There were 262 picks in the 2022 NFL draft. It will take a few years to know which teams got the most bang for their buck, but we have enough information to make some early judgment calls.
To help make sense of the annual three-day event, here’s a look at some of the superlatives from the weekend, starting with a surprising draft-night trade:
Best pick: Lions trade up for Alabama wide receiver Jameson Williams
When the Lions moved up to No. 12 at the price of a first- (No. 32), second- (No. 34) and third-round pick (No. 66), most people assumed it was going to be for a quarterback. So when it was announced that Detroit had instead selected Williams, it was truly a shocking moment — especially for a rebuilding team.
The Lions entered the offseason with one of the least imposing groups of wide receivers in the league, but after free agency and the draft, it’s turned into a position of strength. The speedy Williams joins rookie sensation Amon-Ra St. Brown and underrated veterans D.J. Chark and Josh Reynolds, a collection of players with complementary strengths. The Alabama star was one of the few receivers to threaten Georgia’s dominant defense last season, catching seven passes for 184 yards and two touchdowns in the SEC Championship game and another four passes for 65 yards in the national title game before suffering a torn ACL. Were it not for that injury, Williams might have been the first receiver off the board.
Jared Goff might not be the best quarterback to take advantage of Williams’ skill set, but there’s no doubt the Lions massively upgraded their offense with this one pick alone. This is a potentially franchise-altering move for Detroit, and general manager Brad Holmes deserves credit for making a bold move up the board to get it done.
Biggest reach: Patriots trade up for Chattanooga guard Cole Strange
The live reaction from Rams coach Sean McVay and general manager Les Snead says it all. They thought Strange might be available when they made their first pick at No. 104 overall in the third round, so imagine their surprise when they saw him come off the board at No. 29.
On The Athletic’s media consensus big board, which compiles rankings from more than 80 analysts, Strange was No. 76 overall. The Patriots were so confident in their evaluation of the 6-foot-5, 307-pound interior lineman that they even traded up with the Kansas City Chiefs to get him.
It’s not that Strange is a bad player; he’s one of the most athletic linemen in the class and projects as an immediate starter at guard, a major position of need. But the Patriots grossly misjudged the rest of the league’s evaluation of Strange and ended up losing out on the chance to pick a better player. That’s the kind of move that comes back to bite a franchise.
Most disappointing class: Bears give quarterback Justin Fields little help
After trading a 2022 first-round pick to the New York Giants last year to move up and take Fields, the Bears entered the draft with one hand tied behind their backs. But when they did finally have a chance to pick in the second round, they went with Washington cornerback Kyler Gordon at No. 39 overall and Penn State safety Jaquan Brisker at No. 48.
The frustration here is not with Gordon and Brisker, who project as above-average starters for a secondary that desperately needs help. It’s that the Bears have one of the worst offenses in the league and waited until pick No. 71 to take a receiver in Tennessee’s Velus Jones Jr., a soon-to-be 25-year-old who didn’t break out until his sixth college season and is known more for his ability as a return man. The offensive line remains a huge question mark, too, and the best the Bears could do was take the consensus 12th-ranked tackle, 22nd-ranked tackle, 19th-ranked guard and a center who did not even crack the top 300.
Chicago only has four more years of team control with Fields, three of which his contract will be team-friendly. If the Bears don’t invest in more offensive playmakers, they’re going to waste the hugely advantageous team-building opportunity a rookie quarterback provides.
Biggest head-scratcher: 49ers take another Day 2 running back
Did San Francisco forget what happened last year? In 2021, the 49ers took Ohio State running back Trey Sermon No. 88 overall in the third round, only for sixth-round pick Elijah Mitchell to emerge as the team’s leading rusher. It should be clear to coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch that good running backs can be found in the later rounds, so why did they pick LSU’s Tyrion Davis-Price at No. 93 overall?
It’s understandable that the 49ers would want to find a replacement for Raheem Mostert, who left in free agency this offseason, but Mitchell proved he can carry the load and Sermon is still just two years removed from being one of the best running backs in college football.
It’s not as if Davis-Price is a can’t-miss prospect, either. He averaged fewer than 3 yards per carry after contact and broke just 37 tackles on 211 carries last season, according to Pro Football Focus, and tested as a relatively average athlete. This pick doesn’t make any sense, especially for a team that had just two selections inside the top 100 and much bigger needs.
Best value: Ravens stick to their board
There’s a reason the Ravens have been one of the league’s model franchises since their first season in 1996. Through a combination of shrewd moves to acquire more picks and a fierce devotion to taking the best player available, the Ravens once again came away with a stellar class, highlighted by first-round picks Kyle Hamilton and Tyler Linderbaum. The Notre Dame safety and Iowa center entered the draft as the two clear top players at their respective positions, and they’re looking at long and fruitful careers in Baltimore if they can stay healthy.
In the second round, the Ravens added Michigan edge rusher David Ojabo, a former top-20 prospect who slipped down boards after suffering a torn Achilles tendon at his pro day. Then they cleaned up late on Day 2 and Day 3, using a record six fourth-round picks to come away with highly ranked players such as Connecticut defensive tackle Travis Jones (No. 40 on the consensus big board), Minnesota offensive tackle Daniel Faalele (No. 60), Alabama cornerback Jalyn Armour-Davis (No. 110), Iowa State tight end Charlie Kolar (No. 117), Coastal Carolina tight end Isaiah Likely (No. 97) and Missouri running back Tyler Badie (No. 149).
After adjusting for need and positional value, the Ravens’ return on investment when judged against The Athletic’s consensus big board ranked fifth among all teams — and it would have been higher if not for the pick of Penn State punter Jordan Stout, who was judged as a massive reach at No. 130 overall as the 276th-ranked player.
For a team that needs to fill out its roster with young, cheap talent in preparation for quarterback Lamar Jackson’s looming megadeal, this was a home run.
Most underrated class: Texans build a solid foundation
Say what you want about the Texans’ commitment to quarterback Davis Mills, but there’s no doubt they got better this weekend. Starting with LSU cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. at No. 3 overall, Houston expertly navigated the board and came away with potential impact players in key areas of need.
You could quibble with the selection of Texas A&M offensive lineman Kenyon Green at No. 15 overall since he was expected to go in the late 20s and will probably end up at guard, but the Texans simply needed to draft good players. Baylor defensive back Jalen Pitre (No. 37 overall), Alabama wide receiver John Metchie (No. 44), Alabama linebacker Christian Harris (No. 75) and Florida running back Dameon Pierce (No. 107) can be Day 1 starters and immediately raise the team’s floor.
General manager Nick Caserio and coach Lovie Smith have a long rebuild ahead of them after trading quarterback Deshaun Watson, but this draft class is a big step in the right direction.
Most misunderstood class: Packers solidify their defense
When the Packers ignored wide receiver in the first round for the 20th straight year, the criticism of the front office and jokes at quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ expense flew fast and furious. But when you zoom out and see what Green Bay’s defense looks like with the addition of Georgia linebacker Quay Walker (No. 22 overall) and his college teammate, defensive tackle Devonte Wyatt (No. 28), it’s hard to argue with the results.
With Walker and Wyatt bolstering the middle alongside All-Pro linebacker De’Vondre Campbell, Preston Smith and Rashan Gary setting the edge and cornerbacks Jaire Alexander and Eric Stokes patrolling the secondary with safeties Darnell Savage and Adrian Amos, it’s easy to envision Green Bay having one of the best defenses in the league in 2022. Good luck trying to run the ball against this team.
Second-round pick Christian Watson isn’t going to fill Davante Adams’ big shoes, but the North Dakota State receiver has the strength and speed to develop into an impact player. The Packers also added Nevada wideout Romeo Doubs, an underrated downfield separator, in the fourth round and beefed up their offensive line with UCLA’s Sean Rhyan, Wake Forest’s Zach Tom and Penn State’s Rasheed Walker. South Carolina’s Kingsley Enagbare, one of the most productive pass-rushers in the SEC, was a slam dunk at pick No. 179 for the consensus 75th-ranked player.
It’s easy to pick on the Packers for not giving Rodgers more help, but general manager Brian Gutekunst deserves more credit for this smart big-picture approach.
Most bang for their buck: Panthers provide hope for the future
In the end, after all the rumors about drafting quarterback Kenny Pickett, the Panthers took North Carolina State offensive tackle Ikem Ekwonu at No. 6 overall — and are better off for it. Ekwonu is an elite prospect who can fill a huge hole at left tackle, and his dominance in the running game should help star running back Christian McCaffrey get back on track.
But the real value came later in the draft, as the Panthers took Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral in the third round at No. 94 overall. Corral is a good athlete with a quick release who can deliver the ball with accuracy, giving Carolina a much better long-term option than the disappointing Sam Darnold.
If that wasn’t enough, the Panthers added three elite athletes in Penn State linebacker Brandon Smith (No. 120 overall), Virginia Tech defensive end Amaré Barno (No. 189) and Baylor cornerback Kalon Barnes (No. 242), all players who ran the 40-yard dash in the 90th percentile or better for their respective positions. Those are the types of athletes worth betting on.
This class won’t save coach Matt Rhule’s job this season, but it has the potential to be a franchise-altering group of players, especially if Corral hits.
Biggest gamble: Titans prepare for a new era
There was buzz before the draft that the Titans could be a surprise team to take a quarterback, but nobody expected such a hard pivot from the AFC’s reigning No. 1 seed. After trading star wide receiver A.J. Brown to the Philadelphia Eagles, the Titans drafted his replacement in Arkansas’ Treylon Burks, a similarly sized prospect who can break tackles and pick up yards after the catch.
The big surprise came in the third round, as the Titans ended Liberty quarterback Malik Willis’ fall at pick No. 86. Ryan Tannehill is still the clear starter, but the Titans have a potential out in his deal after the season. Willis, a rocket-armed athlete who might enter the league as the second-best running quarterback behind Jackson, can sit and develop before taking over in 2023.
It’s hard to break up a good team that can’t get over the hump — just look at coach Mike Vrabel’s pained reaction in the war room after the Titans traded away Brown. But for Tennessee to have any chance of getting past quarterbacks like Patrick Mahomes, Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert, Russell Wilson, Deshaun Watson and Jackson in the AFC, they need a signal-caller with more upside. Only time will tell if the bet on Willis and his physical tools will pay off, but the Titans deserve credit for recognizing their weaknesses and making a big change.
Best Day 3 pick: Commanders stop North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell’s fall
If someone told coach Ron Rivera and the Commanders front office that they could get one of the top-five quarterbacks in this class in the fifth round, would they have traded for Carson Wentz? It’s an interesting “what if,” but Washington should be happy with how things turned out.
Howell is far from a perfect prospect, but if you polled analysts and executives around the league at this time last year, he would be considered a first-round lock. Does one relatively disappointing season — after he lost all his best playmakers to the NFL draft — really mean he can’t hang in the pros?
Given Wentz’s struggles at the end of last season, there’s a real chance Howell gets some starting reps as a rookie. Even if he doesn’t, this is a worthy bet for a franchise that hasn’t been able to find a long-term option at quarterback for decades.