NFL Teams Who Can't Afford to Blow It in the 2022 Draft

Alex Ballentine@Ballentine_AlexFeatured ColumnistApril 20, 2022

NFL Teams Who Can't Afford to Blow It in the 2022 Draft

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    The 2022 NFL draft will be a bigger event for some teams than others.

    For example, the Miami Dolphins probably aren't sweating this year's draft. They won't be on the clock until the 102nd pick and have only four total selections after their blockbuster trade for Tyreek Hill this offseason.

    Other teams are heavily invested in the 2022 draft, though. Whether they have multiple first-round picks or need to find impact contributors to fill major holes on their rosters, some front offices and franchises will have their futures tied to this draft class.

    Here's a look at the teams who have to get it right this year to maximize their potential.

Carolina Panthers

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    The Carolina Panthers have only one pick in the top 100 of this year's draft. After the No. 6 pick, they won't be on the clock again until No. 137, barring trades.

    They traded their second- and fourth-round picks last year for quarterback Sam Darnold, and they included their third-rounder in the deal that brought cornerback C.J. Henderson in from Jacksonville. However, those players haven't necessarily made the Panthers better for 2022.

    Darnold threw for nine touchdowns and 13 interceptions with a 4-7 record in 11 starts last season. Henderson allowed a passer rating of 121.6 when targeted in his six games as a Panther last season.

    That's already a bad return on investment in three rounds worth of picks.

    The Panthers have a difficult decision about what to do at No. 6. They could use that pick on a quarterback, trade back to recoup some draft capital or go with another blue-chip recruit.

    Either way, they are in a tough spot. But they have to make the right decision at No. 6 to avoid setting the roster back any further.

Green Bay Packers

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    It's rare for a Super Bowl contender to find itself in a must-win draft situation, but the Green Bay Packers are an exception this year.

    Although the Packers managed to re-sign future Hall of Fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers this offseason, they now need to replenish his receiving corps. They traded star wideout Davante Adams to the Las Vegas Raiders for the Nos. 22 and 53 overall picks, while they lost Marquez Valdes-Scantling to the Kansas City Chiefs in free agency.

    Adams led the Packers last year with 123 receptions for 1,553 yards and 11 touchdowns. No other Green Bay player had more than 52 receptions or 513 receiving yards. Valdes-Scantling had only 26 catches for 430 yards in 11 games last season, but he led the league with 20.9 yards per reception in 2020.

    With Adams and Valdes-Scantling gone, Allen Lazard is the top receiver left in Green Bay. He had only 40 receptions for 513 yards and eight touchdowns last season.

    The Packers kept their Super Bowl window by retaining Rodgers, but they need to hit on their four top-60 picks to round out their roster in the wake of Adams and Valdes-Scantling's departure.

Kansas City Chiefs

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    The Packers aren't the only Super Bowl contender that should be feeling the pressure at the draft. The Kansas City Chiefs find themselves in that boat as well.

    Patrick Mahomes is entering the first season of his 10-year, $450 million megadeal, and he's set to account for 17.2 percent of the Chiefs' cap space this season, per Spotrac. Now that he's no longer on his rookie contract, the Chiefs have to start trimming expenses elsewhere.

    They started with star wideout Tyreek Hill this offseason. After they couldn't reach an agreement on an extension with him, they traded him to the Miami Dolphins for a package including the Nos. 29 and 50 picks in this year's draft.

    The Chiefs did sign JuJu Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling in free agency, and they still have star tight end Travis Kelce, so they're less desperate to add another pass-catcher than the Packers. However, they need to use their two first-rounders and two second-rounders to round out their roster.

    Since drafting Mahomes, the Chiefs have made only one first-round pick (running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire in 2020). They need to find impact contributors with their Day 1 and 2 picks this year to optimize this stage of Mahomes' career.

New Orleans Saints

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    The New Orleans Saints put more pressure on themselves to nail this year's draft when they traded with the Philadelphia Eagles to acquire a second first-round pick.

    Just as a refresher, here's what the deal looked like:

    • Philadelphia receives: No. 18, No. 101, No. 237, 2023 first-round pick, 2024 second-round pick
    • New Orleans receives: No. 16, No. 19 and No. 194

    In essence, the Saints gave up a third-rounder this year as well as a 2024 second-round pick to get their 2023 first-rounder a year early.

    There are two ways to read this trade. Either the Saints are eyeing a quarterback in this class after missing out on Deshaun Watson, or they believe they are only a few pieces away from contending.

    Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports reported other general managers around the league think it's the latter. The Saints seem to believe they can win now if they get those picks right.

    Either way, the Saints are now under more pressure to hit on both of those first-round picks.

New York Jets

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    With four top-50 picks at their disposal and nine total selections, the New York Jets are No. 1 in total draft value, per Tankathon. That's good news for general manager Joe Douglas.

    Douglas has now been running the Jets for three years, and they're 13-36 in that span. The roster has undergone a complete overhaul and has a second-year quarterback, but the clock is starting to tick.

    The Jets have been tied to multiple trade targets this offseason. They reportedly made an offer for Tyreek Hill that the Chiefs would have accepted, per ESPN's Adam Schefter, but the star receiver preferred joining the Dolphins instead.

    According to ESPN's Rich Cimini, the Jets are also "keeping an eye" on Seattle Seahawks wideout DK Metcalf, Washington Commanders receiver Terry McLaurin and Tennessee Titans wideout A.J. Brown. All three are entering the final year of their rookie contracts and could be trade targets, but none of those deals have come to fruition yet.

    If Douglas can't turn some of his draft capital into a proven star, he'll have to find multiple difference-makers in this class, particularly with his pair of top-10 picks (Nos. 4 and 10).

New York Giants

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    The New York Jets aren't the only team in the Big Apple under pressure to nail this year's draft.

    The New York Giants hold the Nos. 5 and 7 overall picks, along with three other top-100 selections. They have the league's third-most valuable collection of picks, per Tankathon.

    Unlike the Jets, who have a general manager with tenuous job security, the Giants are starting anew in the front office. General manager Dave Gettleman retired after the 2021 season, giving way to new GM Joe Schoen and new head coach Brian Daboll.

    The cap-strapped Giants were limited in what they could do in free agency. The biggest contract they've handed out to date was to 29-year-old interior lineman Mark Glowinski, per Spotrac.

    That leaves the draft as the primary means to improve a roster that went 4-13 last season. That's a lot of pressure for a new regime hoping to get things going in the right direction.