The 2022 NFL draft is in the books, rookie minicamps & OTAs are in the books, before we tackle another long NFL season, let’s look back at the draft classes. We at Mental Dimes have taken the liberty of breaking them down division by division & today I’m focusing on the AFC South.
The Jaguars had the first overall pick for the 2nd year in a row after a train wreck of a season that started & ended Urban Meyers’ tenure as an NFL head coach. But the future still looks bright with Trevor Lawrence under center. They used the 1st overall pick this season on Travon Walker, the edge rusher from Georgia that will pair well with former Kentucky Wildcat Josh Allen to give them a dynamic duo getting after QBs in Duval. Travon Walker is an athletic freak who wowed scouts when he burst onto the scene during the scouting combine. Walker has a great mixture of size and speed that GM Trent Baalke couldn’t pass up. The Jaguars traded back up in the first round to draft Devin Lloyd, a versatile defender out of the university of Utah, Lloyd can be used as a chess piece all over the defense, a downhill thumper that also brings pass rush ability. After trading up they didn’t have a pick until the 3rd round. In the 3rd round the Jaguars drafted Luke Fortner, the center from Kentucky, who can play any position on the interior of the line & has a master’s degree in aerospace engineering so he has a big brain to learn the playbook fast & be an excellent center helping keep Trevor Lawrence upright for the foreseeable future. They followed that 3rd round pick up with another, they drafted Chad Muma another LB, Muma is a rangy LB who’s great in space and coverage. In the 5th round the Jaguars drafted Snoop Conner a RB from Ole Miss. Conner is a versatile back who can have a future in the league, but he will be fighting former 1st round pick Travis Etienne & James Robinson who was a UDFA but has played very well when thrust into action. The Jaguars finalized their draft with a pair of CBs in the 6th & 7th rounds. Gregory Junior from Ouachita Baptist. Junior was the first player from Ouachita Baptist to ever be drafted. The 5’11 203 pound CB ran a 4.45 at his pro day & could help out on special teams right away. In the 7th round they drafted Montaric Brown out of Arkansas Brown was a first team all-SEC pick in 2021 after leading the conference in interceptions with 5. His 4.55 40 hurt his draft stock, but he’s good in underneath coverage & has a nose for the football.
Possibly the biggest off-season move for the Houston Texans was the trading of pro-bowl caliber QB Deshaun Watson to the Cleveland Browns after sexual assault allegations began to pile up. The Texans used those draft picks & salary cap space to go into a full on rebuild after Davis Mills showed signs of being a franchise QB. The Texans held the 3rd overall pick & used that pick on Derek Stingley Jr. a CB from LSU aka DBU. The Texans have begun building a defense for head coach Lovie Smith to have at his disposal. Stingley Following an impressive freshman year in 2019 Stingley has only played 10 games in the past 2 seasons due to injuries & covid in 2020, but the signs are there. He didn’t work out at the combine, but at his LSU pro day he reminded everybody why he was one of the top CB prospects in the draft. The Texans needed to upgrade a secondary that ranked 29th in the league last season in yards per pass attempt. They followed up this pick with another first round pick in Kenyon Green, an offensive guard out of Texas A&M. Green was widely considered the top guard in the draft & after seeing several Tackles go in the top 10 it was a smarter move to grab the top OL instead of reaching for a tackle at this point. In the 2nd round the Texans continued building their secondary by drafting Jalen Pitre. Pitre is a speedy safety out of Baylor with the versatility to play center field & play in the box in run support as well, the Texans got first round value with this 2nd round pick. They followed this pick up with another 2nd round pick, drafting John Metchie III. The Alabama WR saw his draft stock drop due to injury, but when healthy he was one of the best WRs in college football last season so the Texans get another great value with this pick. In the 3rd round the Texans continued adding to the defense adding Christian Harris. Harris is an athletic LB that has the versatility to cover TEs down the field as well as going sideline to sideline and making plays all over the field, he should be great in Lovie’s zone based defense. In the 4th round the Texans drafted Dameon Pierce, the bruising back out of Florida who shared the backfield in college keeping miles off his legs. I think Pierce could push for playing time right away & might be the starting RB by year’s end in Houston. A key cog in Lovie Smith’s defense is that 3 technique DT, the Texans addressed that in the 5th round by drafting Thomas Booker out of Stanford. The versatile DT has the ability to clog holes in the run game while also having the athleticism needed to be a good pass rusher in this defense. The Texans get another steal here in the draft. In the 5th round they drafted Teagan Quitoriano out of Oregon State this TE will be a good safety blanket for Davis Mills if he gets in trouble in the backfield. The Texans finished their draft earlier than most, their final pick came in the 6th round where they drafted Austin Deculus, an OT out of LSU. Deculus is a four-year starter at OT with plenty of big-game experience. Some coaching could help him clean up some of his technique, but he could play RT or slide inside to guard if needed. The Texans are investing in Davis Mills with this pick & will give him every chance possible to prove he can be the man. If not they have draft picks early to grab a QB next year in the draft.
The Colts 1st round pick went to the Philadelphia Eagles as part of the Carson Wentz trade a year ago, however they traded Wentz to the Washington Commanders for a 3rd round pick this season & traded that to the Falcons for Matt Ryan. So, all in all I feel they upgraded at that position by getting a former MVP for a 3rd round pick. The Colts were late to the party on draft night, but that didn’t stop them from making some good picks. In the 2nd round the Colts drafted Alec Pierce, the 6’3 WR out of Cincinnati. I’m a little biased, but Pierce was one of my favorite WRs in the draft. His blend of size & speed makes him a uniquely talented athlete, he ran a 4.4 40-yard dash & played LB before switching to WR so he has toughness that some WRs just don’t possess. In the 3rd round the Colts drafted Jelani Woods, a big strong TE out of Virginia. This could have been the best TE in this draft, a big strong vertical threat that gives them a big-time red zone threat. They used their other third round pick on Bernhard Raimann. The former TE turned IT has the athletic ability to play the left side & mirror pass rushers well. He showed off his athleticism in the senior bowl going against higher competition than he faced at Central Michigan, Raimann has all the tools to succeed at the next level & with NFL coaching he could be a franchise LT. The Colts used the 3rd of their 3rd round picks on Nick Cross, a versatile Safety out of Maryland who can play either Safety position. Another steal in the draft heading to Indianapolis. The colts went best player available in this draft & that’s why they are continuously in the playoff hunt. In the 5th round the Colts drafted Eric Johnson, an IDL out of Missouri State who could be part of the defensive rotation immediately. The Colts have made an effort over the years to bolster the trenches & this is another pick in that same mold. In the 6th round they got Matt Ryan a new weapon with Andrew Ogletree the TE out of Youngstown State. Ogletree is a TE that checks all the boxes athletically and with Jelani Woods will allow the Colts to go into multiple TEsts to help protect an immobile QB & help open holes for one of the best RBs in the league. With their other 6th round pick they added more DL depth by drafting Curtis Brooks out of Cincinnati. Brooks is a penetrating DT that loves creating havoc in opposing offenses backfields. These DL picks will allow the colts to keep fresh legs rushing the passer all game long. They rounded out their draft by grabbing Rodney Thomas II a CB out of Yale Thomas could be an immediate contributor on special teams while he develops into a solid NFL CB.
The Tennessee Titans traded WR AJ Brown to the Philadelphia Eagles for a first-round pick. They used that 1st round pick on Treylon Burks. A big strong WR out of Arkansas. They’ll attempt to plug Burks in right where Brown was, which will put a lot of pressure on the young rookie, but Mike Vrabel is one of the best coaches in the league & will give Burks every chance to succeed. In the 2nd round the Titans drafted Roger McCreary, a CB out of Auburn. While questions surfaced about his arm length in the pre-draft process, he held his own in a loaded SEC West against NFL caliber WRs every week. In the 3rd round the Titans drafted Nicholas Petit-Frere, an athletic OT out of Ohio State that Tennessee will look to plug in on the right side across from Taylor Lewan. With possibly the steal of the entire draft the Titans grabbed Malik Willis out of Liberty who had first round grades written all over him. After Tannehill threw 3 INTs in the AFC playoff game everyone knew his days were numbered, but they never could have guessed they’d replace him with Willis. Willis may sit the bench & learn for a year, but he has the tools to be a successful NFL QB. In the 4th round they drafted Hassan Haskins out of Michigan. Haskins could be a nice 1-2 punch giving Derek Henry some rest when needed to help prevent injury. Haskins is a versatile back who can run well with straight line speed as well as catching the ball out of the backfield. The Titans used another 4th round pick on Chigoziem Okonkwo out of Maryland replacing the missing piece that left their offense last year in Jonnu Smith. He will be competing against Austin Hooper for snaps in the Titans offense, but there should be plenty of room to improve under Hooper as well. In the 5th round they drafted Kyle Philips the WR out of UCLA. Philips should plug into the slot WR role for the Titans, Chester Rogers filled that role last year, but he is currently a free agent, Philips is a savvy route runner who gets open by setting up defenders with head fakes & footwork much like Hunter Renfro in Vegas or former Titan Adam Humphries. In the 6th round they drafted Tennessee safety Theo Jackson keeping him local in the volunteer state to help fill the hole Dane Cruikshank left with free agency. The Titans finished the draft off by taking a flier on an athletic LB in Chance Campbell from Ole Miss. The 6’2 232-pound LB had a great combine running a 4.57 40 & jumping 39.5 inches on the vertical showing off his explosiveness in his lone season at Ole Miss he racked up 127 tackles. At the very least Campbell will be an excellent special teamer while he develops into a starting LB his speed & willingness to tackle will bode well for him as he takes the next step in his career.
All 4 of these teams drafted well overall, the Jags & Texans plugged holes while the Titans & Colts improved playoff caliber rosters with this draft. Another high-level division & only time will tell if these picks & other off-season moves turn out well or be busts & send those teams back to square one, but that’s what makes the draft so exciting to me as a football fan I try to be knowledgeable about a lot of the prospects to know what I can expect to see at the next level. As far as my favorite draft class in this division it’s a tough choice. I love what the Jags put out on defense & I think Luke Fortner will be a great NFL center, but I am a biased Kentucky fan. The Titans as I said may have gotten the steal of the draft in the third round taking Willis. The Texans have started a rebuild & are giving Davis Mills a chance to succeed. But my favorite class resides in Indianapolis. Most of this is due to the Alec Pierce pick & the Bernhard Raimann pick who selfishly I wanted in Chicago for my bears. They also upgraded at the QB position by bringing in Matty Ice, but they also filled up on a defensive line rotation with late round picks that could pay off & grabbed a couple of TEs that could give them flexibility in play calling & offensive formations.