Photograph: Brittainy Newman / AP
New York Jets: Due to a slew of perplexing selections over the years, the New York Jets are often expected to fail on draft night. But on day one of this year’s draft, the Jets put the league on notice by selecting cornerback Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner (No 4), wide receiver Garrett Wilson (No 10), and defensive end Jermaine Johnson II (No 26).
A shutdown specialist who did not give up a single touchdown while at the University of Cincinnati, Gardner has the length, speed, skill, and confidence to make life difficult for opposing wide receivers. In addition to Gardner, the Jets added a superior pass rusher in Johnson by trading three picks to the Tennessee Titans. Both players should do wonders for a team that finished as the NFL’s worst defense in 2021.
On offense, the Jets walked away with arguably the best wide receiver in this year’s draft in Wilson. A crafty route-runner with good hands and separation speed, Wilson should help the maturation process of second-year quarterback, Zach Wilson.
Even the most critical Jets fans should be pleased by their team’s productivity in this year’s draft.
Philadelphia Eagles: Following a season where they tip-toed into the playoffs only to get demolished in the first round by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Eagles approached this year’s draft with more aggression than any other team in the league. On day one, the Eagles pulled off a shocker by acquiring the speedy receiver AJ Brown from the Tennessee Titans in exchange for picks No 18 and 101. Brown, who will line up with promising receiver DeVonta Smith, could give the Eagles two of the scariest downfield threats in the NFC.
The Eagles also added key players on defense by drafting two elite athletes from the University of Georgia’s national championship-winning team: defensive tackle Jordan Davis (No 13) and linebacker Nakobe Dean (No 83). Davis is a massive (6ft 6in, 340lb) run-stopper who is also swift enough to carry the ball as a running back on offense. A winner of the prestigious Butkus Award for the best linebacker in college football, Dean has an innate ability to read opposing offensive schemes and serve as the quarterback of the defense. The addition of center Cam Jurgens (No 51) allows the Eagles to develop a valuable offensive lineman under the tutelage of veteran Jason Kelce. The Eagles continued to be assertive in the later rounds by trading up to select linebacker Kyron Johnson (No 181). The Eagles are on the rise and added multiple players who will solidify their future while also snagging an elite receiver who should make the team a playoff contender from the weaker NFC East in 2022.
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Baltimore Ravens: The 2021 season ended in disappointment for the Ravens who missed the playoffs after losing their final six games. With the No 14 pick, they selected safety Kyle Hamilton, who could be the team’s best player at that position since the retirement of Hall of Famer Ed Reed. Similar to Reed, Hamilton has the instincts to make the big play in pass coverage, or at the line of scrimmage.
With the selection of Tyler Linderbaum (No 25), the team added the best center of this year’s draft to their offensive line. Ravens’ second-round selection, David Ojabo (No 45), could miss the entire season due to an Achilles tear, but he may end up being the steal of this year’s draft if he lives up to the pre-injury projections, which classified him as a top-15 pick.
Defensive tackle Travis Jones (No 76) was another impressive late-round pick with the skills of a first-rounder. Jones (6ft 4in, 325lb) will bring much-needed youth to the Ravens’ aging defensive line.
Arizona Cardinals: In what initially appears as an attempt to appease unsettled star quarterback Kyler Murray, the Cardinals traded pick No 23 to the Ravens for Murray’s former college teammate Marquise “Hollywood” Brown and pick No 100. Although Brown’s 2021 campaign featured career highs in receiving yards and catches, he’s not yet considered to be a standout in his peer group of receivers. The Cardinals may have overvalued the return in this deal with the hopes of keeping Murray happy. With the No 55 pick, the Cardinals selected tight end Trey McBride. McBride, the first tight end selected, is sturdy and sure-handed, but he lacks the athleticism to break tackles and escape defenders. The additions of defensive end Cameron Thomas (No 87) and linebacker Myjai Sanders (No 100) could add depth to the Cardinals’ defense.
New England Patriots: It may be unfair to prematurely judge the New England Patriots due to the team’s history of finding diamonds in the draft. However, the Patriots’ first-round selection of offensive lineman Cole Strange (No 29) was the most puzzling pick of this year’s draft. Strange, a lineman from the small University of Tennessee-Chattanooga who did not allow a sack during his college career, was projected by multiple draft experts to be selected in the third round. Arguably, there were better players at every position than Strange at No 29. But Bill Belichick has a proud record of going against the grain only to be proven right years later.
With pick No 50, the Patriots drafted another player, wide receiver Tyquan Thornton, who was initially projected to be selected in a later round. Thornton’s draft stock increased significantly after an impressive showing at the NFL Combine. Both players can add to Belichick’s legacy of finding greatness in unconventional picks. Or, they could become another blemish similar to the 2019 draft when the Patriots selected N’Keal Harry over Deebo Samuel and AJ Brown.