The 2022 NFL draft was one of the wildest, craziest, most open drafts we have ever seen, and certainly lived up to its Las Vegas destination hype. The uncertainty, unpredictability and erratic nature led to one of the most memorable drafts. But, what exactly did we learn?
Here we take a look at some of the things we learnt from the 2022 NFL Draft.
1. IT’S SUPERSTAR QB OR BUST
If the 2022 NFL Draft taught us anything, it is that the evaluation of quarterbacks is changing. Gone are the days where an average quarterback would get the job done. That told in the draft with only 1 quarterback being drafted in the first round and having to wait until the 3rd round for the second QB to come off the board.
We thought teams would like Malik Willis because he possesses extreme potential and unteachable traits. Unfortunately for him, it wasn’t the case.
When you look at Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes, DeShaun Watson, Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, Joe Burrow and Lamar Jackson, if you are going to invest time to project a quarterback they will have to live with this company.
This made the selection of Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett in the first round all the more surprising. Alright, everything fell his way. Staying in the same city, in the same facility with a team who knows exactly what he is. But, does Kenny Pickett enter the division as anything other than the 4th best quarterback? Hey, you could claim 5th with Baker Mayfield still on the roster. Then does he ever progress to more than that, given the competition he has within the division?
Now this isn’t a Pickett slander article. He can be a steady quarterback and under Steelers’ Head Coach, Mike Tomlin, who has never had a losing season, he will be fine. But, that is exactly the point. Does fine cut it in the NFL with all these superstar quarterbacks?
The NFL clearly decided that none of the 2022 QB class had that in them. The projection was too far away or too difficult to predict. Instead opting for veteran talent to tie them over.
Teams took chances at the top of the 2021 NFL Draft in an attempt to get a franchise QB in Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson and Trey Lance who all offer the potential to grow into the superstar QBs that now dominate the NFL landscape and discussion. The 2022 class? Simply was not that.
2. TEAMS PREFFERING TO DRAFT A WR RATHER THAN PAY THEM
Over the last few drafts the wide receiver position has been loaded. The college system continues to churn out quality wideouts, with the game moving to pass heavy sets.
This has correlated with teams seemingly preferring to draft a receiver rather than pay their own. This off season had already seen players like Tyreek Hill and Davante Adams traded away for draft assets, but even more receiver drama went down on draft night with 2 big trades for receivers.
AJ Brown was traded to the Eagles, after Mike Vrabel said that there was no way Brown would be traded while he was head coach rather than paying him. It is reported the Titans offered him $16 million which was well below the market value. Instead, Brown goes to the Eagles signing a 4 year $100 million contract.
With that capital, the Titans selected Treylon Burks out of Arkansas, who all the way through the draft process had been compared to AJ Brown. The Titans opted for a similarly skilled player on a much cheaper rookie contract.
The other big trade was Marquis ‘Hollywood’ Brown heading to Arizona to reunite with college friend and teammate Kyler Murray. The Ravens were able to unload a player who wanted out and who hadn’t exactly lit the NFL on fire during his time as a Raven. But after the draft, Peter King of NBC, reported that the Ravens were actually looking at drafting Calvin Austin III from Memphis as Hollywood Brown’s replacement. Instead, the Steelers took him 1 pick before the Ravens were on the clock again in the 4th round.
The Classes Keep Improving
The college wideout talent pool is so deep and so good now that the quality of players declaring for the draft is better than it has ever been. We saw 6 receivers go in the first 20 picks while 17 went in the first 3 rounds. That is tied for the most with 1994 and 2007. It is clear teams now see WR as a premium position and are trying to regain draft capital instead of paying big bucks which average around $25 million per year for a top rated NFL Receiver.
3. TEAMS STAYING AWAY FROM PLAYERS WITH OFF-FIELD CONCERNS
This feels like an obvious statement to make, but, we all know the NFL Draft is far more complicated than this simplistic statement.
It certainly felt like teams were less willing to take a chance on players with character or medical concerns this year than years past.
Carson Strong, Dare Rosenthal, Verone McKinley, Justyn Ross just to name a few went shockingly undrafted.
This could be down to a few reasons. The first being the sheer size of the 2022 draft class. Teams had more player to pick from this year as the player pool has grown and grown over the covid pandemic. College players have been able to defer years and gain extra experience as 6th year players which has accumulated in a bottle neck in the 2022 NFL Draft.
The 2022 NFL Draft has a player pool of over 2100 players. Compare that to the 2021 NFL Draft, the player pool number was just over 600. This may have led to teams thinking, why should they take a chance on a player they have concerns over when there are so many other players to take a chance on. There are players that would be draftable in any other year, that may struggle to get minicamp invites this year.
Now, the other argument to that is that there will be plenty of UDFAs this year who should be able to challenge rosters if they get the right opportunity. If these UDFAs are able to challenge established players then teams will continue to get younger and cheaper, which the NFL is always looking to do.
The second reason why teams were less willing to take chances in 2022 could be because of the return of the NFL Combine. It has led to the 2021 and 2022 draft cycles almost being polar opposites to each other. With no combine in 2021 due to the Coronavirus pandemic, teams were restricted in their medical evaluation and interviews with prospects. Teams were almost drafting some players in later rounds blind because they were not able to get in front of the player and their medical information was patchy. It meant that teams were taking more chances on players than in 2022.
4. THE BEST TEAMS DRAFT WELL
Again, this seems like stating the obvious, but some teams overcomplicate what the NFL Draft is and the best way to build a roster.
NFL teams have to continue to get younger, they have to continue to get cheaper while they also have to continue to get better. They can be difficult eggs to juggle. But, the NFL Draft gives teams the opportunity to do all 3 of those things. The teams that historically draft well are the teams which are the best.
Let’s take a look at today’s NFL and the 2022 NFL Draft. In particular let’s look at the Kansas City Chiefs and the Baltimore Ravens. When people ask or question why these 2 teams are great and how they consistently stay good, it is no secret. They draft good players. This is where teams, the media and fans can overcomplicate what to do in the draft and who to draft. Just take good players. Drafting for value over need will almost always gain net results. If you have a stud fall to you, as the Ravens did in Kyle Hamilton then that is great. You will get younger, you will get cheaper and you will get better. That is the aim of the game.
The best NFL teams draft well and have taken that approach. Teams such as the Jets and the Lions, who have earnt good draft grades over the last couple of draft cycles, have taken a similar approach and their rosters look infinitely better.
The other scenario here is what the LA Rams do. Which is to trade away their high value picks. That is a great counter argument, but they are still using their draft capital wisely. Plus, what makes the Rams competitive is making the most of their day 3 picks to get starters to surround their stars.
5. THE SENIOR BOWL MATTERS
The Senior Bowl is the premier all star game for NFl Draft prospects. No debate is needed on that and it has beared fruit over recent draft classes.
In the 2022 NFL Draft the Senior Bowl had 106 participants drafted, 45 of those in the first 3 rounds. That is 40% of the whole 2022 draft and is 82% of all Senior Bowl participants. The Cardinals, Raven, Seahawks and Cowboys all drafted 6 Senior Bowl players each. While the Falcons, Packers, Commanders and Buccaneers each drafted 5.
That shows what a brilliant job the Senior Bowl does to get these prospects to Mobile, but it also shows how vital it is for prospects to get to Mobile and showcase themselves in front of every NFL team who all send multiple scouts and front office personnel to Mobile for the week.
6.THE VALUE OF A WINNING PROGRAM
Finally, we move on to what it means to come from an elite college program. Since the NFL moved to the 7 round draft system in 1994, the Georgia Bulldogs now hold the record for the most players drafted from a single college program in the modern draft era. The Bulldogs had 15 players drafted in the 2022 NFL Draft after their National Championship winning season. LSU and Ohio State shared the previous record of 14 from 2020 and 2004 respectively.
Following the Bulldogs, LSU had 10 players drafted, then came Cincinnati with 9 before we get to Penn State with 8 and Alabama and Oklahoma both having 7 players drafted.
As for conferences the SEC has 65 players drafted. While the Big Ten had 46 and the Big 12 and PAC 12 both had 25.
The NFL Draft landscape is dominated with players from the top programs. That should come as no surprise as those players have the most exposure and are proven winners. NFL staff also have familiarity with these programs having drafted for the same schools multiple times, but, these elite college programs have a culture of winning and winning matters most of all. Georgia’s head coach, Kirby Smart is on record as saying he has an open policy to NFL teams coming to watch their players whenever they want. It helps NFL teams evaluate players and get familiar with them. Well Kirby, it is certainly working.
But, as the player pools become larger and highlights and game tape becomes more accessible the NFL is managing to find talent wherever it is. This year we saw players from Youngstown State, Valdosta St, Jackson State, Northwest Missouri State, just to name some smaller schools, get drafted. If you are a player who has talent, the NFL will find you.
Feature Image Credit: LA Times