Which Teams Got the Best Value in the 2022 NFL Draft?
It was another eventful NFL Draft, filled with trades, reaches, and some inexplicable free falls. Some teams made selections based on need and others did so based on talent. But a successful draft isn’t just about acquiring good players or addressing roster holes. It’s very often about value. Here are the picks that I believe provided the most value in this year’s draft.
Evan Neal (T - Alabama) to the Giants
In what world are we living in where a 6’8”, 340-pound Alabama left tackle with power, length, and quick feet is passed over by 5 teams? He wasn’t even the first tackle taken!
In my opinion, Neal was the top player at his position. I’m not entirely clear why a team like the Jaguars, whose ability to turn around their franchise hinges on the success of quarterback Trevor Lawrence, would pass on an opportunity to add a player like Neal.
Yes, they signed left tackle Cam Robinson to a long-term deal. But their right tackle, Jawaan Taylor, leaves a lot to be desired. Not to mention, Neal has experience at left guard and both tackle positions from his time at Alabama. He easily could have been plugged in anywhere this year. And combined with the addition of right guard Brandon Scherff, he could have given the Jaguars an absolutely dominant offensive line, which would do more to help Lawrence progress than anything else. But I digress.
The Jaguars’ loss is the Giants’ gain. Big Blue will now be able to pair Neal with left tackle Andrew Thomas and address an area that has been a big problem for about a decade.
So what are the Giants getting in Neal? The obvious answer is size and power. Neal has the length and strength to handle bull rushes. In the run game, he can move defenders with ease and cave in defensive lines on down blocks.
But he’s also got some quick feet, especially for a man his size. Here he was handling the Jaguars’ first overall pick, Travon Walker, in the National Championship Game:
Another thing that jumps out here is Neal’s hand strength. His two-handed punch impacted Walker’s rush on this play and enabled Neal to more easily stay in front of him.
My praise for Neal doesn’t mean there are no concerns or issues that Neal needs to fix. He does get caught crossing his feet (or at least clicking his heels) on speed rushes at times, which makes him susceptible to spin moves and inside rushes. And because of his size, he sometimes gets caught leaning in the run game as well.
That said, he’s an all-around great prospect that gives the Giants’ coaching staff a lot to work with. I can’t believe they were able to get him with the 7th overall pick. And they were able to do it after addressing another significant need with the 5th overall pick (edge rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux). That’s a great first draft for new GM Joe Schoen.
The Ravens’ First 4 Draft Picks
The Ravens had an outstanding draft overall. Their first pick, safety Kyle Hamilton from Notre Dame, was probably one of the top 5 or 10 prospects in the draft. He certainly wasn’t the 14th-best prospect, but that’s exactly the spot where the Ravens were able to draft him.
Hamilton is a versatile safety with great athleticism for his size (He’s 6’4”, 220 pounds). Watch how quickly he was able to diagnose this play and close in an instant:
It’s absurd that a 6’4” safety can move that smoothly.
Despite the turnover at defensive coordinator, the Ravens want to remain aggressive and continue bringing exotic blitzes and disguises this season. I could see Hamilton immediately being utilized as a moveable chess piece in this scheme. He can play in the box and contribute against the run. He can blitz with power and speed. He can cover ground as a deep safety providing help. And he can be used to handle tight ends in man coverage. He plays a different position, but that versatility could lead to a year-1 impact similar to what we saw with Micah Parsons in Dallas last season.
The Ravens were also able to add two other players on this side of the ball that should be good fits in the long term. They selected Edge Rusher David Ojabo from Michigan with the 45th overall pick. Objabo was likely to go at the end of the first round or early second round prior to his achilles injury. He won’t see the field in 2022, but could be a major contributor in 2023 and beyond.
UConn defensive tackle Travis Jones, the 76th overall pick, was projected to go either near the end of the first round or somewhere in the second. The Ravens were able to get him in the third. At 6’4”, 325 pounds, Jones is run-stopping nose tackle with the ability to hold off or split double-teams and control blockers in 1-on-1 situations with his powerful hands. He’s got 34 1/4” arms that help him get his hands on offensive linemen first on a consistent basis:
Expect a quick turnaround for the Ravens Defense.
On the other side of the ball, the Ravens traded wide receiver Marquise “Hollywood” Brown for the 25th overall pick. They then used that pick to select Tyler Linderbaum from Iowa, the best center in the draft.
Let’s face it, this offense is based on the running game and keeping Lamar Jackson upright. The wide receivers, while still important, are secondary. The Ravens are putting faith in the remaining young receivers on their roster and focusing on shoring up the offensive line to put Lamar Jackson in better position to succeed, both with his legs and by staying on the field.
Linderbaum is a very athletic player who can get to the second level with ease in the run game. He might not overpower anyone at the NFL level. However, he has consistently shown the ability to drive defenders off the ball by using his quickness to beat his man to a spot and create leverage:
That athleticism at center will give offensive coordinator Greg Roman the ability to add even more wrinkles to an already-complex running game.
In the passing game, Linderbaum’s quick feet and balance allow him to consistently stay in front of pass rushers. He also has impressive awareness, enabling him to recognize and handle most stunts that he encounters:
While his size might be a bit of a concern, he has the ability to handle power rushers by getting his hips lower than theirs, anchoring, and driving their momentum upwards. Technique often wins out at the NFL level, and Linderbaum is superb in that area. His competitiveness and motor don’t hurt either.
Chiefs Address Needs Without Reaching
Prior to the draft, it looked a bit like the Chiefs were asleep at the wheel compared to the rest of the AFC West. “Could Kansas City be the worst team in their own division?!”
The draft put a lot of those concerns aside. Kansas City addressed several needs without reaching. They traded up from their abundance of draft picks to select cornerback Trent McDuffie from Washington with the 21st overall pick. McDuffie is a versatile corner that can succeed in just about any scheme. He can effectively play press-man, off-man, or zone. He’s a factor in the run game. He can be used on corner blitzes from the boundary. This makes him a great fit for what defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo likes to do.
At 5-11 with 29 3/4-inch arms, McDuffie’s length might be a concern, especially in man coverage. However, he relies on his quick feet, athleticism, and easy movement skills to mirror his receiver’s route in press coverage. He has good awareness and feel for what his receiver is trying to do and how to take it away.
He’s comfortable playing off coverage (whether in man or zone), with the ability to understand route combinations and sift through receiver traffic on pick plays and mesh concepts. Watch him expertly navigate the clutter in the middle of the field on this 3rd down and close in on his man to stop him short of the first down:
McDuffie does a really good job of planting and driving on his receiver when in off coverage. And that closing speed, as you saw above, makes him tough to run away from on underneath routes.
McDuffie’s willingness and ability to tackle makes him an asset in the running game, as well. You could argue he is the most versatile cornerback in the draft, and the Chiefs were able to get him in the back half of the first round.
With the 30th overall pick, the Chiefs then added edge rusher George Karlaftis from Purdue. Many had Karlaftis getting drafted in the 15-25 range. The Chiefs were able to wait and still get him at 30.
Karlaftis’s game is based on power and strength. He has really good hand and upper-body strength in particular, which you can see by the way he impacts blockers on first contact:
His best plays come from bull rushes and speed-to-power moves with those strong hands leading the way. He is a good run defender and profiles as a player who can also line up inside and still have success.
Karlaftis isn’t going to win with his speed. He doesn’t have the bend or flexibility to be an every-down edge rusher either. So I could see him being used all across the defensive line. Again, that versatility is desirable in a Steve Spagnuolo defense.
Add these two picks to Skyy Moore, a quick and elusive receiver from Western Michigan that Kansas City was able to select 54th overall, and the Chiefs were able to address just about all of their holes this offseason. Maybe they won’t finish in last place this year after all?
Jermaine Johnson (DE - Florida State) to the Jets
The Jets were able to acquire some really good talent with their first two draft picks; Cincinnati Cornerback Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner (4th overall) and Ohio State wide receiver Garrett Wilson (10th overall). But then they traded back into the first round to acquire Florida State edge rusher, Jermaine Johnson with the 26th overall pick.
Johnson is a top talent who had an unexpected free fall down the draft board. He was expected to go near the top-10 for a reason - that is, he might be the best edge rusher to emerge from this draft class.
Johnson has just about everything you look for in an edge rusher. He’s 6-5, 254 pounds, with long arms (34”) and the ability to win with both athleticism and power. That type of talent doesn’t grow on trees.
Johnson does an especially good job of using his hands to win in multiple ways. He often gets them on tackles first, giving him the ability to utilize a number of moves:
Johnson consistently does a good job of knocking tackles’ hands down and keeping them off of him, often with a double-swipe move.
His long arms also help him win the battle of first good contact. He consistently plays with good leverage and gets lower than opposing blockers even though he’s 6’5”. The combination of arm length and leverage helps him drive tackles back into the quarterback on a frequent basis.
Johnson finished last season with 11. 5 sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss after transferring from Georgia. He’s also an effective run defender, consistently using his arms and power to set the edge and his quickness and speed to track down ball carriers. He can play all three downs and should thrive in Robert Saleh’s system. The Jets transformed their defense overnight by adding Johnson and Gardner.
Overall, the Jets’ draft was a very good one, with all 7 of their selections coming in the first 117 picks (middle of the 4th round). Can they make an unforeseen run to the Super Bowl like Saleh’s 49ers did in 2019 after acquiring Nick Bosa and Dee Ford? Can they go from a 4-win team to an instant contender with a 2nd-year quarterback leading the way like the Bengals did last year? Jets Nation certainly hopes so.
Arnold Ebiketie (DE - Penn State) to the Falcons
I thought Ebiketie would go earlier than 38th overall given his talent and the premium placed on edge rushers. Atlanta saw him still sitting there 6 picks into the second round and pulled the trigger on a trade to acquire him. They gave up just the 43rd and 114th picks to acquire him, which is relatively painless considering the amount of draft capital they had to work with.
The Falcons were the worst pass-rushing team in the NFL in 2021, and Ebiketie immediately addresses that need. He is a very good athlete with the ability to consistently win off the edge. He has the quickness to beat most tackles upfield with the all-important ability to then flatten and close:
At 34.13 inches, Ebiketie’s arms are longer than most of the top edge rushers in the draft (including Aidan Hutchinson, Kayvon Thibodeaux and Jermaine Johnson). That arm length makes him seem taller on film than he actually is at 6’2”. And he does a great job using that length to get his hands on blockers early in the down.
His hand placement is really good, too. Ebiketie often gets his hands on the shoulders or arms of blockers, giving him the ability to control and turn them, which gets them off balance. That enhances his ability to win via bull rushes and speed-to-power moves.
While Ebiketie shows flashes of being an effective defender against the run, he still has a ways to go (he gets moved easily if he can’t get his arms on blockers first). That said, the Falcons got him for his pass-rushing ability.
Nakobe Dean (LB - Georgia) to the Eagles
By all accounts, Dean was expected to be drafted in the first round or early second round at the latest. We now know there were some medical concerns causing his drop. Dean has denied that there are any issues. I guess time will tell. Assuming he is healthy, or that any injuries he does have are manageable and won’t derail his entire career, the Eagles getting him with the 83rd overall pick is an absolute steal.
Dean might be the top linebacker in this draft. He finished his college career with the 2021 Dick Butkus Award as the nation’s most outstanding linebacker. He’s got quickness, speed, and the ability to effectively rush the passer. That includes a knack for timing blitzes perfectly, which is a reflection of his preparation and awareness.
Maybe adding Dean would give Philadelphia the desire to be more aggressive after being one of the lowest-frequency blitz teams in the NFL last season.
Regardless, Dean isn’t just a pass-rushing specialist. He’s a very good and disciplined run defender. He rarely takes false steps or gets caught out of his gap. And he displayed great awareness and recognition with his ability to quickly sniff out running plays at Georgia. Because he trusts his quickness and ability to pounce on the ball carrier, he’s able to play with patience and avoid over-pursuing against the run:
And of course, he’s got the ability to run sideline-to-sideline and chase down ball carriers:
So what are the concerns with Dean? At 5’11”, 229 pounds, he’s a bit undersized for an NFL linebacker. While he was able to effectively use his patience, speed, and quickness in the running game at Georgia, a lot of that was made possible by his defensive line, which had 3 first-round selections in this year’s draft. Dean was often kept clean and free to navigate the field unfettered.
That said, the Eagles also drafted one of those defensive linemen, mammoth nose tackle Jordan Davis. Adding Davis to that Philly D-line could lead to Dean having a somewhat similar experience in the NFL.
Dean’s size could also be a concern in the passing game, especially if he gets matched up on a taller tight end in man coverage (they’re all taller than Dean in the NFL). I’m not overly concerned here, however, since the Eagles were near the bottom of the league in man-coverage frequency. It could be somewhat of a problem in zone, but it’s not enough to negate the other traits he brings to the table. And he can more than hold his own against underneath route combinations in zone or against running backs in man coverage, which is likely how you’ll see him used in coverage.
I’m sure I’m missing someone, but this article is already long enough. Feel free to respond in the comments, send us an email, or tell me I’m an idiot on Twitter (@Nick_FFR).
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