For losing so many games the previous season, teams are supposed to “win” with their picks on the first night of the NFL Draft. Bad seasons lead to good draft positions, whether it’s by design or not. These victories are symbolic, of course. Roger Goodell doesn’t hand out a trophy for “winning” the draft.
But, like everyone else who puts way too much into the draft’s first 32 selections, we present the winners and losers of Round 1.
Travon Walker: Players have boosted their draft stock before with breakout combine performances, but it’s unprecedented for someone completely off the radar to emerge as the draft’s top selection. Walker, not the biggest name on a talented Georgia defense, achieved that in a matter of weeks. So he’s already posted a pretty big W for himself. The challenge now is making a sizable impact on the Jaguars to make victories a regular occurrence. The burden of being a No. 1 pick will surely weigh on Walker, but at least he’ll be able to develop in Jacksonville without intense media scrutiny.
Detroit Lions: Despite their 3-13-1 record last season, the Lions played hard under first-year head coach Dan Campbell. They just didn’t have any playmakers, and it made their mistakes that much more costly. On Thursday, they added not one but two players who have the potential to change games. Aidan Hutchinson, selected with the No. 2 pick, is the front-seven force to anchor the defense, while Jameson Williams, arguably the best of an exceptional class of wide receivers, gives the Lions a talent to build around on offense.
New York Jets: After the Texans chose cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. with the No. 3 pick, the Jets selected the best cornerback of the draft in Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner from Cincinnati. They then selected Ohio State’s Garrett Wilson, arguably the best wide receiver of the 2022 class, with the 10th pick to give second-year QB Zach Wilson a much-needed dynamic playmaker. But the Jets weren’t done. When Florida State edge rusher Jermaine Johnson II inexplicably kept sliding down the draft board, they traded with Tennessee to move up to No. 26 and add a third player who’ll make an immediate impact. With those decisions, the Jets won Night 1 of the draft.
Kayvon Thibodeaux: He entered last season as the presumptive top pick of the 2022 draft. A lackluster junior year at Oregon marred by injuries set off the questions that would surround the supremely talented edge rusher going into the draft process. The whispers grew louder as his game, character and work ethic fell under the draft-process microscope, especially his varied interests outside football. One TV draft analyst (OK, it was ESPN’s Mel Kiper) had him going as low as 12th to the Vikings in his final mock draft. Well, Thibodeaux didn’t go No. 1 overall, but he did end up in a city where his big personality can shine — New York — after the Giants took him with the No. 5 pick. "They are getting a leader, they are getting a competitor, a guy who wants to win at any need," Thibodeaux told reporters. Two spots later, the Giants added tackle Evan Neal to complete a productive first round.
Malik Willis: The stock of this quarterback class was already falling. It’s just a surprise that Willis slipped all the way out of the first round. The prevailing thought was that the Pittsburgh Steelers would deem the Liberty standout as their successor to Ben Roethlisberger, but when they had their pick of QBs at No. 20, the Steelers opted for local star Kenny Pickett of Pitt. The good news for Willis is that he won’t be waiting for a phone call from a team’s general manager too long on Friday. The Titans, Seahawks, Lions, Saints and Panthers still need quarterbacks.
Nakobe Dean: The linebacker was the best player on the dominating defense of national champion Georgia. Somehow, he didn’t join his five Bulldogs teammates as first-round selections. Makes no sense.
New England Patriots: Who are we to criticize Bill Belichick. But still — you trade down and then draft Cole Strange? Weird.