NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah answered questions for an hour and a half on Thursday, previewing the 2022 NFL Draft (April 28-30 on NFL Network/ESPN/ABC) during a media conference call. As you might expect, he offered insight on some of the juiciest draft scuttlebutt. Here's a look at 11 takeaways from the call:
1) Count this draft among the most unpredictable in recent memory. With a lack of elite star power in this group, every team -- starting with Jacksonville at No. 1 overall -- could go in a number of directions. Get acclimated to hearing this phrase: best player available.
With so much uncertainty involved, one team has to own the Jenga piece that could bring the whole tower down, right? Perhaps the power rests in the hands of Houston Texans general manager Nick Caserio.
"Houston is a true wild card to me," Jeremiah said. "They can go in any direction. You always try to talk to friends around the league and try and get a gut on a team. Usually, your buddies will tell you, 'I think this player matches them or that player.' Maybe a couple guys or a couple options. Nick (does a great job of keeping his cards close to the vest because nobody in the league has any clue where Houston could be leaning or what they're going to do. That, to me, is the true wild card."
2) This draft is especially strong at two positions: Receiver and edge rusher. But much of it depends on what an executive is looking for in their team's pass catchers. In the case of the Washington Commanders, they're simply seeking a quality running mate for Terry McLaurin -- and his counterpart could look rather different, depending on the preference of Commanders general manager Martin Mayhew.
"I don't know if there's a wrong answer between those first two (Garrett Wilson and Drake London)," Jeremiah said Thursday. "To me, those are the top two wideouts in the class. There's two schools of thought with wideouts. Coach (Brian) Billick used to always say it and we used to talk about it all the time on the podcast, which is you build out a basketball team of receivers. You want guys with different skill sets, different sizes, you know, different speed. All that stuff. You just wanted a basketball team. Then, kind of with the Shanahan system, you kind of see more, we want guys that are interchangeable. They can play every spot, and they're real versatile in that way. So, two different schools of thought around the league."
Washington's basketball team has a premier scoring guard in McLaurin. They would require a big man to fit Billick's approach. But there's also the chance Washington is, like many teams, enthralled with speed. And if all else fails, the Commanders might end up feeling comfortable going back to the well located in Columbus, Ohio.
"To me, Drake London would give them something that they don't have," Jeremiah said. "Just giving them that big frame. He would be a great fit there, physical, you just love everything about his game. So, I have Garrett Wilson as the top wideout. I can't imagine he'll be there. There's a chance that London's there. If both those guys are gone, you know, McLaurin already kind of gives you more of a complete receiver. I think there's been a healthy obsession with speed in this league. I would probably come down to (Ohio State receiver Chris) Olave and Jameson Williams. I would lean to Olave because I think he's a more complete receiver. I think he's a little bit better route runner. So, that would be where I would lean, and I guess there's nothing wrong with going back to Ohio State. When you hit on one there, you might as well get another one."
3) Speaking of receivers, Jeremiah sees this deep class as containing plenty of first-round talent. He just wouldn't rank any of them ahead of record-breaking Bengals receiver Ja'Marr Chase.
"I think this is a really solid group," he said. "Especially this top six or seven guys, I really really like. There's not a Ja'Marr Chase. I would have a higher grade on Ja'Marr Chase than anybody in this group. DeVonta Smith, I would have a higher grade. Same with Jaylen Waddle. I would probably take those guys over anybody in this group. But I really like this group, and I think it's got those six or seven guys that you really like there at the top. I don't think the depth in the fourth round and beyond is as good as some of the others we have seen, but I think up until that point it's pretty good."
Even if the top receiver in 2022 might have been the fourth- or fifth-best prospect last year, that shouldn't discourage teams from taking one in the first round next week. The draft arrives on the heels of an incredibly lucrative offseason period for veteran receivers, which should prompt GMs to examine the cost analysis -- $20 million or more for a veteran, or $3-5 million on a rookie deal? -- and consider taking the economical route with a rookie wideout who has potential to make an instant impact.
"I think seeing the cost of these wideouts and what it's going to take to procure one on the open market, and that number gets north of $20 million, and you look at somebody like Justin Jefferson. He's obviously a great example," Jeremiah said. "Where he was picked in the draft, his average per year is like $3 million per year. So you get cost control on a player like that at that price for four years and a fifth-year option versus having to go the veteran route and having to pay that huge, huge number to get a premium guy. If not pay him, then you have to trade a bunch of assets to go get him. To me, I think that's why this year we see wideouts get pushed up a little bit more than in years past. I think we'll see six of them go in the first round."
4) Tackle has quietly become a debated position at the top of the class. Evan Neal was seen as the leading candidate early in the process, but Ikem Ekwonu has closed the gap. The Giants could take either of them with the fifth-overall pick, although Jeremiah made a good point: The new brain trust in New York historically hasn't invested a lot of draft capital in the offensive line.
If they do go with a tackle, their choice might be a toss-up -- and it could include a third candidate.
"I think they need to get better there, and it could marry up with where they're picking with the fifth pick. I think there's a chance if it goes one way or the other that they could have their choice. For me, I like Ekwonu. I know teams around the league are a little split on him because he's kind of raw in pass pro, but it's all there. It's all in his body. He's a dominant run blocker who I think has some inside-outside ability.
"The interesting thing with him and with Evan Neal -- and teams are split on who the best guy is -- they both have played inside and they've both played tackle. So, they allow you to get your best five on the field. I would go Ekwonu first, then I would go Evan Neal and then I would go (Mississippi State's Charles) Cross.
"There's a lot of buzz. Sometimes it's hard to tell when you're talking to your friends in the league if the buzz is coming from them or coming from it being in the media and them kind of repeating what they hear in the media. But there's been a lot connection between Charles Cross of Mississippi State and the Giants. I don't know how much to buy into that or believe that, but for me he's the third guy. I know, in terms of pass protection, he's pretty polished."
5) The Eagles have a pair of first-round picks at their disposal and could address a couple of different defensive positions. Some are wondering whether Philadelphia will choose Fletcher Cox's eventual replacement, or look for an instant-impact defensive back to play alongside Darius Slay and Avonte Maddox.
There's also the question of whether the Eagles should focus on defense at all.
"When you look around this league right now and you see, if Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert and Aaron Rodgers and Josh Allen and these guys are on their game, I don't care how great your defense is. You better be able to score 28 points or you're not beating them," Jeremiah said. "That to me is still a challenge. You've got to be able to go out there and score points.
"They've invested a lot in the line of scrimmage on both sides. I wouldn't rule that out at all. But I'm just saying, you get into these games now with these young, talented quarterbacks. I call them cyborgs. You better be able to score some points. I think it's a little bit antiquated, we're just going to have the most rugged defense in the world, because even with the way the rules are right now and the talent at the quarterback position, you're going to have to be able to score some points to match them."
6) Despite picking in the sixth spot, the Panthers might be in a tough position. Carolina could miss out on both of the top tackle prospects -- "a screaming need" for the Panthers, per Jeremiah -- and the Panthers still need another option at quarterback. Sixth overall seems too high to take any of the signal-callers in this class, but it's not going to be easy for any team to trade down from the upper portion of the first round.
"To me, if one of the top two guys gets to Carolina, slam-dunk pick. You just take the tackle, you plug him and play him and you move on," Jeremiah said. "I think, in their perfect world, they'd probably be able to get out of six. Get some extra picks. They don't pick in Round 2 or 3. So, to give them themselves some more shots at it, I think that would be the best outcome.
"I just don't know that you're going to find a trade partner, so if you're stuck there, if you can get one of those top two tackles, I would do it. If those guys are off the board, I can see them taking Cross -- it's a big need -- and some teams are really really high on him, so I wouldn't be surprised if he went there. If it was me personally, I would probably go in another direction and just take the best available."
7) The Panthers might also be the most likely team to restart the quarterback carousel, which has gone dormant for much of the last month following Indianapolis' trade for Matt Ryan. Baker Mayfield and Jimmy Garoppolo remain available, but Carolina hasn't raced to the phone to work out a deal -- yet.
"You kind of look at where you are. I was talking to a GM this morning, he was making the case that you look at Carolina's options, he thought that Baker Mayfield was probably the most attractive of all the different options that they would have," Jeremiah said, adding the GM wasn't Cleveland's Andrew Berry. "Whether it's in this draft or going the veteran route. ... But that one kind of makes some sense there.
"My thing on this quarterback class, I think there are some good players here, but I just have the thought that keeps coming back in the back of my mind that what you don't want to do is take a quarterback this year, and then a year from now at this time be saying, 'Oh my goodness, we are right back in the quarterback market again.' You know, is this guy really good enough? That kind of lingers in my head when these teams are forced to make this decision. Whether to go with one or to wait.
"All these teams have done a good job one way or the other having options on campus currently. You know, inside their organization, they've got guys who can line up and play that have experience. So, I don't think they're going to be forced to take one of these guys. It's a really fascinating discussion when you look at this class and where these guys could go."
8) With trades still on the brain, don't expect to see a lot of movement in the first half of the first round. Without top quarterback talent available, teams won't feel as pressed to move up. Add in quality depth at a number of other positions and you'll see teams waiting to see how the draft unfolds before making their decisions.
Things could get interesting later Thursday night. With the inclusion of a fifth-year option on all first-round picks, clubs might feel more comfortable with moving back into the latter half of the first round to take a risk on a quarterback with plenty of upside included, thanks to the team control offered by a first-rounder's rookie deal.
"I think for all the potential inaction up at the top of the draft, I think we could see a lot of action towards the bottom, especially as it pertains to the quarterbacks," Jeremiah said. "I think that's where the value is. If you can get back in, get the fifth year, you know, take a flier on one of these guys. I think we could see some action there and see some movement there."
9) Baltimore has multiple defensive holes to plug. While the Ravens have long been fans of accruing picks and playing the odds to land quality talent, it seems one defensive prospect is a perfect match for their culture.
"Jordan Davis, I just can't see them passing on him if he were to get there," Jeremiah said of the Georgia defensive tackle. "They collect these guys. These big, physical line-of-scrimmage players on the offensive and defensive line, the rare ones especially, it's easy to sell SEC guys in that room. That would be one that would kind of make sense to me."
10) Another match made in heaven might come from the state of Utah. New England could use new blood at linebacker, and Utes star Devin Lloyd just seems like a player born to be a Patriot, at least in Jeremiah's eyes.
"You look on the defensive side of the ball, if you want to talk about a real playmaker on defense, I know off the ball linebacker has been a little undervalued recently, but Devin Lloyd -- for all the different things he can do -- he kind of just feels like a Patriot-type player," Jeremiah said. "With the size, the length, the versatility, the intelligence, the leadership. All that stuff kind of screams Patriot to me. Those are a couple examples. But I just think, again - faster, more dynamic, more explosive is an area they have to look at in this draft."
Jeremiah also mentioned the Patriots need more impactful playmakers on their roster to help Mac Jones elevate their offense. He sees a familiar connection between football powerhouses -- Nick Saban's Alabama Crimson Tide and Bill Belichick's Patriots -- potentially producing a pick for New England that would make plenty of sense.
"I just feel like the way the division is going, the way the conference is going and the way the league is going, that they've got to get some more dynamic players. Some more difference-making players," Jeremiah said. "That to me is their challenge in this draft and being more explosive offensively. Obviously, Jameson Williams would be a home-run pick. That would be somebody they'd have great info on with Nick's connection there to Bill. That would be a fun one."
11) Finally, as is tradition, this draft includes some polarizing players, perhaps more so than any past class. One comes from West Lafayette, Indiana, where George Karlaftis compiled an impressive career as a Boilermaker and shined at the NFL Scouting Combine, but has yet to convince the majority of teams he'll be a difference-maker at the next level.
Jeremiah believes he will be, but he also revealed that's far from the consensus belief on the Purdue star.
"There's teams that think he's one of the top 15 players," Jeremiah said. "Then, there's teams that think he's not worth a first- or second-round pick. That's how all over the board teams are on some of these guys. That's where, to me, it's different than any other draft."