The most prestigious selection class ever of any in NFL history is now underway, with 262 players transitioning to professional football players after this year’s 2022 NFL draft.
The biggest draft class in NFL history is officially over: 262 prospects joined the ranks of professional soccer players. Are there lessons to be learned, learned, and applied in the future? The draft saw a record number of exchanges that included first-round picks, repeated the record for the number of receivers selected in the first three rounds, and rated the quarterback class incredibly low, so decision-makers, despite predictions that needy passing teams would panic enough, made no drastic moves.
Are these all trends or isolated cases?
At least two trends have maintained their forward momentum: the dominance of prospects from the SEC conference (particularly Georgia and Alabama), which has faithfully supplied quality personnel for the NFL, and Baltimore’s ability to form an optimal draft board and draft strategy.
Here are six seemingly logical conclusions to consider when preparing for the next draft.
1. Finally, teams are on the right track in evaluating quarterback prospects
For months, talk about the draft – both in NFL circles and in the press – has centered around the discrepancy between quarterback estimates and the expectation that franchises will start drafting them much earlier than they should logically be anyway. But that hasn’t happened.
Only one passer, Kenny Pickett, left in the first round, chosen by Pittsburgh under the 20th overall. They hadn’t taken their first quarterback this late since 1997. We had to wait a very long time until the next pass rusher, Desmond Ridder, left the draft board for Atlanta in the third round at the 74th pick, the third-lowest second quarterback pick in draft history.
Instead of panicking and overdrafting, front offices looked for other ways to acquire starters beforehand. Russell Wilson, Carson Wentz, and Deshaun Watson moved to new teams through trades, and Marcus Mariota and Mitch Trubicky were signed as free agents.
Another thing to keep in mind: five quarterbacks went in the first round in the 2021 draft and three in 2020. In other words, eight teams — exactly a quarter of the league — are currently tied to young passers who are ineligible for a full contract.
As a result, the draft class of quarterbacks was dealt where it was supposed to be, with the exception of Malik Willis of the Liberty program, who fell into Tennessee’s hands as early as the third round. All of the managers’ statements can be boiled down to one phrase: none of these quarterbacks look like starters who should by no means be missed.
2. The receiver has turned into a premium position
The general consensus among people who understand soccer has long boiled down to one truth: the top positions to build a viable roster are quarterback, left tackle, pass rusher and cornerback. It’s time to add a wide receiver to that list.
Seventeen receivers were selected in the first three rounds of the draft, a repeat of the 1994 and 2007 records. Add to that the trade factor when Amari Cooper, Devante Adams, Tyreek Hill, A.J. Brown and Marquis Brown found a new home. It turns out that this offseason it was within the receiving group that the maximum number of quality player moves happened.
There is enough talent coming out of college doors that is already ready for professional soccer. Gone are the days when receiving freshmen had no impact on a team’s play. Just remember what Justin Jefferson and Jamarr Chase did in 2020 and 2021. The increase in assists at the collegiate level and familiarity with more advanced route-running concepts already in high school, including 7-on-7 offseason leagues, has also provoked a surge of talented wide receivers: in the last three first-round drafts alone, 17 prospect at this position have gone to.
This trend is also tied to the rising wages of receivers — teams are looking to get younger and cheaper instead of paying a superstar $25 million a year. But don’t forget that the NFL is a wannabe league. The Bengals went from worst to best, thanks in part to the three receivers selected in the first two rounds: Chase (2021), T. Higgins (2020) and Tyler Boyd (2016). That philosophy has proven effective, so franchises are loading up on young catchers trying to replicate Cincinnati’s success.
Who’s capable of doing that now? Chris Olave teamed up with Michael Thomas in New Orleans, a great place to start his career. Jamison Williams is paired with Amon-Ra St. Brown in Detroit – here’s another player ready to explode in his first season. Now these teams just have to find their own Joe Burrow.
3. The trades have never been this easy.
Draft 2022 set another new record when as many as 10 teams went undrafted in the first round. Miami and the LA Rams took the first pick at the end of the third round. These three days showed us that trades are no longer something out of the ordinary, unexpected and suffered through sleepless nights.
In the past, one of the unwritten rules was a ban on intra-divisional trades. Minnesota did that twice, allowing Detroit and Green Bay to move up in the draft by selecting receivers Jamison Williams and Christian Watson.
So why did the philosophy of draft-capital bidding begin to change? There are more general managers who have come through the thorns of the front office together. They have close ties that allow them to trust each other and communicate on a different level that facilitates transactions. General managers are getting younger, getting rid of the prejudices of the old days.
Another aspect of this year’s active market was that teams were not finding unequivocal and unquestionable leaders in positions. There were too many roughly equal avenues, allowing for aggressive trade-ups by some and easy trade-downs by others. Few players in this draft class were truly considered elite.
4. The SEC remains on the throne
It probably won’t surprise anyone to learn that this conference holds the record for the most prospect selections in the 2020 draft in rounds 1-3: 40 players. This year, the SEC came close to the high again, giving the NFL 34 players in the first two days of the draft, including a record seven Georgia defenders taken in the first 105 picks. All told, teams selected 15 Georgia prospects, the most players of any program in the history of 7-round drafts and the third-highest total in draft history.
Not to be forgotten is Alabama, ranked second with 6 players selected in the first three rounds this year. Since 2016, 50 Crimson Tide prospects have been taken off the draft board in the first two rounds – no one else has.
In all, 65 SEC players went in this draft – a repeat of last year’s record for the number of players selected from a single conference. And until the NCAA has a super-conference that incorporates a couple dozen elite programs (which can’t be ruled out), the SEC is unlikely to have any competition in the foreseeable future. As NFL teams have been preparing to evaluate class of 2023 prospectuses since the summer, it is still the Southeastern Conference that has the most potential and promise. It should have the maximum number of scouts’ eyes on it.
5. Baltimore is back on top
Ozzie Newsome took over as executive vice president in charge of recruiting in 1996 when the team moved from Cleveland and called itself the Ravens. As early as 2002, Newsom was promoted to pure general manager, after which a string of excellent draft picks made him one of the best managers in league history.
After the 2018 rookie draft, Newsom, after giving Baltimore franchise player Lamar Johnson, resigned, handing the reins to his longtime deputy, Eric DeCosta, so no one knew if the successful streak of draft picks would continue. But it turns out DeCosta learned a lot from his predecessor.
In the 2022 draft, the Ravens selected three of the top 30 prospects by The Athletic and four of the top 40. Each pick was a draw, each representing incredible value for their pick.
Safty Kyle Hamilton looks a steele at all under his 14th overall. After trading Marquis Brown to Arizona, Baltimore got an extra pick, applying it to center Tyler Linderbaum, cementing the offensive line.
The second round featured a steele of one of the best pass rushers, David Ojabo, recovering from an Achilles tear (28 overall). The team reunited him with former Michigan college coordinator Mike McDonald, who is now in charge of the Ravens defense. Ojabo will likely miss 2022 (or snag the end of the season if his recovery goes well) to safety, but he was projected in the top 15 before the injury.
Under 37 picks, Baltimore waited for Travis Jones’ no-hitter to secure an A+ grade. All of the team’s top picks were taken without trad-ups, expending no extra resources.
But on day three, DeCosta continued to pick up potential starters. First under the 58-overall was offensive tackle Daniel Falele — one of the best welsh of the entire draft for 32 franchises — by satisfying the need for a right tackle. Then it was Alabama cornerback Jalen Amour-Davis’ turn, a 4th round guy with huge upside. Great job by the office!
6. Chicago is trapped
God bless Baltimore – they’re content players, and they should work that way on all fronts. Take a look at the New York Jets draft class: Star receiver Garrett Wilson in the first round, joining last year’s acquisitions of Corey Davis and Elijah Moore; starting running back Brice Hall and potential third-round starter Jeremy Ruckett; Offensive lineman Max Mitchell, selected in the fourth round, joined by Elijah Vera-Trooker, Connor McGovern, Laken Tomlison, George Plante and Mehai Becton, all of whom have made the team in the past two years.
All because the Jets are building a home for their quarterback Zach Wilson.
But exactly the same thing the Jaguars are doing for Trevor Lawrence — more through the free agent market than the draft. San Francisco has already provided a great foundation on offense, pending Trey Lance. The Patriots selected linebacker and receiver Mac Jones in the first two rounds — and that’s after those investments in offensive players made in the 2021 market. Right now, it doesn’t matter how all of these guys play or whether any of them can become NFL stars. We’re talking about the amount of resources expended.
And then there are the Chicago Bears.
There’s probably no point in blaming new general manager Ryan Poles, who inherited the worst roster in the league. He tore down a dilapidated house, walking away from players like Allen Robinson, Kalil Mack and Akeem Hicks. The new house will be built on a new foundation. Sekondari Bears was probably one of their strongest units, but the first two draft picks — cornerback Kyle Gordon and safety Jaquan Brisker — prove that Pole’s is in talent-gathering mode, regardless of their position. Right now, the Bears just need good players — any good players.
It’s a hard reality for Poles, for new head coach Matt Iberflus, for everyone in Chicago, including the fans. But it’s especially bad for Justin Fields. This quarterback came into the league last year, along with Lawrence, Wilson, Lance and Jones. He arrived in the NFL with all the talent one could want in a rookie. His flashes in 2021 were as exciting and encouraging as any other young pass rusher. But while the rest of his draft class quarterbacks play on teams with ample resources and recognized talent, building an offense around him, Chicago is incapable of coming to Fields’ aid in the here and now. The Bears have a long way to go. Okay, it would be just a matter of guns, but they leave Fields unprotected.
Fields has brought not only able to the NFL but also several bad habits from his time at Ohio State. He takes a lot of sacks and gets hit too often when running the ball. Last year’s o-line left Fields constantly unattended, instilling another lousy habit in him: dropping his eyes at the beginning of a drop-back in hopes of determining which side will get to him this time. On that, he wastes time analyzing his cover and time preparing his shot. He wasn’t a perfect passer in the fast game as it is. Because of his poor receivers, Fields constantly ran into miscommunications, wrong routes and drops. The offensive line and receivers prescribed to Fields in his first year in the league and now differ in name, but not in quality. On the field, he will once again have to endure rather than develop. Chicago continues to wreak havoc on both his health and his prospects.
In word of mouth, there are still high expectations for him. He’s athletic, he’s talented – why not? But Poles is climbing out from under the ruins of the roster left behind by Pace. He made the first of many moves in this draft. And if you go back to hope, the real hope is that by the time Poles gets to the offense, it won’t be too late for Fields.