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What We Learned From the 2022 N.F.L. Draft

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Most analysts agreed that the 2022 N.F.L. draft featured the weakest crop of quarterbacks in no less than a decade. But few expected quarterback-needy teams to be almost historically unimpressed:

  • The Atlanta Falcons entered the draft having already signed Marcus Mariota as their starting quarterback. Mariota is so fragile he lands on injured reserve if he bumps right into a porcelain vase. Yet the Falcons didn’t select a possible alternative for him until Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder within the third round.

  • Sam Darnold was rejected by the Jets after the 2020 season and has been losing ground ever since, yet his current team, the Carolina Panthers, waited until the third round before choosing Matt Corral of Mississippi as a possible successor.

  • The Seattle Seahawks’ starting quarterback is Drew Lock, whom the Denver Broncos tossed into the Russell Wilson trade like an additional packet of honey mustard with an order of chicken nuggets. With Geno Smith because the backup, the Seahawks didn’t select one other challenger on the position. Nor did the Detroit Lions for Jared Goff, the quarterback equivalent of a seat filler at an awards show.

The University of Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett, chosen twentieth overall by the Pittsburgh Steelers to supplant the free-agent journeyman Mitchell Trubisky, was the one quarterback drafted in the primary two rounds. The last time the draft had such a quarterback drought was in 2000, when the Jets chosen Chad Pennington with the 18th overall pick and the following quarterback (Hofstra’s Giovanni Carmazzi) was chosen sixty fifth.

Liberty’s Malik Willis, who has first-round talent but tumbled into the third round due to his small-program unreadiness, will serve an apprenticeship under Ryan Tannehill for the Tennessee Titans, because few teams at the highest of the draft order could afford to speculate in a quarterback who won’t be able to play until after their coaches have been fired.

Several teams might be counted upon in most years to panic and reach for unimpressive quarterback prospects, so it’s unclear why the league was so sour on this particular group. Perhaps general managers have learned their lesson from drafting players like Goff first overall, Mariota and Trubisky second and Darnold third: Reach for a quarterback too high, and also you can be reaching again in a couple of years.

Or perhaps teams found themselves distracted by a recent problem.

The N.F.L. operates in accordance with its own chaos theory: Just as a butterfly’s wings can change the course of a tornado, an impetuous decision by the Jacksonville Jaguars in March engulfed this weekend’s draft in a tsunami.

When the Jaguars signed a midlevel receiver, Christian Kirk, to a reported $72 million, four-year contract at the beginning of free agency, it looked like an easy case of a poorly run franchise mismanaging its payroll. As an alternative, it set off a sequence response. The All-Pro receiver Davante Adams wanted his own top-dollar contract extension, prompting the cap-strapped Green Bay Packers to trade him to the Las Vegas Raiders, who signed Adams to a reported $140 million, five-year contract. Tyreek Hill immediately wanted an Adams-like deal, forcing Kansas City to trade him to the Miami Dolphins. Soon, every big-name receiver within the league gave the impression to be demanding either a much bigger contract or a trade.

On Thursday night, the Titans traded A.J. Brown to the Philadelphia Eagles, and the Baltimore Ravens sent Marquise Brown to the Arizona Cardinals, each in exchange for a first-round pick. The Detroit Lions and the Recent Orleans Saints, meanwhile, traded away extra picks to maneuver up in the primary round and choose Alabama’s Jameson Williams and Ohio State’s Chris Olave, making a run on receivers who can be signed to rent-controlled rookie contracts.

The sudden rise in receiver salaries is currently a first-world problem; until the market balances itself, playoff teams like Green Bay and Kansas City may not have the opportunity to placate their superstar quarterbacks and their favorite playmakers. In that respect, a little bit shake-up could also be a welcome change, since the league’s privileged class has gotten a little bit haughty currently.

Most N.F.L. teams within the early 2020s might be lumped into two categories: the Endlessly Rebuilders and the Live Fast/Die Broke Contenders.

The Rebuilders collect all of the early-round draft picks they’ll muster, then spend them judiciously, often searching for golden quarterback tickets. The jet-setting Contenders, meanwhile, strive to trade their top picks for established veterans so that they can nap through the early rounds. Fast forward a couple of years, and the Rebuilders often find themselves in the identical rut, while the Contenders perform a little bit salary cap sorcery and go right on having fun with their lavish lifestyle.

The league’s achievement gap reached absurd proportions this 12 months: A record eight teams entered the draft with multiple first-round picks, while 10 teams ended up skipping the primary altogether. The Jaguars picked first overall and twice in the primary round, for the second consecutive 12 months. (They selected the Georgia edge rusher Travon Walker and Utah linebacker Devin Lloyd.) The Jets and Giants each chosen two of the top-10 picks (each performed uncharacteristically well, for whatever good it would do).

At the opposite extreme, the Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams’ brain trust held a Thursday night news conference where they roasted other teams for his or her selections like dissolute aristocrats placing wagers on the peasants fighting over bread.

Not every team with two first-round picks was a perennial doormat: Kansas City and the Packers each selected twice within the wake of the Hill and Adams trades. For each contender looking for bargains on the thrift shop, nonetheless, there was a team just like the Lions, stuck with two top picks in a quarterback-less draft.

The one proven option to escape the rebuilder caste is to amass a franchise quarterback. A handful succeed, just like the A.F.C. champion Cincinnati Bengals did with Joe Burrow. A team that risks an excessive amount of on such a prospect, nonetheless, can find yourself just like the lowly Chicago Bears, who traded this 12 months’s first-round pick to acquire Justin Fields last 12 months and now lack the resources to construct an adequate offense around him. Bad franchises get first dibs on top prospects, who fail because they turn into trapped on bad franchises, and the depressing metaphor for late-stage capitalism continues.

In the same vein, it takes multiple years of decadent spending and boastful drafting for a contender to fall back to the ranks of the rebuilders. We are going to revisit the Recent England Patriots on this matter next 12 months.

A team have to be each well run and a little bit lucky to flee an limitless rebuilding cycle, which brings us back to that 2000 quarterback class. Pennington led the Jets through considered one of their rare periods of competence, and a lot of the others were as unsuccessful as anticipated. The true treasure in that almost empty barrel draft was a scrawny lad chosen within the sixth round by the Patriots.

There’s almost actually no Tom Brady lurking at the underside of the 2022 class, but in the times after the N.F.L. draft, everyone seems to be allowed to dream.

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