2022 NFL Draft: Biggest Winners and Losers of Day 1

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Anyone familiar with the Hangover trilogy (not that we needed the latter two installments) knows how unruly Las Vegas, the mayhem epicenter of America, can be. Fittingly, Thursday’s NFL Draft, held in Vegas for the first time, was an exercise in chaos, with a slew of blockbuster trades making for as much anarchy as we’ve ever seen in the first round. It’s impossible to know who “won” or “lost” before seeing any of the players take the field for their respective teams. But if first impressions mean anything, here are my thoughts on a night to remember—or forget, depending on who your team selected—in Sin City.

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WINNERS

Detroit Lions
The Lions, who were not nearly as awful as their 2021 record would indicate, struck gold with their two first-rounders, landing a crowd-pleaser in Heisman finalist Aidan Hutchinson, while trading up for uber-explosive deep threat Jameson Williams, who continues to make steady progress in his recovery from ACL surgery. Travon Walker may have tested better, but the results favor Hutchinson, a more finished product coming off a breakout year at Michigan, where he registered a school-record 14 sacks. Remember, only two teams—Atlanta and Philadelphia—totaled fewer sacks than Detroit last season. With quarterbacks Malik Willis and Desmond Ridder falling further than expected, the Lions should be able to address that need in Round 2.

New York Giants
We’ve gotten so used to the Giants butchering the first round, it was almost unsettling to see them nail it this year, addressing both sides of the ball with Thibodeaux, a monster athlete with a lethal first step, and Neal, a 337-pound freak of nature with starting experience at both tackle and guard. The Giants may have entertained a trade back had things played out differently, but there was no need once Derek Stingley and Sauce Gardner came off the board in succession, allowing Thibodeaux to fall into New York’s waiting arms at No. 5. Even with Carolina surprisingly eschewing its quarterback need for another O lineman (which turned out to be NC State tackle Ikem Ekwonu), the Giants knew they were still guaranteed Neal or Charles Cross, both immediate difference-makers with SEC pedigree. After countless gaffes by Dave Gettleman (who could forget last year’s Kadarius Toney debacle?), the Giants are in good, capable hands with GM Joe Schoen, who, with six rounds to go, is acing his first draft.

New York Jets
Both New York teams did well for themselves in Vegas. What an absolute heist by the Jets, trading back into the first round for Jermaine Johnson, who inexplicably fell to them at 26. That’s highway robbery, but Gang Green didn’t stop there, adding to its embarrassment of riches with lockdown corner Sauce Gardner and Ohio State receiver Garrett Wilson, who exploded for a dozen touchdowns—second-most in his conference—last season. Plugging three holes in one fell swoop while getting obscene value for Johnson (pegged by many as a potential top-ten pick) adds up to an A+ night for GM Joe Douglas, who knocked it out of the park with his three first-rounders.

Philadelphia Eagles
Howie Roseman never disappoints. Not only did he acquire London Fletcher’s likely successor in Jordan Davis (one of five Georgia defenders taken in the first round), but, in a blockbuster few could have anticipated, Roseman pulled a rabbit out of his hat by trading for Titans Pro Bowler A.J. Brown, then handing him a new contract worth $25 million annually. You could argue the Eagles were already ahead of schedule after making the playoffs as a seven-seed last season. With a run-clogger in Davis and a physical, big-bodied receiver to pair with De’Vonta Smith out wide, the Eagles have to like their chances going into 2022.

Pittsburgh Steelers
Give credit where credit’s due. Much like the Patriots did a year ago, waiting for Mac Jones to fall in their lap, the Steelers let the draft come to them, correctly surmising that Kenny Pickett, already a Steel City legend after leading Pitt to its first ACC title, would still be there for them at 20. Malik Willis would have been a sexier pick, but Kenny Smallhands has the poise and experience to be a Week 1 starter, which couldn’t necessarily be said of Willis, a raw, albeit immensely gifted prospect who could probably benefit from a red-shirt year. If nothing else, the Steelers made a lot of people happy by drafting a hometown hero already well-known to fans in Allegheny.

LOSERS

Arizona Cardinals
Kyler Murray and his team may not be seeing eye to eye in contract talks, but you can’t say the Cardinals never do anything for him. Arizona traded the 23rd pick for Murray’s former Oklahoma teammate Marquise Brown, which, in retrospect was a steep price to pay when they could have had A.J. Brown for cheaper. Brown is coming off career-highs in both catches (91) and receiving yards (1,008), though, after underachieving throughout his three-year stint in Baltimore, is he really the one to put Arizona over the top? It all reeks of desperation for a franchise that seems to be at a fork in the road, unsure of whether to pay their franchise quarterback or press the eject button and start the whole thing over.

Green Bay Packers
Six receivers were drafted in the first round—Drake London, Garrett Wilson, Chris Olave, Jameson Williams, Jahan Dotson and Treylon Burks. Not one of them will play for Green Bay. The Packers had every opportunity to trade up for a receiver, but sat on their hands, waiting until it was too late. Green Bay had one job. Aaron Rodgers knows the drill by now—the Packers do this to him every year, teasing receiver in the first round but never having the stones to go through with it. That doesn’t make it any less disappointing for a team that just lost Davante Adams and Marques Valdes-Scantling to trades and free agency. Rodgers probably won’t ask for a trade this time around (the money’s too good), but don’t be surprised if he sulks his way through another season of exasperating interviews with Pat McAfee. The Packers were smart to address linebacker (Pro Bowler Za’Darius Smith departed as a cap casualty this offseason), though there were better ones on the board with Devin Lloyd and Nakobi Dean both still available.

Houston Texans
It wasn’t a surprise to see LSU corner Derek Stingley end up with Houston. What we weren’t expecting was Stingley going third overall ahead of Sauce Gardner, Ikem Ekwonu and Kayvon Thibodeaux, among others who would have made infinitely more sense. There’s a good chance Stingley, who arguably peaked as a freshman in 2019, would have been available at 13, a pick the Texans would ultimately trade to Philadelphia. Instead, they came away with Kenyon Green, a fringe first-rounder who had no business going before Trevor Penning and Zion Johnson. It’s hard to screw up two picks in the top 15, but somehow, the Texans managed to do just that.

New England Patriots
What an appropriate name for the oddest pick of Thursday night, with New England reaching for Chattanooga guard Cole Strange. If you’re wondering who that is, you’re not alone. Strange was rated as PFF’s 86th overall player and sixth at his position while ESPN predicted he had a 93-percent chance of being available in the second round had New England waited to draft him at 54. Bill Belichick has earned the benefit of the doubt, but drafting a player no one had heard of until Mel Kiper (while fumbling through his notes) faked his way through a brief synopsis probably wasn't what Patriots fans had in mind.

Washington Commanders
Thursday was a night of missed opportunities for the newly-rebranded Commanders, who had a chance to replace Landon Collins (designated as a post-June 1st cut) with Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton, but didn’t take the bait. Washington had its choice of receivers with Chris Olave and Jameson Williams still available at 11, but inexplicably traded back for Penn State’s Jahan Dotson, who most scouts had on the first-round periphery. Riverboat Ron lived up to his name, changing the play when an audible wasn’t necessary.

This story is sponsored by Moran Chevrolet.

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