After watching Day 1 of the NFL Draft, here are my takeaways on five teams who had particularly consequential drafts and their roster-building strategies.
Jacksonville was far and away the most aggressive team in free agency this past offseason, adding WRs Christian Kirk and Zay Jones, TE Evan Engram, OG Brandon Scherff, and resigning LT Cam Robinson. After taking care of these holes on offense, GM Trent Baalke turned to the draft to supplement the defensive side of the ball.
First overall pick Travon Walker should provide a huge boost to the defensive line. The Jags also traded the first pick of the second round as well as two early fourth round picks to the Buccaneers in order to get back into the first round at 27, taking Utah LB Devin Lloyd with the pick.
While the Jags are throwing all of these resources into improving in 2022, it might prove to be a year too early. They will likely improve from their 3-14 record in 2022, but I have concerns about sustaining that improvement in 2023 and beyond.
New York Giants
This is exactly what the Giants should be looking to do entering a rebuilding phase under new GM Joe Schoen and HC Brian Daboll.
While the Giants were passive in free agency this past offseason, this was to be expected since they are towards the bottom of the league in terms of cap space and are not likely to compete for a Super Bowl (or even a division title for that matter) in 2022. Building from the lines out is the blueprint for building a solid foundation for the future — even if it is not the flashy move that will get fans and the media excited.
However, these two selections do not guarantee that the Giants will be successful two or three years from now. While this is the most optimistic that Giants fans should feel about their team in a long time, it is just the beginning of the process. Most importantly, they still need to figure out the long-term solution at the quarterback position after declining to exercise Daniel Jones’ fifth-year option.
For more than a decade the Falcons have been a good team that cannot seem to get over the hump and be great. The reasoning for this is because since the 2016 season, when they made it all the way to Super Bowl LI, they have neglected to strengthen the offensive and defensive lines. While they have devoted significant amounts of cap space to these two position groups, they had the worst and second worst graded pass rush and pass blocking grades, respectively, in the NFL last season. Atlanta has not had a Pro-Bowler along the offensive line since Alex Mack in 2018, nor have they had one along the defensive line since Deion Jones in 2017.
While Drake London is a great player, it seemed like the goal of this draft should have been to build a foundation along the lines rather than add a pass catcher in the first round for a second straight season. Putting Marcus Mariota behind a bad offensive line is a poor way to build a team, especially since they are clearly rebuilding with a placeholder at quarterback.
It is alarming that even with a new GM and HC, it seems like Atlanta’s process to team building has remained the same over the years.
This offseason, the Eagles really focused on re-establishing the defensive front that they had during the 2017 Super Bowl season. Philadelphia brought in edge rusher Hasson Reddick from the Panthers and retained former first-round pick Derek Barnett to add to Josh Sweat, Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox, Javon Hargrave, and Milton Williams. Being eight deep along the defensive line will allow defensive coordinator Johnathan Gannon to rotate the defensive front frequently and keep these guys fresh for crucial fourth quarter snaps.
While first round pick Jordan Davis is currently better against the run, the 6-foot-6, 341-pound interior defensive lineman will have time to develop into a better pass rusher whilst learning from Cox and the other veterans on the roster.
Trading for fourth year WR AJ Brown, whom they quickly agreed to a 4-year, $100 million extension with, is the latest in the long run of moves to bolster the team’s wide receiving core.
Philadelphia gave away picks 18 and 101 in this trade. Between these two picks, the 84th overall selection that they traded away to move up for DeVonta Smith in last year’s draft, and the selections of Jalen Reagor and JJ Arcega-Whiteside, the Eagles have used three first-round, one second-round, and two third-round picks over the past three drafts in order to acquire just two starting caliber WRs in AJ Brown and DeVonta Smith.
This is a substantial amount of capital to invest into one position group over three offseasons. With depth concerns along the offensive line and holes remaining at linebacker as well as in the defensive secondary, it might have been better to forgo trading for Brown (and the $25 million APY extension that he comes with) in favor of a cornerback such as Trent McDuffie or Kaiir Elam.
After taking the first safety off the board in Kyle Hamilton at 14th overall, Baltimore was able to trade back into the first round and (after trading back two slots with the Bills) select C Tyler Linderbaum. In doing so, they had to give up the 100th overall pick as well as fourth year WR Hollywood Brown.
Pairing Hamilton with free agency addition Marcus Williams creates one of the best safety duos in recent history. Williams played a majority of his snaps as a deep safety last season. Hamilton was more of a box defender and played more than half of his 2021 snaps in the slot.
While losing Brown might make Lamar upset, landing two players in Hamilton and Linderbaum, who are consensus No. 1 prospects at their respective positions in this draft, is a huge win. The Ravens still have 2021 first-round WR Rashod Bateman and TE Mark Andrews along with a stable of running backs. They also have 11 picks remaining over the next two days, including two second-round picks tonight.