2022 NFL Draft Grades: Who made progress in the AFC?

May 2nd 2022

Charles McDonald

This is a bit of a different spin on most draft grades you'll see. As someone who was perpetually a C- student, who am I to put designate the success of something on a letter grade?

Instead, this will focus on whether teams are moving in the right direction, treading water or doing something different altogether.

Here's a quick recap on the draft classes in the AFC.

AFC South

Houston Texans: Moving in the right direction

The Texans got a franchise cornerstone in cornerback Derek Stingley — and more importantly, potentially a sign that Lovie Smith is going to break some of the defensive rules that neutered Darrelle Revis during his lone year with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

They likely found three more day one starters in offensive guard Kenyon Green, defensive back Jalen Pitre and linebacker Christian Harris. John Metchie should be a nice addition for Davis Mills and the Texans' offense when he gets up to speed following his ACL injury. Dameon Pierce will be a solid rotational back for the Texans.

For a team that might have a quality quarterback prospect in Davis Mills, this is a good draft to keep them moving in the right direction. They aren't playoff quality or anything, but this is a strong start to the post-The Nasty Man world.

Indianapolis Colts: Moving in the right direction

No first round pick, no problem. The Colts cemented themselves as the AFC South favorites with a strong draft class that should help them win immediately.

Grabbing Cincinnati wide receiver Alec Pierce will give Matt Ryan a big, fast receiver that has some nuances to his game that will make him more than a deep threat as he gets used to the NFL. Jelani Woods will be one of the most athletic players in the NFL from day one and is a nice, realistic developmental pick at tight end.

Bernhard Raimann is an older prospect, but he has the ability to become a starter somewhere along the offensive line. This was a strong draft to help the Colts in the immediate and the future.

Tennessee Titans: Took a step back and moving in the right direction

The Titans launched a soft rebuild this weekend.

It's not a bad idea for them considering they felt compelled to trade A.J. Brown instead of pay him a deal instead of pay him the massive contract the Eagles just gave him (even though maybe they should have!). Treylon Burks is the potential Brown replacement and they traded up in the third round to stop the fall of Malik Willis and added him to their quarterback room.

This is a good situation for Willis to step into because he's going to be able to sit behind Ryan Tannehill for a year or two before getting his shot at being the starting quarterback. He needs some time to grow and learn. However, he's got as high an upside as anyone in this draft and could end up being a steal for the Titans down the road.

Getting Roger McCreary at the top of the second round is another dice roll at cornerback that they could use as they keep taking lottery tickets at a premium position.

Jacksonville Jaguars: General confusion?

The Jaguars selected good football players during the draft, but their draft strategy and current roster construction is a bit confusing. Based on talent, Chad Muma was a nice pick at the top of the third round — but this team gave a big money contract to Foye Oluokun and selected Devin Lloyd in the first round of the draft.

Travon Walker, obviously is the biggest wild card for the Jaguars draft. Given the rest of their options at the top of the draft, the dice roll on Walker does make sense. Unlike other "flex" defensive linemen that become miscast tweeners in the NFL, Walker legitimately has the ability to hang with centers and guards in run defense, giving him a high floor and a place in the NFL for a long time.

It all just matters if the Jaguars' new coaching staff can get the best out of Walker. He's NFL-ready to be an elite run stopper, but he has a long way to go as a pass rusher before he'll be a consistent threat there. The best way to use him early on might be like how the Texans used Jadeveon Clowney, allowing him to be a spinner over the center and moving him all over the line hunting athleticism mismatches.

Walker as he is now is a capable starter. How good he ends up being will be fascinating to track over the next few years.

Luke Fortner should slide right in as the starter at center, but it's a little strange that the Jaguars didn't use more of their premium assets to give help to Trevor Lawrence. The offense is improved over last year, but they could have done a bit more in the draft on offense than they did.

AFC East

Buffalo Bills: Moving in the right direction

The Bills made three strong picks early in the 2022 NFL Draft. Florida cornerback Kaiir Elam will take over with what they lost from losing Levi Wallace to the Steelers with a much higher upside than what Wallace provided. James Cook and Khalil Shakir (awesome name) will add some juice at skill position — Cook gives the Bills the receiving back they missed out on with J.D. McKissic going back to Washington.

For a team that's trying to maintain their status as a Super Bowl contender, this draft in conjunction with their free agency moves should have the Bills alive at the end of the postseason once again.

New York Jets: Moving in the right direction

Joe Douglas is doing what Mike Maccagnan never really attempted to — surround a young quarterback with legitimate talent to help him succeed. Think about where the Jets are now compared to the 2019 season when Sam Darnold was the quarterback. Time will tell if these picks end up panning out, but the process has been solid to build a pool talent that's actually worth building around.

They kicked the draft off by draft Sauce Gardner who has potential to be a legitimate shutdown cornerback. Robert Saleh's defense does play a lot of zone, but it's not the brand of zone that most fans think of when they hear "zone defense". As zones transition down the field into man coverage, Gardner will be a Day 1 impact as someone who can lockdown one side of the field and even travel with wide receivers if they want to become a more diverse coverage unit. Like the Derek Stingley pick for the Texans, Gardner can fundamentally change how the Jets approach defense.

Garrett Wilson gives the Jets a nice wide receiver trio with Elijah Moore and Corey Davis and Breece Hall will form a big play duo with Michael Carter in the backfield. Jeremy Ruckert and C.J. Uzomah is a talented tight end duo as well. From a skill player perspective, the Jets finally have upside at wide receiver, running back and tight end.

Jermaine Johnson was a nice get for them and much better value at 26th overall than 4th overall where they picked him. If Carl Lawson can get back to being the player he was in Cincinnati, they have a pretty complete defensive line in terms of getting after the passer.

The Jets won't be the top dog in the AFC East this year, but they have a core that's worth getting invested in for the first time in a long time.

Miami Dolphins: Treading water

The Dolphins had four picks, starting at the end of the third round. Not too much to say here. Channing Tindall can be a starter or rotational player on this defense, that was a nice pick up — any defense can use a linebacker with 4.4 speed. Just need to round out some of the other portions of his game, but he has a lot of experience.

New England Patriots: Sabotage for legacy's sake?

What is this draft? Perhaps everyone is wrong and this works out, but the Patriots draft strategy was a little questionable. Cole Strange was a surprise first round pick and they selected a backup quarterback sandwiched by two running backs later in the draft.

This team should still be good in 2022, but it doesn't feel like they took the right steps for sustained success on a personnel level with this draft class. Which brings us to an interesting conspiracy theory brought up over the weekend.

What if Bill Belichick intentionally put together a shaky draft class so that when he retires in the next few years, his successor has an empty cupboard to work with? They'll be longing for the days of Billy B in no time. That's how you win a legacy war against Tom Brady, right?

On a serious note, this draft class was a bit confusing, but hey, it can work out. Strange is a top tier athlete and they have money in future years to continue building this roster. Let's see what happens.

AFC North

Baltimore Ravens: Moving in the right direction


Every year it seems like the Ravens are winners in the draft. They sat tight at the 14th pick and let arguably the most talented player in the draft fall in their lap in Kyle Hamilton. Hamilton will join big ticket free agent Marcus Williams to create what immediately becomes one of the best safety duos in the NFL. Those two combined with Marcus Peters, Marlon Humphrey and Chuck Clark will make the Ravens hard to throw on.

After trading Hollywood Brown to the fever dreamed Arizona Cardinals, they drafted Iowa center Tyler Linderbaum who is a perfect fit for Lamar Jackson and the rest of the Ravens running game. They didn't draft a receiver to replace Brown, but they did draft Charlie Kolar and Isaiah Likely, two talented receiving tight ends that hopefully put a dent into the lost production from Brown.

Travis Jones and Jalyn Armour-Davis have a chance to contribute as rookies for the Ravens defense. David Ojabo is a draft-and-stash pick with 10-sack upside in the future after he tore his Achilles during his Pro Day workout.

Just a strong, prototypical #RavensDraft.

Cincinnati Bengals: Treading water

Daxton Hill has a chance to be a do-it-all defensive for the Bengals and can potentially plug holes at outside corner, slot and free safety depending on the package that the Bengals need to deploy. They didn't have too many picks, but they didn't actively get worse and potentially found two long term secondary starters in Hill and Nebraska safety Cam Taylor-Britt. Luckily, this team is already really good and still set to be AFC contenders.

Cleveland Browns: Treading water

Not much to say here since they didn't have many premium picks after trading for The Nasty Man. David Bell has a chance to start as a rookie and Perrion Winfrey is an athletic project with upside at defensive tackle.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Pickett-pilled

The Steelers made a strong pick in the second round of the draft by adding Georgia wide receiver George Pickens to their stable of wide receivers. DeMarvin Leal may be able to develop into a starting quality defensive lineman for the Steelers, but he needs to develop his anchor against the run before he can be relied upon as an NFL starter.

Settling on Kenny Pickett to be the future of the franchise is just a little bit odd. And it's even crazier considering the division they play in. Chasing Lamar Jackson, Joe Burrow and The Nasty Man with Pickett seems like a really tough thing to do. The evaluation on Pickett could be totally off, but it's hard to see how he has the upside to consistently go blow for blow with the other talented quarterbacks in the division.

The Steelers still feel like a step below the rest of their division. However, if any coach can figure out how to keep them competitive while being a step below the rest of the division in quarterback talent, it's Mike Tomlin. At the very least, Pickett is likely better than what they've been putting out there over the past few seasons with the decline of Ben Roethlisberger, Mason Rudolph and Duck Hodges.

Luckily for Pickett, he's walking into an offense that already has some talent on it. Pickens joining Chase Claypool, Najee Harris and Diontae Johnson is more than most rookie quarterbacks get. Assuming he can beat out Mitch Trubisky, that is.

AFC West

Kansas City Chiefs: Moving in the right direction

The Chiefs picked one of the best pass rushers in the draft with huge upside in defensive end George Karlaftis. They traded up for Trent McDuffie to add some high-end talent to a secondary that needed it and they were able to nab Skyy Moore and Leo Chanel on the second day of the draft.

Good team stayed good. Don't have much more to say here.

Los Angeles Chargers: Moving in the right direction

Perhaps it's the biased Georgia fan in me, but I really think the Chargers found two starting guards in the draft after they selected Jamaree Salyer late in the sixth round of the draft. Not a flashy draft, but they shored up the interior of their offensive line and added a quality running back in Isaiah Spiller on Day 3.

Las Vegas Raiders: Treading water

The Raiders didn't pick until the third round, but they might have found two players that can provide an instant impact with guard Dylan Parham and running back Zamir White. The success of Davante Adams as he hits his 30s will determine the success of this draft class.

Denver Broncos: Treading water

Like the Raiders, there isn't too much to talk about here with the Broncos draft. They're all in with Russell Wilson. Perhaps Nik Bonitto can become a pass-rush specialist for the Broncos, but there isn't a whole lot of instant impact — which is fine! Every one knows the aspirations this team has.