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NFL draft grades: Jets, Ravens, Eagles, Giants earn high marks

Cornerback Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner was part of a superb draft class for the Jets. (Gregory Payan/AP)
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Evaluating an NFL draft in real time is next to impossible. No one knows which players will become stars and which will end up being remembered as busts. But it is possible to attempt to figure out which teams made the most of what they had available, based on current knowledge, and which did not.

Evaluating this draft, as it turns out, amounts to grade inflation. It was a deep draft with an abundance of good players available well into Day 3, so it was tough for teams to do poorly. Most did well. A few didn’t. Here’s an early look at how they fared.

AFC East

Buffalo Bills: B

The Bills have one of the league’s most complete rosters and had few glaring needs. But they nevertheless did pretty well. First-round CB Kaiir Elam and second-round RB James Cook could contribute, even on such a strong team.

Miami Dolphins: C-

The Dolphins sent their draft, in effect, to the Chiefs in the trade for WR Tyreek Hill. The question of whether they surrendered too much for Hill can be answered another time. The Dolphins sat out the first 101 picks before taking speedy LB Channing Tindall late in the third round.

New England Patriots: C

Bill Belichick’s history of surprising picks devoted to obscure players continued with the first-round choice of G Cole Strange from Chattanooga. It may have been a major reach, but Strange could help promote the run-first approach that kept the pressure off then-rookie QB Mac Jones last season. Belichick and the Patriots were more conventional with their selections of WR Tyquan Thornton in the second round and CB Marcus Jones in the third.

New York Jets: A

You’re supposed to do well when you have the fourth and 10th picks. The Jets did more than well, getting CB Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner at No. 4 and WR Garrett Wilson at No. 10, then trading back into the first round to land pass rusher Jermaine Johnson II at No. 26. RB Breece Hall in the second round and TE Jeremy Ruckert in the third round also amounted to productive moves. Skepticism generally is in order when the Jets are involved, but this has the look of a fantastic draft class.

AFC North

Baltimore Ravens: A

The Ravens continue to demonstrate their mastery of the draft even with the person who set the standard, former GM Ozzie Newsome, no longer in charge. The Ravens emerged with four high-quality players capable of having a significant impact: S Kyle Hamilton, C Tyler Linderbaum, pass rusher David Ojabo and DT Travis Jones. The loss of WR Marquise Brown in the trade with the Cardinals was a reasonable price to pay for dealing back into the first round for Linderbaum. Jones in the third round and T Daniel Faalele in the fourth were tremendous values.

Winners and losers from Day 1 of the NFL draft

Cincinnati Bengals: C+

The defending AFC champs focused on their defense early. The Bengals did well to get versatile CB/S Daxton Hill late in the first round. They took G Cordell Volson in the fourth round. But it might have been wise to devote some Day 2 resources to the offensive line, even after the significant moves the Bengals made there in free agency. Safeguarding QB Joe Burrow is that important. Getting a TE early also might have made sense.

Cleveland Browns: C-

The Browns depleted their draft resources in the Deshaun Watson trade and have failed to find a taker for Watson’s predecessor, QB Baker Mayfield. It’s questionable whether they managed to get proper value with their third-round choices of CB Martin Emerson, DE Alex Wright and WR David Bell. Using a fourth-rounder on a kicker, Cade York, is interesting. He better succeed.

Pittsburgh Steelers: B+

The Steelers took a sensible approach at QB, using the No. 20 choice on Kenny Pickett after signing Mitchell Trubisky as a free agent. That gives them some short-term stability and long-term possibilities for the post-Ben Roethlisberger era. Getting WR George Pickens in the second round represents a boost for whichever QB emerges, and the defense will benefit from the third-round selection of DT DeMarvin Leal.

Analysis: The most important takeaways from the 2022 NFL draft

AFC South

Houston Texans: B-

Assessing the Texans’ draft class is complicated. GM Nick Caserio stockpiled picks and assembled a large class that undoubtedly provides a badly needed infusion of talent to the roster. It’s debatable, though, whether the Texans maximized the value of their early selections. Taking CB Derek Stingley Jr. at No. 3 was too soon. He’s a tremendous talent capable of being a dominant NFL player, but that’s far from certain, given his injury issues and diminished play since his first college season. Kenyon Green is a superb prospect, but taking a guard at No. 15 is questionable for a team with so many needs at premium positions.

Indianapolis Colts: B

The Colts lacked a first-round pick after their 2021 trade for already departed QB Carson Wentz. They rebounded reasonably well from that debacle, getting WR Alec Pierce in the second round and TE Jelani Woods in the third to benefit new QB Matt Ryan. The third-round selections of T Bernhard Raimann and S Nick Cross were good values.

Jacksonville Jaguars: C+

The Jaguars were right to take a pass rusher with the top choice. But there’s room to wonder if they took the right one, in favoring the considerable potential of Travon Walker over Aidan Hutchinson’s proven college production. Getting LB Devin Lloyd late in the first round was a solid move. But overall, it’s questionable whether GM Trent Baalke made the most of what he had available.

Tennessee Titans: B

There is much to unpack here. The Titans emerged with four top prospects in WR Treylon Burks, CB Roger McCreary, T Nicholas Petit-Frere and QB Malik Willis. Getting Willis in the third round gives them, at a low cost, a potential successor-in-waiting to Ryan Tannehill who could turn out to be dynamic. But the Titans had to trade WR A.J. Brown to get it all done. Replacing Brown with Burks means that, at best, the Titans get a comparable player without having to hand out a $100 million contract extension. But Burks must prove he’s comparable before that becomes valid.

AFC West

Denver Broncos: B

Even with reduced resources following the Russell Wilson trade, the Broncos did reasonably well. Getting pass rusher Nik Bonitto to close the second round was great value. Adding TE Greg Dulcich in the third will help the new Wilson-led offense.

Kansas City Chiefs: B+

Passing a on wide receiver in the opening round, following the Tyreek Hill trade, was curious. But the Chiefs rebounded by taking WR Skyy Moore in the second, replenishing the receiver corps for QB Patrick Mahomes. And their first-round choices of CB Trent McDuffie and pass rusher George Karlaftis — even while producing alarm at a time when the hole Hill left so desperately needed to be addressed — will benefit the defense considerably.

Las Vegas Raiders: C-

The Raiders were inactive early after making a bold trade earlier in the offseason for WR Davante Adams. Their third-round choice of G Dylan Parham was reasonable but uninspiring. They have to hope that their Day 3 picks provided depth to the roster — and that they indeed were only a great wide receiver away from making a deeper run in the playoffs.

Los Angeles Chargers: B-

The Chargers were wise to address their offensive line with their first-round pick, given the urgency to properly protect QB Justin Herbert. But while G Zion Johnson was worth the 17th choice, it’s fair to wonder whether the Chargers made the proper move, with T Trevor Penning available at that point and all those imposing edge rushers in the AFC West. The Chargers’ draft was more about quantity than top-end quality, with plenty of Day 3 activity. Getting G Jamaree Salyer in the sixth round was a nice pickup.

NFC East

Dallas Cowboys: C+

The selections of T Tyler Smith in the first round and WR Jalen Tolbert in the third were justified. The Cowboys used a second-round pick on Mississippi pass rusher Sam Williams, who was suspended in college and then reinstated after a sexual battery charge was dropped. Owner Jerry Jones said the Cowboys thoroughly investigated the allegations and were “satisfied.” But Jones had spoken before the draft about curtailing his risk-taking on player moves.

New York Giants: A-

The Giants didn’t do anything fancy. They were set up for success, with the fifth and seventh picks, and they delivered by taking pass rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux and T Evan Neal. What you can say for new GM Joe Schoen and new coach Brian Daboll is that they did as expected and didn’t mess anything up. But even that is a major improvement for this franchise after the high-profile draft missteps made by the previous regime.

Philadelphia Eagles: A

This was really good. It is almost impossible, by definition, to emerge from a draft with a wide receiver proven to be of Pro Bowl quality. But that’s what the Eagles managed to do with Thursday’s trade for A.J. Brown. It cost them a big contract but bought the Eagles a level of certainty not available in the draft. They also did well with their choices of DT Jordan Davis, an eventual replacement for Fletcher Cox, and LB Nakobe Dean, an amazing third-round value if he indeed is healthy.

Washington Commanders: B

Trading down and then taking WR Jahan Dotson in the first round was fine. He’ll provide a useful receiving complement to Terry McLaurin for new QB Carson Wentz. The Commanders went to an old standby of theirs — drafting Alabama players — for their second-round choice of DT Phidarian Mathis and their third-round pick of RB Brian Robinson Jr. Getting QB Sam Howell to begin the fifth round represented good value and provides a prospective fallback plan if Wentz is not the long-term solution.

NFC North

Chicago Bears: B-

The Bears lacked a first-round choice but did reasonably well with what they had by getting CB Kyler Gordon, S Jaquan Brisker and WR Velus Jones on Day 2.

Detroit Lions: B-

The Lions made the proper move by taking pass rusher Aidan Hutchinson when he fell to them at No. 2, courtesy of the Jaguars. They also got a potential star when they traded up 20 spots to take WR Jameson Williams at No. 12. But that’s too big of a move — and too much to give up — for a receiver. That’s a move you make for a star quarterback. There were too many other good receivers available. There are too many holes on this roster and too many other promising players who could have been drafted with the picks surrendered to facilitate the trade.

Green Bay Packers: C-

The Packers, even after trading WR Davante Adams, maintained their tradition of not using a first-round pick on a wideout. They did take WR Christian Watson early in the second round. But was that enough help for QB Aaron Rodgers, under the circumstances? It actually might have been appropriate to use two early picks on receivers. Green Bay focused on defense in Round 1 by taking LB Quay Walker and DT Devonte Wyatt, Georgia teammates.

Minnesota Vikings: B-

The Vikings traded down from No. 12 in the first round and emerged with a deep class that perhaps lacks difference-makers. They certainly improved their secondary by taking S Lewis Cine to close the first round and getting CB Andrew Booth in the second.

NFC South

Atlanta Falcons: B

There’s plenty to like but also room for questioning. Taking WR Drake London at No. 8 was acceptable, although some would argue Garrett Wilson should have been the first receiver off the board. Getting pass rusher Arnold Ebiketie in the second round was justified. The Falcons were wise to end the draft’s QB drought in the third round by choosing Desmond Ridder. He could become an alternative to new starter Marcus Mariota, but many will wonder whether Atlanta should have gone with Malik Willis.

Falcons take Desmond Ridder, Titans pick Malik Willis on Day 2 of NFL draft

Carolina Panthers: B

The Panthers undeniably improved. They solidified their offensive line by getting T Ikem “Ickey” Ekwonu at No. 6. They used a third-round choice on QB Matt Corral as a trade for Baker Mayfield failed to materialize. The downside is that the Panthers emerged with Sam Darnold remaining their best option at QB. That cannot be particularly comforting to Coach Matt Rhule, who’s facing a make-or-break season.

New Orleans Saints: C+

The Saints got very good players in the first round. WR Chris Olave provides another playmaker for QB Jameis Winston, and T Trevor Penning fortifies the offensive line after the departure of Terron Armstead. But the Saints, like the Lions, overpaid to move up for a first-round receiver. There were other wideouts to be had, and those extra picks were so valuable in this deep draft. The Saints also opted against addressing their QB situation, which will force them to rely completely on Winston’s ability to return from his injury and avoid regression following Sean Payton’s exit as coach.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: B-

The Bucs traded out of the first round and opted against drafting an eventual successor to QB Tom Brady, instead focusing on trying to improve his chances to win a second Super Bowl title in three seasons with the franchise. Versatile DT Logan Hall, taken to begin the second round, should help. The Buccaneers focused on offense with second-round G Luke Goedeke, third-round RB Rachaad White and fourth-round TE Cade Otton.

NFC West

Arizona Cardinals: B

The trade for Marquise Brown addressed their receiver need, although the Cardinals may have given up too much. Second-round TE Trey McBride will be an asset for QB Kyler Murray. Arizona bolstered its pass rush with third-round choices Cameron Thomas and Myjai Sanders.

Los Angeles Rams: C-

The Rams pretty much sat out the first two nights of the draft, emerging with only G Logan Bruss, before stepping up their activity level on Day 3. Hey, this team-building approach is working just fine for them. They could spend their time enjoying their luxurious draft house and savoring their Super Bowl triumph.

San Francisco 49ers: C

The 49ers added potential contributors on Day 2 in pass rusher Drake Jackson, RB Tyrion Davis-Price and WR Danny Gray. Their most significant decision, however, was declining to accommodate the trade request of WR Deebo Samuel. Now the 49ers must repair that relationship.

Seattle Seahawks: B-

The Seahawks emerged from the draft with three very good players: T Charles Cross, pass rusher Boye Mafe and RB Kenneth Walker III. They will help. But it’s a quarterback-driven league, and what the Seahawks have, with Drew Lock and Geno Smith, is not good enough. This was not a great QB draft class by any means. But Seattle should have taken a chance, at least by Round 3 with Malik Willis, Desmond Ridder and Matt Corral still available. The Seahawks have put themselves in the predicament of almost having to trade for Baker Mayfield.

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