NFL Draft Daily: Takeaways from Alabama and Georgia in the national championship game

NFL Draft Daily looks at top stories, historical trends, player performances and more all through the lens of the NFL Draft. After all, there are only 106 days until the 2022 NFL draft. Check back in tomorrow for another entry.

Georgia and Alabama put a bow on the 2021 college football season with Monday’s national championship game. The Bulldogs snapped a 41-year title drought as Kirby Smart finally beat his former boss and mentor Nick Saban.

If you’ve been paying attention to college football or tracking draft prospects this year, you know there were a ton of future NFL players on the field in Indianapolis. Some won’t be eligible for this season, but my goodness, Saban and Smart continue to prove that they are among the elites when it comes to attracting and developing NFL-caliber talent. Saban has a better history than Smart on both sides of the ball, but there is no denying Smart’s prowess on defense.

Having had a chance to watch the game and work back through the film again, there was a lot to like when it comes to spotting future NFL players. Here are my biggest takeaways from Monday night.

Smart has landed a top-five recruiting class each of the past four seasons. (Wikimedia Commons)

Georgia’s defense is on another level

The Dawgs were led by their incredible defense all year long, not allowing more than 14 points against any opponent the entire regular season. They allowed 9.5 points per game, including the SEC Championship game where Alabama dropped 41 on them. That is 6.5 points per game less than Clemson, who allowed 15 points and finished with the second-best scoring defense.

As I mentioned above, Smart is the best recruiter and developer of defensive talent in the country right now. Georgia has future top-50 picks at every level of their defense and a handful of guys who will go in the mid to late rounds backing them up. By now, you likely know names like Nakobe Dean, Jordan Davis, Travon Walker and Derion Kendrick. However, guys like Devonte Wyatt, Nolan Smith and Lewis Cine (more on him later) are all potential top-50 selections as well. Then there are Quay Walker and Channing Tindall. Neither one was a featured player or even really a full-time starter for Georgia, and yet, it would not be a surprise to see both of them go later on Day 2. Robert Beal Jr., who had 6.5 sacks this season, doesn’t even get mentioned when talking about this defense most of the time.

The next wave of talent is exciting as well. Jalen Carter could be a future first-rounder. Kelee Ringo, who had the game-sealing pick-six, will be eligible next season and will certainly have opportunities to work his way into the top 50. He had a really strong performance that makes me excited to watch more of him in the future. Smael Mondon Jr., Nazir Stackhouse and MJ Sherman should all see more action next year as this next wave of talent heads to the NFL. The pipeline from Athens to the NFL is only growing stronger.

I was wrong about Stetson Bennett

I told coworkers, friends and my very patient wife who probably tuned me out because she was not quite as invested in Georgia’s starting quarterback situation as I was, that I really thought the Bulldogs needed to turn their offense over to J.T. Daniels for the College Football Playoff. Georgia was finally tested in the SEC title game and forced to play from behind. It seemed like Bennett was not cut out to keep up with Alabama if the Tide built an early lead again. He attempted just 287 passes across 13 games. That ranked 79th among quarterbacks in FBS this season. Bennett was never asked to be the guy, and I assumed that it meant he couldn’t fill that role.

Turns out, he was more than ready to lead the team when they desperately needed someone to step up, this time on an even bigger stage. Bennett went over 300 yards passing and had three touchdowns against a good Michigan defense in the Orange Bowl, securing a rematch with ‘Bama.

With Georgia’s run game looking incredibly sluggish in the first half. Then, Bennett was strip-sacked and Alabama took an 18-13 lead, and the pressure was really on. Over the final 10 minutes of the game, the former walk-on quarterback was flawless. He tossed two touchdowns to build a lead and the defense closed it out with a pick-six. Bennett had plenty of help, but he also showed that he was capable of leading this team at a time when it needed leading.

I don’t think this makes him an elite quarterback prospect or anything, but maybe this puts him on the radar as a seventh-round pick or preferred free agent, if he is even interested in going pro. He has the makings of a player who could succeed as a backup quarterback in the NFL. Teams like the Bengals, Chargers or Bills, who could all be in the market for a backup quarterback this year, make sense as potential landing spots for the championship-winning quarterback.

Harris had 5.5 sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss in 2021. (Wikimedia Commons)

Christian Harris and Lewis Cine made themselves some money

Every year, there are a few players that cement their status or really capitalize on the increased attention on them to shoot up draft boards. If there are two players that I think did that better than anyone else on Monday, I would pick Alabama’s Christian Harris and Georgia’s Lewis Cine.

Let’s start with Harris. He started the year as a player many thought could go in the first round and possibly even be the first linebacker off the board. While far from an exact science and not at all indicative of how the league views him, the website NFL Mock Draft Database shows Harris dropping from the 20th ranked player overall in early October to 55th in the middle of December. He had an up and down season, struggling to sort through traffic and failing to read his keys. It was unfortunate to watch for such an instinctive and dynamic defensive playmaker.

Against Georgia, Harris showcased the incredible upside that makes him such an eye-catching prospect. He racked up three sacks and four tackles for loss and looked downright explosive. He still has a long way to go when it comes to gap discipline, but he should be in the mix in the late first round or early second round.

On the other side, Cine was seemingly everywhere for Georgia’s defense. He had seven tackles, a tackle for loss and a pass break up. Those counting stats are far from outstanding, but his play went well beyond the numbers. He made a number of key stops for the Bulldogs, which was something they could not do against the Tide in the SEC championship game. It was the type of game that I think will propel him into the top 50 conversation. With a number of teams picking at the backend of the first round or early in the second round, Cine could be in the running to be the second safety selected, following Kyle Hamilton.

Will Anderson Jr. will start the 2023 draft cycle as the No. 1 player on my big board

This guy is incredible. He showcased his full range of skills on Monday night. He batted a pass at the line, made opposing offensive linemen look silly in pass protection and set the edge against the run with authority. In my estimation, he should have won the Heisman this year. He had 34 tackles for loss in 15 games this season. That is 2.3 tackles for loss per game. Leo Chenal and Devin Lloyd tied for the second best average at 1.6. That came on top of 17.5 sacks, which was tops in the country, and trailed only Andre Carter II in terms of sacks per game. Reminder: this was playing in the SEC against some of the best college offensive linemen in the country.

His length, physicality and athleticism at one of the most coveted positions in college football make him one of the most exciting prospects in recent years. Put him in the same air as Chase Young and Myles Garrett. I am so excited to break down his film this summer.

Jameson Williams and John Metchie III should consider returning to school

This was the worst part of the game by far. Williams emerged as a legitimate contender to be the first receiver taken in the 2022 draft with his electric playmaking and field-stretching ability. The Ohio State transfer stepped into the void left by Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith and flourished. Unfortunately, he suffered a torn ACL in the second quarter and will now miss the entire pre-draft process and potentially the beginning of the 2022 season.

While I don’t think any team will look at him as damaged goods or take him off their board because of the injury, it will almost definitely hurt his stock. He was someone who likely would have ran well at the combine and boosted his stock even further. Williams could very reasonably still go in the first round. There is something to be said for getting paid while you rehab your surgically repaired knee.

However, he will likely be losing out on some money in the process. I could realistically have seen him coming off the board as early as No. 10 to the Jets (hard to see any receivers going before that point, barring trades) before the injury. He will likely slide some. Even falling 11 spots to the Patriots (projected) at No. 21 would cost him $7.3 million over the course of his rookie deal. If he potentially drops further to the Chiefs (projected) at No. 29, it would be about $9.3 million less.

In the end, Williams will have to do whatever works best for him and his family. If he, God forbid, got hurt again after returning to school, he could cost himself a lot more money than that. There is certainly still a good amount of risk. That being said, there are worse situations than returning to Alabama to play with Bryce Young and potentially John Metchie III again. Metchie also suffered a torn ACL playing in the SEC title game. He was not projected to go quite as high as Williams and his injury could set up a return to Tuscaloosa. Those two back at school would only bolster a team that is already the favorite to win the national title in 2022. Williams could erase any doubt about the injury and find himself in the mix to go in the top 10 in 2023. Injuries are one of the harsh realities of football and will set up one of the most interesting decisions to watch when the deadline comes up Monday, January 17th.

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2022 NFL Mock Draft: Georgia and Alabama players dominate first round following national championship game

College football is officially in offseason mode. While it is obviously sad we won’t have college football to fill up our Saturdays anymore, it was a thrilling season, capped off with an exciting championship game. Now, we shift our focus even more so to the upcoming NFL draft, as many players who featured in Monday’s game expect to hear their names called early on draft night.

One of the unfortunate storylines of the night though was the non-contact knee injury suffered by Jameson Williams. This came just about a month after his partner in crime, John Metchie III, tore his ACL in the SEC title game. Both were potential top-50 picks, with Williams rising into the top 10 for several draft experts. With such a serious injury this late in the season, I wonder if he might not be better off returning to school for his senior year. Williams would still likely garner significant draft interest, but this likely hurts his stock. With so much uncertainty surrounding the situation right now, I left him out of the first round until I know more.

Meanwhile, in the NFL, 18 teams are officially in offseason mode as well, with the remaining 14 gearing up for the postseason. There are definitely some changes since my last mock draft as I’ve continued to sift through film and the draft order has changed based on the final few results of the NFL regular season.

We still have a long way to go until we reach the draft in Las Vegas, but the pre draft process is just beginning to heat up. Players are accepting Senior Bowl invites, which is coming up at the beginning of February in Mobile, Alabama. Plus, the East-West Shrine Bowl and NFLPA Collegiate Bowl are also just weeks away.

With all of that in mind, let’s dive into my first mock of 2022. The draft order is according to Tankathon.

1. Jacksonville Jaguars (3-14) – Aidan Hutchinson, EDGE, Michigan
Jacksonville had a fun Week 18, stunning the Colts to keep them out of the playoffs and still holding onto the No. 1 pick. With that top selection, it is hard to overlook Aidan Hutchinson. This Jaguars defense, outside of a surprising six-sack showing to close the season, has struggled to generate pressure. Hutchinson will give the Jags a nightmarish duo with Josh Allen playing opposite him.

2. Detroit Lions (3-13-1) – Kayvon Thibodeaux, EDGE, Oregon
This is a pretty great consolation prize for the Lions. While not quite on the same level of Chase Young, Thibodeaux is a dynamic pass rusher with an impressive array of pass-rush moves. He has disappeared at times and can struggle when put into conflict by RPOs and read options. Overall, he would be a great pairing with Romeo Okwara and hopefully help transform a Lions’ defense lacking talent.

3. Houston Texans (4-13) – Ahmad Gardner, CB, Cincinnati
Houston could head a number of directions here. I personally love Ahmad Gardner, who has the makings of a lockdown corner. I’ve talked about it before, but it is impossible to be a true No. 1 corner in the NFL without length. The threshold seems to be right around 5’11”. Gardner is 6’3″ and moves exceptionally well for someone that size. He will need some coaching to improve his man coverage technique, but already dominates as a zone corner. He would give the Texans a talented defensive back to rebuild the defense around.

4. New York Jets (4-13) – Evan Neal, OT, Alabama
While the Jets might have more pressing needs, Evan Neal is too big a talent to overlook. Literally. At 6’7″, 340 pounds, the Jets could potentially bookend their offensive line with massive tackles to protect Zach Wilson now and into the future. Neal played at right tackle prior to taking over at left tackle in 2021. With Morgan Moses and George Fant headed for free agency, this makes a ton of sense as well. If one or both of them is back, then that could reshuffle New York’s priorities in the draft.

5. New York Giants (4-13) – Ikem Ekwonu, OT, North Carolina State
Dave Gettleman may have retired, but the Giants could take a page out of his book and do what he always promised: build an offensive line. Ikem Ekwonu is a nasty run blocker with impressive power. He has room for growth in pass protection, but all the physical tools to excel. Saquon Barkley and Daniel Jones would both greatly benefit from his addition.

6. Carolina Panthers (5-12) – Tyler Linderbaum, C, Iowa
Carolina needs a quarterback, but I don’t have a first-round grade on any of the passers in this class at the moment. Instead, the Panthers can rebuild an offensive line that was among the worst in the league in 2021. Tyler Linderbaum is an athletic center who can get out in space to lead the way on outside runs and screen plays. That bodes well for a team with Christian McCaffrey. Make no mistake though, Linderbaum is still capable of putting defenders on their back if they aren’t careful.

7. New York Giants via Chicago Bears (6-11) – George Karlaftis, EDGE, Purdue
New York continues to build in the trenches with their second pick in the top 10. George Karlaftis is not quite on the same level as the top two edge rushers in this class, but he has a great first step off the edge and some enticing physical tools. He has the versatility to play with his hand on the ground in a 4-3 alignment or stand up on the edge in sub packages. This would give the Giants an exciting pairing on the edge with Azeez Ojulari.

8. Atlanta Falcons (7-10) – Drake London, WR, USC
Will Calvin Ridley return to the Falcons? We’ve not seen the former first-round pick since October as he stepped away from his mental health. Now, there is buzz that he could be traded. That would leave Atlanta desperately needing a new No. 1 receiver. I know Kyle Pitts is already in place, but he cannot do it alone, nor has he shown an ability to produce in the red zone. Drake London should help with that. He plays a lot like Mike Evans, using his massive frame and athleticism to high point the ball and catch it away from his body. London led the nation in receptions prior to a season-ending ankle injury.

9. Denver Broncos (7-10) – Nakobe Dean, LB, Georgia
Denver traded away Von Miller this season and has two pending free agents for starting linebackers (when healthy). Nakobe Dean might actually find a way to fill all of those voids to a certain degree. He is an athletic linebacker with great range and some sneaky good pass rush ability. He will be a difference maker at the next level with his closing speed. He draws comparisons to Jonathan Vilma, which the Broncos could desperately use in the middle of their defense.

10. New York Jets via Seattle Seahawks (7-10) – Derek Stingley Jr., CB, LSU
New York’s secondary was bad in 2021. The Jets allowed the third most yards per attempt, yards per game and third-highest completion percentage in the league this season. Landing Derek Stingley Jr. here could be a coup. He was assumed to be CB1 heading into the season, but injuries and some inconsistent play since that dominant freshman year make his projection a bit more murky. I sincerely hope we get to see him at the combine.

11. Washington Football Team (7-10) – Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame
This is still too early for a quarterback if you ask me. Instead, Washington can attempt to address its very underwhelming defense. Supposedly the strength of this team, Washington allowed the fourth-most passing yards per game this season. Landon Collins had a rough season at safety, but seemed to excel when he moved into a hybrid linebacker role. He could be a post-June 1 cut to save cap space as though. Kyle Hamilton is essentially a better, more well-rounded version of Collins. Adding him to save money and upgrade at the same time makes a ton of sense.

12. Minnesota Vikings (8-9) – Andrew Booth Jr., CB, Clemson
Minnesota will be disappointed to see Hamilton off the board, but Andrew Booth Jr. is an excellent consolation prize. With Jeff Gladney gone and Patrick Peterson turning 32 in July, the Vikings need some new blood at corner. Yes, they have spent a number of premium draft picks at the position, but that doesn’t mean they should stop trying. Booth is a projectable starter in the NFL. I know it is important to scout the player, not the helmet, but the development of A.J. Terrell and Trayvon Mullen in the NFL makes optimistic there is still untapped potential for Clemson’s No. 1 corner.

13. Cleveland Browns (8-9) – Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State
There buzz continues that Baker Mayfield could be done in Cleveland, but this is not the draft to try to replace him. Instead, the Browns should put their former No. 1 pick in the best position to succeed. Adding Garrett Wilson would do just that. He is a proven playmaker with good hands, above average quickness and a nose for the end zone. Cleveland’s wide receiver room is fairly deep, but lacks a true No. 1 option. Wilson could develop into just that.

14. Baltimore Ravens (8-9) – Jordan Davis, DL, Georgia
With the top three corners off the board and the Ravens set to get a number of key players back in the secondary from injury, I think they should target the defensive line. Jordan Davis is a disruptive people-mover and space eater. He is massive, listed at 6’6″, 340 pounds. Brandon Williams turns 33 in February and is a pending free agent. Davis would step into that run stuffing role with some added pass rushing ability.

15. Philadelphia Eagles via Miami Dolphins (9-8) – Devin Lloyd, LB, Utah
I know, the Eagles don’t prioritize linebackers, but maybe they should. Avery Genard and Alex Singleton are both replaceable. Devin Lloyd is a dynamic off-ball linebacker who can rush the passer. He has the range to make plays sideline-to-sideline and hang with backs and tight ends in coverage. After a slow start to the season, he finished the year strong. There is room to improve as a block shedder, but I really like what he brings to the table.

16. Philadelphia Eagles via Indianapolis Colts (9-8) – David Ojabo, EDGE, Michigan
Might as well continue to retool that front seven. David Ojabo has an underwhelming performance in the College Football Playoff semifinal, but the upside he brings is still apparent. His athleticism pops off the charts. Still relatively new to the sport, he is just scratching the surface. He could contribute early on as a third-down sub package player as he continues to develop his technique as a pass rusher.

17. Los Angeles Chargers (9-8) – DeMarvin Leal, DL, Texas A&M
The Chargers defensive line is in desperate need of a boost. DeMarvin Leal projects best as a three-technique tackle, but he has the versatility to kick outside as well. He flashes some exciting potential as a pass rusher, but disappeared at times as well. Playing alongside Joey Bosa should allow him to have a larger impact. He will be someone I am eager to see test in Indianapolis.

18. New Orleans Saints (9-8) – Charles Cross, OT, Mississippi State
With Terron Armstead unlikely to be back in 2022, the Saints will have a huge hole at left tackle. Charles Cross is a good candidate to be a Day 1 starter in the NFL. There will be some growing pains with limit run snaps and some concerns about how grabby he is in pass protection. That being said, he is a fluid mover and anchors well against power rushers.

19. Philadelphia Eagles (9-8) – Treylon Burks, WR, Arkansas
After going defense with their first two picks, the Eagles turn to the offense to find another weapon for Jalen Hurts to work with. DeVonta Smith has proven himself thus far as a reliable target, but the rest of the receiving corps is a bit more suspect. Treylon Burks brings an exciting combination of size and speed. He was a bit inconsistent against some of the top teams he faced this year, but flashed the potential to be a quality receiver in the NFL.

20. Pittsburgh Steelers (9-7-1) – Kenny Pickett, QB, Pittsburgh
Finally, we have a quarterback come off the board. The likelihood is that one will go before this point, but I don’t think any should. Pittsburgh unquestionably needs to find its quarterback of the future with Ben Roethlisberger headed for retirement. Kenny Pickett obviously gets to stay home, but he also has the best resume of any of the draft eligible quarterbacks. He has a live arm with impressive accuracy. He has enough athleticism to compete in the modern NFL, extending plays with his legs. His ceiling might be a bit lower than others in this class, with Pickett set to turn 24 in June, but that works well for a Steelers team that is otherwise ready to contend now.

21. New England Patriots (10-7) – Trevor Penning, OT, Northern Iowa
If Trent Brown returns, then there is no reason to target a tackle here, but if Brown leaves, then New England will need someone to take over at right tackle. Trevor Penning could be the perfect candidate. He is a large human being, measuring in at 6’7″ and 320 pounds. He moves really well for a player that size and shows a lot of requisite skills to succeed in pass protection in the NFL. There will unquestionably be a learning curve coming from the FCS level, but we’ve seen plenty of players make the jump in recent years.

22. Miami Dolphins via San Francisco 49ers (10-7) – Nicolas Petit-Frère, OT Ohio State
Miami’s offensive line is still a patchwork unit with a lot of holes. Maybe the Dolphins will give the young unit another year to gel, but they had the worst pass block win rate in the league this season. Reinforcements are likely needed. Perhaps a move in free agency will be required, but until then, Nicolas Petit-Frère seems like a worthy option at this spot. He looked strong against George Karlaftis this year, which underlines his talent. He also struggled mightily against Aidan Hutchinson, which highlights areas for growth. Either way, he likely won’t be much worse than Miami’s current tackles.

23. Las Vegas Raiders (10-7) – Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State
Unfortunately, Henry Ruggs is done in the NFL. That means the Raiders once again have a need for a receiver. Chris Olave can help fill the void. While he is not quite the speedster that Ruggs was, he does have some wheels. He is capable of stretching the field, can work the middle of the field on crossing concepts as well. Adding him alongside Darren Waller and Hunter Renfrow would give Derek Carr a solid complement of weapons.

24. Arizona Cardinals (11-6) – Roger McCreary, CB, Auburn
The Cardinals’ defense has stepped up in the second half of the season while the offense has slumped a bit. However, the loss to Seattle points to Arizona’s clear offseason needs in the secondary. Roger McCreary would give the Cards a long, rangy corner with the ability to develop into a true No. 1 option. He put together an impressive season against good competition.

25. Cincinnati Bengals (10-7) – Kenyon Green, OL, Texas A&M
While the Bengals feel good about drafting Ja’Marr Chase, the pressing need for offensive line help has not disappeared, especially on the interior. Kenyon Green has experience all over the line and should be a plug-and-play option to help protect Joe Burrow. He has plenty of reps against elite defenders playing in the SEC. Cincinnati gave up the third-most sacks in the league this season.

26. Buffalo Bills (11-6) – Sean Rhyan, OL, UCLA
As the season has worn on, it has become clear that Buffalo needs to revamp the interior of its offensive line. Sean Rhyan is your classic college tackle who might be better off playing guard in the NFL. He is a steady operator, but lacks the elite athleticism needed to contend on the outside with pro-caliber edge rushers. His history as a tackle likely boosts his value though because he could start there in a pinch.

27. Detroit Lions via Los Angeles (12-5) – Malik Willis, QB, Liberty
While this is not a great quarterback class, the Lions can take a crack at the one with the highest upside. Malik Willis is cut from the same cloth as Lamar Jackson with his electric running ability in the open field and dazzling arm strength. However, Jackson was likely a bit further along in his development as a passer than Willis is at the moment. The Liberty star hangs onto the ball for way too long and tends to play hero ball. He struggles with accuracy. That being said, his upside is worth gambling on in this spot. If Detroit ends up with a top-five pick next season, they can always move Willis for additional draft capital and take a more proven prospect like Bryce Young or C.J. Stroud.

28. Dallas Cowboys (12-5) – Daxton Hill, S, Michigan
Dallas’ defense has been one of the most surprising stories of the year, but it is unlikely to sustain this success without reinforcements. Daxton Hill is a versatile safety who can line up in the slot. He has the speed to track down players on the boundary and the physicality to make plays in space. Given the Cowboys’ salary cap constraints, there is a good chance Damontae Kazee will not be back and Donovan Wilson is heading into a contract year.

29. Kansas City Chiefs (12-5) – Jahan Dotson, WR, Penn State
Jahan Dotson has the explosive playmaking ability and proven production that puts him in the conversation to go in the first round. He has great hands and can separate from defenders. He is not the biggest receiver, but he is still capable of playing on the outside. While that might feel a bit redundant given Tyreek Hill and Mecole Hardman filling similar profiles, Dotson can operate as a bit more of a possession receiver than either of them.

30. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (13-4) – Devonte Wyatt, DL, Georgia
Tampa continues to stay ahead of future needs by drafting for its front seven. While Vita Vea is locked in to a long-term deal, Jason Pierre-Paul, Ndamukong Suh, William Gholston and Steve McClendon are all pending free agents. Devonte Wyatt cannot replace all of them, but he can soften the blow. Often overlooked, he has been one of the key contributors to this Georgia defense. He would help the Buccaneers continue to stay stout against the run and offer some interior pass rush ability as well.

31. Tennessee Titans (12-5) – Christian Harris, LB, Alabama
With Jayon Brown and Rashaan Evans both headed for free agency, Tennessee has a need at linebacker. Christian Harris feels like great value to fill that need at the back end of the first round. Harris is a bit like an attack dog, when you let off the leash, he is capable of wreaking havoc. However, he also locks in sometimes and loses track of his assignment. There is also room for improvement when it comes to block shedding. That being said, his ability to shoot the gap and make a big play is enticing.

32. Green Bay Packers (13-4) – Travon Walker, EDGE, Georgia
Another Georgia defender in the first round. Travon Walker is built like Za’Darius and Preston Smith, Green Bay’s two current edge rushers who could both be cap casualties this offseason. Walker will help fill the void. He was a consistent performer on the Bulldogs’ championship-winning defense, producing six sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss in 2021. His versatility, lining up on the interior, on the edge or even as a stand up backer, would make him an intriguing chess piece for Joe Barry to deploy.

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NFL Draft Daily: The NFL’s tight end revolution

NFL Draft Daily looks at top stories, historical trends, player performances and more all through the lens of the NFL Draft. After all, there are only 116 days until the 2022 NFL draft. Check back in tomorrow for another entry.

Kelce has the highest receiving yards per game average by a tight end in NFL history. (Wikimedia Commons)

The tight end position has drastically changed in the NFL over the past 10 years. As the league has leaned into its passing revolution, tight ends have become legitimate receivers in just about every offense. Honestly, the NFL might be in the midst of its tight end heyday, at least so far. With Travis Kelce, George Kittle, Darren Waller, Mark Andrews and (somehow) Rob Gronkowski leading the charge, we could be watching several future Hall of Famers right now.

That being said, the league still seems to be adjusting to the concept of receiving-specific tight ends. In the past, blocking has been a requirement. The best tight ends in the league are still excellent blockers. Kelce, Kittle and Gronkowski are all known for their receiving prowess, but what sets them apart is their blocking ability. They are well-rounded superstars. That prototypical player is still going to be the most coveted for the position.

However, we’ve seen a more recent rise of these wide receiver/tight end hybrid players. Waller, Andrews, Mike Gesicki and Kyle Pitts all headline this group. Waller is a converted receiver who lines up all over the place on offense. Andrews leads all tight ends in receiving yards this season and has been Baltimore’s top target for the past three seasons. He is not quite in the same tier as Kelce, Kittle and Gronkowski as a run blocker, but he is better than most of these receiver-only guys. Gesicki is basically a big slot receiver in Miami. He is almost always flexed out or lining up on the perimeter. Then, there is Pitts, who many expect to be one of the best tight ends to ever play the game. He has basically been the opposite of the traditional tight end. He dominates as a receiver between the 20s, but his one touchdown so far this season points to some struggles in the red zone.

Despite battling through injuries and previously retiring, Gronk is still one of the league’s elite tight ends. (Wikimedia Commons)

What’s significant about this is that these players are rarely if ever asked to block. Teams are essentially just using them as a mismatch option in the passing game. That’s why these players are successful. Arthur Smith is not keeping Pitts in to block on running plays or to chip edge rushers on third down. He’s using Pitts as the receiver he is.

However, there have been far too many cases of teams simply not knowing how to use these uber-athletic receiving tight ends. Prominent ones that come to mind are David Njoku in Cleveland, Irv Smith Jr. in Minnesota and Evan Engram in New York. Maybe even O.J. Howard should be in this conversation. None of these players have been able to get off the ground. Some of it is due to injuries, but a lot of it is the schemes they play in.

Engram, who is a huge liability as a blocker, has struggled to transition to the NFL. People will point to a 2020 Pro Bowl appearance, but that was a questionable selection. His talent is undeniable, but it feels like the Giants simply have not found a way to maximize his potential. An anemic pass offense and archaic play calling under Jason Garrett didn’t help matters, but it is time for him to join a different offensive system. It will be interesting to see if he lands in a more pass-happy offense that is willing to let him play as a big receiver on the outside.

Meanwhile, Smith Jr. and Njoku were buried on the depth chart by much less athletic tight ends. Kyle Rudolph was the incumbent in Minnesota and Smith Jr. could not unseat him for the starting job. He likely would’ve had a chance to be the featured target at the position, but injuries cost him the entire 2021 season. Njoku struggled with consistency and eventually lost his starting job to Austin Hooper. He also plays in a run-heavy scheme that does not put him in a position to succeed.

Engram has not topped 700 receiving yards in a season since his rookie year in 2017. (Wikimedia Commons)

The book is still largely unwritten on Smith Jr.’s time in Minnesota, but time is up for Njoku and Engram. They will be looking for new homes in 2022. Howard is done in Tampa Bay after this season, too. There is a chance he simply isn’t cut out for the NFL either. Howard’s inconsistency and lack of durability has him as the third tight end in Tampa Bay.

All of these players struggling to transition definitely begs the question: is the NFL using these players properly, or are we in the media overvaluing these athletic move tight ends? We are enamored by the athleticism, speed and receiving ability by these players on the college stage. All of them were top-50 selections though, with three of them going in the first round. Clearly, the NFL believed in their playmaking ability translating as well.

So what went wrong? Players bust in the NFL all the time. Perhaps, these are three (maybe four, jury is still out on Smith Jr.) players that just could not live up to the hype. However, I think it might also be that these teams misused all of these players. Gesicki and Pitts are great examples of how to deploy this type of player. You can flex them out and play them out wide on the boundary to create mismatches.

I wonder if we could see a second-half renaissance for any of these players if they land in better situations. The Chargers, Titans, Bengals, Saints, Panthers and Packers all could use an upgrade at tight end this year. Each has a good history of utilizing receiving tight ends. Imagine Engram hauling in passes from Aaron Rodgers or O.J. Howard toasting a linebacker to catch a score from Justin Herbert. This is all speculation, but it is something I will be watching closely this offseason.

Bottom line, the NFL is still figuring out how to best deploy these hybrid players. The same can be said on defense, with players like Isaiah Simmons, Derwin James and the upcoming Kyle Hamilton challenging a lot of traditional positional tropes. It will be interesting to see if receiving tight ends like Jahleel Billingsley, Jalen Wydermyer and Isaiah Likely will fare as the latest group of prospects to arrive in the NFL. In the right system, any one of them could have a Waller or Gesicki-like impact on an offense. The league is still just scratching the surface on how it utilizes tight ends.

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2022 NFL Mock Draft: Panthers, Lions find QBs of the future and six WRs go in first round

There are still two weeks left in the regular season and the entirety of the playoffs to be played, but for a number of fans, the look ahead to 2022 has already started. At this time, eight teams have already been eliminated from playoff contention. More are sure to follow in Week 17.

That means it is time for mock draft season. This is already my third mock of the season and my final one of 2021. The draft order has changed quite a bit over the course of the season as Miami and Kansas City completely turned around early-season slumps. Meanwhile, Carolina and Washington have faded down the stretch to the point where they are picking in the top 10.

This is the most up-to-date draft order according to Tankathon through the conclusion of Sunday Night Football. The outcome of Dolphins-Saints on Monday night will likely see each team slide a couple spots in either direction. So much of the NFL is grouped around that .500 mark right now.

As I continue to dissect film during bowl season, my evaluations of players have definitely changed. I know that there will likely be more quarterbacks off the board in the first round, but this is how I grade them at this stage. With no trades allowed, this is how I see the first round shaking out as of right now.

1. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-13) – Aidan Hutchinson, EDGE, Michigan
Jacksonville could head a number of directions with the first pick, but taking the dominant edge rusher out of Michigan to pair with Josh Allen feels like the best bet. Hutchinson finished as the runner up for the Heisman for a reason. He has a bit of J.J. Watt to his game, beating tackles with a combination of speed and power.

2. Detroit Lions (2-12-1) – Kayvon Thibodeaux, EGDE, Oregon
This is a pretty great consolation prize for the Lions. While not quite on the same level of Chase Young, Thibodeaux is a dynamic pass rusher with an impressive array of pass-rush moves. He has disappeared at times and can struggle when put into conflict by RPOs and read options. Overall, he would be a great pairing with Romeo Okwara and hopefully help transform a Lions’ defense lacking talent.

3. Houston Texans (3-12) – Evan Neal, OT, Alabama
This is a situation of the Texans simply going with the best player available. Laremy Tunsil remains well entrenched at left tackle, but Houston could use an upgrade on the right side. Neal would give Davis Mills a chance to prove himself at quarterback. If not Mills, then whoever replaces him would have one of the best tackle pairings in the league. Neal is a mountain disguised as an offensive tackle. He checks all the physical boxes and passes the eye test.

4. New York Jets (4-11) – Ikem Ekwonu, OT, North Carolina State
Morgan Moses is on an expiring contract and Mekhi Becton has not shown he can stay healthy. That creaks the door open for the Jets to sure up their offensive line. The offensive lineman in Joe Douglas will not be able to resist taking Ekwonu either. This guy is nasty and brings power that teams crave. He is certainly a bit raw in terms of technique. He needs a bit of polish, but keeping Zach Wilson upright has to be the biggest priority of the offseason.

5. New York Giants (4-11) – Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame
Daniel Jones is coming back in 2022. At least that is the word out of East Rutherford. That opens the door for New York to go with the best player available and continue to overhaul its roster. Kyle Hamilton is a bit of a unicorn. He has the size of a linebacker, but lines up at safety. He has the coverage skills to be a centerfielder, but can drop down into the box as well. With Jabril Peppers out of a contract this season and Logan Ryan turning 31, there is some need for another safety in New York as well.

6. New York Jets via Seattle Seahawks (5-10) – Ahmed Gardner, CB, Cincinnati
When you start all first- and second-year players in the secondary, there are bound to be some growing pains. That said, New York clearly still has a need for a true No. 1 corner. The man they call “Sauce” absolutely fits the bill. He has yet to allow a touchdown in his three years as a starter at Cincinnati. He brings the requisite length needed to play on the outside in the NFL. The only question will likely be about his speed. Gardner will be one to watch at the combine.

7. Carolina Panthers (5-10) – Kenny Pickett, QB, Pittsburgh
Let’s make this clear, this is a reach! I like Pickett as a passer, but at 23 years old, it is safe to assume he is already pretty far along in his development as a quarterback. Read that as a potentially low ceiling. However, this feels like a really good landing spot for Pickett. There is a lot of talent on the defense and a solid receiving corps. If Christian McCaffrey can get healthy, he will have one of the best offensive weapons in the entire league. Carolina would need to bolster the offensive line to make this work, but there is potential for this to be a hit.

8. New York Giants via Chicago Bears (5-10) – Tyler Linderbaum, C, Iowa
The aforementioned Daniel Jones has had his struggles, but he has rarely been protected. Tyler Linderbaum will help change that. He is an incredibly agile center with good blocking angles and great open field speed. He should be an asset in the run game as well with his ability to pull outside and set the edge. Targeting offensive line help makes a ton of sense for the Giants. Saquon Barkley would probably appreciate the move as well, assuming he can get onto the field.

9. Washington Football Team (6-9) – Drake London, WR, USC
With Pickett off the board, there are no quarterbacks that I can justify going in the top 10. Instead, Washington addresses the massive issue facing its receiving corps. There is no size. Drake London would solve that immediately. He might not be the most explosive athlete, but he plays a lot like Mike Evans. His ability to catch the ball away from his body and make contested grabs makes him an excellent security blanket for any quarterback. Perhaps Washington could trade back into the end of the first to snag a rookie quarterback. If not, load up this roster and try to find a veteran who can lead you to the playoffs.

10. Atlanta Falcons (7-8) – George Karlaftis, EDGE, Purdue
A perfect blend of need and value, Atlanta desperately needs someone with George Karlaftis’ skill set. There is definitely some cause for concern when you put on the Ohio State film and see him overmatched by a pair of quality tackles. However, Karlaftis’ upside and raw traits make him worth the gamble in this spot. The Falcons desperately need pass rushing help. They rank last in the NFL in sacks by a sizeble margin, totaling nine fewer than the Jaguars and Lions so far this season.

11. Denver Broncos (7-8) – David Ojabo, EDGE, Michigan
Denver will be disappointed to see Karlaftis off the board, but will take the next best edge rusher on the board. That has to be David Ojabo after the breakout season he had across from Aidan Hutchinson. Ojabo is not nearly as polished as his partner in crime, but his traits are incredible. With Von Miller now in Los Angeles, the Broncos definitely need someone to pitch in across from Bradley Chubb. Ojabo has a long way to go in order to replicate Miller’s production, but he will help soften the blow nonetheless.

12. Minnesota Vikings (7-8) – Derek Stingley Jr., CB, LSU
Another mock, another corner to the Vikings. If it’s broken, keep trying to fix it. Minnesota ranks in the bottom 10 for passing yards and passing touchdowns allowed. The Vikings will be thrilled to see Singley still available. His stock has slipped following an injury-riddled season, but the physical ability and top-end potential is all still there. If he tests at the combine, there is a good chance he will not last this long on draft day.

13. Cleveland Browns (7-8) – Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State
Baker Mayfield may well be the problem in Cleveland, but he could still definitely use an improved receivers room. Jarvis Landry is declining and Odell Beckham Jr. is gone. Rashad Higgins and Donovan Peoples-Jones are excellent depth options, but the Browns need a new go-to playmaker. Enter Garrett Wilson. He is a silky smooth route runner with solid speed, good hands and a nose for the end zone. Keeping him in state would be a great move by the front office.

14. Philadelphia Eagles via Miami Dolphins (7-7) – Devin Lloyd, LB, Utah
Philadelphia has been a pleasant surprise in the second half of the year. While there are questions about Jalen Hurts as the long-term answer at quarterback, there is no one worth replacing him with in this spot. Instead, the Eagles finally address the shortcomings of their linebacker unit. Lloyd would be an upgrade over any of Philly’s current starters. He is very athletic with some ability to rush the passer. Feels like a slam dunk pick for this defense.

15. New Orleans Saints (7-7) – Treylon Burks, WR, Arkansas
While quarterback could certainly be in play, this is still much too early for QB2 on my board. Even if the Saints did take a quarterback, he would have no one to throw to. New Orleans’ group of receivers is on par with Detroit and the Jets when it comes to proven playmakers. If Michael Thomas returns, that could change things a bit, but there is still room for more additions at the position. Burks was a bit inconsistent this year, but showed flashes of elite ability. He lit up Alabama, Auburn and Texas A&M, but disappeared against LSU and Georgia. There is a lot to like about his upside.

16. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-7-1) – Charles Cross, OT, Mississippi State
Yes, the Steelers need a new quarterback. No, that does not mean they should reach for one in the middle of the first round. Pittsburgh has a host of other issues it still needs to address to get back into championship contention. The biggest being a porous offensive line. Cross lacks much experience as a run blocker, but has a lot of solid tape in pass protection. He is far from perfect, with several holding calls and uneven technique, but he anchors well and has the size to excel at the next level. He would be in the mix to start at left tackle from Day 1 in Pittsburgh.

17. Los Angeles Chargers (8-7) – DeMarvin Leal, DL, Texas A&M
Same old Chargers. Los Angeles has shown signs of progress this season, but it still cannot avoid the pitfalls. The Achilles heel has been the run defense. Only three teams are allowing more rushing yards per game or yards per attempt this season. Finding some help on the interior of the defense line is the key to turning things around. Leal is a talented pass rusher who can hold his own against the run. He has the versatility to flex out to the edge as well. Brandon Staley would have a lot of fun exploring the ways he could deploy Leal against opposing offenses.

18. Las Vegas Raiders (8-7) – Jordan Davis, DL, Georgia
Las Vegas has room to improve in the trenches on both sides of the ball. It is hard to overlook Jordan Davis, both literally and figuratively. He is huge, listed at 6’6″ and 340 pounds. He definitely excels as a run stuffer, but shows flashes of pass-rush brilliances. He has a quick first step and rarely loses ground. He could help transform the Raiders defensive front. Davis, Max Crosby and Yannick Ngakoue is the beginnings of a scary unit.

19. Philadelphia Eagles (8-7) – Andrew Booth Jr., CB, Clemson
As great as Darius Slay has been this season, Philadelphia cannot continue to rely on him to do everything in their secondary. Clemson might have had a down year, but the struggles were all on the offense. Defensively, the Tigers were still stocked with future NFL players, led by Andrew Booth Jr. The rangy cornerback has good size and impeccable athleticism. He will need a bit of coaching to truly take the step in his development, but there is a lot to like about his potential fit in the NFL.

20. Baltimore Ravens (8-7) – Trevor Penning, OT, Northern Iowa
Baltimore is tied for the most sacks allowed this season. Some of that is a byproduct of having mobile quarterbacks who hang onto the ball longer than he probably should, but most of it falls on underperforming tackles and injuries. Trevor Penning may face a bit of a learning curve arriving from FCS powerhouse UNI, but his intangibles point to a seamless transition. If he can protect Lamar Jackson, this will be a pick well spent.

21. Miami Dolphins via San Francisco 49ers (8-7) – Kenyon Green, G, Texas A&M
Miami is on an incredible run right now, winning six in a row heading into Monday Night Football. However, that should not erase the deficiencies that showed up during the first half of the season when the Dolphins were 1-7. Tua Tagovailoa’s protection has room for improvement. Kenyon Green has the potential to be a Day 1 starter at either guard spot, providing some much-needed stability. He has some experience at tackle as well, which only adds to his value.

22. New England Patriots (9-6) – Nakobe Dean, LB, Georgia
This may be my worst nightmare. Letting Bill Belichick get his hands on a playmaker like Dean is dangerous for the rest of the league. He is often compared to Jonathan Vilma between his size and downhill play style. Dont’a Hightower is turning 32 in March and will be a free agent after the season. Dean could help fill the void and eventually grow into a similar defensive leader.

23. Philadelphia Eagles via Indianapolis Colts (9-6) – Jameson Williams, WR, Alabama
Might as well return to the well. Philadelphia seems to have hit big time with Devonta Smith, so it would be wise to find another Alabama receiver to play alongside him. While Smith is certainly capable of big plays, Williams excels at it. He would be what the team hoped to get in drafting Jalen Reagor. There are certainly some drops on his film, but most of them are avoidable. Coaching could solve that. It’s not something to ignore, but it is correctable. This sets up Jalen Hurts or whoever takes over at quarterback in the future for success.

24. Arizona Cardinals (10-5) – Kaiir Elam, CB, Florida
Arizona is once again fading in the second half of the season. While there are questions to ask of the offense, the secondary is getting torn to shreds. Adding a tall, long corner in Elam could change the trajectory of the unit entirely. Hopefully, that size will come into play in the red zone, where the Cardinals have been dreadful down the stretch.

25. Buffalo Bills (9-6) – Nicolas Petit-Frère, OT, Ohio State
Buffalo needs to invest along the interior of its offensive line. While Petit-Frère is not an interior lineman, he could allow the Bills to kick Spencer Brown inside. If not, the Ohio State tackle could move to guard himself. He has shown the ability to handle top speed rushers on the outside with his play against George Karlaftis. On the other hand, he struggled against Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo. Either way, he should help keep Josh Allen clean now and into the future.

26. Cincinnati Bengals (9-6) – Roger McCreary, CB, Auburn
Cincinnati’s secondary has played surprisingly well this season, but lacks staying power. For one, the Bengals can get out from under Trae Waynes’ horrible contract this offseason. They also need Chidobe Awuzie to replicate a career year for this unit to have a chance in 2022. Adding the upside of McCreary gives them someone to develop into the future. He brings an exciting blend of athleticism and size that makes it easy to project him as an NFL starter.

27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-4) – Drake Jackson, EDGE, USC
Tampa Bay will be disappointed to see the top corners off the board by this stage and will simply turn to a best player available approach. With a number of key defensive players on expiring contracts, adding another player in the front seven could help ease the blow. Drake Jackson is a long edge rusher with solid production from his time at USC. Much of his stock is based on the projection of what he could become if he can marry his physical tools with improved technique and pass-rush planning at the next level.

28. Detroit Lions via Los Angeles (11-4) – Malik Willis, QB, Liberty
If there was ever a team that could afford to gamble on a high-risk, high-reward quarterback, it is the Detroit Lions. With the extra pick in the 2022 draft from the Matthew Stafford trade, the Lions could attempt to find his replacement. Willis brings incredible physical traits, namely blazing speed and a very strong arm. He needs a lot of refining though. He has a tendency to hold onto the ball too long, often times misses reads and bails out of the pocket a bit too frequently. Selecting Willis does not prevent Detroit from taking a quarterback in the first round of the 2023 draft either if it ends up with a chance to take Bryce Young or C.J. Stroud. This is just one shot at the dartboard with potential to net future draft capital if he is moved. What I love about this is that Jared Goff can start for one more season before his contract expires and the Lions can make a real run at turning the roster around.

29. Tennessee Titans (10-5) – Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State
Julio Jones has not been the reliable option across from A.J. Brown that the Titans were hoping for. Injuries have derailed most of his previous two seasons and he will turn 33 in February. Tennessee needs another receiver for Ryan Tannehill to turn to. Chris Olave could be the perfect complement to Brown. He is well-rounded and can generate separation. Not to mention good size at 6’1″. He would only open things up more for Derrick Henry as defenses had to respect his speed.

30. Dallas Cowboys (11-4) – Daxton Hill, S, Michigan
The turnaround by Dallas’ defense is truly remarkable. However, it is also benefiting from an unsustainable turnover rate. 33 forced turnovers in 15 games is impressive and hard to repeat. With the top corners off the board, the Cowboys grab a versatile safety with some slot corner experience in Hill. He has tons of athletic upside and regularly ends up around the football. The offense has had its struggles, but there is more than enough talent to see things stabilize. Now it is time to build a defense to match.

31. Kansas City Chiefs (11-4) – Jahan Dotson, WR, Penn State
Kansas City has evolved over the course of the season. Its defensive renaissance does not mean help on that side of the ball is no longer needed. That being said, it is hard to resist Jahan Dotson in this spot. He is a reliable target capable of making contested catches over the middle of the field. I think he could be a perfect fit for what the Chiefs need in this offense past Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill. If Kansas City lands a defensive lineman or cornerback in the second round, this will feel like a really strong start to the draft.

32. Green Bay Packers (12-3) – Devonte Wyatt, DL, Georgia
Aaron Rodgers does not care about the wide receivers you would like to mock to Green Bay. Instead, the Packers continue to build in the trenches. Devonte Wyatt does not get the headlines of his more famous teammates like Nakobe Dean or Jordan Davis, but he should start soon. He is a violent game wrecker. He might not be quite as athletically gifted as those teammates and definitely needs to improve his gap discipline, but there is a lot to like about his tape. With a few potential cap casualties on defense this offseason, finding cost-effective defenders is a must. Don’t rule out a trade back with a quarterback needy team here. Washington, Pittsburgh, Atlanta and Denver could all move up to get a quarterback with that coveted fifth-year option.

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NFL Draft Daily: Should teams consider waiting on quarterbacks in 2022?

NFL Draft Daily looks at top stories, historical trends, player performances and more all through the lens of the NFL Draft. Check back in tomorrow for another entry.

I cannot remember a time where this many teams had a need at quarterback at the same time in the NFL. The list of teams that could potentially have a new starter or spend a premium draft pick on a quarterback is long. The Steelers, Packers, Falcons, Panthers, Saints, Eagles, Giants, Broncos, Texans, Lions, Seahawks and Washington are all facing questions about the future at the position. Maybe even the Raiders and Vikings belong in that conversation. Some have aging veterans to replace, some have recent draft picks that have not worked out and some have disgruntled stars who could be on the move.

Ben Roethlisberger is expected to retire at the end of the season. (Wikimedia Commons)

That puts a ton of focus on the upcoming NFL draft. Unfortunately, this is one of the worst quarterback classes in some time. That doesn’t mean none of these quarterbacks will be good. In fact, there is a surprising amount of depth to this quarterback class. However, there are no slam dunk picks in this draft class as of right now. Maybe someone will separate themselves during the pre-draft process, but we don’t have a Joe Burrow, Trevor Lawrence or Kyler Murray level prospect. Honestly, none of them even come close.

So that begs the question, should teams punt on this year’s quarterback class? There is not a one-size fits all answer, even though I am tempted to just say yes. For a team like the Lions, using the first-round pick they have from the Rams on a quarterback could make some sense, especially if it is someone like Malik Willis, who definitely needs some time on the bench to develop, but brings rare physical traits. Jared Goff is still under contract for 2022 and that team is nowhere near competing for a wildcard spot, much less a title. Taking Willis or grabbing someone like Sam Howell or Desmond Ridder at the top of the second round should not prevent Detroit from taking a top quarterback prospect if they end up in the top five again next season. Suddenly, those other players become valuable trade chips. Sam Darnold and Josh Rosen both netted second-round picks and they both looked awful leading up to that point.

On the other hand, for teams like the Texans or Giants. I don’t like the idea of drafting a quarterback in this class. Reaching to take Matt Corral or Kenny Pickett in the first round does not raise that team’s ceiling all that much. At this point, I would rather spend another year with Davis Mills or Daniel Jones while continuing to amass talent around the quarterback position.

Lawrence has thrown just one touchdown pass since the start of November. (Wikimedia Commons)

And this is the real crux of why I think it makes sense to wait on a quarterback: situation matters. Mac Jones is thriving in New England right now and may even win Offensive Rookie of the Year. Does that mean he is a better quarterback than Trevor Lawrence or that the Jaguars should have taken him No. 1 overall? Probably not. I have a feeling Lawrence would be crushing it in New England as well. The Patriots have a top-flight defense, the best coaching staff in the league and a strong running game to help Jones. Lawrence has none of those things in Jacksonville.

At this point, for teams that are not ready to challenge for division titles and playoff spots, it just doesn’t make sense to grab a quarterback and figure everything else out later. If one of the quarterbacks in this class slides to the Steelers and goes on to have a great career, will people point out that other teams could have drafted him? Yes, absolutely. However, it is incredibly unlikely that these players would find the same success because the support cast around them is so much worse.

The Giants will have to decide this offseason if they want to pick up Jones’ fifth-year option. (Wikimedia Commons)

Let’s use the Giants as an example. Fans are fed up with Daniel Jones, and for good reason. He has not shown much progress since his rookie season and is frustratingly inconsistent. However, if you put Corral behind that offensive line next season and expect him to fare much better, I have a bridge in Brooklyn I would like to sell you. New York has never been able to surround Jones with the right talent to succeed. Even when the front office has spent big, it has been on injury-prone stars who cannot stay on the field. At full strength, the Giants offense should be great, but we rarely ever see Kenny Golladay, Sterling Shepard, Kadarius Toney, Evan Engram and Saquon Barkley on the field together. And even when they are, Jones rarely has enough time to get them the ball. Not to mention Jones has not had the best coaching in his career either.

If you’ve read this site long enough, you know I am a big proponent of investing in the offensive line. It is the key to being a successful football team. So if I am the Giants, Steelers, Texans, Panthers or Washington, I am investing in the offensive line in this draft class and waiting until 2023 to find my long-term answer at quarterback. Plus, veteran options like Jimmy Garoppolo, Marcus Mariota and Teddy Bridgewater will likely be available to help bridge the gap. I would rather wait until 2023, when players like Bryce Young and C.J. Stroud will headline the draft class. What’s more, this is a great draft for offensive linemen and defensive talent. Teams will regret reaching for quarterbacks and missing out on those elite prospects.

Rookie quarterbacks are one of the hottest commodities in all sports, especially first-rounders. When you have a young quarterback on a controlled salary, you create a five-year window where you can compete for a title and spend whatever money is needed to build a successful roster around that player. I would rather spend the money and draft capital ahead of time to create a situation where a rookie quarterback is capable of thriving. For those who are going to say any team built like that would be too good to draft a top quarterback, may I remind you that the Chiefs traded up for Patrick Mahomes, the Texans traded up for Deshaun Watson, the Ravens traded back into the first round to grab Lamar Jackson at No. 32 and that Mac Jones fell into the Patriots’ laps at No. 15. You don’t always need to tank to find your quarterback of the future.

In short, I think it is time the NFL changes its roster-building technique. Teams who are consistently successful draft the best players available and find value in veteran contracts when it comes to free agency. New England went 7-9 before turning things around with a 9-4 record so far and that was after losing the greatest quarterback of all time. Mike Tomlin has not had a losing season in his tenure as the Steelers head coach. Even if he does have one this year, Pittsburgh should still be in the mix to reach the playoffs in 2022 because the rest of the roster is still pretty talented, with the exception of the offensive line. Even the Saints, who have started three different quarterbacks this season due to injury, are only one game under .500. They have a really strong core, a good coaching staff and a front-office who, mostly, invests well in the draft.

I’m not saying that teams should stop drafting quarterbacks in the first-round, but let’s not force it when it isn’t there. This isn’t a good quarterback class. It pales in comparison to the 2021 group, but most would. I am looking forward to ranking all the quarterbacks from recent class when I am done grading this current group. I think that will be really eye-opening regarding its relative strength.

Until then, just build in the trenches and everything will be fine.

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