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2022 NFL draft: First round instant grades

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1. Jacksonville Jaguars: Travon Walker, EDGE, Georgia — We’ll be debating this pick for years, passing on more proven commodities such as Aidan Hutchinson. An atypical No. 1 overall selection, Walker nonetheless possesses the raw power, freaky athleticism and ideal length to be a star one day. But his pass rushing effectiveness remains an area that will require development, so expecting big sack totals early on might be foolhardy. Can Walker be a franchise pillar? That remains to be seen. Grade: C+

2. Detroit Lions: Aidan Hutchinson, EDGE, Michigan — The hometown kid is now a nearly instant Lions hero. No pressure? Well, Hutchinson looked completely in control during Michigan’s playoff drive and his Heisman campaign. And he maintained an excellent level of play all season. He’s a good rusher, great run defender and becomes one of Dan Campbell’s key young guys. Grade: B+

3. Houston Texans: Derek Stingley Jr., CB, LSU — This one started crystallizing a few weeks ago when the Texans were said to be looking hard at corner — and specifically at Stingley. His past two seasons have been forgettable and injury-plagued, but the talent is too alluring here. Stingley covered Ja’Marr Chase every day in practice in 2019 and won a lot of those battles. Can he do it in the NFL? If he fails, it won’t be because of talent. Grade: B

4. New York Jets: Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner, CB, Cincinnati — It feels like the Jets knew the Texans were taking Stingley, so if they wanted a top corner, they could not wait with the Giants coming up next. Gardner’s career production has been wild the past three years: nine INTs, 0 TDs allowed. He’s a great fit as a zone corner in Robert Saleh’s defense, so it’s hard to gripe with the pick. Grade: B

5. New York Giants: Kayvon Thibodeaux, EDGE, Oregon — At the NFL scouting combine, Thibodeaux was asked who his toughest interview was with. His answer: the Giants. They wanted to know what he was made of. The talent speaks for itself. Will he be too big for the Big Apple? First-year Giants general manager Joe Schoen makes a bold bet on “no” with his first selection in the captain’s chair. Bold, bold maiden pick, but he’s the pass rusher the Giants need. Grade: B+

The New York Giants added pass rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux with the first of their two top-10 picks. (AP Photo/John Locher )
The New York Giants added pass rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux with the first of their two top-10 picks. (AP Photo/John Locher )

6. Carolina Panthers: Ikem Ekwonu, OT, North Carolina State — The Charlotte native will save on moving costs. The Panthers made the smart move here, taking OL help over reaching for a QB. Ekwonu’s pass protection, despite taking a jump in 2021, remains unrefined. But his upside is high, starting with his pile-driving run blocking. He’s also a smart, charismatic young man with a great work ethic. Grade: B-

7. New York Giants (from Chicago Bears): Evan Neal, OT, Alabama — We thought they’d go OL first, then pass rusher, given the Panthers were on deck at No. 6. But they still got a top-tier talent who is more ready Day 1 than the player taken one spot ahead of him. Neal is a multi-position blocker with starting experience at both tackle spots and guard. He’s highly strong and explosive but lacks lateral quickness. Still, gotta love the pick, even if they went at it oddly. Grade: B+

8. Atlanta Falcons: Drake London, WR, USC — Once London worked out a few weeks ago following an injury that ended his 2021 season and prevented him from working out at the combine, the Falcons likely felt a lot better about this pairing. They’re forming a basketball team in Atlanta, with Kyle Pitts at the 5, London at the 4 and Marcus Mariota the point guard. This is a big, athletic duo that can win almost every jump ball imaginable. But is London the best WR option? Jameson Williams is tough to pass on, injury or not. Grade: C+

9. Seattle Seahawks (from Denver Broncos): Charles Cross, OT, Mississippi State — We have no problem with this pick. Cross wasn’t our favorite OT prospect, but he has sweet feet and is a natural pass protector, even as a redshirt sophomore. But as a run blocker? We just don’t know. Is Pete Carroll going to start slinging the rock now that Russell Wilson is gone? It’s a departure from the type of tackle the Seahawks typically have gone for. Grade: C+

10. New York Jets (from Seattle Seahawks): Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State — It’s no shock they went receiver here, having struck out on Tyreek Hill and other potential upgrades. Wilson should step in as part of a four-WR group that includes Corey Davis, Elijah Moore and Braxton Berrios. Now Zach Wilson feels more like he did at BYU: with receiving options all over the field. I’d be shocked if Wilson isn’t at least a very respectable pass catcher. Grade: B+

11. New Orleans Saints (from Washington Commanders): Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State — Our first trade! The Saints wheeled into the 16 and 19 slots before the draft and landed this pick from the Commanders on the clock, sending Nos. 16, 98 and 110 overall to get it done. And they make it two straight Ohio State receivers off the board. Olave feels made for the turf — a smooth glider who could put up great numbers with improved QB play in New Orleans. Are we sure Sean Payton doesn’t want to come back? Grade: B

12. Detroit Lions (from Minnesota Vikings): Jameson Williams, WR, Alabama — Well, the Lions are rolling the dice in Vegas. Trading up into this spot is a big, bold move for GM Brad Holmes, and we’ve been saying for some time that they were going to add a receiver. This wasn’t the way we — or anyone else — imagined. Williams would have been our WR1 had it not been for the torn ACL, and Detroit is in no hurry to get him on the field. What a pivot here. Grade: A-

13. Philadelphia Eagles (from Houston Texans): Jordan Davis, DT, Georgia — Leapfrogging the Ravens (a team heavily connected with Davis), the Eagles miss out on a receiver but land this draft’s unicorn. He’s a dancing bear with rare athleticism for a man this massive. Can he rush the passer? Play more than 30-35 snaps per game? We don’t know. But the Eagles haven’t had a player like this in recent memory. This is a boom-or-bust pick, but we feel good about it. This can dramatically change the way teams attack the Eagles. Grade: B-

14. Baltimore Ravens: Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame — Every year it seems the Ravens just let the draft come to them. How? We’re talking an annual draft pastime. Hamilton would have been a steal at 11; at 14, he’s grand larceny. He’ll be a Day 1 post safety who can move into the slot or box as needed. The Ravens didn’t make enough plays in the secondary last season. This pick will change that. Grade: A

The Ravens stayed put and got a great prospect, as is their habit, in safety Kyle Hamilton. (AP Photo/Steve Luciano)
The Ravens stayed put and got a great prospect, as is their habit, in safety Kyle Hamilton. (AP Photo/Steve Luciano)

15. Houston Texans (from Philadelphia Eagles): Kenyon Green, OG, Texas A&M — Trading down earned Houston more draft capital. With a pass rusher on the board (Jermaine Johnson) whom we thought might be a nice fit there, the Texans instead took what feels like a reach with Green. Nice player with toughness and four-position versatility. He’ll start inside right away, we suspect. But this was someone whom other teams felt could last until deep in Round 1, perhaps farther. Grade: C-

16. Washington Commanders (from New Orleans Saints): Jahan Dotson, WR, Penn State — They did a lot of work on Drake London and the Ohio State receivers, yet they pivoted to Dotson, who went a touch higher than we imagined. Still, with the receivers flying off the board, the Commanders couldn’t afford to get cute. Dotson catches everything and has deep speed from inside or out. He has very good potential early on — if Washington can salvage Carson Wentz. Grade: C+

17. Los Angeles Chargers: Zion Johnson, OG, Boston College — This is a fascinating pairing, one we didn’t see coming. Johnson was a tackle and guard at BC, but most NFL scouts believed his best spot in the pros was inside, at either guard or center. But the Chargers’ biggest OL vacancy is at right tackle. Hmm. We’ll reserve judgment on the positional fit and laud Johnson: a smart, savvy, competitive and high-character blocker. Justin Herbert’s O-line got better, but now we wait to hear where Johnson lines up. Grade: B-

18. Tennessee Titans (from Philadelphia Eagles): Treylon Burks, WR, Arkansas — Wow, the Titans traded A.J. Brown to get to this spot, and added a player with a similar build in Burks, who is a big, physically blessed wideout who wins with force and determination. Some even have compared him to Brown, but we’re not so sure. Burks had a simple route tree in college, with many of his touches schemed up. Having Robert Woods as a teammate helps, but Burks might not immediately be ready for a typical starter’s role. Grade: C

19. New Orleans Saints (from Philadelphia Eagles): Trevor Penning, OT, Northern Iowa — Remember Kyle Turley? The Saints just drafted his modern-day doppelganger. Penning is big, seriously nasty and a pain in the butt to deal with as a defender. He needs work in pass protection, can be penalty-prone and he steps into a big void with Terron Armstead gone. This is interesting as he fits from a need and temperament standpoint. Grade: B-

20. Pittsburgh Steelers: Kenny Pickett, QB, Pittsburgh — Thirty-nine years ago, the Steelers passed on Dan Marino. The reason? It was too close to home, they said. The Rooneys still run the show, and they won’t pass on this Pitt QB. There’s an argument to be made over whether Pickett has the upside to be better than Malik Willis down the road. His college experience, elite competitiveness, solid athleticism and arm talent add up to a very reasonable pairing. Pickett could beat out Mitchell Trubisky early on and start for years. Grade: B

21. Kansas City Chiefs (from New England Patriots): Trent McDuffie, CB, Washington — This is not the Washington corner we thought it would end up with, but McDuffie is a hyper-competitive, fast, man-cover corner with a compact frame and ball skills. A pass rusher or receiver appeared to be on the docket, but how can we argue with the trade up here to get one of our favorite players? McDuffie brings a Tyrann Mathieu-caliber energy, which will work in Kansas City. Grade: B+

22. Green Bay Packers (from Las Vegas Raiders): Quay Walker, LB, Georgia — Packers fans will be angered by a linebacker here, but Walker is a giant, stalking, athletically blessed future green-dot player whose instincts remain underdeveloped. In time, he could be a monster, and the Packers have had a long-term vision with almost all their first-round picks under GM Brian Gutekunst. Grade: B-

23. Buffalo Bills (from Baltimore Ravens via Arizona Cardinals): Kaiir Elam, CB, Florida — A short jump up here to take a long, talented zone/press corner who is not yet 21 years old. Elam has some playmaking chops but can be handsy in coverage. We thought this might be for a safety, but the Bills show that they do in fact value the CB2 spot, which was in doubt. Elam wouldn’t have lasted much longer, but it's still a reach. Grade: C+

24. Dallas Cowboys: Tyler Smith, OT, Tulsa — The Tyler Smith buzz started in earnest a few months ago, but his stock really rose in recent weeks. We thought he might still get to Round 2, but with Zion Johnson — a popular Dallas pick — off the board, Smith likely was the Cowboys' next-rated OL prospect. He’s work in progress, no doubt, and quite penalty-prone, but could be dominant in time. He has rare back bend, power and aggressiveness. Grade: C+

25. Baltimore Ravens (from Buffalo Bills): Tyler Linderbaum, C, Iowa — GM Eric DeCosta didn’t even try to hide his love for Linderbaum at the scouting combine, comparing him to Marshal Yanda and calling him “the type of guy that can really be the centerpiece of your offensive line.” So much for subterfuge. The Kirk Ferentz connection made this pick an easy one. The Ravens don’t care if you know their plans. They get good players one way or another. Grade: B

26. New York Jets (from Tennessee Titans): Jermaine Johnson III, EDGE, Florida State — We’re stunned at Johnson’s fall. He was the best EDGE at the Senior Bowl, consistently bringing energy and terror for two impressive days. He’s not an elite pass rusher, but he attacks the ball very well, has a big motor and an alpha personality. With three first-rounders, the Jets have improved in three critical areas. Impressive stuff, Joe Douglas. Grade: A

27. Jacksonville Jaguars (from Tampa Bay Buccaneers): Devin Lloyd, LB, Utah — We thought Lloyd would come off the board in the 25-35 range, and he lands with the Jaguars, who traded up to get to this spot. Lloyd is a three-down playmaker and box-score stuffer with good size and athleticism who can be a bit clunky and a tick slow to react at times. This is another building block for a Jaguars defense that needs new blood. Grade: B-

28. Green Bay Packers: Devonte Wyatt, DT, Georgia — In our mock, we had Wyatt going to Green Bay with their first first-rounder, so it just took a bit longer at this spot. Wyatt is a quick-off-the-snap defensive lineman who put it all together in his final season, projecting as a valuable energy piece and disruptor up front. In Green Bay, he’ll play multiple techniques and work into a starting role, likely as a 5-technique. No receiver. Again. What is Aaron Rodgers drinking Thursday night? Grade: C+

29. New England Patriots (from Kansas City Chiefs): Cole Strange, OG, Chattanooga — Our 91st-ranked player, Strange screams Patriots … but also screams poor value. Of course, many people said the same thing when the Patriots took Logan Mankins in this same range many years ago. Strange is a highly intelligent, highly competitive interior blocker who might be the starting left guard from Day 1. But it’s a big jump in competition, and he was up and down at the Senior Bowl. Grade: C-

30. Kansas City Chiefs: George Karlaftis, EDGE, Purdue — Kansas City is better on defense now with McDuffie and Karlaftis, who is their type of high-energy power rusher. He has a limitless reserve of energy and strong hands, although his all-around game remains raw. Grade: B+

31. Cincinnati Bengals: Daxton Hill, S, Michigan — Love this fit. Hill can cover the slot and even be tried outside if the Bengals want. They addressed the offensive line in free agency, so the next logical spot was the secondary. Hill might be listed as a safety, but he can line up at multiple spots — in the box, deep or as the nickel. Excellent value here. Grade: A-

32. Minnesota Vikings (from Detroit Lions): Lewis Cine, S, Georgia — Low-key this was one of our favorite picks of Round 1. Trading down felt like the play for the Vikings at 12, but we had no idea they’d be able to go this far down and get a top-20 talent in Cine. He’ll pair with Harrison Smith as one of the best safety duos in the NFL. Outstanding first selection for Kwesi Adofo-Mensah. Cine will start for a decade. Grade: A

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