The value of receivers is skyrocketing. Just look at the enormous contracts being given out. Elite receivers are a step behind quarterbacks in the pecking order now, and not necessarily a big step behind.
The Green Bay Packers don’t agree with that movement. Or maybe they just couldn’t find a receiver they liked Thursday night in the NFL draft.
The Packers had two first-round picks after trading Davante Adams to the Las Vegas Raiders, and in a crazy and unpredictable draft the one bankable thing seemed to be Green Bay taking a receiver. It is a deep receiver class in an otherwise underwhelming draft. The Packers have a back-to-back MVP quarterback in Aaron Rodgers, whose window to reach a Super Bowl will be closing soon. After trading Adams, the Packers have very little at receiver. Sammy Watkins, the big addition, is unreliable. Allen Lazard is not a high-end starter. And yet, the Packers didn’t take a receiver in the first round.
Six of them were off the board by the time Green Bay was on the clock for the first time. The Packers took Georgia linebacker Quay Walker with the 22nd pick. Then they grabbed Georgia defensive tackle Devonte Wyatt with the 28th overall pick (making the Packers the first team ever to take two defenders from the same school in the first round of the same draft, according to ESPN). Maybe one of them can also catch the ball.
The draft isn’t over and maybe the Packers have a plan to address receiver. Maybe they think they’re set, assuming Rodgers can turn anyone into a star. Maybe, while the rest of the NFL seems to covet top receivers, the Packers don’t have the same value on the position. Perhaps they got caught flat-footed and saw all the receivers they like fly off the board, which would be inexcusable in a first round that saw nine trades. It’s not the worst thing to pass on a position if you don’t think one available to you is worth a first-round pick.
Regardless of the reason, the Packers finished Thursday without a new receiver. They didn’t trade for AJ Brown or even Marquise Brown. They could have drafted Georgia’s George Pickens (they obviously had plenty of Bulldogs film), South Alabama’s Jalen Tolbert, Western Michigan’s Skyy Moore or North Dakota State’s Christian Watson. They didn’t.
The Packers have two second-round picks that could be used on a receiver, but they come at Nos. 51 and 59. It’s hard to know which receivers will be left by then.
Maybe the Packers’ approach will be proven right. They’ll grab a future star receiver in the second round, will swing a trade before the season or simply don’t need any great proven receiver to pair with Rodgers. Maybe Walker and Wyatt will help turn the Packers defense into a championship unit.
But as the first round of the draft ended Thursday, it seemed weird. Green Bay’s star quarterback, who will turn 39 this season, currently has one of the worst receiving corps in the NFL to work with. Most go out of their way to give a star QB the best weapons possible. The Packers are going the other way. If it doesn’t work out, they’ll never hear the end of it.
Here are the rest of the winners and losers from the first round of the NFL draft:
New York Giants: The Giants have a new general manager, and will get one of the best grades for the 2022 draft.
It’s easy to get a good grade when you have two top-seven picks. The Giants got the fifth pick based on a bad season and the seventh pick in a trade down with the Chicago Bears last season, so there was a price attached to those picks. But the Giants used them well.
When Ikem Ekwonu and Evan Neal, the top two tackle prospects in the draft, were available at the No. 5 pick, new Giants GM Joe Schoen made a shrewd decision. He took Oregon edge rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux with the fifth pick. That meant the Giants were assured one of the top two tackles at No. 7. Carolina took Ekwonu at No. 6, and the Giants took Neal next. Even if the Giants had a higher grade on Ekwonu, it’s likely they didn’t have much separation between the two elite tackle prospects. They got Thibodeaux, who would have been a possibility for Carolina or maybe even a team looking to trade up for a top edge rusher, and the tackle they need. That’s a strong combination.
Dave Gettleman was mocked for some of his draft picks. We’ll see how the Giants’ two first-round selections pan out, but so far so good for Schoen.
New York Jets: Maybe we’ll look back at Thursday as a night Big Apple football started to take steps forward.
It’s easy to get a good draft grade when you have multiple first-round picks, but like the Giants, the Jets used their extra picks well. They took cornerback Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner fourth overall. Then they grabbed a receiver for second-year quarterback Zach Wilson, drafting Ohio State’s Garrett Wilson with the 10th pick.
The Jets weren’t done, trading back into the first round to take sliding Florida State edge defender Jermaine Johnson II with the 26th pick.
The Jets got a No. 1 cornerback 1 receiver and a strong pass rusher on Thursday night. Not too bad.
James Winston: Maybe Thursday night was a vote of confidence from the New Orleans Saints in Winston. Either way, it gives Winston a grand opportunity in 2022.
The Saints didn’t draft a quarterback in the first round. When they traded up to No. 11 it seemed they might take a QB there, but they took receiver Chris Olave. With their second first-round pick the Saints took offensive tackle Trevor Penning.
Instead of seeing the Saints draft his replacement, Winston got a new playmaking receiver and an upgrade on the offensive line. That’s a good night for him.
Las Vegas: Thursday was a big night for Las Vegas, at least in terms of being accepted as a destination for NFL events.
The NFL treated Vegas like it was evil for many years, and that attitude was pervasive just a few years ago. That is in the past now. The Pro Bowl was in Las Vegas, the draft is there this week and the Super Bowl is coming. The NFL’s 180 is complete.
“That’s three of our biggest tentpole events in five years,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said on NFL Network before the draft. “That’s going to really, I think, mesh the relationship between the NFL, the Raiders and Las Vegas.”
And the more exposure to Las Vegas, the more the NFL will understand that it’s a prime destination for its biggest events.
“This city probably was made for this event,” Goodell said. “It seems like it’s a perfect fit for us.”
Patrick Mahomes: All those words about the Packers not drafting a receiver? Most of them apply to the Kansas City Chiefs, too.
The Chiefs traded receiver Tyreek Hill, and with the extra first-round pick it seemed like a good bet they’d draft a receiver. Instead, the Chiefs traded up for cornerback Trent McDuffie at No. 21 and then took Purdue edge defender George Karlavtis with the 30th pick. The Chiefs needed to improve the defense and both picks make sense, but it still leaves holes at the receiver.
Like the Packers with Rodgers, the Chiefs are putting a lot of faith in Mahomes to make it work.
Jacksonville Jaguars: When you have a truly miserable season, the consolation prize is the first overall pick. It’s not so good when there’s no obvious top pick in the draft class.
The Jaguars made a bit of a controversial pick at No. 1, passing on a couple of potentially elite offensive tackles and defensive end Aidan Hutchinson to take Georgia edge rusher Travon Walker, whose college production didn’t match that of a first overall pick. Walker tested very well at the scouting combine and has a ton of potential. However, when you make a pick that goes against conventional wisdom, it is better work. It really better work if it’s first overall.
The Jaguars took a bigger risk than you’d assume from a first overall pick in most drafts. It wasn’t like last year, when they didn’t need to even think about taking quarterback Trevor Lawrence.
Passing on Kyle Hamilton: We can already write the takes we’ll see by midseason: “How did the rest of the NFL let Kyle Hamilton fall in the Baltimore Ravens’ laps?”
While commentators lauded the Philadelphia Eagles for trading ahead of the Ravens to take Georgia defensive tackle Jordan Davis, the Ravens stayed put at No. 14 and made what might end up being one of the best value picks in the draft. Hamilton, one of the best players in the draft, fell to 14th and the Ravens, who always seem to make the right pick at the right time.
Hamilton slipped because other positions are viewed as more valuable, and he ran a slow 40-yard dash at the scouting combine. But Hamilton played fast at Notre Dame and made a ton of plays. A versatile safety like Hamilton is quite valuable in an evolving NFL. And the Ravens landed him. The Ravens later traded down a couple spots and drafted Iowa center Tyler Linderbaum with the 25th overall pick, another solid value selection.
There will likely be regrets among teams that passed on Hamilton in years to come. They might regret passing Linderbaum too.