With the draft now in our rearview mirror, it’s time to take a look at how everybody did. Who should be happy right now and who may be feeling worse now than they did before the draft. Individuals and teams are both eligible to be happy or sad, so let’s break this down. Who were the biggest NFL Draft winners and losers in the AFC?
New York Jets
Let’s start right at the top, here. One of the teams who needed a good draft more than anyone, the New York Jets, took a really promising step this year. In my AFC East Team Needs article I said that the Jets top three needs were as follows: 1. EDGE 2. CB 3. WR
With their first three picks (all in the first, thanks to a trade-up late on) they took the best cornerback in the draft, either their favourite or second favourite wide receiver and an EDGE who most people thought would be gone in the first 15 at least, but fell all the way to 26. What a start, they had. Plus, they didn’t even give up the 36th overall pick to trade up to 26, so they could use that to draft a new RB early on day two.
So let’s put names to this draft. Ahmad ‘Sauce’ Gardner is an elite cornerback prospect, top 5 prospects across all positions. They took Garrett Wilson to be their new star receiver. He was the second WR off the board, but apparently, they had very similar grades on Wilson and Drake London anyway. Their final first-day pick was a trade-up to acquire Jermaine Johnson, who was falling. Johnson had an absolutely phenomenal year in 2021 at Florida State and then killed it at the combine. While calling him a ‘one-season-wonder’ isn’t wrong until he proves it to be, the value was great and that dampens some of the risk.
In round two and beyond, they continued to consolidate. Some have questioned them drafting Breece Hall as they already had some solid running backs, but I think they afforded themselves the luxury of who they deemed the best player available after hitting their biggest needs in the first round.
An incredibly talented wide receiver with more quickness than speed, Skyy Moore makes up for being less of a pure speed threat with his ability to get off the line plus great (and very big) hands. Can run from the slot as well as on the outside, in fact he might actually prefer going from the slot. Patrick Mahomes being your quarterback is a huge win. And KC trading Tyreek Hill means that he has a chance to put his stamp on this offense from day one. He isn’t the same type of player that Hill was, especially earlier in his NFL career, but I think he will be very successful, and this landing spot elevates his ceiling as a player notably.
Kansas City Chiefs
It wasn’t just one great pick-up for the Chiefs though, they had a very solid draft overall. So, while we’re talking about them, let’s give them props for the other picks. They drafted exceptionally well, especially with their first four picks which landed them Trent McDuffie and George Karlaftis in the first round, then Moore and Bryan Cook with their first two picks in the second.
McDuffie is a great cornerback out of Washington, who is NFL-ready off the rip at a position of need. Karlaftis started sliding down the draft and the Chiefs capitalised, knowing he will come in and compete for a starting role, too. Moore was the exciting pick a lot of people talked about for obvious reasons post-Tyreek, but they also added Cincinnati Safety Bryan Cook. Cook was one of the best safeties in the class, especially of those left on day two.
This was a good draft for a team who were already perennial Super Bowl contenders. In the aftermath of a trade that threatened to disrupt their period of dominance, Kansas City stepped up to the plate really improved their defense, while hopefully making a worthwhile tactical downgrade offensively.
A team that perhaps fell out of the limelight due to the injury of their quarterback, the Baltimore Ravens instantly regained the attention of teams around the league with a very popular draft. Losing Lamar Jackson ruined their 2021 campaign, but it meant they found themselves with the 14th pick of the draft, where they landed a great talent in safety Kyle Hamilton. It may not have been the most pressing team need to get a safety, but the Notre Dame product was falling further than expected.
Also, let’s not forget, the Ravens defense is creative to say the least, they run sub-packages as much as any team. They can very much incorporate an extra defensive back they didn’t ‘need’ sooner rather than later. Hamilton was the best safety in the class and the value was just too good to pass up.
Most people actually expected them to draft a centre at 14th overall. Well, they did draft one – in fact they drafted the best one – 11 picks later. Yeah, they went off script and still got their guy. The guy in question is Tyler Linderbaum, the best run-blocking centre in the class without question, and one of the best prospects at his position for a few years. He’s undersized at 6’2 and sub-300lbs, but his skills, especially in the running game, make that easy to ignore.
You have to feel bad for Ryan Tannehill in the wake of the draft. Over a 24-hour span, the Titans traded away his best offensive weapon in a tactical downgrade – for financial reasons – and then drafted his replacement/future competition. It was possibly the biggest moment of the entire draft, when the Philadelphia Eagles surprisingly traded away the 18th pick overall and a third-round pick for the young star receiver. Within minutes their latest addition already had a contract extension, something Tennessee couldn’t achieve. Tannehill did, for what it’s worth get a theoretical replacement for Brown, but we’ll talk about him in a moment. The drafting of Malik Willis was the second painful moment of the draft for Tannehill. I also feel it’s worth mentioning that drafting a WR and a QB with two of their first three picks also indirectly affected Tannehill because those picks could otherwise have been used to get offensive linemen – after he got sacked 47 times last year.
The only person under more pressure than Ryan Tannehill right now… The receiver drafted to ‘replace’ AJ Brown. Treylon Burks is a big-physical receiver, which to an extent is reminiscent of AJB, however, he doesn’t move anywhere near as well – especially with the ball after the catch, which is where Brown truly dominated. There will definitely be an opportunity for him to put a stamp on this offense, so if he steps up he will have a key part of a very dangerous unit, but there’s a whole lot weighing on him.
We hyped up the Chiefs for a while, now let’s talk AFC West losers. The Las Vegas Raiders chose not to pick up Josh Jacobs’ contract and then immediately drafted his replacement. So, not only he doesn’t get paid, the Raiders are also hoping for Zamir White to climb the depth chart. For those who don’t understand the reason for this, it seems clear to me that they plan on committing some serious money to their receiving group and quarterback position – some of which they’ve already done. With that in mind, resetting the clock on a rookie RB is very reasonable. Logical justification aside, this is a loss for the 24-year-old, who may exit just as the Raiders attempt to contend.
The Raiders Defense
While the Raiders RB was an individual who undoubtedly suffered in the draft, it is impossible to ignore the fact that the new HC-GM combination of Josh McDaniels and Dave Ziegler, somewhat ignored what seemed like a glaring need of the team. They needed a few things, but the main objective was to add an offensive lineman and then upgrade defensively. They addressed the former, but the way that they approached the latter was very disappointing to me.
After starting with two offensive players, they took two defensive tackles with back-to-back picks, one in the fourth and one in the fifth. That’s it. They then threw their two final dart throws at offense. This means the only part of the D they addressed is the defensive line… Which is the only part of their defensive personnel that was actually already good.
New England Patriots
Their division gets stronger and stronger, and they continue to select unusual players earlier than they were projected to go. It’s worked before, but that doesn’t make this offseason feel any better in the short term. Cole Strange is appropriately named, for the unexpected nature of his pick. They also took a quarterback in the fourth which seemed like a waste of a pick, especially because Mac Jones looked pretty solid last year. I am always wary of doubting or questioning Bill Belichick. However, until proven otherwise, this seemed like a pretty uninspiring draft, with some individual picks seeming even more random than others.
Baker Mayfield is in a very awkward position, right now. With Deshaun Watson now in the picture, there is no place for him starting in Cleveland. Remaining a Brown post-draft is less than ideal. A mid-draft trade felt like his best hope of finding a new team before the season starts. Most people felt the likeliest destination for Mayfield was the Carolina Panthers. However, they traded up and drafted a QB in the third in the form of Ole Miss grad Matt Corral. It feels like Mayfield is going to have to wait until a QB injury makes him an attractive trade target. If not, he’ll be moving in the direction of a career backup – a trajectory he likely won’t appreciate.
While it wasn’t surprising, the Steelers landing a QB who is ready to push for the starting job in year one isn’t good for Mitch Trubisky. He is still trying to prove himself. While he has shown genuine flashes of talent, he’s not proven himself to be a consistent or reliable option yet. The Bears tried, the Bills were happy with him as a backup, and now he lands in Pittsburgh. I think Trubisky would have liked it if they bought in a redshirt QB, but they did not. They drafted Kenny Pickett, the only quarterback in the entire first round, 20th overall. This battle could be over very quickly, but we’ll see how they both look in preseason.