Welcome to our pick-by-pick first-round grades of the 2022 NFL Draft. From Aidan Hutchinson to Kayvon Thibodeaux to Jordan Davis, we’ll analyze every single selection as the action unfolds Thursday night.
For those of you who think we should wait a few years before grading the picks, we disagree. NFL teams have to make decisions under uncertainty. So we should evaluate them based on what we know at the time of the pick. The grades below will reflect not only the quality of the prospects but also the process — in other words, whether it’s a wise use of resources given the state of the franchise.
Having said that, feel free to report me to Old Takes Exposed in a couple years when these look foolish.
1. Jacksonville Jaguars: Travon Walker, Edge, Georgia
There’s no denying Walker’s upside. He is 6-foot-5, 272 with 35½-inch arms. He ran 4.51 and is the best athlete among edge defenders in this class. Walker has the tools to be dominant against the run. The question is how he’ll develop as an edge pass rusher. Walker totaled 9.5 sacks in 36 games (15 starts), and the advanced stats were unkind.
It’s fair to question the Jaguars’ process here. Their No. 1 goal this offseason should have been to position Trevor Lawrence for success. They could have very easily spent this pick on a high-ceiling left tackle to protect Lawrence for the next four to five years. Instead, they decided to retain Cam Robinson, who has been average to below-average, signing him to a three-year, $54 million deal.
If Walker hits, it’s easy to see his path towards becoming one of the NFL’s top defensive players. But given the lack of pass-rush production and the fact that he didn’t line up as a pure edge in college, there are more questions about him than we typically see with No. 1 picks.
As usual, the Jaguars made this more complicated than it needed to be. This grade has more to do with their process than about Walker’s potential as a prospect.
2. Detroit Lions: Aidan Hutchinson, Edge, Michigan
The Lions might not have been expecting him to be there at No. 2, but when the Jaguars went with Walker, this probably became an easy decision.
Hutchinson (6-foot-7, 260), a Michigan native, was a highly productive college player with 14 sacks and 16.5 tackles for loss last season. He projects as someone who should be able to line up at different spots and rush the passer while also being disruptive against the run.
Hutchinson might not be as bendy as some of the edge rushers who usually get drafted this high, but given his athletic testing, it’s probably a mistake to suggest that he has a low ceiling. His three-cone time at the combine ranked in the 99th percentile for edge rushers.
This is a great outcome for the Lions. They just need blue-chip players. Hutchinson plays a premium position and fills a big need area for them.
3. Houston Texans: Derek Stingley Jr., CB, LSU
Stingley (6 feet, 190) made 25 starts for the Tigers, although he was limited to just three games last year because of a Lisfranc injury. He totaled 26 passes defended and six interceptions, and opposing quarterbacks completed just 41.1% of their passes when targeting him.
The Athletic’s Diante Lee made a strong case for Stingley as the top corner in the draft. He has elite cover skills and isn’t even 21 years old.
The Texans are another team that just needs blue-chip players. They shouldn’t be drafting for Lovie Smith’s scheme because, let’s be honest, there are no guarantees beyond 2022 for Smith.
Drafting Stingley carries some risk, given that last year didn’t go great for him. But I have no issue with swinging for a home run at a premium position here.
4. New York Jets: Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, CB, Cincinnati
The Jets could have gone in a number of different directions — offensive tackle, edge, corner. In the end, they settled on Gardner (6-foot-3, 190).
He started 28 games in three seasons for the Bearcats. Opposing quarterbacks rarely threw his way, and when they did, Gardner made them pay. He had nine interceptions and 27 passes defended and never allowed a touchdown! According to Sports Info Solutions (SIS), Gardner allowed 0.1 yards per coverage snap last season — by far the best mark in the country.
Gardner has size, speed, competitiveness and production. He has a chance to emerge as one of the best players from this draft class. This is a fine selection by the Jets and fills a major need at a premium position.
5. New York Giants: Kayvon Thibodeaux, Edge, Oregon
Thibodeaux (6-foot-4, 254) was a productive college player with 19 sacks and 35.5 tackles for loss in 32 games. He’s a plus athlete and was a team captain last year.
SIS tracks quick pressure rate (how often a pass rusher produces pressure in 2.5 seconds or less) and true pressure rate (how often a pass rusher produces pressure on straight dropbacks). Thibodeaux was top five in both categories last year and ranked higher than both Hutchinson and Walker.
During the pre-draft process, there were vague references to teams being turned off by Thibodeaux’s personality. But coaches are not qualified to be psychologists. Their job is to, well, coach. This is a great sign that the Giants’ new regime understands that.
The best version of Thibodeaux is probably some mix of Khalil Mack and Jadeveon Clowney. There are no guarantees, but he has the tools to develop into a true game-wrecker. At No. 5, the Giants get a high-ceiling prospect at a premium position who could have easily gone No. 1.
6. Carolina Panthers: Ikem Ekwonu, OT, NC State
Ekwonu (6-foot-4, 310) started 31 games — 27 at left tackle and four at left guard — during his three college seasons. He plays with a nasty streak and should be an outstanding run blocker from day one.
Ekwonu needs to clean up some issues in pass protection (PFF charged him with 10 sacks allowed in the past two seasons), but there’s no denying his upside. Ekwonu should have the versatility to play guard or tackle.
This doesn’t solve the Panthers’ quarterback problem, but left tackle has been a disaster for them for years. Ekwonu is a tone-setter, and he plays a premium position. The Panthers still have a lot to figure out, but Ekwonu is a fine pick.
7. New York Giants: Evan Neal, OT, Alabama
Neal (6-foot-8, 337) started 40 games for Nick Saban — 15 at left tackle, 13 at left guard and 12 at right tackle. He was durable (missed just one game, and that was because of COVID-19) and reliable. Per The Athletic’s Dane Brugler, Neal got called for just one penalty last year. And he allowed just two sacks on 650 pass-blocking snaps.
The Giants can start Andrew Thomas at one tackle spot and Neal at the other. Neal has proven how versatile he can be and has the upside to be an All-Pro.
With Thibodeaux and Neal, this couldn’t have worked out much better for the Giants.
8. Atlanta Falcons: Drake London, WR, USC
London’s size (6-foot-4, 219) separates him from the other top wide receivers in this class. A favorite of The Athletic’s Nate Tice, London caught 88 balls for 1,084 yards and seven touchdowns last year.
The questions are whether London will be able to consistently separate against NFL corners and whether he’s capable of producing explosive plays. London did not run at the combine or at USC’s Pro Day. He averaged a pedestrian 12.3 YPR last season.
London is a polarizing prospect. Given how young he is (turns 21 in July), there’s certainly room for development. Maybe London will emerge as some version of Mike Williams or Allen Robinson. But if I’m taking a wide receiver in the first round, I want to be sold on speed and separation. I’m not there with London.
9. Seattle Seahawks: Charles Cross, OT, Mississippi State
Cross (6-foot-5, 307) started 22 games at left tackle in the past two seasons in Mike Leach’s pass-heavy scheme. Per Brugler, 78.9% of Cross’ college snaps were pass-blocking plays. Last year, Cross allowed just two sacks and no QB hits on 719 pass-blocking snaps. Even though Cross didn’t run block a lot, he looked capable of developing there.
The Seahawks went into the draft with arguably the worst tackle situation in the NFL. Here, they get a good prospect who plays a premium position. They have a lot of work to do, but this is a step in the right direction.
10. New York Jets: Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State
Wilson (6 feet, 183) caught 70 balls for 1,058 yards and 12 touchdowns last year. He ran a 4.38 40 and averaged 15.4 YPR during his college career.
I like both of the Jets’ picks in the first round.
11. New Orleans Saints: Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State
The Saints gave up a third-round pick (No. 98) and a fourth-round pick (No. 120) to move up from 16 to 11 and take Olave.
Olave (6 feet, 187) was consistently productive over the past three years for the Buckeyes. In 47 career games (25 starts), he piled up 176 catches for 2,711 yards and 35 touchdowns.
Olave has two things going for him: He can run and he can separate. Olave is considered one of the more polished route-runners in this year’s class. He’s not going to do a lot after the catch (just nine broken tackles in his entire career, per PFF), but Olave can make big plays on the outside. He projects as one of the wide receivers who should be able to contribute right away.
Having said that, I don’t like this process for the Saints. This move represents an overconfidence in their ability to evaluate talent and an inaccurate assessment of their chances of contending in 2022. They lost key players in left tackle Terron Armstead and safety Marcus Williams in free agency. Malcolm Jenkins retired.
The Saints are operating in “win now” mode when they shouldn’t be. Olave could very well have a great career, but this is bad process.
12. Detroit Lions: Jameson Williams, WR, Alabama
The Lions gave up picks 32, 34 and 66 to acquire 12 and 46 from the Minnesota Vikings.
Williams (6-foot-2, 179) was one of the most electrifying players in the country last year, catching 79 balls for 1,572 yards and 15 touchdowns in his first season at Alabama after transferring from Ohio State.
Williams, who averaged 19.9 YPR against SEC competition, projects as a game-changing vertical threat. One of the only strikes against him is that he suffered a torn ACL in the national championship game in January and figures to miss part of his rookie season.
I’m generally against trading up for non-quarterbacks, but the Lions essentially made this move for a third-round pick and a pick swap in the second.
Williams’ ceiling is as high as any pass-catcher in the draft. He was my favorite wide receiver in this class. The Lions couldn’t resist. Not sure I would have been able to either.
13. Philadelphia Eagles: Jordan Davis, DT, Georgia
The Eagles gave up a fourth (124) and two fifths (162 and 166) to move up from 15 to 13.
Davis (6-foot-6, 341) is one of the most intriguing players in the draft. He won the Chuck Bednarik Award as college football’s best defensive player last year. Then he blew up the combine, running the 40 in 4.78 seconds and delivering one of the most impressive athletic testing performances we’ve ever seen.
So what’s the problem? Davis had just two sacks last year, and Georgia took him off the field in obvious passing situations. He averaged just 25.2 snaps per game.
The case for Davis: If a team can unlock his pass rush, he has the ceiling of a true game-wrecker and one of the best defensive players in football. But if that doesn’t happen, you’re spending a first-round pick on a player who might not impact the game on third down or in the final two minutes of close games.
I changed my mind on Davis a hundred times during the pre-draft process. But I have no issue with the Eagles taking a big swing here, given the upside.
14. Baltimore Ravens: Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame
Hamilton (6-foot-4, 220) has rare size for a safety and showed off outstanding range during his 19 college starts. He lined up at free safety and strong safety for Notre Dame, while also logging more than 200 snaps in the slot.
The best version of Hamilton would be a supersized Tyrann Mathieu who can line up all over the defense and use his smarts and instincts to create chaos. Hamilton ran a slow 40 time (4.7) at his Pro Day, but he timed in at 4.59 at the combine. He missed six games last year because of a knee injury.
The Ravens were patient and landed a terrific prospect. I love the match between player and team here.
15. Houston Texans: Kenyon Green, OG, Texas A&M
Green (6-foot-4, 323) started 35 games — 17 at left guard, 15 at right guard, two at right tackle, one at left tackle — in three seasons for the Aggies. Green is a mauler in the run game, and he allowed just one sack on more than 700 pass-blocking snaps in the last two years.
Green’s versatility is a big plus, and given that he just turned 21 in March, there’s reason to believe he has plenty of room to improve.
The Texans acquired a fourth and two fifths by moving back. I think Green is a fine prospect. But if you’re a Houston fan, you’re probably wondering whether you might have been better off staying put and taking Davis or Hamilton rather than an interior offensive lineman.
16. Washington Commanders: Jahan Dotson, WR, Penn State
Dotson (5-foot-11, 178) started 38 games for the Nittany Lions and was prolific last year with 91 catches for 1,182 yards and 12 touchdowns. He ran a 4.43 and showed on film that he can separate — whether lined up on the outside or in the slot.
Dotson catches everything, is fearless in the middle of the field and has outstanding awareness and instincts. He doesn’t make a lot of people miss with the ball in his hands, and at 178 pounds, his play strength in the NFL is a question. But Dotson profiles as one of the wide receivers from this class who should be able to contribute right away.
Washington traded back from 11 to 16, picked up a third- and a fourth-round pick and landed a talented wide receiver prospect. Nice job by them.
17. Los Angeles Chargers: Zion Johnson, OG, Boston College
Johnson (6-foot-3, 312 with 34-inch arms) could eventually emerge as the best offensive lineman from this class. He began his career at Davidson before catching on at Boston College where he started 30 games — 18 at left guard, 12 at left tackle — in three seasons.
Per PFF, Johnson allowed just three sacks on more than 1,000 pass-blocking snaps. He didn’t miss a game in five years, got called for just one penalty last season and has excellent athleticism.
The Chargers’ goal needs to be to protect Justin Herbert at all costs. This pick won’t be a headline-grabber, but it makes plenty of sense.
18. Tennessee Titans: Treylon Burks, WR, Arkansas
The Titans traded A.J. Brown to the Eagles for this pick and a third-round selection (No. 101).
Burks (6-foot-2, 225) is a player who has drawn comps to Brown. But he is not a prototypical outside wide receiver. Per Brugler, 82.9% of Burks’ college snaps came in the slot, inline or in the backfield.
But he was one of the nation’s most fun players to watch. He caught 66 balls for 1,104 yards and 11 touchdowns last season and had monster games against SEC competition. Per SIS, Burks finished first among all wide receivers in yards per route run.
The knocks on Burks are that he had an underwhelming combine (ran 4.55) and is a work-in-progress as a route-runner. But the upside is tantalizing.
Having said that, it’s tough to make sense of the Titans’ timeline. They are rolling with Ryan Tannehill and Derrick Henry next season, but now they are counting on a rookie wide receiver. Wouldn’t they have been better served rewarding Brown with the contract he had earned?
I like Burks as a prospect, but I’m not sure these maneuverings made sense for them.
19. New Orleans Saints: Trevor Penning, OT, Northern Iowa
Penning (6-foot-7, 325) started 33 games — 31 at left tackle, one at right tackle, one at right guard — in the past three seasons. He has rare size and athleticism. Penning had the most impressive athletic testing among offensive tackles at the combine. And he allowed just two sacks on more than 650 pass-blocking snaps in the past two seasons.
He didn’t consistently face top-level competition, and Penning’s aggressiveness got him into trouble at times. Per PFF, he had 34 penalties in his last 31 games.
After having lost Terron Armstead, the Saints needed to find a left tackle. The traits are there for Penning to develop into a quality starter.
20. Pittsburgh Steelers: Kenny Pickett, QB, Pittsburgh
The Steelers wasted no time finding their successor to Ben Roethlisberger. Pickett (6-foot-3, 217) made 49 career college starts, but it wasn’t until last season that he looked like a first-round prospect. Pickett completed 67.2% of his passes for 4,319 yards, 42 touchdowns and seven interceptions in 2021.
Accuracy was a strength for Pickett last year as he ranked first in completion percentage over expectation. He also showed the ability to make second-reaction plays.
The questions going forward will be whether he can operate quickly from the pocket and whether the improvisational plays will still be available to him against NFL-level defenders.
I felt like Malik Willis offered more upside, but plenty of people liked Pickett more. When you don’t have a quarterback, you can pretty much always justify taking a swing on one. If it doesn’t work out, you try again. This is a fine swing by the Steelers.
21. Kansas City Chiefs: Trent McDuffie, CB, Washington
The Chiefs moved up from 29 to 21 and gave up a third (No. 94) and a fourth (No. 121).
McDuffie (5-foot-11, 193 with 29 3/4-inch arms) might not have the size or ball production we often see from first-round corner prospects, but his résumé is his film. McDuffie gave up just 111 yards total in 11 starts last season, and he ranked third among corners in yards per coverage snap, per SIS.
McDuffie finished his career with two interceptions and 10 passes defended in 28 games, but teams rarely threw his way. Per PFF, he played just 60 snaps of true man coverage last season.
I don’t love the Chiefs’ process here. Their key to success is offensive efficiency. Here, they trade for an undersized corner with limited ball production and limited man coverage reps.
McDuffie can cover and tackle. He could turn out to be a fine player. But I don’t think I would have been this aggressive to land him here.
22. Green Bay Packers: Quay Walker, LB, Georgia
Walker (6-foot-4, 241) is a fun addition for Green Bay. He has length and can really move. Walker’s 4.52 40 ranked in the 91st percentile for off-ball linebackers.
He started 17 games for Georgia and had 67 tackles last season. Walker is tough, can defeat blocks in the run game and has the measurables to develop into an asset in zone coverage.
On the surface, this might feel like a bit of a reach, but Walker is an impressive prospect, and it’s not a stretch to think his best football could be ahead of him.
23. Buffalo Bills: Kaiir Elam, CB, Florida
The Bills jumped up from 25 to 23 and gave up a fourth-round pick (No. 130).
Elam (6-foot-2, 191) started 27 games at Florida and performed at a high level. Per SIS, Elam finished second behind only Ahmad Gardner in yards per coverage snap allowed last season. He finished his college career with 26 passes defended and six interceptions. Elam ran a 4.39 at the combine.
The Bills had an obvious need at corner, and they get a feisty, competitive prospect who can play man or zone. Brugler compared Elam to Tampa Bay’s Carlton Davis.
Buffalo gets a high-upside prospect who plays a premium position and fills an immediate need. That’s a win.
24. Dallas Cowboys: Tyler Smith, OT, Tulsa
Smith (6-foot-5, 324 with 34-inch arms) started 23 games at left tackle. He performed well as a run blocker and gave up just two sacks in more than 800 pass-blocking snaps.
Smith plays with a nasty streak and probably has the versatility to slide inside to guard. He is not a finished product and could experience some growing pains as a rookie. Brugler called Smith “incredibly raw” and had him ranked 50th on his big board.
25. Baltimore Ravens: Tyler Linderbaum, OC, Iowa
The Ravens moved back a couple spots and picked up a fourth-round selection from the Bills in return.
Linderbaum (6-foot-2, 296) started 35 games at center for the Hawkeyes and won the Rimington Award (given to the nation’s top center) last year. He gave up just two sacks on more than 1,200 pass-blocking snaps in his career.
Ravens GM Eric DeCosta has called the draft a “luck-driven process” and he’s undoubtedly aware that center historically has a strong hit rate in the first round.
We can debate positional value with centers, but Linderbaum’s athleticism gives him a high ceiling, and this fills a need for the Ravens.
26. New York Jets: Jermaine Johnson, Edge, Florida State
The Jets traded a second-round pick (35), a third-round pick (69) and a fifth-round pick (163) for this pick and a third-rounder (101).
Johnson transferred from Georgia to Florida State last year and went off for 12 sacks and 18 tackles for loss in 12 starts.
He is an older prospect (turned 23 in January), and on a per-snap basis, Johnson ranked 28th among edge defenders in quick pressure rate and 22nd in true pressure rate.
But given his production as a full-time player last year and his athletic profile, Johnson could emerge as one of the best pass rushers from this draft class. This was a reasonable trade up for the Jets.
27. Jacksonville Jaguars: Devin Lloyd, LB, Utah
The Jaguars gave up the 33rd pick (second round), 106th pick (fourth round) and 180th pick (sixth round) to move up here and take Lloyd.
Lloyd started 32 games at Utah and filled up the stat sheet last year, totaling 110 tackles (22 for loss), eight sacks, 10 passes defended and four interceptions. In terms of measurables, at 6-foot-3 with 33-inch arms, he resembles Fred Warner. The Athletic’s Diante Lee described Lloyd as more “fine” than “good” in coverage.
Lloyd’s success could depend a lot on scheme fit. If the Jaguars allow him to do a little bit of everything — play the run, rush the passer, cover — he could develop into one of the more fun players from this draft class. But from a positional value perspective, it’s fair to question the wisdom in trading up for an off-ball linebacker who turns 24 in September.
28. Green Bay Packers: Devonte Wyatt, DT, Georgia
Wyatt (6-foot-3, 304) started 25 games for Georgia and played well, but there are some obvious concerns.
One, he had just five sacks in 49 career games. Two, he was arrested and charged with three misdemeanors in February 2020 after an altercation with a woman at her apartment. The chargers were ultimately dropped. And three, he’s already 24 years old.
When the Packers traded away Davante Adams, they seemed like a lock to draft a wide receiver in the first round. But that didn’t happen. Maybe Wyatt will work out great for them, but taking him here feels like an unnecessary gamble.
29. New England Patriots: Cole Strange, OG, Chattanooga
Strange (6-foot-5, 307) is one of the bigger surprises in the first round. He started 44 games in college — 42 at left guard, one at left tackle and one at center.
Brugler had Strange ranked as his 73rd overall prospect. Sean McVay thought Strange might be available at No. 104.
Let’s be clear: Strange might end up being a Hall of Fame player. The draft is hard, and we shouldn’t be certain about anything. Having said that, at the very least, it feels like the Patriots misread the market and could have moved down again for additional picks while still drafting Strange on Day 2.
Instead, they used their first-round selection on a soon-to-be 24-year-old interior offensive lineman. I’m happy to look foolish with this grade a couple years from now, but I don’t get it.
30. Kansas City Chiefs: George Karlaftis, Edge, Purdue
Karlaftis (6-foot-4, 266) had 14.5 sacks, 30.5 tackles for loss and four forced fumbles in 27 career starts. He finished in the top 10 among edge defenders in both quick pressure rate and true pressure rate last season.
Karlaftis wins with power, but given that he’s only 21 and put up above-average testing numbers, there’s reason to believe he can add more to his repertoire in the NFL.
The Chiefs needed to add more pass rush, and Karlaftis at 30 feels like pretty good value.
31. Cincinnati Bengals: Dax Hill, S, Michigan
The word versatility gets thrown around too much this time of year, but it applies to Hill (6 feet, 191). In 33 games for Michigan, he played both as a slot corner and a split-field safety. Hill had excellent ball production last year with 11 passes defended and two interceptions in 14 starts. He ran a 4.38 at the combine.
Hill checks so many boxes. He’s rangy, explosive, competitive, versatile and durable. This feels like a “best player available” pick for the Bengals. I love Hill’s fit in Cincinnati. He should contribute immediately and has the upside to be a cornerstone of that defense for years to come.
32. Minnesota Vikings: Lewis Cine, S, Georgia
The Vikings traded 12 and 46 for 32, 34 and 66.
Cine (6-foot-2, 199) started 27 games at Georgia. Last year, he led the team in tackles (73) and had 10 passes defended and an interception. He lined up mostly as a free safety in the Bulldogs’ scheme.
Cine is a tough, physical safety who plays with tremendous energy. He committed just one penalty all of last season, per Brugler. He tested as a top-three athlete among this year’s safety class. And Cine didn’t miss a game in the past three seasons.
I love what Vikings GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah did here. He read the market well, picked up additional draft capital and got one of my favorite defensive players in this year’s draft.
(Illustration: Wes McCabe / The Athletic; photo: Ben Liebenberg via Associated Press)