Wow, what a night. I wrote in my final Round 1 mock draft that there would be chaos, and it didn’t look that way after the first 10 picks. Then we just kept getting trade after trade, and my head was spinning trying to keep track of which team was picking where.
The first round of the 2022 NFL draft did not disappoint. It was the second time in draft history that the first five picks were used on defensive players (1991). That included two corners in the top four for the first time in the common draft era. And we had nine draft-day trades, which is the most in a first round since 2010 (and we only got three of them last year). Oh, and there was only one quarterback.
There were a few picks I loved and few that surprised me (including one really big reach). Below are the picks I liked and didn’t like from the first round. I’m basing these on my rankings and how I have prospects graded, along with whether teams got value with their selections.
Come back Saturday night for my post-draft grades for all 32 teams. And we’ll be back for Rounds 2 and 3 on Friday (7 p.m. ET on ESPN, ABC and the ESPN App).
Winners from Round 1
I’m a big fan of these three picks. The Jets got my top-ranked corner and top-ranked wide receiver in the top 10, and then they got a potential steal late in the night in Johnson. Gardner is going to shut down one side of the field. He’s long and fast, and he didn’t allow a single touchdown as the primary defender in his collegiate career.
Wilson is only 6-foot, so he’s not a huge red zone target like Drake London, but he plays bigger because of his long arms, leaping ability and excellent body control to come down with acrobatic catches. He’s going to help Zach Wilson complete easy passes because of his ability to run after the catch. And by the way, Wilson is the first receiver the Jets have taken in Round 1 since Santana Moss in 2001.
Johnson slid — he is my 11th-ranked prospect — and the Jets pounced, trading pick Nos. 35, 69 and 163 for Nos. 26 and 101. I thought it was possible they could have taken him at No. 10 if the board fell differently, so this is a home run class so far for general manager Joe Douglas. And he still gets an early pick on Day 2 (No. 38) to get another starter.
The Saints traded up five spots, sending Washington pick Nos. 16, 98 and 120, and it wasn’t for a quarterback. Instead, it’s clear they think they have a real chance to win the NFC South. New Orleans joined the run on receivers to snag the speedy Olave, who glides away from cornerbacks and makes them look silly. He’s ready to make an impact as a rookie.
With their other pick, the Saints were able to get a starting left tackle in Penning. I thought they might have to trade up to take him, but he fell into their lap. Penning is a nasty and punishing blocker who can replace Terron Armstead. This is a solid Day 1 for general manager Mickey Loomis.
When I went to write down the list of the Giants’ biggest needs, the first two I wrote were “edge” and “right tackle.” This is a huge win for New York, even if we thought general manager Brandon Beane might reverse it and take the tackle first. The Giants added an extra pick from the Bears’ move up for Justin Fields last year, and they got two really great players here.
Thibodeaux is extremely explosive, even if he wasn’t at his best in 2021. If the Giants can coach him up, he could be a star. Neal started 40 games at Alabama, including his junior season at right tackle. That’s where he’ll play in New York, which now has a pair of young, talented bookends in Neal and Andrew Thomas.
How about the Ravens doing Ravens things in this draft? They traded down twice, picking up some valuable draft capital. And they still were able to get my No. 4 overall prospect in Hamilton, who plays faster than his 4.59-second 40-yard dash at the combine. He can be a playmaker all over the Baltimore defense.
It’s clear the Ravens front office wasn’t in love with veteran wideout Marquise Brown, so it was able to get a first-round pick from Arizona to move him. And they ended up with a starting center in Linderbaum, who could anchor their offensive line for years to come. Baltimore got great value on Day 1.
The pick: Aidan Hutchinson, DE, Michigan (No. 2)
Any time you can get the best prospect in the draft at any pick other than No. 1, it’s a win. The Lions filled a huge need, and they did it with a 6-foot-6 edge rusher who grew up 30 miles away from Ford Field (Plymouth, Michigan) and went to college at Michigan.
I don’t get the talk about Hutchinson already being close to his ceiling. He had 14 sacks last season, but he can keep improving. He had a better 3-cone drill time, short shuttle time and vertical jump than Travon Walker at the combine. He’s going to be an instant contributor and should challenge for Defensive Rookie of the Year.
The Lions go with Michigan defensive lineman Aidan Hutchinson with the No. 2 overall pick.
More picks I liked
The Bengals could get a steal with Daxton Hill at No. 31. The Michigan defensive back can play corner or safety. He was ranked No. 14 on my Big Board.
I preferred Malik Willis slightly over Kenny Pickett among the quarterback class, but give the Steelers credit for not panicking and trading up to take their guy. Instead, they stayed put at No. 20 and were able to get Pickett, who will compete with Mitch Trubisky in Year 1. Pittsburgh is going to be one of the most intriguing teams in the AFC next season.
Staying in the state of Philadelphia, the Eagles were able to get a young, proven wide receiver in A.J. Brown by trading pick Nos. 18 and 101. They’ve struggled to draft receivers lately, so this could be a better bet — though they also had to give Brown a huge contract extension.
I love the Panthers getting offensive tackle Ikem Ekwonu at No. 6. He’s No. 2 on my Big Board, and he’s a dominant run and pass blocker who will start on the left side from Day 1. Carolina didn’t reach for a quarterback, and it ended up with the best tackle in the class.
Head-scratching moves from Round 1
The pick: Travon Walker, DE, Georgia (No. 1)
When word first leaked out that the Jaguars were targeting Walker, I went back to the tape to see if I was missing something. He has intriguing physical traits, of course, but where were his one-on-one pass-rush wins? I just didn’t see him dominant in any game. As I wrote in my final mock draft, it would be extremely hard for me to get a chance to take any guy on the board and pick a pass-rusher who had 9.5 sacks, 13 tackles for loss and one forced fumble in his entire three-year college career.
So this pick is a head-scratcher because I would have taken Hutchinson at No. 1. Walker is No. 9 on my Big Board. And as my friends at ESPN Stats & Info noted, he is the first player selected No. 1 overall in the common draft era who never made an all-conference or all-american team in college. You better get this one right, Jacksonville (and I did like the Jags trading back into Round 1 for linebacker Devin Lloyd.)
The pick: Cole Strange, G/C, Chattanooga (No. 29)
This was a huge reach on my board. I thought Strange might sneak into Round 2, but he’s not a first-round talent. I know New England has a hole at guard, but will Strange even start immediately? Strange made 44 starts in college and plays with good technique, but this is high for a prospect who is No. 69 on my Big Board.
The good thing for Bill Belichick & Co. is that they added extra capital by moving down eight spots with the Chiefs, adding pick Nos. 94 and 121.
The pick: Jameson Williams, WR, Alabama (No. 12)
Yes, the Lions can be a winner and also make a head-scratching move. Williams is an awesome player, and he probably would have gone in the top 10 if he was fully healthy and didn’t tear the ACL in his left knee in the national title game in January. The head-scratching part of this is the Lions — who aren’t contenders — trading prime picks to move up 20 spots to take him.
Detroit sent Minnesota pick Nos. 32, 34 and 66 to move to No. 12. Those are Day 2 picks that often become starters. Do Dan Campbell & Co. think they’re close enough to an NFC North title that they can take one chance on Day 1 instead of three on Day 2? This is a roster that needs a lot of help. Again, I’m a fan of Williams, but he needs to be a superstar — quickly — for Detroit to justify this deal.
Packers QB Aaron Rodgers reacts to his team selecting Georgia LB Quay Walker with the 21st pick.
If you watch the Georgia film closely, you’d really struggle to understand why Walker was drafted before his teammate Nakobe Dean. Walker was tough to evaluate; he didn’t have the splash plays that Dean did.
This is all about the Packers projecting Walker’s potential, because he’s 6-foot-4, 241 pounds and ran a 4.52-second 40-yard dash at the combine. He has some talent, but I didn’t see him put it all together in college. I have Walker at No. 43 overall on my Big Board, so this was a reach.
Wyatt is a nice player, but Green Bay passed up North Dakota State wide receiver Christian Watson, which must mean the franchise thinks it can upgrade with a veteran for Aaron Rodgers to target. I thought Watson would have been a great fit.