If you wanted drama, the 2022 NFL draft delivered it in bunches. The Las Vegas spirit was truly in the air as teams wheeled, dealed and gambled. Eleven trades had been made before the draft started, and nine more occurred throughout the evening. Teams focused heavily on the secondary, linemen and wide receivers, while few took risks on an uninspiring quarterback class — with only one QB ultimately drafted in the first round.
It was a star-studded afternoon at an outdoor theater in Las Vegas, where futures were designed and dreams were realized.
It’s worth rooting for the hometown heroes
There’s a decent level of comfort that comes with staying close to home. The pressure from familiar fans, for instance, may be more uplifting than discouraging. And given the criticism that some of the NFL’s newest players have recently faced by the media, maybe that’s the sort of confidence they sorely need.
Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson, North Carolina State’s Ikem Ekwonu, Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett and Texas A&M’s Kenyon Green all have the potential to take the league by storm. After all, being picked in the first round by a state that already has your back carries significant weight.
For Pickett, the Steelers faithful ought to be excited to see how the local quarterback connects with young receiving corps of Chase Claypool, Diontae Johnson and George Pickens. In similar fashion, Ekwonu and Green are two blockers that will seamlessly blend into the Panthers’ and Texans’ offensive lines, respectively. Meanwhile, continuing his professional career as a proud Michigander, Hutchinson is likely to become the cornerstone of the Lions’ defense.
“I’m going to continue to strive to be the best. That’s how it’s always been with me,” said Hutchinson. “Whether I’m in high school; middle school; college; I always strive for greatness.”
Wide receivers are hot commodities
Wide receivers are a hot commodity in 2022. Death Valley hot. Asphalt-in-summer hot.
Six wideouts were drafted in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft — more than any other position — including three in a row when Garrett Wilson, Chris Olave and Jameson Williams were drafted back to back to back by the New York Jets, New Orleans Saints and Detroit Lions.
The importance of the position was reinforced when the Philadelphia Eagles and Arizona Cardinals traded their own first-round picks for veteran wide receivers A.J. Brown and Marquise Brown, respectively.
After trading away A.J. Brown, the Tennessee Titans would use a draft pick on (you guessed it) another wide receiver. With quarterbacks in high demand and short supply, teams have prioritized constructing strong offenses to maximize the value of elite passers.
But the wheeling and dealing for receivers didn’t seem to bother the NFL’s newest class of pass catchers.
“I was trying to sit there and take it for what it was,” said Drake London of USC, who was drafted eighth overall by the Atlanta Falcons.
Few had expected London to be the first wide receiver drafted, but his sentiment was widely shared by his peers. When Olave — drafted 11th overall — was asked about the frenzied trades for wide receivers, he was calm and focused on the moment.
“It was crazy … It was a huge blessing just to be here,” Olave said. “I’ve dreamed of this since I was a young kid. I still feel like it’s a dream right now.”
“I have more teammate goals. I try to be selfless, I just want to get in there, get in the locker room, and be the best teammate I can be. (I) just (want to) be able to take in a lot of information.”
New York’s draft picks won’t disappoint
The Big Apple had some big picks in this year’s draft. And when the clock was ticking, the Giants and the Jets did not disappoint.
The full-rebuild-mode Giants should be pleased with the incoming talent headed their way after an abysmal 4-13 season. Boasting experience from the big stages of Oregon and Alabama, respectively, Kayvon Thibodeaux and Evan Neal are two players who were once seriously in the running to be this year’s first overall picks. With pure explosiveness on the field and a big personality to back it up, Thibodeaux’s landing in New York may just be the perfect fit for him. Neal, a fundamentally-sound right tackle, will also bring much-needed help to a front line that has struggled to create space for talented players like Saquon Barkley to burst into the open field.
“I’m durable; I’m tough; I’m physical,” Neal said. “I’ve played three different positions in three different years at a high level. You can pretty much interchange me — plug me in, plug me out — and see what fits best.”
Likewise, the Jets’ pickups of Cincinnati’s Sauce Gardner and Ohio State’s Garrett Wilson in the first round are promising. Gardner — a defensive back whose draft stock saw a precipitous rise post-NFL Scouting Combine — plays at the top of his game in press coverage. Paired up with a similarly-minded defensive coordinator like Don Martindale, Gardner’s transition into the NFL will likely be a smooth one.
On the other side of the field, Wilson is a contested catch receiver elite enough to make a Wilson-to-Wilson connection worth watching next season.