongst some top receiving free agent talent still available. The sheer depth of pass catching talent available in the 2022 Draft means a number of teams are holding on to see who they can pick up.
Ohio State's Garrett Wilson and USC's Drake London are likely to be the first two receivers taken. Alabama's Jameson Williams, who tore his ACL in the National Championship Game, and Wilson's Buckeye team mate Chris Olave have potential to be top-fifteen picks with Philadelphia, New Orleans and Washington in the mix to grab one of them. Penn State's Jahan Dotson and Treylon Burks of Arkansas could be targets for New England and Green Bay at No.21 and 22 while North Dakota State's Christian Watson could sneak into the first round. Kansas City, picking at No.29 and No.30, has the draft capital to trade up for a top receiver to replace Tyreek Hill. National finalists George Pickens of Georgia and John Metchie III of Alabama will be value picks in rounds 2 and 3.
Anyone who's watched The Blind Side knows the value of an excellent left tackle. While receivers, quarterbacks, running backs get the headlines, football games are often won and lost in the trenches. It's not inconceivable that six of the top ten picks in this year's Draft could be offensive or defensive linemen.
Georgia's Travon Walker and Michigan's Aidan Hutchinson, both disruptive defensive specialists, appear to be the favourites to be taken with the first overall pick. Ikem Ekwonu, the huge left tackle from North Carolina State and Alabama's Evan Neal are also possible picks at No.1 for the Jacksonville Jaguars, who are playing their cards close to their chest. The bookies in Vegas will love the mystery surrounding the Jaguars' intended top pick. They would have lost a lot of money on Trevor Lawrence last year. Oregon's Kayvon Thibodeaux, David Ojabo of Michigan, originally from Nigeria via Scotland, who suffered an awfully timed torn achilles in a pre-Draft workout and Mississippi State's left tackle Charles Cross are potential top 20 picks. Ojabo's injury could see him slide into Round 2 where he would represent excellent value as a premium pass rushing talent.
Other Names To Look Out For
Cornerback is an increasingly needy position for teams trying to shut down superstar receivers in today's pass-heavy NFL. Derek Stingley Jr from LSU and Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner from Cinderella team Cincinnati are the two standout corners in the draft and could go in the top 10. Gardner leaves college football with the astonishing stat of having never conceded a touchdown in his entire college career, over 1,100 seperate plays. On pure talent alone, safety Kyle Hamilton of Notre Dame is many people's choice as the best player in the 2022 Draft. Unfortunately for him, safety is not seen as high a positional need as offensive or defensive lineman, or quarterback. One team picking him in the top 10 will have themselves an absolute steal.
Among the lesser heralded players is Northern Iowa's left tackle Trevor Penning. At 6'7 and 330lbs, he has a taste for violence in the trenches and was throwing around defensive linemen from much bigger schools around for fun in Senior Bowl workouts. Look for him to be taken late in the first round.
Running backs Breece Hall and Kenneth Walker III of Iowa State and Michigan State will be the top two of this position taken. Running backs are rarely taken high in the first round these days. They tend to be taken early in the second, teams being mindful of a typically short playing career.
The NFL Draft 2022 First Round Order:
New York Jets
New York Giants
New York Giants (from Chicago Bears)
Seattle Seahawks (from Denver Broncos)
New York Jets (from Seattle Seahawks)
Houston Texans (from Cleveland Browns)
Philadelphia Eagles (from Miami Dolphins)
New Orleans Saints (from Indianapolis Colts through Philadelphia Eagles)
Los Angeles Chargers
Philadelphia Eagles (from New Orleans Saints)
New Orleans Saints (from Philadelphia Eagles)
New England Patriots
Green Bay Packers (from Las Vegas Raiders)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Green Bay Packers
Kansas City Chiefs (from San Francisco 49ers through Miami Dolphins)
Kansas City Chiefs
Detroit Lions (from Los Angeles Rams)
Who Will Go No.1?
Of all the names floated as possible top picks, and in a class loaded with defensive talent, I think Jacksonville will prioritise protecting their franchise quarterback and last year's No.1 overall pick, Trevor Lawrence. Without a clear favourite as top pick, my money is on the Jaguars picking one of the leading tackles to shore up the offensive line. Ikem Ekwonu's star is rising and I think he pips Hutchinson and Walker to the No.1 pick. I like Hutchinson to stay in Michigan and add to the hard-working street fighting team coach Dan Campbell is building at the Detroit Lions. They could take a quarterback with their second Round 1 pick, at No.32.
Thursday will be one of the most intriguing first rounds in recent years. I'll have a go at predicting picks taken in my Mock Draft, which will be out before Thursday, and wrap it all up with some highlights after the main event.
Both New York teams, Houston, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Green Bay and Kansas City have two picks and have a real chance to make a decisive impact on their franchise's long term future with successful selections, or spend the next few years moaning about who they should have taken. There lies the magic, unpredictability and drama of the NFL Draft.
I can't wait to watch it.