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NFL Draft 2022: Cleaning out the notebook from the first round of the draft

Related: Patriots draft Chattanooga OL Cole Strange with the 29th overall pick

NFL: New York Jets at New England Patriots David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

The first round of the 2022 NFL Draft is in the books, and it certainly was an entertaining affair fitting for the city it took place in. We saw some wild trades, player free-falls and intriguing decisions being made. We also saw the New England Patriots move down the board before making one of the most surprising picks of the night.

Please click here for a full pick-by-pick recap of Thursday’s action. In the meantime, let’s clean out the notebook from what happened over the course of the first 32 picks.

The first round went off the rail fast

It did not take long for the draft to go bonkers. In fact, one could argue that the first overall pick was the first piece of surprise already. Tavon Walker had recently developed into the betting favorite to go No. 1 to the Jacksonville Jaguars over Aidan Hutchinson, but it was still a “aha” moment when it indeed happened.

This opened the floodgates. Hutchinson went second overall to Detroit, followed by back-to-back cornerbacks — Derek Stingley Jr. to the Houston Texans and Ahmad Gardner to the New York Jets — and three more linemen; defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux and offensive tackle Evan Neal to New York, bookending Ikem Ekwonu to Carolina.

When the Atlanta Falcons went up to pick wideout Drake London eighth overall, the floodgates truly started to open.

Between picks No. 10 and No. 12 we saw three straight wideouts come off — including Alabama’s Jameson Williams, whose presence prompted the Lions to trade up 20 spots with the Minnesota Vikings. That trade, by the way, was rather reasonable for Detroit and not so much for the team’s division rivals.

We then saw several more trades involving picks, players, picks and players. Among the teams moving were the Patriots from No. 21 to No. 29.

“Even though there was quite a bit of movement, going into it we tried to have an awareness of what some of the teams around us were doing,” New England head coach Bill Belichick said after the first round.

“But there were a number of trades, there were a couple of player-for-player trades, which is kind of unusual to see. The deck kind of got shuffled a little bit there.”

It did indeed, Bill. It did indeed.

New England gets great value out of its trade-down

Speaking of trades, the Patriots were able to get some good value out of their trade-down with the Kansas City Chiefs. They moved out of the 21st overall draft slot and obtained the 29th, 94th, and 121st overall picks in the process of doing so.

According to Rich Hill’s updated trade chart, New England earned 180.9 value points through that trade while giving up “only” 174.9. That 16-point different is roughly the equivalent of a mid-fourth-round selection.

That is a good trade, especially given that...

Bill Belichick doesn’t care about your draft board

When it comes to cornerback, the board was falling perfectly for New England. After the aforementioned Stingley Jr. and Gardner were drafted third and fourth overall, respectively, no players at the position were picked. When the Patriots were on the clock at No. 21, they had their choice of second-tier CBs.

Washington’s Trent McDuffie was still there, as were Florida’s Kaair Elam and Clemson’s Andrew Booth Jr. — three players with immediate starter-level upside and CB1 potential. The Patriots, a reminder, are in need of that after losing Pro Bowler J.C. Jackson in free agency.

Apparently, however, New England did not like those second tier CBs enough to pick one of them. The trade-down with Kansas City and Belichick’s post-draft statements paint a clear picture here.

“The board was — players came off the board pretty much like we thought they would for the most part, and that’s — again, felt like we made the best option,” he said. “We took the best option that we had, whether it was at 21 or 29, whatever it ended up being, 29. At those two points we felt like we made the best choice that we could.”

That choice was Chattanooga interior offensive lineman Cole Strange. Originally expected to become a Day 2 pick, Strange came off the board at No. 29 and as the fourth IOL taken behind Kenyon Green (15 to Houston), Zion Johnson (17 to Los Angeles), and Tyler Linderbaum (25 to Baltimore).

The pick was one of the big surprises of the first round, but one that does make sense. Strange, after all, is a phenomenal player who will be a Day 1 starter in New England and give the Patriots a physical mauler to protect Mac Jones.

Cole Strange was not the only eyebrow-raising selection

The Strange selection was just that to many fans and analysts alike, but it was far from the only surprise happening in Day 1. Other picks falling into that category include guard Kenyon Green to Houston at No. 15, wide receiver Jahan Dotson to Washington one selection later, and offensive tackle Tyler Smith to Dallas at No. 24.

The same goes for Kyle Hamilton and Jermaine Johnson, but for different reasons. While Smith, Dotson and Strange in particular can be classified as “reaches” based on their pre-draft projection, Hamilton and Johnson were in a free fall for no obvious reasons. Hamilton’s was ended by the Baltimore Ravens at No. 14, while Johnson remained on the board until the Jets picked him up 26th overall.

Then, there is Kenny Pickett. One year after five quarterbacks were drafted in the first round — all within the first 15 picks, including the Patriots’ Mac Jones — he was the position group’s lone representative on Thursday. With Ben Roethlisberger retired, the Pittsburgh Steelers picked him up 20th overall.

The wide receiver market continues to be wild

Arguably the biggest decision-driver in the first round was the wide receiver position. As noted above, the Falcons kickstarted a run when they went after Drake London at No. 8; he was the first of six receivers coming off in the span of 11 selections:

  • 1-8: Drake London to Atlanta Falcons
  • 1-10: Garrett Wilson to New York Jets
  • 1-11: Chris Olave to New Orleans Saints
  • 1-12: Jameson Williams to Detroit Lions
  • 1-16: Jahan Dotson to Washington Commanders
  • 1-18: Treylon Burks to Tennessee Titans

The Titans were quite active on the wide receiver market in general. Not only did they draft Burks at No. 18, they also traded star wideout A.J. Brown to the Philadelphia Eagles along the way; Brown went on to get a four-year, $100 million contract extension signed immediately.

Brown was not the only member of 2019’s impressive wide receiver class to be traded on Thursday. Marquise Brown was moved from Baltimore to Arizona just a few minutes earlier.

Another fourth-year wideout might just be on the move on the second or third day of the draft: the Patriots’ N’Keal Harry. As opposed to the Browns, he will not yield his team a first-round pick in return, though.

Four players are still in the green room

The green room at the NFL Draft is a pressure-packed zone. One after the other players leave to get called on stage, while those waiting behind are in an uncertain situation that gets more uncomfortable with every passing pick.

On Thursday, four of the 21 men present did not hear their names called: quarterbacks Malik Willis and Matt Corral, linebacker Nakobe Dean, and cornerback Kyler Gordon — the latter two potential targets for New England on Day 2.