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Best and worst drafts? Rookie of the Year contenders? NFL Draft experts make their picks

Another NFL Draft is in the books, so now it’s time for some way-too-early analysis before any of these players take the field.

While The Athletic’s Dane Brugler works at grading every team’s draft and looking ahead to 2023’s top prospects, his fellow draft experts Nate Tice, Diante Lee and Nick Baumgardner unpack the past few days in Las Vegas.

Which team had your favorite draft?

Lee: The Baltimore Ravens had the ultimate “best player available” draft. In the secondary, they added safety Kyle Hamilton to play alongside Marcus Williams and corner Jalyn Armour-Davis to play with Marcus Peters and Marlon Humphrey. They also drafted edge rusher David Ojabo to (eventually) pair up with Odafe Oweh. That’s a grand slam for 31 other franchises — and just another day at the office for Baltimore.

Baumgardner: I feel like it’s the Ravens every year for me at this point. Baltimore’s willingness to sit there and wait … works nearly every time. Hamilton’s fit with new defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald is insanely good. Hamilton will move all over the place defensively in time with Baltimore, as Macdonald is never afraid to experiment. Ojabo, meanwhile, is the prospect he is today in large part because Macdonald took the Michigan defensive coordinator job and helped him define a role for himself. Ojabo started football late in life and was still very much a tweener when Macdonald arrived. He’ll get time to rehab his Achilles injury, and the fit couldn’t be better. Adding offensive tackle Daniel Faalele and tight end Isaiah Likely on Day 3 is the most Ravens thing ever. Green Bay also added nice value in this draft.

Tice: The Jets and Ravens are two great answers, but if I had to go away from those two teams, how about a team without a first-round pick in the Buccaneers? Logan Hall can play along the defensive line and has plenty of upside to tap into, and Luke Goedeke will bring versatility along the interior offensive line and can play early at left guard. Rachaad White, my RB3, is a personal favorite, and I love his receiving ability and running style for the Bucs’ “at you” run scheme. And to start off Round 4, the Bucs took a legit Y tight end in Cade Otton. Just a fun array of starting-level talent.


Arizona Cardinals QB Kyler Murray (Ronald Martinez / Getty Images)

Which team had the most underwhelming draft?

Lee: The Arizona Cardinals without question. I don’t believe receiver Hollywood Brown merited a first-rounder in a trade, but I can understand needing to replace Christian Kirk in that offense. What I don’t get: drafting tight end Trey McBride in Round 2 after trading for (and extending) Zach Ertz. Up front, Arizona added Cameron Thomas and Myjai Sanders, two prospects who I don’t think will fix the Cardinals’ run defense.

Tice: Like Diante, I’m going with the Cardinals. Trading a first-round pick for Brown seems to be an attempt to please Murray, but it’s still a gross overpay for a smaller receiver when there were plenty of talented receivers available on Day 2. I see McBride more as a receiving-first tight end who is just an average blocker and doesn’t play to his testing numbers. Adding Thomas and Sanders was needed to replenish the pass rush, but I felt like those picks could have been used to address offensive line or cornerback depth.

Baumgardner: I love Travon Walker, even at No. 1 overall. I think he’s going to be a very good player. I also think Devin Lloyd and Chad Muma are going to be good linebackers in the NFL. But I don’t understand why the Jacksonville Jaguars felt the need to move up to draft Lloyd in Round 1 before coming right back and drafting Muma in Round 3. Taking center Luke Fortner over Dylan Parham was questionable, too. And then trading up on Day 3 for running back Snoop Conner with fellow backs Jerome Ford and Kyren Williams right there? I don’t quite get it.

Biggest surprise of the draft?

Lee: It still has to be Chattanooga guard Cole Strange in the first round, right? Bill Belichick and New England see football their own way — far be it for me to accuse them of doing anything wrong — but with all the defensive backs, wide receivers and other offensive linemen available, what was the rush to grab an interior lineman whom many teams gave a Round 3 or 4 grade? The pick comes after New England traded guard Shaq Mason to Tampa Bay, a move I’m still struggling to understand.

Baumgardner: I was fairly surprised to see Seattle not go QB in the second round with two picks and both Malik Willis and Desmond Ridder sitting there. Willis, especially, felt like a possible fit for Seattle. But the Seahawks went in another direction. I don’t mind giving two young tackles a chance to grow as you grind through however long a stretch you’re about to grind through with quarterback Drew Lock. Running back Kenneth Walker III is a hell of a lot of fun. Corners Tariq Woolen and Coby Bryant are, too. Classic Seahawks draft, and we’ll see about the QB.

Tice: It was an underwhelming QB class, but it was still a bit stunning to see only one selected before the third round. The trades for Hollywood Brown and A.J. Brown by the Cardinals and Eagles, respectively, were also surprising. I doubt I was the only one who had to take a moment to collect myself when those were announced.


New Atlanta Falcons WR Drake London (Jeff Speer / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Who are your way-too-early picks for Offensive and Defensive Rookies of the Year?

Lee: My guess is that a defensive back wins it this year because this edge class lacks the necessary traits to create immediate and consistent pressure at the professional level. With that, I’m picking the best defensive back — and the best defensive playmaker — in this class: new Texans corner Derek Stingley Jr.

Offensively, I’m going with receiver Drake London. For whatever the concerns exist about him separating from cornerbacks in the NFL, I can guarantee there won’t be much separation made by the rest of the true wide receivers on Atlanta’s roster. After Kyle Pitts’ breakout season, expect him to draw a ton of attention in the middle of the field, leaving London one-on-one out on the perimeter. If he wins those 50/50 balls, expect him to be the most productive rookie receiver in 2022.

Baumgardner: I agree with Diante that the Defensive Rookie of the Year is going to be a defensive back. There are too many difference-makers here who will be felt early and often next year. I keep going back to Hamilton and all the ways Baltimore can tinker with him, but don’t be surprised to see Kayvon Thibodeaux rack up a big-time sack number and win the award.

Offensively, have we progressed to a point where we can pick a lineman to win this award? A year ago, you could’ve made a case for either Rashawn Slater or Penei Sewell. My vote for 2022: Panthers offensive tackle Ikem Ekwonu.

Tice: Offensively, I’m going to go with London, a player who I think can contribute early and will be in a situation where he will be utilized right away. The Falcons don’t have much (any?) receiving talent to speak of outside of Pitts. And London is more than polished enough as a player to make the most of those opportunities. There might be some stat padding while the Falcons are likely behind in quite a few games, but what will voters care?

On defense, I really like Diante’s Stingley selection. He is as polished as they come at cornerback and should contribute earlier than most at the position. But I’m going to go with a pass rusher in Aidan Hutchinson. He might not have the jaw-dropping upside of Walker, the No. 1 overall pick, but Hutchinson will be very good versus the run early with enough pass rushing chops to get after the QB consistently.

The Jaguars, 49ers, Bears, Patriots, Jets and Texans are all expected to start second-year quarterbacks in 2022. In terms of setting up those QBs for success, how would you rank the teams’ respective offseasons?

Lee: 1. 49ers 2. Jaguars 3. Patriots 4. Jets 5. Texans 6. Bears

San Francisco is the easy selection here, even though the 49ers haven’t added much on offense this spring. The infrastructure is already in place for a young quarterback. It’s just a matter of whether Trey Lance is ready to make better decisions with the football. The Jaguars, Patriots and Jets added talent on offense to help their quarterbacks in the dropback passing game. Houston went defense first this offseason, and Chicago (sigh) is punting on the 2022 season.

Baumgardner: 1. 49ers, 2. Jets, 3. Jaguars, 4. Texans, 5. Patriots, 6. Bears

The Niners are in such a good spot, and I can’t wait to see where Lance is at developmentally. The Jets had a really nice 2022 draft and worked the board very well to address need after need. I’m not totally sure what New England is doing, but I also like pretty much everyone they drafted. I just don’t know what Chicago is doing.

Tice: 1. Jets 2. Jaguars 3. Patriots 4. Texans 5. 49ers 6. Bears

The Jets have done about as well as they can to surround Zach Wilson with talent. Pairing Garrett Wilson with Elijah Moore and Corey Davis gives fun synergy to the receiver room, and the Jets had already signed Tyler Conklin and C.J. Uzomah in free agency before adding Jeremy Ruckert, my favorite Y tight end in this draft. Running back Breece Hall will make a fun pairing with Michael Carter, and the Jets also added free-agent guard Laken Tomlinson to help shore up the offensive line. Now the pressure is cranking up for Wilson.

The Jaguars might not have followed exactly the route I preferred, but they did upgrade Trevor Lawrence’s weapons and inject talent into the offensive line with free-agent guard Brandon Scherff and third-round pick Luke Fortner, their potential center of the future.

New England reached for Strange and deep threat Tyquan Thornton, but I at least like the thought process behind the picks. I can’t say the same about the Bears’ draft, as Chicago decided the best way to help out its young QB was to address defense as opposed to any of the glaring holes the Bears have all over their offense. Receiver Velus Jones can be a fun gadget guy and returner, but the Bears need starters, not luxury picks.


Andy Reid (left) and Patrick Mahomes (Dustin Bradford / Getty Images)

The Packers, Chiefs and Titans have all recently traded star receivers, with A.J. Brown becoming the latest on the move. Of those three teams, which has done the best job retooling?

Lee: Kansas City by a decent margin. I thought the Chiefs might make an aggressive move for a high-profile playmaker, but standing pat allowed Andy Reid and Brett Veach to patch up other holes and add necessary depth across the roster. Trent McDuffie will be able to play in the slot full time under Steve Spagnuolo, and George Karlaftis will be dependable and productive enough to keep the Chiefs from needing Chris Jones to play on the edge again. Skyy Moore is an interesting fit alongside other slot types in JuJu Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling, but Reid is a master at getting the most out of receivers.

This was one of the Chiefs’ last opportunities to retool before Patrick Mahomes’ cap numbers boom, and it’s clear adding to the defense was the priority.

Baumgardner: The Chiefs are the answer here, as bringing in Moore to go along with the rest of those post-Tyreek Hill additions feels perfect. But all three teams here made some interesting changes that could work out well.

I really like what Tennessee did — going all-in on power in offensive tackle Nick Petit-Frere and running back Hassan Haskins, taking quarterback Malik Willis for the future and leaving no doubt about where the Titans are going offensively. If the situation with A.J. Brown wasn’t going to work out, then drafting Treylon Burks five minutes later was as good a move as Tennessee could’ve made. Green Bay got receiver Christian Watson in Round 2, and new offensive coordinator Adam Stenavich gets two more very capable offensive linemen in Zach Tom and Sean Rhyan.

Tice: The Chiefs needed more tangible starters on their roster and they took all of their draft collateral to address just that. I love what Moore will bring to their receiving room, a completely different type of smooth skill set than what the larger receivers they signed this offseason possess. McDuffie and Karlaftis should contribute right away on the other side of the ball. And adding interesting defensive players in safety Bryan Cook and linebacker Leo Chanel gives the unit more useful depth. I really like what the Chiefs have done this offseason.

(Top photo of Kyle Hamilton: Don Juan Moore / Getty Images)

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