You can’t fully assess a draft class after one season, but it’s safe to say that Sauce Gardner will be remembered for being one of the best players from the 2022 NFL draft after a special rookie season.
Gardner commands most of the spotlight, but many rookies flourished at wide receiver last season, including Garrett Wilson, Drake London and Chris Olave, to name a few.
Even a few offensive linemen who weren’t drafted inside the top 10 made immediate impacts for their respective teams.
This made us wonder how the 2022 draft would play out today, knowing what we know now. Or we’re just bored at The MMQB during the slow period of the NFL offseason, but regardless, it’s still worth examining how a draft redo would play out.
1. Jaguars: Sauce Gardner, CB
Original pick: Travon Walker, edge
Gardner quickly established himself as one of the best cornerbacks in the league with a historic rookie season. He might already be the best, but Denver’s Patrick Surtain II can argue against that. That’s how high Gardner set the bar in 2022, as a shutdown 6'3", 200-pound cornerback who can excel in man or zone coverage. Cornerbacks don’t get drafted No. 1, but the Jaguars likely wouldn’t hesitate to take Gardner knowing what we know now.
2. Lions: Aidan Hutchinson, edge
Original pick: Hutchinson
This one is tricky, because Hutchinson didn’t perform as well as some of the top-10 draft picks on this reshuffled list. But without Hutchinson, the Lions would be in trouble at edge rusher and perhaps wouldn’t have as much hype as they do today. Hutchinson might never reach the level of Nick Bosa or T.J. Watt, but he flashed as a consistent playmaker who might average around 10 sacks per season throughout his career. Hutchinson had 9.5 sacks and 15 quarterback hits last season.
3. Texans: Garrett Wilson, WR
Original pick: Derek Stingley Jr., CB
Wilson’s sturdy hands and yards-after-catch skills made him a dynamic weapon for the Jets, despite poor quarterback play last season. Wilson, who was named Offensive Rookie of the Year, had 83 catches for 1,103 yards and four touchdowns. His numbers will probably look better in 2023 with Aaron Rodgers as his starting quarterback. But in this alternative universe, Wilson would make life easier for incoming rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud.
4. Jets: Tariq Woolen, CB
Original pick: Gardner
The Jets missed on Gardner but landed the athletic 6'4", 210-pound Woolen, whose vast skill set make him one of the league’s top defensive playmakers. Many teams tested Woolen, a fifth-round draft pick, throughout his rookie season and often learned he’s the real deal. Woolen, who recorded a league-high six interceptions, still needs polish in coverage, but his ball skills will make quarterbacks think twice before throwing in his direction.
5. Giants: Drake London, WR
Original pick: Kayvon Thibodeaux, edge
Giants quarterback Daniel Jones has a handful of speedy downfield threats. But he’s missing a legit No. 1 target who can consistently haul in contested catches. London would fill the void as a physical 6'4", 213-pound playmaker with a large catch radius. Similar to Wilson, London also made an immediate impact despite shaky quarterback play, with 72 catches for 866 yards and four touchdowns.
6. Panthers: Brock Purdy, QB
Original pick: Ikem Ekwonu, OT
With the way Purdy performed and with Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold atop Carolina’s QB depth chart last season, the Panthers would gladly draft Purdy here—256 spots and six rounds earlier than the 49ers took him last year as the final pick in the draft. Purdy quickly took command of the 49ers’ offense, displaying accuracy (67.1%) and the ability to decipher defenses to put his playmakers in ideal spots during his eight starts last season. In the real world, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Bryce Young plays in a similar fashion during his rookie year in Carolina.
7. Giants: Ekwonu
Original pick: Evan Neal, OT
The Giants pair London with Ekwonu, who might develop as the best tackle in the 2022 draft class in a few years. Ekwonu, however, had his rocky moments last year, and a few other rookie tackles performed better than him, but his first-round traits and flashes last season give him the highest ceiling at the position. Perhaps the same can be said for Neal, but he struggled in many areas and didn’t have enough flashes to be mentioned in this draft redo.
8. Falcons: Chris Olave, WR
Original pick: London, WR
Olave has the opposite skill set of London as a burner with sub-4.4 speed in the 40-yard dash. Olave averaged 14.5 yards per reception last season, which was more than Wilson (13.3) and London (12.0). But Olave is more than just a downfield threat; he’s a savvy route runner who racked up 72 catches for 1,042 yards and four touchdowns last season.
9. Seahawks: Kayvon Thibodeaux, edge
Original pick: Charles Cross, OT
Similar to Hutchinson, Thibodeaux also flashed enough to be considered one of the best players in this draft class after a year. Thibodeaux often found himself in the backfield, but left many plays on the field, with only four sacks. He’ll need to capitalize on his opportunities moving forward, but he at least proved he can consistently win his matchups.
10. Jets: Christian Watson, WR
Original pick: Wilson, WR
After a rocky start to his rookie season, Watson, a second-round pick, flourished in the final eight games with a combined 523 yards and seven touchdown receptions. The 6'5", 208-pound Watson might be the most versatile wide receiver in a deep class at the position, with a blend of size and athleticism—he clocked a 4.36 in the 40-yard dash during the combine.
11. Saints: Jahan Dotson, WR
Original pick: Olave, WR
Dotson didn’t have the numbers in his rookie season, such as the first four wideouts taken in this draft redo, partly because he was sidelined five games last season. But he has the potential of being a dynamic downfield threat after averaging 14.9 yards per reception with seven touchdowns.
12. Lions: Stingley, CB
Original pick: Jameson Williams, WR
As of now, Stingley is known as the cornerback taken ahead of Gardner, but he’ll be more than that when it’s all said and done because of his all-around skill set. Stingley had a quiet rookie season because of a hamstring injury. Also, the Texans didn’t adjust the defensive scheme to suit his strengths. Perhaps that will change under new Texans coach DeMeco Ryans. But in this situation, the Lions would be thrilled to land Stingley to pair with Hutchinson.
13. Eagles: Kyle Hamilton, S
Original pick: Jordan Davis, DT
With the way the Eagles plan ahead, they probably had Hamilton high on their draft board before selecting Davis and later trading for defensive back C.J. Gardner-Johnson. Hamilton had somewhat of an under-the-radar rookie season, but Pro Football Focus took notice, giving him an 87.6 defensive grade, the highest among all safeties last season.
14. Ravens: Trent McDuffie, CB
Original pick: Hamilton, S
McDuffie stepped up his play late last season to form a standout cornerback duo with L’Jarius Sneed en route to a Super Bowl title in Kansas City. With the way the Ravens develop cornerbacks, McDuffie would get another ideal landing spot here.
15. Texans: Davis, DT
Original pick: Kenyon Green, OG
The Texans had arguably the worst interior defensive line last season, as the defense allowed a league-worst 170.2 rushing yards per game. Davis didn’t play much last season, but he’s known for stopping the run.
16. Commanders: Williams, WR
Original pick: Dotson, WR
Williams’s NFL start has been filled with setbacks, but it’s too soon to overlook his potential for this re-drafting exercise. Williams played only six games as a rookie due to injury and was suspended the first six games of this season for violating the league’s gambling policy.
17. Chargers: Tyler Smith, OL
Original pick: Zion Johnson, OG
Many were surprised about the Cowboys selecting Smith in the first round last year, but he quickly proved them right after playing at a high level as the temporary left tackle while Tyron Smith was sidelined with injury. Now the Cowboys are counting on him to produce at guard for his second season.
18. Titans: George Pickens, WR
Original pick: Treylon Burks, WR
Pickens, a second-round pick, could be on the verge of a breakout season after being a reliable playmaker for Kenny Pickett last season (52 catches, 801 yards, four touchdowns). The Titans didn’t get much from Burks in 2022.
19. Saints: Braxton Jones, OT
Original pick: Trevor Penning, OT
The Bears had a dreadful offensive line last season, but Jones shouldn’t be grouped with the unit after emerging as a standout fifth-round rookie, especially as a run blocker. He gets the nod over Penning, who missed 11 games last season.
20. Steelers: Pickett, QB
Original pick: Pickett, QB
Pickett showed enough promise in his rookie season to enter his second year as the clear starting quarterback. After taking the job from Mitchell Trubisky in Week 5, Pickett kept improving on a weekly basis, despite his subpar statistics of 2,404 yards, seven touchdowns and nine interceptions.
21. Chiefs: Travon Walker, Edge
Original pick: McDuffie, CB
Walker had a disappointing rookie season as the No. 1 pick in the real draft. But sometimes it’s more about team fit than the player. Walker probably would have had more than 3.5 sacks playing with the Chiefs’ underrated defense.
22. Packers: Cross, OT
Original pick: Quay Walker, LB
The Packers passed on an offensive tackle in the first round of the real draft this year, but that’s not the case here. Cross fell from the top 10 after an inconsistent season in Seattle, but the 6'5", 307-pound tackle showed enough potential in 2022.
23. Bills: Breece Hall, RB
Original pick: Kaiir Elam, CB
Hall might have beaten his teammate Wilson for Offensive Rookie of the Year had he stayed healthy throughout his rookie season. Hall had 463 rushing yards and averaged 5.8 yards per carry before tearing his ACL in Week 7.
24. Cowboys: Tyler Linderbaum, C
Original pick: Smith, OL
Linderbaum had a memorable rookie season and might have played better than the Cowboys’ current starting center, Tyler Biadasz, who made the Pro Bowl last season as an alternate.
25. Ravens: Jaquan Brisker, S
Original pick: Linderbaum, C
Brisker filled the stat sheet last season with 104 tackles, five tackles for loss, four sacks and one interception. The Ravens don’t land Hamilton here but get a savvy playmaking safety.
26. Jets: Penning, OT
Original pick: Jermaine Johnson II, edge
Penning hardly played last season because of injury, but he has a reputation for being a standout run blocker and would help with the Jets’ current concerns at tackle.
27. Jaguars: Zion Johnson, OG
Original pick: Devin Lloyd, LB
The Jaguars’ two first-round picks last season went through plenty of growing pains on the field. Perhaps they’d be better off playing it safe with a reliable guard such as Johnson.
28. Packers: Quay Walker
Original pick: Devonte Wyatt, DT
The Packers originally took Walker with the No. 22 pick. They don’t pass on him twice here. Walker, who had 121 total tackles in 2022, struggled against the run, but he was reliable in coverage and as a pass rusher.
29. Patriots: Abraham Lucas, OT
Original pick: Cole Strange, OG
Lucas played better than his teammate Cross last season as Seattle’s right tackle, but again, we shouldn’t get carried away after one season. Lucas, a third-round pick, would fill a void in New England with tackle being a position of need.
30. Chiefs: Jermaine Johnson II, edge
Original pick: George Karlaftis, edge
The Chiefs double-dip at edge rusher. Johnson played only 34% of the Jets’ defensive snaps last season, but he displayed a well-rounded skill set during his opportunities. He could have formed a quality pass-rushing rotation with Frank Clark and Walker last season in Kansas City if this draft order were true.
31. Bengals: Kenneth Walker III, RB
Original pick: Dax Hill, S
Two running backs go in the first round of this draft do-over, just how two went in the real draft in April. Running backs are making a comeback, and Walker is one of the better ones after rushing for 1,050 yards and nine touchdowns last season.
32. Vikings: Burks, WR
Original pick: Lewis Cine, S
As mentioned, it’s too soon to write off players after one season. Burks would add depth behind Justin Jefferson and perhaps would have had a better rookie season in Minnesota. Burks started only six games and recorded 33 catches for 444 yards and one touchdown with the Titans.