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2022 NFL Draft: Grading every AFC franchise’s incoming draft class

By Emile Avanessian

Published: 15:00, 4 May 2022 | Updated: 9:17, 6 May 2022

With the 2022 NFL draft in the books, it’s time to register our snap judgments about how each NFL franchise fared. That’s right! It’s time for draft grades! Here, in the first of two articles, we’re breaking down the AFC.

You’ve got a lot of words ahead of you, so I’m going to keep this preamble fairly brief. By now, you probably know the mantra of this period in the NFL calendar: the draft is an imperfect science.

That being said, in the aftermath of the league’s annual job fair, it’s impossible to resist the urge to review the incoming talent for each NFL franchise, dream on development and potential fit, and render an immediate verdict on who won and lost

A couple of things to keep in mind as you go through these rankings:

  • A number of teams were down draft picks as a result of trades made for superstars. The incoming superstar is not being counted as part of the draft class. However, a class light on talent or depth is judged less harshly if a team brought in a superstar. And, if they still managed to fill some needs with later round picks, that’s a success!
  • I’ve tried to view each pick in a vacuum (i.e., ‘did team X get value?’), but there obviously must be some consideration given to a franchise’s place in its competitive cycle, the talent already on hand, and fit within the current roster.

Okay, now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s get started! In this, the first of two such pieces, we’re doling out grades to the NFL incoming draft classes of the AFC’s 16 franchises.

Baltimore Ravens

  • Round 1, Pick 14: Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame
  • Round 1, Pick 25: Tyler Linderbaum, C, Iowa
  • Round 2, Pick 45: David Ojabo, DE, Michigan
  • Round 3, Pick 76: Travis Jones, DT, Connecticut
  • Round 4, Pick 110: Daniel Faalele, OT, Minnesota
  • Round 4, Pick 119: Jalyn Armour-Davis, CB, Alabama
  • Round 4, Pick 128: Charlie Kolar, TE, Iowa State
  • Round 4, Pick 130: Jordan Stout, K/P, Penn State
  • Round 4, Pick 139: Isaiah Likely, TE, Coastal Carolina
  • Round 4, Pick 141: Damarion Williams, CB, Houston
  • Round 6, Pick 196: Tyler Badie, RB, Missouri

Death, taxes and the Ravens, Ravens-ing.

On the one hand, the franchise that turned in arguably the greatest first round in NFL draft history coming away with a stellar haul shouldn’t come as a massive shock. At the same time, that the Ravens do this as consistently as they do is wild.

For their 2022 jackpot to consist of:

  • Arguably the best pure defensive player available (albeit at a position that’s not highly valued) in Hamilton at #14
  • Arguably the draft’s best center at #25
  • A worthwhile gamble at #45 on a pass-rusher who was a top-15 prospect prior to tearing his Achilles at his pro day
  • And a massive, NFL-ready defensive tackle that profiles similarly to #13 overall pick Jordan Davis at #76

… would have been impressive enough. To then add – with their six fourth-round picks  – an athletic offensive tackle, a Nick Saban-approved cornerback and a pair of pass-catching tight ends borders on sorcery.

Grade: A+

Buffalo Bills

  • Round 1, Pick 23: Kaiir Elam, CB, Florida
  • Round 2, Pick 63: James Cook, RB, Georgia
  • Round 3, Pick 89: Terrel Bernard, LB, Baylor
  • Round 5, Pick 148: Khalil Shakir, WR, Boise State
  • Round 6, Pick 180: Matt Araiza, P, San Diego State
  • Round 6, Pick 185: Christian Benford, CB, Villanova
  • Round 6, Pick 209: Luke Tenuta, OT, Virginia Tech
  • Round 7, Pick 231: Baylon Spector, LB, Clemson

The Bills didn’t swing for the fences on draft weekend, but they didn’t need to. Instead, Buffalo nabbed a big, ultra-fast, aggressive, NFL-ready cornerback, an explosive national champion running back who can also catch the ball, a talented and versatile receiver and college football’s lone star punter, while also adding potential depth on defense. For a legitimate Super Bowl contender, that’s an excellent showing.

Grade: A-

Cincinnati Bengals

  • Round 1, Pick 31: Daxton Hill, S, Michigan
  • Round 2, Pick 60: Cam Taylor-Britt, CB, Nebraska
  • Round 3, Pick 95: Zach Carter, DL, Florida
  • Round 4, Pick 136: Cordell Volson, OL, North Dakota State
  • Round 5, Pick 166: Tycen Anderson, S, Toledo
  • Round 7, Pick 252: Jeffrey Gunter, LB, Coastal Carolina

With their offense seemingly sorted for the foreseeable future, the Bengal sought depth and versatility at multiple levels of the defense – and they found some!

In the first two rounds, Cincy selected defensive backs capable of lining up in multiple positions. Then, in the third, it was Florida defensive lineman Zach Carter, who can line up anywhere along the line. Finally, on Day 3, they added an experienced safety-nickel corner hybrid and some O-line and linebacker depth.

If their first three picks develop as hoped, the Bengals will have cemented themselves in the AFC’s awesome tier of perennial contenders.

Grade: B+

Cleveland Browns

  • Round 3, Pick 68: Martin Emerson, CB, Mississippi State
  • Round 3, Pick 78: Alex Wright, DE, UAB
  • Round 3, Pick 99: David Bell, WR, Purdue
  • Round 4, Pick 108: Perrion Winfrey, DT, Oklahoma
  • Round 4, Pick 124: Cade York, K, LSU
  • Round 5, Pick 156: Jerome Ford, RB, Cincinnati
  • Round 6, Pick 202: Mike Woods II, WR, Oklahoma
  • Round 7, Pick 223: Isaiah Thomas, DE, Oklahoma
  • Round 7, Pick 246: Dawson Deaton, OL, Texas Tech

The trade that brought Deshaun Watson to Cleveland left the Brown without a pick in either of the first two rounds. It’s tough to hit home runs from that position. That being said, the Browns did have seven picks in rounds 3-6, which they turned into a potential steal of a cornerback, a big, athletic edge rusher, a polished possession receiver (Bell) and a big, strong defensive tackle.

There may not be a star among this bunch, but given what Cleveland was working with, solidifying multiple key positions is a job pretty well done.

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Grade: B-

Denver Broncos

  • Round 2, Pick 64: Nik Bonitto, DE, Oklahoma
  • Round 3, Pick 80: Greg Dulcich, TE, UCLA
  • Round 4, Pick 115: Damarri Mathis, CB, Pittsburgh
  • Round 4, Pick 116: Eyioma Uwazurike, DL, Iowa State
  • Round 5, Pick 152: Delarrin Turner-Yell, S, Oklahoma
  • Round 5, Pick 162: Montrell Washington, WR, Samford
  • Round 5, Pick 171: Luke Wattenberg, OL, Washington
  • Round 6, Pick 206: Matt Henningsen, DT, Wisconsin
  • Round 7, Pick 232: Faion Hicks, CB, Wisconsin

The acquisition of a star signal caller (Russell Wilson) also left the Broncos without a first-round pick.

Nonetheless, the Broncos added a pair of potential day one contributors in Bonitto and explosive tight end Dulcich (who will slide into the spot vacated by Noah Fant, who was included in the Wilson deal), an intriguing depth piece at corner, a huge, powerful D-lineman (Uwazurike), and fliers from marquee programs at a number of key positions.

Denver’s draft was similar to the Cleveland’s, if a bit better thanks to greater star potential in their top two selections.

Grade: B 

Houston Texans

  • Round 1, Pick 3: Derek Stingley Jr., CB, LSU
  • Round 1, Pick 15: Kenyon Green, G, Texas A&M
  • Round 2, Pick 37: Jalen Pitre, S, Baylor
  • Round 2, Pick 44: John Metchie III, WR, Alabama
  • Round 3, Pick 75: Christian Harris, LB, Alabama
  • Round 4, Pick 107: Dameon Pierce, RB, Florida
  • Round 5, Pick 150: Thomas Booker, DE, Stanford
  • Round 6, Pick 170: Teagan Quitoriano, TE, Oregon State
  • Round 6, Pick 205: Austin Deculus, OT, LSU

We’ve spent much of the past couple of years scratching our heads, if not openly ridiculing, the Texans’ personnel machinations. For one weekend, at least (to be fair, the return for Watson was also pretty good), that stops.

At #3 overall, the Texans selected a singular talent. Though his play slipped a bit as a sophomore and he battled injuries in the season just past, it’s worth remembering that Derek Stingley Jr., as a true freshman, stepped into the SEC, and thrived a key member of one of the best college teams in recent memory: the 2019 nation champion LSU Tigers. That type of thing simply does not happen. A player that young and that inexperienced who shows the capacity to do it is potentially transformational.

Houston followed up that home run swing with the safe (but smart) selection of a quality interior offensive lineman, an ultra-versatile defensive back, receiver in Alabama’s John Metchie III, an NFL-ready running back in this fourth round and depth – both offensive and defensive – on line of scrimmage between picks #150 and #205.

It’s feels strange to say, but: you’ve really got to hand it to the Texans.

Grade: A

Indianapolis Colts

  • Round 2, Pick 53: Alec Pierce, WR, Cincinnati
  • Round 3, Pick 73: Jelani Woods, TE, Virginia
  • Round 3, Pick 77: Bernhard Raimann, OT, Central Michigan
  • Round 3, Pick 96: Nick Cross, S, Maryland
  • Round 5, Pick 159: Eric Johnson, DT, Missouri State
  • Round 6, Pick 192: Andrew Ogletree, TE, Youngstown State
  • Round 6, Pick 216: Curtis Brooks, DT, Cincinnati
  • Round 7, Pick 239: Rodney Thomas II, LB, Yale

Another team that sat out the first round as the result of trade for a QB. Unlike the Browns and Broncos, however, the Colts have seen how their gambit – last offseason’s trade for Carson Wentz – worked. Wentz is now the starter in Washington, so… not well.

Colts GM Chris Ballard, starting, as he was, behind the 8-ball, did what he could. Picking a vertical threat in Pierce to complement Michael Pittman Jr. and make life easier for new QB Matt Ryan is a smart play. Then getting a massive tight end, a quality small-school offensive tackle and a strong and athletic safety in the third is also savvy.

If one of these guys turns into a star (or if one of the four late-round picks winds up contributing fairly quickly), this class could will be a case study in ‘making do with what you’ve got’. As things stand now, its… fine.

Grade: B-

Jacksonville Jaguars

  • Round 1, Pick 1: Travon Walker, DE, Georgia
  • Round 1, Pick 27: Devin Lloyd, LB, Utah
  • Round 3, Pick 65: Luke Fortner, C, Kentucky
  • Round 3, Pick 70: Chad Muma, LB, Wyoming
  • Round 5, Pick 154: Snoop Conner, RB, Mississippi
  • Round 6, Pick 197: Gregory Junior, CB, Ouachita Baptist
  • Round 7, Pick 222: Montaric Brown, CB, Arkansas

In a vacuum, each of these picks is defensible, if not better. As a collective class, this would make a ton of sense for a good team, with a strong offense already in place, that lucked into the #1 overall pick. HOWEVER…

For an organisation in disarray, coming off of an hilariously bad season, hoping to put a generational quarterbacking prospect (last year’s #1 overall pick, Trevor Lawrence) in a position to succeed, this is a misfire.

Taking a shot on Walker, who’s got elite physical tools but produced little in college, is fine. The Jags need transformative talents, and the Walker’s development is worth gambling on. But to follow up that pick with an off-ball linebacker, a center, another linebacker and a pair of late-round corners, while adding only a fifth-round running who projects as a backup at the only skill positions, is a baffling strategy.

Grade: D

Kansas City Chiefs

  • Round 1, Pick 21: Trent McDuffie, CB, Washington
  • Round 1, Pick 30: George Karlaftis, DE, Purdue
  • Round 2, Pick 54: Skyy Moore, WR, Western Michigan
  • Round 2, Pick 62: Bryan Cook, S, Cincinnati
  • Round 3, Pick 103: Leo Chenal, LB, Wisconsin
  • Round 4, Pick 135: Joshua Williams, DB, Fayetteville State
  • Round 5, Pick 145: Darian Kinnard, OT, Kentucky
  • Round 7, Pick 243: Jaylen Watson, CB, Washington State
  • Round 7, Pick 251: Isiah Pacheco, RB, Rutgers
  • Round 7, Pick 259: Nazeeh Johnson, S, Marshall

Make no mistake, trading away Tyreek Hill sets the Chiefs offense back. Now, an offense that has Patrick Mahomes under center was only ever going to slip so much. Adding a fantastic value in Western Michigan receiver Skyy Moore in the second round (along with some solid additions in free agency) has the Chiefs poised to weather life post-Hill quite well.

Bear in mind, before selecting Moore, K.C. had already added a versatile and talented cornerback and an edge rusher who’d been touted as a mid-first-rounder for much of the pre-draft process and #’s 21 and 30, respectively. Then, eight picks after selecting Moore, the Chiefs proceeded to nab a powerful safety, before adding an excellent linebacker out of Wisconsin (an assembly of quality at the position), a small school corner with serious ‘steal’ potential and some offensive line depth.

Up and down this class, there is quality and value. This is how contenders remain contenders.

Grade: A+

Las Vegas Raiders

  • Round 3, Pick 90: Dylan Parham, OL, Memphis
  • Round 4, Pick 122: Zamir White, RB, Georgia
  • Round 4, Pick 126: Neil Farrell Jr., DT, LSU
  • Round 5, Pick 175: Matthew Butler, DT, Tennessee
  • Round 7, Pick 238: Thayer Munford, OL, Ohio State
  • Round 7, Pick 250: Brittain Brown, RB, UCLA

Like a number of teams in this draft, the Raiders had little to do in the opening rounds as the result of a win-now trade for superstar (in this case, wide receiver Davante Adams).

The few picks that the Raiders did have remaining were used to add offensive line depth, a quality running back from the national champion Georgia Bulldogs a pair of SEC defensive tackles. Nothing sexy, and no potential day one starters, but a conscious effort to solidify in the trenches. It’s tough to criticise, but there’s also not a lot to get excited about.

Grade: C

Los Angeles Chargers

  • Round 1, Pick 17: Zion Johnson, G, Boston College
  • Round 3, Pick 79: JT Woods, S, Baylor
  • Round 4, Pick 123: Isaiah Spiller, RB, Texas A&M
  • Round 5, Pick 160: Otito Ogbonnia, DT, UCLA
  • Round 6, Pick 195: Jamaree Salyer, OT, Georgia
  • Round 6, Pick 214: Ja’Sir Taylor, CB, Wake Forest
  • Round 7, Pick 236: Deane Leonard, CB, Mississippi
  • Round 7, Pick 260: Zander Horvath, FB, Purdue

Bear in mind, the Chargers came into this draft with young franchise quarterback (Justin Herbert), an excellent 1-2 wide receiver punch, and a defense freshly-infused with top-end talent. This is a team looking to contend… now.

To that end, the Bolts added a strong, versatile pass-blocking interior offensive lineman, plenty of defensive secondary depth, a quality running back to shoulder some of Austin Ekeler’s workload, and a national champion offensive tackle.

The Chargers’ competition atop the AFC (and in the AFC West) is going to be stiff. That being said, the Chargers themselves are now a big reason why the road to the AFC title promises to be such a gauntlet.

Grade: B+

Miami Dolphins

  • Round 3, Pick 102: Channing Tindall, LB, Georgia
  • Round 4, Pick 125: Erik Ezukanma, WR, Texas Tech
  • Round 7, Pick 224: Cameron Goode, OLB, California
  • Round 7, Pick 247: Skylar Thompson, QB, Kansas State

Like so many others here, the Dolphins depleted their 2022 draft war chest in acquiring superstar wideout Tyreek Hill from the Chiefs. Thus, there was only so much Miami would be able to do. What they did was select an ultra-talented (but unpolished) linebacker in Georgia’s Channing Tindall, a receiver with a knack for adding yards-after-the-catch (YAC), and a day three lottery ticket in Kansas State quarterback Skylar Thompson.

It’s not much – not now, at least. At the very least, there’s a conceivable path to a quality draft class here. For a late-in-the-draft class this small, that counts for something.

Grade: C-

New England Patriots

  • Round 1, Pick 29: Cole Strange, G, Chattanooga
  • Round 2, Pick 50: Tyquan Thornton, WR, Baylor
  • Round 3, Pick 85: Marcus Jones, CB, Houston
  • Round 4, Pick 121: Jack Jones, CB, Arizona State
  • Round 4, Pick 127: Pierre Strong Jr., RB, South Dakota State
  • Round 4, Pick 137: Bailey Zappe, QB, Western Kentucky
  • Round 6, Pick 183: Kevin Harris, RB, South Carolina
  • Round 6, Pick 200: Sam Roberts, DL, Northwest Missouri State
  • Round 6, Pick 210: Chasen Hines, G, LSU
  • Round 7, Pick 245: Andrew Stueber, OT, Michigan

There will be a temptation to overrate the Patriots’ puzzling draft class on the grounds that Bill Belichick is playing some dimension of chess that we simply can’t comprehend. I suppose that’s possible.

At the same time, spending a first-rounder on a small school interior offensive lineman that most had rated a third-round talent, a second-rounder on a speedy wide receiver who was also expected to go third-round-or-later (and, bear in mind that, for years, the Pats have had precious little success drafting receivers), a super-developmental QB, and a pair of running backs, while only adding some decent cornerback depth in between, simply doesn’t compute.

Grade: D

New York Jets

  • Round 1, Pick 4: Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, CB, Cincinnati
  • Round 1, Pick 10: Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State
  • Round 2, Pick 26: Jermaine Johnson II, DE, Florida State
  • Round 2, Pick 36: Breece Hall, RB, Iowa State
  • Round 3, Pick 101: Jeremy Ruckert, TE, Ohio State
  • Round 4, Pick 111: Max Mitchell, OT, Louisiana
  • Round 4, Pick 117: Micheal Clemons, DE, Texas A&M

Say what you will about the Jets – and, goodness knows, everyone does – but this is a stellar draft haul. To get one of the draft’s top-two corners and one of its top (if not #1) wide receivers in the top ten, an NFL-ready edge rusher that projected as a top-15 pick at #26, the drafts best running back, and a pass-catching tight end from a powerhouse program in the third round, is a home run.

Not to pile on, but the Jags could really learn something here.

Grade: A+

Pittsburgh Steelers

  • Round 1, Pick 20: Kenny Pickett, QB, Pittsburgh
  • Round 2, Pick 52: George Pickens, WR, Georgia
  • Round 3, Pick 84: DeMarvin Leal, DE, Texas A&M
  • Round 4, Pick 138: Calvin Austin III, WR, Memphis
  • Round 6, Pick 208: Connor Heyward, TE, Michigan State
  • Round 7, Pick 225: Mark Robinson, LB, Mississippi
  • Round 7, Pick 241: Chris Oladokun, QB, South Dakota State

After failing for years to develop a succession plan for now-retired QB Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers, faced with the potential of starting the underwhelming former #2 overall pick Mitchell Trubisky under center, made their move. Though local boy (University of Pittsburgh’s own) Kenny Pickett is an extremely accurate passer, concerns about the size of his hands (tiny for an NFL QB), combined with the lack of interest in the other quarterbacks in the draft, it’s exceedingly likely that the Steelers could have gotten their man at least one round (maybe two) later. None the less, he is the future (short-term, at least) in the Steel City.

The Steelers did do quite well with their subsequent picks, giving Pickett (or whoever starts the season under center) a pair of talented receivers – one a big-bodied target, the other a speedster – in the second and fourth rounds, and a big-bodied tight end. Beyond that, the addition of Leal in the third and Ole Miss linebacker Robinson in the seventh (one of whom will become a Pro Bowler, because Steelers) offer solid value.

Of course, unless one of these guys blossoms into a genuine star, this draft class will ultimately be judged on how the Pickett pick plays out.

Grade: C

Tennessee Titans

  • Round 1, Pick 18: Treylon Burks, WR, Arkansas
  • Round 2, Pick 35: Roger McCreary, CB, Auburn
  • Round 3, Pick 69: Nicholas Petit-Frere, OT, Ohio State
  • Round 3, Pick 86: Malik Willis, QB, Liberty
  • Round 4, Pick 131: Hassan Haskins, RB, Michigan
  • Round 4, Pick 143: Chigoziem Okonkwo, TE, Maryland
  • Round 5, Pick 163: Kyle Philips, WR, UCLA
  • Round 6, Pick 204: Theo Jackson, CB, Tennessee
  • Round 6, Pick 219: Chance Campbell, LB, Mississippi

The defending AFC South champs were rather active over draft weekend – to quite impressive effect! 

The headline move was trading star receiver A.J. Brown to the Eagles… then turning right around and drafting Arkansas’ Treylon Burks, who profiles perfectly as a Brown-type receiver. Of course, it’s always better to have the proven product, but to get the next best thing while easing your cap burden (Philly immediately signed Brown to a 4-year, $100 million extension) is some savvy business.

From there, the Titans a versatile cover corner, a big offensive tackle who should contribute right away and profiles as a long-term starter and potentially the pick of the QB class, Liberty’s Malik Willis. As Willis is raw, he is precisely the type of high-upside ‘lottery ticket’ play that a team with excellent coaching and a starting QB already in place (for at least another season) should make.

Then, on Day Three, Tennessee added a trio of intriguing skill position prospects and a potential depth cornerback. Sure, they’re notionally down a star receiver, but that’s an excellent weekend at the office!

Grade: A

 

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