2022 NFL Draft: The Biggest Mistakes That Could Have Been Avoided

Ian Wharton@NFLFilmStudyFeatured Columnist IVMay 2, 2022

2022 NFL Draft: The Biggest Mistakes That Could Have Been Avoided

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    The 2022 NFL draft fulfilled expectations as the first-ever three-day draft event in Las Vegas. The spectacle saw 262 players drafted and two star wide receivers, A.J. Brown and Marquise "Hollywood" Brown, traded. It was one of the craziest drafts we've ever seen, considering the staggering 21 trades between Day 1 and 2.

    Of course, throughout the weekend there would be mistakes. There's no better time than right after the draft to react to the moves because there's no hindsight to cloud our judgments. Even as some players prove decision-makers wrong in several years, it's important to use what we know today as an evaluation of how teams operated throughout the draft. 

    We'll know more in the future as to which players will be massive overachievers or busts. For now, we're already able to see the six biggest mistakes of the draft. Each of these moves were either a major reach for their talent, misjudgment of when a positional run would begin or a flawed mindset that may have set an entire draft class to fail.

    Let's dive into the six biggest mistakes that teams could have avoided.  

6. Dallas Cowboys: Grabbing Tyler Smith over Bigger Needs

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    One massive aspect of how teams can win the NFL draft is to correctly value positions of need. Quarterbacks, pass-rushers, offensive tackles and cornerbacks cost the most for veteran contracts and therefore routinely go high in the first round. It's less common to see interior offensive linemen and run-focused defenders go in the first round since those skill sets can usually be found later in the draft.

    The Dallas Cowboys were on the clock with the draft's premier center prospect, Tyler Linderbaum, two well-regarded edge prospects in Jermaine Johnson II and George Karlaftis, and top linebacker Devin Lloyd still available. Instead of grabbing an ideal fit at a more valuable position or higher-rated prospect, the Cowboys opted for Tulsa's Tyler Smith. Smith is an excellent athlete who starred at left tackle in college but is projected to play guard for Dallas.

    The Cowboys had Smith rated higher than guards Kenyon Green and Zion Johnson, according to Michael Gehlken of the Dallas Morning News. He'll need work on his technique but can become an excellent starter in time. However, Dallas may be the victim of focusing too much on filling an immediate need and passing on the opportunity to get a difference-maker at a key position.

    Serviceable free agents like Ereck Flowers, Trai Turner and Quinton Spain could have come in off the street and been an average presence in 2022 for Dallas. The question of whether a combination of a free-agent guard and one of the better prospects would have been a preferred option for Dallas will exist unless Smith proves to be a Pro Bowler quickly. 

5. New Orleans Saints: Trading into 1st Round so Early

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    John Locher/Associated Press

    The New Orleans Saints paid a heavy price between their initial trade with the Philadelphia Eagles and their subsequent move from No. 16 to No. 11. In total, Ohio State receiver Chris Olave cost the Saints the 11th overall pick, the 98th and 120th overall pick this year, a 2023 first-round pick and 2024 second-round pick. Olave is an excellent receiver and the Saints desperately needed another stud playmaker, but the cost was exorbitant. 

    The receiver run began earlier than expected as Drake London and Garrett Wilson went eighth and 10th overall. With Detroit pushing to trade up from No. 32 for Jameson Williams, New Orleans wouldn't have been able to wait much longer to land one of the top-four receivers. Williams' torn ACL may have played a strong part in why Olave went ahead of him. 

    Selecting Olave or even trading up while the clock was ticking weren't necessarily mistakes. However, in early April, the Saints paid a heavy price to trade to No. 16 with Philadelphia. They lost leverage by making the move early. 

    For a team constantly trying to win in the margins with its salary-cap manipulations, losing extra picks may prove costly. 

4. New England Patriots: Reaching for Cole Strange in the 1st Round

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    The most shocking first-round pick, by far, was New England selecting Chattanooga offensive guard Cole Strange.

    He is a phenomenal athlete, and his addition will help fill a long-term hole New England had. Part of the mistake for New England is they created the hole initially by trading Shaq Mason for a fifth-round pick. 

    New England had major holes for an edge-rusher and linebacker. Instead of addressing those needs, the Patriots used their best asset for a player universally regarded as a Day 2, developmental project. The live reaction from Los Angeles Rams general manager Les Snead and head coach Sean McVay captured just how surprising it was to see a player they were considering with the No. 104 selection go at No. 29.

    While it's good the Patriots traded down before taking Strange to accumulate more assets to use later, their need to move down every year costs them difference-making talent. The Patriots' roster lacks playmakers on both sides of the ball.

    Instead of adding a potential star on defense, New England reached for someone who won't make a big difference in 2022.  

3. Carolina Panthers: Drafting Matt Corral Instead of Trading for Baker Mayfield

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    Rogelio V. Solis/Associated Press

    There's nothing wrong with taking a developmental passer in the middle rounds of a draft. However, for Carolina, using the 94th overall pick on Matt Corral was a long-term decision for a coaching staff that may only be around for the short-term. They could have used that pick to land Baker Mayfield instead.

    Mayfield is clearly on the block after Cleveland acquired Deshaun Watson. The Browns have little leverage considering his $18.9 million salary is guaranteed and there are only a handful of starting jobs available. Carolina needs to win in 2022 and has a roster built for it outside of a decent quarterback.

    Corral has talent but also a bevy of off-field concerns that could prevent a fast ascension on the depth chart. It's not crazy to think Cleveland would have eaten some of Mayfield's salary and accepted the 94th pick in return for its former starter. Had Carolina acquired Mayfield, the team's 2022 outlook would have been much brighter.  

2. Washington Commanders: Reaching on Offensive Picks

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    The Washington Post/Getty Images

    The beneficiary of New Orleans' second aggressive trade up, Washington decided that the combination of wide receiver Jahan Dotson, the 98th overall pick and 120th overall pick was better than either Chris Olave or Jameson Williams.

    The 98th pick turned into Alabama running back Brian Robinson Jr., and No. 120 was traded to Carolina for two fifth-rounders. Washington also selected defensive tackle Phidarian Mathis in the second round.

    Dotson fills a need at wide receiver next to Terry McLaurin. However, there was a clear drop-off from the top four receivers of the class to Dotson. In prime position to get one of the elite playmakers with blazing speed, Washington went with the smaller, less gifted athlete in Dotson.

    The 5'10", 178-pounder is small, and his 7.28 three-cone time at the combine highlighted a limited skill set. Even if Dotson proves to be a good second option next to McLaurin, the physical upside is drastically higher for his peers. Washington took a second-day talent in the middle of the first round.

    They reached again on running back Brian Robinson Jr. Our own scouting report of Robinson had him as a fifth-round talent because of his inconsistencies in pass blocking, average athleticism and mediocre vision. Taking a back in the third round who lacks the traits to become more than a backup behind Antonio Gibson and J.D. McKissic is a wasted asset. 

1. Pittsburgh Steelers: Taking Kenny Pickett in the 1st Round

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Kenny Pickett was the only first-round quarterback selected, and the next passer wasn't taken until 54 picks later when Desmond Ridder went to the Atlanta Falcons.

    The Pittsburgh Steelers not only overestimated the quarterback market, but they also selected the riskiest prospect among the top passers. Pickett's pathway to success in the loaded AFC is more difficult than that of his peers in this class.

    Desmond Ridder was a more consistent producer throughout his career and boasts a better arm than Pickett. Malik Willis has one of the strongest arms in the NFL and elite rushing ability, at least providing a chance he could go toe-to-toe with the likes of Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen and Deshaun Watson. Pickett has his strengths on roll-outs and short passes, but he's all too similar to new teammate Mitchell Trubisky.

    If Pickett is indeed limited to an average ceiling, the Steelers will be stuck in mediocrity as they look to replace him in a few years. Pittsburgh can't afford wasted time with a passer who doesn't directly lead a team to wins.

    The high quality of this team's coaching staff, defense and receiving corps made this a premium landing spot for a star quarterback.