2022 NFL draft winners, losers: Contenders emerge, but bad news for several stars
Even with all 262 picks complete, it's hard to find much certainty in what was one of the most unpredictable NFL drafts in recent memory.
From the top quarterbacks sliding to a rash of trades, little about this year's event could have been neatly outlined ahead of time. And, as is the case with every draft, attempting to determine the fallout immediately afterward can be a fruitless exercise. Still, there were several teams and figures that appeared to have received a lift from the picks, while others were set to take a step back.
With all that in mind, here's our look at the overall winners and losers of the 2022 NFL draft:
NFL DRAFT GRADES: Jets, Lions among top team classes while Patriots, Cowboys among worst
BEST UNDRAFTED PLAYERS: Touted QB, WR among top options
NFL draft winners
Baltimore Ravens: A front-office known for extracting extensive value from the event on an annual basis once again put together one of the best hauls this year. Things got off to a resounding start when safety Kyle Hamilton, a top-five talent, fell all the way to them at No. 14. In putting Hamilton next to free-agent signing Marcus Williams, Baltimore should have one of the most imposing safety pairings in the NFL. The outlook in the front seven also improved considerably with second-round pass rusher David Ojabo, who already thrived under defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald at Michigan and should be dangerous off the edge once recovered from a torn Achilles, and third-round nose tackle Travis Jones, a punishing presence who had some first-round buzz. The finest move, however, might have been in flipping talented but uneven receiver Marquise "Hollywood" Brown to the Arizona Cardinals for a first-round pick that the team parlayed into stable center Tyler Linderbaum. While the Ravens now need 2021 first-round pick Rashod Bateman to step up in the receiving corps, the return was too good to pass up for a player who wanted out.
Wide receivers: If you can't be a quarterback, it still pays to catch passes from one. That's the message evident from this NFL offseason, as teams paid top dollar and rushed to invest prime picks in game-changing pass catchers. Six went in the top 18 slots and 17 were chosen in the first three rounds, tying a record in the common era.
Philadelphia Eagles: Speaking of wide receiver, maybe no team has transformed its outlook at the position done as much over the last 13 months as Philadelphia has. After striking it big with DeVonta Smith last year, the Eagles were still projected by many to take one of this year's top pass catchers with one of their first-round picks. Instead, they flipped the No. 18 selection to the Tennessee Titans for A.J. Brown, a proven No. 1 target who's only 24. Jalen Hurts now should have some very favorable looks in a crucial year. And if Philadelphia determines it needs to move on at quarterback, the team now has two first-round picks in 2023 thanks to its pre-draft swap with the New Orleans Saints.
2023 NFL draft quarterbacks: And speaking of next year's crops of passers, expect much better results after a nearly league-wide stiff-arm on signal-callers in the early going. This year's nearly universal tepid interest could be in part a product of looking ahead, as Alabama's Bryce Young and Ohio State's C.J. Stroud size up as the kind of passers with good chances to land in the top five. Whatever happens next season, the fact that many teams are settling for bridge options or not yet pushing all their chips in bodes well for the upcoming class of signal-callers.
Kenny Pickett: So much for those small hands tanking his draft stock. Arguably the most maligned of the top-tier passers ended up being the only one to hear his name called on Day 1, the Pittsburgh Steelers scooping him up with the No. 20 pick. More importantly for him, however, he landed with a well-run organization that can position him for success in both the short and long term. That's a much better result than being grabbed by the Carolina Panthers or Seattle Seahawks, who both have inauspicious setups for any young passer. Pickett still has much to prove as far as whether he has the tools to be an effective starter, but at least he should get a fair shake with a solid cast.
Rebuilding efforts: Not all of the teams hitting reset acquitted themselves well, but at least a few were responsible for some of this year's best classes. Credit New York Jets general manager Joe Dougas with a job well done, particularly in addressing premium positions without sacrificing value by bringing on cornerback Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner, wide receiver Garrett Wilson and pass rusher Jermaine Johnson II all in the first round. New York Giants general manager Joe Schoen, meanwhile, used his two top-seven selections to nab a pair of potential cornerstones in pass rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux and Evan Neal. And the two teams at the top of the draft each landed a pair of foundational first-rounders, as the Jacksonville Jaguars added No. 1 pick Travon Walker and linebacker Devin Lloyd while the Detroit Lions grabbed defensive end Aidan Hutchinson and wide receiver Jameson Williams.
Kansas City Chiefs: Other teams might have had flashier efforts, but few matched Kansas City in reloading. Top needs were met with NFL-ready selections in cornerback Trent McDuffie, defensive end George Karlaftis, wide receiver Skyy Moore and safety Bryan Cook, all chosen in the first two rounds. For a team trying to re-establish its AFC supremacy, this restocking effort will go a long way toward becoming a more balanced team in the post-Tyreek Hill era.
Georgia: Early 2000s Miami and Nick Saban-era Alabama have been known as two of the most prolific producers of NFL talent. Now, however, the defending-champion Bulldogs have carved out their place in history with an all-time high of 15 picks in one class, including Walker and a record five defensive players in Round 1. Somehow, the defense is still stocked with potential 2023 first-rounders in cornerback Kelee Ringo, defensive tackle Jalen Carter and edge rusher Nolan Smith.
Cincinnati: The legitimacy of this College Football Playoff entrant should have already been evident before the draft, but it definitely is afterward. The Bearcats had nine draft picks, trailing only Georgia and LSU. Cincinnati is set to join Big 12 in the near future, and had the school already jumped in, it would have accounted for more than a quarter of the conference's selections.
Steelers sibling connections: At least in the NFL, Pittsburgh looks like the real City of Brotherly Love. After taking Michigan State fullback/tight end Connor Heyward to play alongside five-time Pro Bowler Cameron, the Steelers now have four pairs of brothers on the roster. The other three are Carlos and Khalil Davis, Terrell and Trey Edmunds. and Derek and T.J. Watt.
Guess I got a roommate @ConnorHeyward1
— Cam Heyward (@CamHeyward) April 30, 2022
Punters: Four were selected on Day 3, marking a sum that has only been matched one other time since 2000. The most surprising development: San Diego State record-holder Matt Araiza, aka "the Punt God," was leapfrogged by Penn State's Jordan Stout and Georgia' Jake Camarda, who were both taken in the fourth round.
NFL draft losers
Bill Belichick: For as much respect as the six-time Super Bowl-winning coach rightfully commands, Belichick has proven he's not infallible, especially when it comes to his drafting preferences. This year's results were the most puzzling in some time, starting with Tennessee-Chattanooga guard Cole Strange in the first round. Belichick continued to break his own way with the second-round wide receiver Tyquan Thornton, who has blistering speed but might struggle to hold up against physical cornerbacks. Adding record-setting quarterback Bailey Zappe in the fourth round was also odd, as using an asset on a young backup for 2021 first-round pick Mac Jones seems like a luxury. By the end of the draft, no linebackers were added to a severely undermanned position group, so there's more work to be done. As it stands, this doesn't look like a team any closer to competing with the Buffalo Bills team that months ago ended its season in a wild-card rout.
Aaron Rodgers: The reigning MVP said he understood why Green Bay again passed on a first-round receiver with its two chances, but that doesn't change the outlook for next season. Though the Packers brought on North Dakota State's Christian Watson in the second round and Nevada's Romeo Doubs in the fourth, this receiving corps remains troubling after the Davante Adams trade and Marquez Valdes-Scantling's exit to the Chiefs. Watson also seems like a strange solution for a win-now outfit, as the 6-4, 208-pounder with 4.36-second speed in the 40-yard dash is too raw to be counted on as a consistent early contributor.
Malik Willis: Many assumed Willis could be off the board as early as the top 10 and had a floor of the late first round. Instead, he tumbled all the way to the third in one of the most precipitous drops not related to injury in recent history. Sitting behind Ryan Tannehill on the Titans might be helpful for his long-term development, but this is a longer road to becoming a starter than anyone could have expected for the dynamic dual-threat passer from Liberty.
Arizona Cardinals: Since ending the franchise's five-year playoff drought in 2021, the Cardinals have seemed like a franchise holding itself captive to the moment. Coach Kliff Kingsbury and general manager Steve Keim received extensions this offseason despite a troubling trend of late-season nose dives. And after last year's ill-fated grab for veterans, Arizona still looks intent on trying to elevate a team with few young building blocks. Getting Marquise Brown from the Ravens might help invigorate an offense that has gotten stagnant in stretches, but a first-round pick is a steep price for the likely return, even with a third-rounder coming back. And it's difficult to square their second-round move for tight end Trey McBride with the earlier decision to re-sign veteran tight end Zach Ertz to a three-year deal.
Deebo Samuel: Picture a star wide receiver who entered the draft due for a raise and was dissatisfied with his team. That description could have led you to envision either Samuel or A.J. Brown. The difference: Brown was moved on Thursday, and Samuel wasn't. Maybe Brown's example should serve as hope to the San Francisco 49ers' do-everything All-Pro selection, as Titans general manager Jon Robinson seemingly reversed course after saying last week he had no intention of moving the standout target. But 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan recently noted that no offer for Samuel "was even remotely close" to something the team would entertain, so the receiver might be staying put for a while
Baker Mayfield: Are there any reasonable landing spots left? After the Panthers moved up to take Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral in the third round, it's hard to identify a team with the motivation to take on the former No. 1 overall pick. Cleveland Browns general manager Andrew Berry said Saturday that Mayfield was in a "fluid situation," but there aren't any obvious next steps that would work out for both sides.
TV networks: Ratings were way down for this year's draft, with a defensive-heavy class short on star power undoubtedly a major contributing factor. But when fans groaned at NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell egging them on for more boos, it reflected a larger overall trend: The event's various attempts to gin up additional entertainment aren't landing. The draft can't be separated from its roots as manufactured spectacle, but if it has to be this way, please give us more of Andy Reid talking about barbecue instead of hacky Blue Man Group bits.
Texas: The burnt orange got roasted, as the Longhorns were blanked in the draft for the second time since 2014 after previously boasting at least one pick for 76 consecutive years. Ouachita Baptist, Yale, Lenoir-Rhyne and Northwest Missouri State, meanwhile, were among the schools to have a player selected. The closest the Longhorns came was sixth-round running back Keontay Ingram, who transferred from Texas to USC. The cupboard isn't bare (hello, Bijan Robinson), but it might be a minute before Texas is "back."
Follow USA TODAY Sports' Michael Middlehurst-Schwartz on Twitter @MikeMSchwartz.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NFL draft winners, losers: Ravens rise, but bad news for several stars