The 2022 NFL draft is already fading into Mr. Irrelevance, 262 college players now on their way to the League.
Three years (or so) from now, we’ll have a solid idea how things turned out for them, that passage of time a pretty good barometer for the trajectory of an NFL career. For instance, just consider the Oakland Raiders’ 2019 draft, which featured the promise of three first-round players: DE Clelin Ferrell, RB Josh Jacobs and S Johnathan Abram. At that point in time, it was hoped the trio would spark a franchise revival.
In the years since, the Raiders got incrementally better, moved to Las Vegas (site of this year’s draft) and just made the playoffs for the first time since 2016. Alas, Ferrell and Abram contributed little to that effort. And though Jacobs made the Pro Bowl in 2020 and has been an effective player overall, he’s often banged up, and his production has steadily declined – he rushed for a career-low 58.1 yards per game in 2021. Now under new management, the Raiders declined the fifth-year contract options for all three players.
Back in 2019, I graded that draft a “B” – fourth-round DE Maxx Crosby and fifth-round WR Hunter Renfrow turned out to be the keepers – giving it a bump because the team used its Round 3 selection to trade for All-Pro WR Antonio Brown.
More succinctly said, it’s a very apt example of the folly of grading a draft in its immediate aftermath.
But first impressions are what they are – we’ll call them grades if we must – and who am I to not give the people what they want? (However, let’s strive to pull back for a big-picture look at each club’s draft rather than judging them in a vacuum that doesn’t include trades and other considerations that more accurately frame each haul.)
So, with that in mind, here are your ridiculously premature 2022 NFL draft grades, with team classes ranked from best to worst:
BEST UNDRAFTED PLAYERS:Who were top players who didn’t hear their names called?
NFL DRAFT WINNERS, LOSERS:Bears, Patriots take puzzling paths on Day 2
New York Jets
It may seem easy or even lazy to praise the team that had three-first round selections, and that’s partially attributable to the Jets being a bad club in 2021. But it goes deeper than that. GM Joe Douglas fully reaped the rewards this year of offloading S Jamal Adams and QB Sam Darnold – players he didn’t draft – which is really why the Jets had so much draft capital at their disposal. And it sure appeared that Douglas leveraged it wisely. CB Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner (No. 4 overall), WR Garrett Wilson (No. 10) and RB Breece Hall (No. 36) were each arguably the best players at their respective positions this year. And by trading back into the first round at No. 26 for Florida State pass rusher Jermaine Johnson II, Douglas might have scored one of the great value selections given Johnson was regarded as a top-10 pick in some circles. If the Jets are ever going to get off the tarmac, Douglas’ past two drafts will almost certainly be the primary reasons why. Grade: A+
Los Angeles Rams
(Expletive) them picks. They traded a future one to Cleveland to reacquire Troy Hill, who’d distinguished himself in the slot for the Rams before getting paid by the Browns last year. Wisconsin G Logan Bruss arrived courtesy a compensatory Round 3 slot and could take over the job vacated when Austin Corbett signed with Carolina. But the Rams didn’t have their first-, second- or organic third-round pick because they wanted QB Matthew Stafford and since departed OLB Von Miller instead. We’d say winning their first Super Bowl while based in Los Angeles with those guys – and Stafford has since been extended – was worth the price. Grade: A
On the flip side of the Stafford coin, coach Dan Campbell and GM Brad Holmes seem to be putting the draft capital obtained from the Rams to good use as the Motown rebuild rolls on. Probably a gift that Michigan DE Aidan Hutchinson, arguably this year’s best incoming player, “fell” to Detroit at No. 2 before Holmes and Campbell vaulted up 20 spots from No. 32 in order to get highly touted Alabama WR Jameson Williams. And with two first-rounders at the ready for 2023, probably smart the Lions didn’t roll the dice on one of this year’s quarterbacks – opting instead on Day 2 for Kentucky DE Joshua Paschal and Illinois S Kerby Joseph, players who can contribute immediately. Grade: A
GM Howie Roseman, as he loves to do, continuously worked the board – really over the last year – and winds up with beaucoup assets for the present and future. The trade for Titans WR A.J. Brown should continue to facilitate the development of QB Jalen Hurts. Talented second-round C Cam Jurgens should take over for Jason Kelce in 2023. And a 10th-ranked defense gets elevated by Georgia Bulldogs stars Jordan Davis (Round 1) and Nakobe Dean (Round 3). And Roseman still has two first-round chips for next year and an extra second in 2024 in case things go awry with Hurts … or not. Grade: A
Their first selection was spent on Notre Dame’s multi-talented Kyle Hamilton, who might have been a top-five pick if he didn’t play safety. GM Eric DeCosta followed that up with a stunning trade of WR Marquise Brown, one that brought another first-rounder back to Baltimore and was ultimately used on highly regarded C Tyler Linderbaum. Third-round DL Travis Jones could be a steal. Then a team crippled by injuries last season reloaded with scads of quality depth in the middle rounds. But you really had to like the fit of second-round pass rusher David Ojabo, who only fell that far because of an Achilles injury suffered at Michigan’s pro day. Prior to that, Ojabo blossomed into a star in 2021 under the tutelage of defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald, who returned to Baltimore this offseason to assume the same job. Who better than Macdonald to optimize a somewhat raw – but Round 1-caliber – talent like Ojabo once he’s ready to play again? Grade: A
A team that may enter the 2022 season as the prohibitive AFC favorites didn’t necessarily have a lot of needs but came away with really good players who should pay immediate dividends. First-round CB Kaiir Elam has ideal physical traits (size, speed) for the position, and his presence could ease any pressure on Pro Bowler Tre’Davious White to return too quickly amid his recovery from an ACL tear. Second-round RB James Cook will bring needed juice to the ground game and maybe reduce some of that load on QB Josh Allen. Even fifth-round WR Khalil Shakir might soften the departure of slot WR Cole Beasley. The Round 6 choice spent on Matt “Punt God” Araiza, whose booming leg will cut through those Lake Erie winds, was the cherry on top. Grade: A
They might’ve drafted only one impact player, second-round pass rusher Nik Bonitto arriving after giving the Oklahoma Sooners 16 sacks over the past two seasons. You don’t need to be Miller, Nik, just do your thing. But this draft (and next year’s) was effectively swapped for QB Russell Wilson, who should finally resolve a position that’s been a dumpster fire since Peyton Manning retired. Enough said. Grade: A
Las Vegas Raiders
They needed to improve the blocking in front of QB Derek Carr and obtained Memphis G Dylan Parham in Round 3. Georgia RB Zamir “Zeus” White arrived in the following round and might be taking over for Jacobs in a year. And, incidentally, the Silver and Black also got the best receiver in the game – All-Pro Davante Adams – for their first- and second-rounders, and that’s really what Carr and Co. care about. Grade: A-
Mid-round DE Alex Wright (Round 3), WR David Bell (Round 3), DT Perrion Winfrey (Round 4) and K Cade York (Round 4) could all pay off right away. And don’t forget they essentially surrendered a fifth-rounder to get WR Amari Cooper. But this draft and future ones will ultimately be defined by what QB Deshaun Watson, and all the baggage he comes with, provides to this franchise. Grade: A-
They had a draft-low four choices, though did pick up LB Channing Tindall (Round 3) from that championship Georgia defense. But GM Chris Grier spent this year’s assets to pry WR Tyreek Hill from the Chiefs after previously ensuring he’d have a pair of first-rounders for a QB-rich 2023 draft … just in case. Grade: A-
New York Giants
Rookie GM Joe Schoen, the beneficiary of the extra first-rounder obtained in predecessor Dave Gettleman’s final draft, appeared to put his first one pretty much in the fairway. No guarantee QB Daniel Jones returns in 2023, but Schoen set him up to succeed in 2022 with the selection of first-round OT Evan Neal, productive second-round WR Wan’Dale Robinson and G Joshua Ezeudu. Defensive holes were also addressed with slot corner Cordale Flott in Round 3, S Dane Belton in Round 4 and LB Micah McFadden in Round 5. But No. 5 overall pick Kayvon Thibodeaux, Oregon’s massively talented pass rusher, is on top of the marquee – which is exactly where he wants to be. If he turns out to be a Broadway success story, Big Blue could be back soon. Grade: A-
LSU CB Derek Stingley Jr. (No. 3 overall pick), Texas A&M OL Kenyon Green (15th overall), Baylor S Jalen Pitre (Round 2), Alabama WR John Metchie III (Round 2), Alabama LB Christian Harris (Round 3) and Florida RB Dameon Pierce (Round 4) could all be opening-day starters for an organization that markedly improved its roster’s nucleus. If his injury issues are behind him, Stingley might emerge as this draft’s best player. It’s all couched by the fact Houston is (and will be in the future) using assets obtained in the trade of Watson, but GM Nick Caserio had no choice but to move on. Grade: B+
Their first draft as the rechristened Commanders didn’t start out well given that panicky trade for QB Carson Wentz cost them their third-rounder and probably a future second. But they recovered, recouping some capital before spending that first selection on Penn State WR Jahan Dotson, who should be quite a help to Wentz and maybe the special teams, too. Washington also got its annual complement of Alabama studs (DT Phidarian Mathis, RB Brian Robinson). But fifth-round QB Sam Howell could be the story here. He was taken late enough that he shouldn’t pose an immediate threat to Wentz, yet Howell might also provide Day 3 Kirk Cousins-level returns down the road if circumstances force him into the lineup. Grade: B+
Los Angeles Chargers
First-round OL Zion Johnson will improve the care of QB Justin Herbert, just as fourth-round RB Isaiah Spiller will help take care of Austin Ekeler. But the big win could be getting OLB Khalil Mack, assuming he’s healthy, for a second-rounder. Grade: B
New Orleans Saints
In a post-Brees, post-Payton world, you have to admire their chutzpah, going all in to stock this depth chart while sacrificing a 2023 first-rounder and 2024 second-rounder to Philly. GM Mickey Loomis targeted two premier positions in Round 1, getting Trevor Penning to replace departed LT Terron Armstead after drafting Ohio State WR Chris Olave – who just might have the goods to take this offense to another level. Maybe this draft doesn’t end up aging well … or maybe it positions the Saints to reclaim the NFC South crown they wore for so long. Grade: B
A lot to unpack here. Dealing Pro Bowl WR A.J. Brown and trading up for Liberty QB Malik Willis strongly suggests this is a franchise trying to navigate a transition without descending into a rebuild. (And don’t be surprised if fourth-round RB Hassan Haskins inherits Derrick Henry’s job one day.) The AFC South champs will still run it back with Henry, QB Ryan Tannehill and Co. in 2022 – their ranks augmented by first-round WR Treylon Burks and second-round CB Roger McCreary – but also definitely the potential things get … awkward? Grade: B
Roll of the dice with the No. 1 pick, and the Jags opted for DE Travon Walker’s potential ahead of Hutchinson’s production. Time will tell. But you had to like GM Trent Baalke coming back into the bottom of Round 1 to snag LB Devin Lloyd 27th overall. He and QB Trevor Lawrence could/should lead this franchise for the next decade-plus. Third-rounders Luke Fortner and Chad Muma are, at center and linebacker, respectively, both immediate starters. Grade: B
New GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah’s first draft was short on sex appeal but arguably just what the Vikes needed. Perfectly content to swing trades with the division rival Packers and Lions, Adofo-Mensah worked the board on the way to adding S Lewis Cine, CB Andrew Booth, G Ed Ingram and LB Brian Asamoah in the first 66 picks. All project as opening-day starters, especially important for a Minnesota defense that consistently betrayed this offense in recent seasons. Grade: B
They so thoroughly revamped their offensive line during free agency, the Bengals didn’t draft a blocker (Cordell Volson) until Round 4. First-round DB Daxton Hill is a versatile player who should contribute early and might replace FS Jessie Bates III in a year if the franchise-tagged standout doesn’t get extended. Yet you wonder if the AFC champs, who admittedly didn’t have any needs in their starting lineup, should’ve spun some of those picks forward into 2023. Grade: B
A franchise that knows how to mine receiving diamonds might have found two more gems in second-rounder George Pickens and fourth-rounder Calvin Austin III. Round 3 D-lineman DeMarvin Leal could reach his vast potential amid the Steel City culture. And how about taking All-Pro DL Cam Heyward’s brother, Connor (a Michigan State tight end/H-back) in the sixth? However, going back to the domestic angle, this crop will be defined by the selection of Pitt QB Kenny Pickett. The Steelers could have had any passer in this draft – any two as it turned out – as they tried to move on from retired Ben Roethlisberger. But they went with the guy who was already in their building, a football training facility shared with the Pittsburgh Panthers, and coach Mike Tomlin already believes Pickett could be his Week 1 starter despite the presence of newly signed Mitchell Trubisky. Skeptics could say Pickett, who turns 24 in June, is close to maxing out his ability and might not be much more than a lateral move from Trubisky, especially given the tantalizing potential that was available with Liberty’s Malik Willis. Clearly Tomlin and retiring GM Kevin Colbert are banking on much more. Grade: B
Kansas City Chiefs
They got a heavy return from Miami in the Tyreek Hill blockbuster – and the Cheetah had backed them into a financial corner – but QB Patrick Mahomes no longer has his most dangerous weapon. Yet interestingly, the perennial AFC West champs emphasized the other side of the ball with their acquired selections, five of their first six picks – including Round 1 CB Trent McDuffie and DE George Karlaftis – spent on a defense that will soon be facing far more formidable offenses in the AFC West. Second-round WR Skyy Moore should be a productive player straight away … but, again, no Tyreek Hill here. Less is more? More is less? If the Chiefs are lucky, more will mean more. Grade: B
Good odds GM Chris Ballard found four starters on Day 2, when he picked WR Alec Pierce in the second round and TE Jelani Woods, LT Bernhard Raimann and S Nick Cross in the third. Of course, any enthusiasm must be somewhat tempered by the loss of Indy’s first-round pick amid the failed Wentz experiment. Still, given the path the Titans took this weekend, the Colts may have closed the gap in the AFC South. Grade: B-
San Francisco 49ers
Second-round USC edge rusher Drake Jackson is the headline player and should bolster the depth the Niners like to feature on their defensive line. Perhaps the real headline is that Niners brass didn’t cave to All-Pro WR Deebo Samuel’s trade request – not yet anyway – and it now appears there’s time to salvage the relationship with a player who’s certainly critical to the development of young QB Trey Lance. But this is one of those drafts that’s hard to assess holistically given the first-round pick (along with next year’s) was spent on last year’s investment for Lance with the No. 3 overall selection. Probably gonna be at least a few seasons before anyone knows if he makes this all worth it. Grade: B-
Green Bay Packers
This is an eye of the beholder situation. Hard to spin the loss of Adams as any sort of positive, especially when the Pack weren’t in position in Round 1 to get an approximate replacement from a talent perspective. GM Brian Gutekunst got aggressive in Round 2, dealing up for North Dakota State WR Christian Watson – though it remains to be seen how quickly he’ll earn QB Aaron Rodgers’ trust. Yet it’s also fair to posit the Packers had gone as far as they could with the Rodgers-Adams connection, and their Super Bowl aspirations are better served by loading up the defense with stars from Georgia’s defense like first-rounders Quay Walker and Devonte Wyatt. Third-round OL Sean Rhyan could also fortify the protection of Rodgers. So maybe Green Bay got better … but probably not. Grade: C+
The trade of Wilson and release of LB Bobby Wagner signaled a new (throwback?) era in the Emerald City. Coach Pete Carroll and GM John Schneider went to work investing in assets Wilson might have liked – a pair of young tackles, Charles Cross (Round 1) and Abraham Lucas (Round 3) – plus potential building blocks for the next iteration of the Legion of Boom in promising pass rusher Boye Mafe (Round 2) and underrated CB Coby Bryant (Round 4). Second-round RB Kenneth Walker III could eventually define this ground attack similar to the way Marshawn Lynch once did. But it’s really tough to grade this haul given the loss of Wilson is attached to it, and it will be another year before the Seahawks use the other first- and second-rounder obtained in the package for the best passer in franchise history. (And how far are Drew Lock and/or Geno Smith taking you?) Then there’s the 2020 trade for Jamal Adams, one that cost two first-round picks (including this year’s) and his massive extension – a decision that perspective has been unkind to. Seattle fans should be enthused about this year’s incoming players, but they’ll miss the former ones … and those they would have welcomed if not for the Adams freight. Grade: C
Getting N.C. State’s Ickey Ekwonu at No. 6 could prove larcenous, particularly for a team that desperately needed a left tackle. GM Scott Fitterer and coach Matt Rhule also maneuvered back into Round 3 for Ole Miss QB Matt Corral. But they probably wish they hadn’t spent their original second-rounder on Darnold nor their third on CB C.J. Henderson. And though this franchise has desperately pursued solutions under center, Corral is another significant gamble … one from which Rhule may not recover. Grade: C
Considering how important this draft likely is to their anticipated resurrection – including less-than-face-value picks they got for WR Julio Jones (2nd) and QB Matt Ryan (3rd) – the results feel a little … meh? WR Drake London at No. 8 might be the next Mike Evans, moving the chains and terrorizing the red zone. But he’s unlikely to be a game breaker, and those kind of receivers seemed to be on the table. And there simply appear to be a lot of bets on upside here with a one-year wonder like Penn State DE Arnold Ebiketie and mid-rounders lacking Power Five bona fides. One was QB Desmond Ridder. Maybe the Cincinnati star blossoms while marinating behind Marcus Mariota … or maybe he becomes part of a roster that may still lack the foundational pieces it really needed to add. Grade: C-
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Second-round DL Logan Hall might energize that interior pass rush, and maybe third-round RB Rachaad White offers more than departed Ronald Jones II did behind RB1 Leonard Fournette. But all things considered, it seemed like the Bucs could’ve been more aggressive given they’re clearly in a Super Bowl-or-bust circumstance. Grade: C-
The jury should be out for a while on QB Justin Fields, whose arrival in 2021 also came at the expense of this year’s first-rounder. But you would’ve thought rookie GM Ryan Poles would have done more to find players in this draft – specifically weapons and blockers – to accelerate Fields’ development. Nope. Make no mistake, second-round DBs Kyler Gordon and Jaquan Brisker are really good players … but you wonder if that defense will be on the field a lot in 2022 considering the way things have gone for Fields. Grade: C-
New England Patriots
Time was, you didn’t question anything Bill Belichick did in the name of The Patriot Way. Time is … well, BB hasn’t won a playoff game for New England without Tom Brady and, even before TB12’s departure, his draft record was spotty at best – especially at receiver and corner. But the Pats took speedy Baylor WR Tyquan Thornton in the second round followed by CBs Marcus Jones (Round 3) and Jack Jones (Round 4), a need clearly existing after Pro Bowler J.C. Jackson left in free agency. Beyond that, the first-round selection of Tennessee-Chattanooga OL Cole Strange – a very good player by most accounts – also seemed, well, strange … and perhaps quite premature. A fourth-round pick was spent on record-setting Western Kentucky QB Bailey Zappe (5,967 yards and 62 TDs in 2021), whose numbers are far more impressive than his physical attributes. Marcus Jones might bear the most watching since he’s an exceptional kick returner and can moonlight as a receiver – so maybe he’s an optimal Patriot. Grade: D+
First-round LT Tyler Smith was their guy … but they probably could’ve gotten him later than No. 24. Second-round DE Sam Williams brings production – and a checkered past. And the middle of the defensive line still looms as a significant problem. Grade: D+
Mackey Award-winning TE Trey McBride (Round 2) is a sweet player, but are the Cards suddenly going base double-tight after re-signing Zach Ertz for three more years? But far more head scratching was sacrificing their first-round pick to get “Hollywood” Brown, a teammate of QB Kyler Murray at Oklahoma, both former Sooners heading into their fourth seasons. Brown has scary speed and maybe didn’t get to showcase it enough on a Baltimore offense that wanted to run the ball. But hard to believe that GM Steve Keim didn’t severely overpay – especially since he’ll also presumably be on the hook for extensions for Brown and Murray any minute. Grade: D
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.