fb-pixel Skip to main content
Ben Volin | On Football

It’s defense first, but wide receivers steal the show in 2022 NFL Draft, and other observations

Southern California's Drake London was the first receiver picked, at No. 8 by Atlanta.John Locher/Associated Press

The first round of the 2022 NFL Draft will go down as historic in two ways — the quarterbacks were unusually passed over, and defensive players went uncharacteristically fast at the top of the draft.

But in an offseason that has seen blockbuster trades involving Tyreek Hill and Davante Adams, the wide receivers again provided the biggest fireworks during Thursday night’s first round.

While defensive players were selected with pick Nos. 1 through 5 for just the second time since the 1970 merger, and only one quarterback went in the first round for the second time in two decades (2013), the wide receivers stole the show Thursday night.

Advertisement



No offensive skill players went in the first seven picks, but when the Falcons took USC’s Drake London at No. 8, it set off a wild run on receivers — a total of six drafted between picks 8 and 18. It marked the first draft in NFL history that six receivers were taken in the top 20 picks.

After London, two Ohio State receivers were drafted with consecutive picks — the Jets took Garrett Wilson at No. 10, and the Saints traded up to No. 11 to take Chris Olave. The Lions traded up to No. 12 to take Alabama’s Jameson Williams, even though he is recovering from a torn ACL. The Commanders used No. 16 on Penn State receiver Jahan Dotson.

And in the biggest shocker of the night, the Titans dealt star receiver A.J. Brown to the Eagles, and promptly used the No. 18 pick on Arkansas receiver Treylon Burks, who has strikingly similar size, speed, and Combine numbers. Brown got a new four-year, $100 million contract from the Eagles, while Burks will sign a four-year deal worth about $15 million, though Brown is a proven superstar.

Advertisement



Thursday night’s first round was unusual in that quarterbacks didn’t dominate the proceedings. The first one wasn’t taken until the Steelers drafted Kenny Pickett, who played his college ball at Pittsburgh, with the 20th pick.

It marked:

▪ The first time since 1997 that a quarterback wasn’t drafted in the top 19 picks.

▪ The second draft since 2001 with only one quarterback in the first round (2013, E.J. Manuel).

▪ The second draft of the last decade with no quarterbacks in the top 10 (also 2013).

Kenny Pickett (center) celebrates being picked by the Steelers with his fianceé Amy Paternoster (left) and father Ken.Matt Freed/Associated Press

With no elite quarterbacks, and a deep pool of receivers, the top of the draft was instead dominated by defense.

The No. 1 pick was a secret until the end, and the Jaguars ended up selecting Georgia defensive lineman Travon Walker over Michigan defensive end Aiden Hutchinson, who went No. 2 to the Lions. The Texans took LSU cornerback Derek Stingley at No. 3, the Jets took Cincinnati cornerback Ahmad Gardner at No. 4, and the Giants took Oregon pass rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux at No. 5. The first offensive player wasn’t drafted until the Panthers took N.C. State offensive tackle Ikem Ekwonu at No. 6.

This year marked just the second time since the 1970 merger that the first five picks of a draft were all on defense (1991 had six).

A few other nuggets from the first round:

▪ Walker, who turned 21 in December, is not a traditional defensive end, either. Listed at 272 pounds and with lengthy, 35-inch arms, he plays everywhere from nose tackle to defensive end. If considered a defensive end, he is the 12th since 1970 and fifth since 2000 to be drafted No. 1 overall. The only other defensive linemen drafted first this past decade were Myles Garrett (2017) and Jadeveon Clowney (2014).

Advertisement



If considered an interior defensive linemen, Walker is just the third to go No. 1 since 1970, joining Dan Wilkinson (1994) and Russell Maryland (1991).

▪ Even though quarterbacks weren’t taken in the top half of the round, the draft proved that the NFL is still very much a pass-dominant league. The first 12 picks, and 18 of the top 21, were either pass catchers, pass protectors, pass rushers or pass defenders.

▪ There were no trades made in the top 10, a reflection that the draft didn’t have elite talent at the top. But the Saints traded up to 11, and it set off an avalanche of trades — nine total in the first round, the most since the draft was split into three days in 2010. The Patriots were involved, trading the 21st pick to the Chiefs for the 29th pick and a couple of mid-rounders.

It was interesting to see the Lions and Vikings, NFC North rivals, doing business. The Vikings traded Nos. 12 and 43 to the Lions for Nos. 32, 34 and 65, a sign from the Vikings that they didn’t see much difference in players at 12 and 32.

▪ Several picks had a nice hometown flavor. Hutchinson, the No. 2 pick to the Lions, grew up 30 minutes west of Ford Field in Plymouth, Mich., and later starred at Michigan. Ekwonu, the No. 6 pick to the Panthers, grew up in Charlotte. Pickett, who played at Pitt, went to the Steelers. Even Walker, the No. 1 pick, has a large built-in fan base in Jacksonville, which is a big Georgia Bulldog town.

Advertisement



▪ Nick Caserio made a debatable decision in choosing Stingley.No one doubts Stingley’s athleticism and production when healthy, but he has had trouble staying on the field and missed the last nine games of 2021 with a troubling Lisfranc injury. Caserio must feel comfortable about Stingley’s recovery, but perhaps he should have gone with a healthier player in Gardner.

▪ Georgia safety Lewis Cine, who moved to Everett at age 4 and starred for Everett High for three years, was the final pick of the night, going 32nd overall to the Vikings. Cine is the first Massachusetts high school football prospect to go in the first round since Dudley’s Chris Lindstrom went to the Falcons in 2019.

▪ The Georgia Bulldogs became the first school to have five defensive players drafted in the first round. They were: Walker (No. 1 to Jaguars), DT Jordan Davis (No. 13 to Eagles), LB Quay Walker (No. 22 to Packers), DT Devonte Wyatt (No. 28 to Packers), and Cine (No. 32 to Vikings).


Ben Volin can be reached at ben.volin@globe.com.