A few questions from a puzzling, yet exciting 2022 NFL Draft

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As silly as it may sound — namely because it’s nothing more than a glorified job fair — the NFL Draft is one of the best sporting events of the year.

For three days in April, NFL fans from across the country gather around their TVs for the sole purpose of feeling one emotion: Hope.

Being hopeful is a state of mind that fades for some fan bases as early as September.

Maybe their team’s star player (or two or three) got injured and will be out for a significant amount of time, effectively ending their team’s playoff chances before they even came into view.

Or maybe — and this is particularly the case for those who are fans of teams in Detroit, Jacksonville and New York — they find out their teams just aren’t that good. Plain and simple.

But even for the fans who suffered through 17 weeks of mediocrity from their team, the Draft is when it all resets. It’s when the hope returns.

By now, we’ve all torn through the mock drafts that had just about every team drafting just about every player known to man, many of which were absolutely wrong because, well, the Draft is unpredictable.

Always has been, always will be.

One major element to NFL Draft coverage, for better or worse, is the draft grading system.

Once the Draft is officially over and Mr. Irrelevant (the final pick in the seventh round) is selected, NFL reporters flock to their laptops to put the final touches on their draft grades.

Did a certain team “reach” for a player at a certain spot, taking them well before analysts thought they should be selected? Eh, that team earns a C-.

Did a certain team land a “steal” or two, getting players well behind their expected draft position? Boom, that team gets an A+.

It’s an unnecessary concept that means absolutely nothing until those picks are three, four or five years into their NFL careers and we see what their draft value truly was, such as the Patriots getting a steal with Tom Brady at No. 199 in 2000 or the Browns reaching for a bust by drafting Trent Richardson at No. 3 in 2012, neither of which we could have guessed at the time.

Yet many people eat draft grades up like they’re candy. They love ‘em. (Unless, of course, their team gets a bad grade.)

With all of that being said, I’m not here to give draft grades or even chat too much about the teams I thought knocked it out of the park and the teams I thought laid a goose egg.

Instead, I’m here to pose a few questions on my mind throughout this weekend’s Draft-related festivities:

Has the wide receiver position lost its value?

Wide receivers are some of the most coveted players in all of football.

They’re usually the athletes with the most flair, the most inflated egos and — more often than not — the most talent.

In a league that has favored the passing game in recent years, from the implementation of quarterback-favorable rules to teams like the Kansas City Chiefs focusing on building speedy, aerial powerhouses, the wide receiver has become more important than ever.

But, as long as the player in the WR slot is serviceable, does it really matter who’s there?

This offseason, we’ve seen some of the biggest WR names change jerseys during one of the most chaotic springs in NFL history.

Davante Adams is now a Las Vegas Raider, Tyreek Hill is now a Miami Dolphin and, as of last Friday night, AJ Brown is a Philadelphia Eagle and Marquise “Hollywood” Brown is an Arizona Cardinal.

Most of these trades happened for one primary reason: $$$.

Upon trading for AJ Brown during the first round of the Draft, the Eagles handed the 24-year-old blossoming superstar a 4-year, $100-million contract — a price the Titans, who drafted Arkansas WR Treylon Burks with the No. 18 pick from Philly, weren’t willing to pay.

The same goes for Adams, widely known as the league’s top receiver, who signed a 5-year, $140-million contract with the Raiders once the Packers offloaded him in March — again, a price his former team wasn’t interested in paying.

These are some of the best WRs in the game. And their teams were fine moving on from them because of the money they’d be owed in their contract extensions.

Pair the booming WR trade market with the run on receivers we saw in the first round of the Draft, where six WRs were selected within the top 18 picks, and you’ve got evidence that receivers, no matter how talented they are, can be replaced.

Think about this: In 2021, only six of the top 20 WRs in terms of receiving yards also made that same list in 2019: Cooper Kupp, Stefon Diggs, D.J. Moore, Keenan Allen, Chris Godwin and Tyler Lockett.

Every year, there’s at least one or two up-and-coming receivers that steal the spotlight from a now-veteran wideout. And, as illustrated by this year’s Draft, just about every team is searching for that untapped potential in the vast, talent-heavy sea of college WRs.

And it seems like most teams are willing to take a slight downgrade if it means staying away from paying big-time money for their big-time receiver.

Because, at the end of the day, they can simply replace them.

What was up with this year’s quarterbacks?

Something happened in the 2022 Draft that I’d gone my entire life without seeing: only one quarterback was taken in the first 73 picks.

Wowza.

In the 2021 Draft, quarterbacks were selected with each of the first three picks as the Jacksonville Jaguars nabbed Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence with the No. 1 selection, followed by BYU’s Zach Wilson (New York Jets) and North Dakota State’s Trey Lance (San Francisco 49ers) at Nos. 2 and 3, respectively.

While we knew this was a down year for QBs, there were still a few teams that many analysts thought may grab a QB in the first 10 picks: the Detroit Lions at No. 2 (unlikely, but possible), the Carolina Panthers at No. 6, the Atlanta Falcons at No. 8 and the Seattle Seahawks at No. 9.

But instead, none of them drafted a QB in the first round as the lone gun-slinger taken with the first 32 picks, Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett, fell all the way to his hometown Steelers at No. 20.

From there, we all watched as Liberty QB Malik Willis — who many assumed might be the first QB taken — slid all the way to No. 86 in the third round, when the Titans finally called his name. (Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder was the second QB selected, coming in at No. 74 to the Falcons.)

Clearly, many of these teams are gearing up for a 2023 draft class that’s supposed to be loaded at QB, but the lack of attention given to the sport’s most crucial position was a little bit of a head-scratcher.

And for all you Panthers fans out there, I’m hearing good things about newly drafted QB Matt Corral (Ole Miss, No. 94).

He may not be the savior you’ve all been waiting for, but at this point, just about anything would be better than the Sam Darnold experiment.

Could the Jets mess around and become a contender?

I don’t have much to say about this one, considering it’d definitely count toward the draft grades/speculation side of things — which I promised I wouldn’t fall into — but, man, it sure felt like the Jets hit a home run this year.

The Jets used their three first-round picks to grab one of the Draft’s top cornerbacks in Cincinnati’s Sauce Gardner (No. 4), arguably the Draft’s best WR in Ohio State’s Garrett Wilson (No. 10) and one of the largest humans in the Draft with defensive end Jermaine Johnson (No. 26).

Then, as if they hadn’t killed this Draft enough, they turned around and selected the top running back in this year’s class in Iowa State’s Breece Hall with pick No. 36 in the second round.

They may have been one of the laughing stocks of the NFL over the last few seasons, but with Wilson at the helm — after getting (mostly) a year of experience under his belt — and plenty of young, talented guys from the past couple of drafts, the Jets may actually be building something.

But, as always, only time will tell. And since it’s the Jets, I’m sure they’ll be right back at the top of the Draft next year.

Reporter Victor Hensley can be reached at vhensley@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @Frezeal33.

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