The first round of the 2022 NFL draft is officially in the books! The first two picks went according to plan, a few mild surprises were observed in the remainder of the top 10, and then chaos ensued. The 11th, 12th, and 13th picks were all traded, with 6 other subsequent trades. These 9 trades were the most in any draft since it shifted to a 3-day format, and they even included two established players in WRs AJ Brown and Marquise Brown.
In this article, I grade each of the 32 picks made in the first round. My judgments are made by considering value, need, fit, and any trades involved in making the selections. There were some expected results (lots of receivers), as well as some wild surprises (only 1 QB selected, and it wasn’t even Malik Willis!). Then there’s whatever the Patriots were doing (more on that below). Do you agree with these grades? Let me know in the comments!
- Jacksonville Jaguars – DE Travon Walker, Georgia: A-
The Jaguars made the right move here. They wish they could have traded down, and that would have been the optimal move. However, that was always unrealistic with the lack of demand. When you pick #1, you need a guy with elite upside, and Walker has that. Hopefully he is a better pro than college player, as his production at Georgia was lackluster.
- Detroit Lions – DE Aidan Hutchinson, Michigan: A-
I think the top two picks worked out for everyone. Jacksonville got the guy with upside, and Detroit got their instant-impact starter who stays home. Hutchinson is the opposite of Walker: lower ceiling, higher floor. He produced well at Michigan, and although he might never reach the top tier of edge rushers, he’s very unlikely to be a bust.
- Houston Texans – CB Derek Stingley, Jr., Louisiana State: A
So it was the other corner that the Texans coveted. This was supposedly Lovie Smith’s choice, and it was the right one. Ahmad Gardner is a really solid player, but it’s Stingley who can be truly special. If we judged him based on his 2019 tape alone, he’d have been considered the best CB prospect in years. Injuries have limited him since then, but he looked much more like himself at his pro day, and he has the potential to be a shutdown corner in the NFL.
- New York Jets – CB Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, Cincinnati: B+
I’m not as high on this pick as some others are. He’s a really good player, and he never allowed a TD in college, but I don’t know that he’s truly special. You need that if you’re taking a corner this high. That said, he’s a massive upgrade over who they have currently, and they needed a corner more than they needed a tackle.
- New York Giants – DE Kayvon Thibodeaux, Oregon: B+
I thought this was a little high for Thibodeaux given his potentially impactful character concerns, but his upside is very good, and I’m giving the Giants extra points for their strategy. They clearly liked at least two of the top 3 tackles. With all 3 still on the board, they selected another position, knowing that one of their guys would make it to their second pick at 7, providing them with a level of certainty. Well played.
- Carolina Panthers – OT Ikem Ekwonu, North Carolina State: A
Ekwonu was thought of by many as the top tackle in this class, and he could’ve gone as high as 3 to the Texans. Thus, Carolina got good value here and will finally give Sam Darnold (presumably) a guardian. More importantly, they resisted the temptation to draft a QB. The pick they didn’t make is as critical as the pick they DID make.
- New York Giants – OT Evan Neal, Alabama: B-
I thought the Giants preferred Charles Cross, and frankly, they should have at this juncture. Evan Neal is a tremendous right tackle, but he’s not necessarily a left tackle. Right tackles typically start coming off the board a few picks later at this, around #10. His size and feet strongly suggest that he will remain on the right side, which is fine for a team that has Andrew Thomas at LT. I just felt that their optimal move was to select Cross to play LT and then shift Thomas to RT, where he might be better.
- Atlanta Falcons – WR Drake London, USC: C+
Atlanta was one of the toughest teams to judge. They definitely needed a receiver (badly), but even though they were the first to select one, they did not take the best option. London is big and strong, and he produced well at USC, but he is not fast. He did not separate from defenders effectively in college, and he does not figure to improve in that regard against better NFL corners. He’ll be good in a Mike Evans type of role, but he’s not at Evans’ level.
- Seattle Seahawks – OT Charles Cross, Mississippi State: A
The Seahawks FINALLY spent a premium pick on a lineman. Just for that, I was probably giving them an A no matter who it was (within reason). As it stands, they might have gotten the most natural left tackle in the entire class. Cross was tested against high-quality defensive lines in the rugged SEC West, and he acquitted himself well. He has natural feet for a LT and good hands. It’s just a shame that Russell Wilson is no longer there to enjoy his presence.
- New York Jets – WR Garrett Wilson, Ohio State: A
This was my #1 WR in the class. Wilson is fast, he’s a smooth route-runner, and he’s been highly productive despite the competition for targets he experienced in Ohio State’s loaded receiver room. The Jets needed to put weapons around Zach Wilson to fairly evaluate him, and this certainly qualifies. Pick 10 is fair value for Wilson, and he probably wouldn’t have lasted a single pick more because…
- New Orleans Saints – WR Chris Olave, Ohio State: B
…the team that traded right behind them was eyeing the two Buckeye receivers as well. I had a couple other receivers ahead of Olave, but I don’t hate the value at 11. I just don’t love the trade up to get him, as the mid-round pick they surrendered is likely a valuable commodity in a draft with depth as its strength. With the run on receivers though, he probably wouldn’t have made it to their original pick (where I had him slotted). Olave is fast and a good route-runner just like Wilson, but I think he trails Wilson overall.
- Detroit Lions – WR Jameson Williams, Alabama: C+
This move was honestly stunning. The Lions traded all the way from 32 to acquire this pick. Usually, when a team makes this large a move, they’re going after a QB. Fortunately, they didn’t do that. But I am not crazy about making this sort of move for a WR in a loaded WR class. Williams is a great player who would have been the first WR drafted if not for a late-season ACL tear. He takes the top off of defenses and is absolutely dynamic. However, was the drop-off between him and another receiver that great to warrant this move? I don’t think so, but I won’t fail Detroit because the cost paid was not nearly as high as it might have been in other years.
- Philadelphia Eagles – DT Jordan Davis, Georgia: A
I’m not sure if Davis was truly the Eagles’ target here. I had them taking Jameson Williams at 15, and it’s possible that he was the player the team had in mind. I doubt they thought that Detroit was trading up so far to take a receiver. That said, the move worked out wonderfully for them regardless. Davis is my favorite player in this draft, and he projects as a superior version of Vita Vea. Philly had to trade up two spots for him because I don’t think he would have gotten past Baltimore.
- Baltimore Ravens – S Kyle Hamilton, Notre Dame: D
This was one of my least-favorite picks of round 1. Some experts still tout Hamilton as a top-5 player and will applaud the Ravens for this pick, but he does not have a natural NFL position. He’s a tweener who doesn’t fit perfectly at either linebacker or safety, so I think he might struggle. Baltimore is probably one of his best spots to get quality coaching, but I won’t be surprised if this doesn’t work out.
- Houston Texans – G/T Kenyon Green, Texas A&M: C-
I like the player, and he fills a position of need, but this was a moderate reach. Most analysts, including myself, did not have Green going before the early 20s. This was simply a bit early to take a non-elite guard. However, I like Green; he will likely be an interior rock on the Texans’ offensive line for several years. That and the fact that the Texans traded down before making this pick (but not enough) help their grade.
- Washington Commanders – WR Jahan Dotson, Penn State: B
Others will probably be harder on Washington than I am here. I like Dotson more than most, and I rated him above a couple guys who went before him. They probably could have gotten him a little later, though not too much later given the run on receivers occurring in the mid teens. Washington also traded down and acquired more capital before making this pick, so I think they did a solid job.
- Los Angeles Chargers – G Zion Johnson, Boston College: C+
This is a similar reach to that of the Texans with Green, but it’s slightly better. I had Johnson rated slightly above Green as a pure guard, and the Chargers took him a couple of picks later. Protecting Justin Herbert is always a good idea, but Trevor Penning was available, and a right tackle is a more premium position.
- Tennessee Titans – WR Treylon Burks, Arkansas: B
I love Treylon Burks. He’s my #2 WR and he is wildly underrated. His run-after-catch ability is comparable to Deebo Samuel’s, and the Jets were offering pick 10 for Samuel. The value is great, the player is great, and he fills a need. However, I can’t grade this pick purely on its own. The Titans only have this pick because they traded AJ Brown to the Eagles. That’s a big loss. I get that the Titans didn’t want to give Brown the 4 year/$100M deal he signed with Philly tonight, but he’s a proven commodity and a favorite of Ryan Tannehill. Even if Burks is great, they might regret parting with Brown.
- New Orleans Saints – OT Trevor Penning, Northern Iowa: A-
Penning fell a bit further than I thought he would. He’s a raw player, but even projects get picked early if they have LT potential. Penning definitely qualifies. He played at the FCS level, so he needs development, and he needs to cut down on his penalties, but he’s a violent blocker who has monumental upside. The Saints struck gold at the FCS level once with Terron Armstead (Arkansas-Pine Bluff), so maybe they can work magic again with his replacement.
- Pittsburgh Steelers – QB Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh: D+
This was certainly one of the shocks of the night, and it was also one of my most difficult grades. Had the Steelers taken Malik Willis here, I would have failed them. I still don’t like the selection of one of these QBs in round 1. It’s nice that Pickett is a local kid, and he’s definitely the safest option (though I like Sam Howell better), but does he really offer much more upside than Mitch Trubisky, who’s already on the team? Furthermore, it became clear early in the night that the QBs were falling, so Pittsburgh probably could’ve traded down and still gotten their guy.
- Kansas City Chiefs – CB Trent McDuffie, Washington: B
I figured the Patriots would trade down. Different team, same player. The Chiefs need as many corners as they can get in the newly loaded AFC. In their own division, they will have to defend against Davante Adams, Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, and Courtland Sutton, to name a few. McDuffie is a very skilled player, and he will definitely improve their secondary. Unfortunately, he’s a bit small (5’11”) to cover the tall receivers the Chiefs are bound to face, and I don’t think they needed to trade up to get a quality corner. I can’t fault the value here though.
- Green Bay Packers – OLB Quay Walker, Georgia: B+
Walker has been quietly rising up draft boards in recent days, and that culminated with his appearance in the back half of the first round. He’s got all the measurables you could want in an outside linebacker, and he figures to slot right into Za’Darius Smith’s old spot. As far as Georgia linebackers go, I had a bit of a preference for Nakobe Dean, but Dean is still available, so the Packers obviously made the right choice regarding who to take at 22.
- Buffalo Bills – CB Kaiir Elam, Florida: B-
I’m a bit torn on this one. On the one hand, Elam is a player who has been rising, and he could develop into a #1 corner. His coverage skills are great, he’s young (not yet 21), and he played much better in 2020 than he did in 2021 (when he was injured). However, his tackling is a work in progress at best, and Andrew Booth might have fit Buffalo better. I am also unsure why the Bills thought they needed to trade up and get ahead of Dallas for a corner.
- Dallas Cowboys – OT Tyler Smith, Tulsa: B
Dallas had some poor luck in this draft. They supposedly wanted to trade up but couldn’t strike a deal. Then, their two top targets (Zion Johnson and Kenyon Green), both went earlier than expect. One of them should have been available at least. Thus, Dallas, still wanting offensive line help, took the best possible option. Smith is similar to Penning in that he is raw, is often penalized, and has LT upside. I think Penning has a higher ceiling though, so it’s fair for Smith to go 5 picks later.
- Baltimore Ravens – C Tyler Linderbaum, Iowa: A+
This was masterful work by GM Eric DeCosta. First, they acquired the 23rd pick from Arizona in exchange for WR Marquise Brown, an underachieving player that would likely have needed to overpay soon. Then, they traded back two slots to add a bit more capital. Finally, they spent their new pick on a stellar player at a position of need. Linderbaum is the best center in this class, and he would have gone sooner if his arms were a bit longer. Lamar Jackson didn’t seem happy about the pick on Twitter, but he should be; Linderbaum is fantastic. Baltimore showed other teams how it’s done.
- New York Jets – DE Jermaine Johnson, Florida State: A+
I need to do some research on what happened with Jermaine Johnson. I knew the Jets liked him, but I gave him to them at 4, as did a few others. Something caused him to tumble. One rumor suggests character concerns, but I can’t confirm that at the moment. Normally, I don’t like when a team gives up picks to trade back into the first round, but this is a major exception. Johnson was a consensus top-10 or top-15 player on most draft boards, and some say that he’s the most natural pass rusher. He racked up 11.5 sacks last year at FSU, and he should’ve gone way earlier. Very well done by the Jets.
- Jacksonville Jaguars – LB Devin Lloyd, Utah: A-
Another trade back into the first round that I don’t dislike. I had Lloyd going 10 picks earlier, so he is clearly good value at 27. Lloyd has no character concerns and he has good tape, so he must have fallen due to his slow 40 time. That time doesn’t tell the whole story though. Lloyd plays faster than he runs, and a quick review of game footage will tell you that he FLIES around the field, constantly making plays. The Jaguars needed a guy like that, given that they have so few playmakers.
- Green Bay Packers – DT Devonte Wyatt, Georgia: C
This pick is tough to evaluate. Wyatt the player is a steal at 28. He’s a potent interior pass rusher with elite quickness, and he made great plays throughout Georgia’s championship run. The issue is Wyatt the person. His reported off-field concerns appear to be related to multiple domestic violence incidents. That’s tough for a team to overlook even with his talent level. The Packers need to hope they’re right. This is a risky pick at best, and it’s a potential PR disaster at worst.
- New England Patriots – G/C Cole Strange, Chattanooga: F
I’m speechless. I did not see this one coming. Not once did I even think about Strange for my first-round mock. Upon checking other sources, I see that most people had 3rd- and 4th-round grades on him. Sure, he has some upside, but you don’t take a project at a nonpremium position in the first round. Trading back didn’t even help New England escape the dreaded F grade here.
- Kansas City Chiefs – DE George Karlaftis, Purdue: B+
I like the player and I like the value (given that I had Karlaftis slotted 7 slots earlier), but I’m not totally sure of the fit with Chris Jones and Frank Clark. Kansas City is not going to have a very good run defense. Still, you can never have too many good pass rushers, particularly in today’s NFL. Karlaftis does one thing and one thing well: hunt quarterbacks. Maybe Steve Spagnuolo can help him with his play in the ground game. If so, Karlaftis could take his game to another level.
- Cincinnati Bengals – S/CB Daxton Hill, Michigan: A
After addressing the offensive line in free agency, the Bengals needed a cornerback, lest they be forced to start Eli Apple again (*shudders*). I had originally mocked Kaiir Elam to them, but he went earlier to Buffalo. Cincinnati might have gotten someone even better. The versatile Hill should be able to fit seamlessly into Lou Anarumo’s scheme, providing coverage in the slot, in run support, and maybe even a bit outside. He and Jesse Bates will be flying all over the field.
- Minnesota Vikings – S Lewis Cine, Georgia: A-
Strong safeties who primarily play in the box don’t typically go in the first round, but this is a weaker class, so 2nd-round talents were bound to be taken in the last few picks. I like Cine a lot. He was an excellent leader for the national champions, and he interviewed extremely well with teams. Cine is very fast (4.37-second 40), but he packs a punch when he tackles. I expect Cine to set the tone for a new-look Viking secondary, so there’s not much to dislike here. Plus they traded down (but are imposed a small penalty for receiving poor value in exchange for pick #12).