NFL Draft News & Analysis

How the Jets' and Giants' game-changing 2022 NFL Draft classes could set the teams on a new course

Running back Breece Hall, cornerback Sauce Gardner and wide receiver Garrett Wilson took part in the New York Jets Rookie Camp, held at their practice facility in Florham Park, NJ on May 6, 2022. The New York Jets Held Rookie Camp At Their Practice Facility In Florham Park Nj On May 6 2022

The NFL landscape has witnessed annual ineptitude from the New York Giants and the New York Jets for over half a decade. The G-Men, specifically, haven't had a winning tenure since their short-lived 2016 playoff run, while the Jets haven’t registered a plus-.500 record since their 2015 season that ended without a playoff berth despite a 10-6 campaign. 

Having success in the 2022 NFL Draft was of dire importance for these two big-market organizations if they were to right the wrongs of prior reclamation projects. Both entered the draft with multiple top-10 picks, and the Jets even traded back into the first round with the Tennessee Titans to snag their third Day 1 player. The end result was each team adding multiple game-changing prospects who can be instant playmakers.

Only time will tell how the Jets and Giants 2022 draft classes stack up amongst other NFL teams' hauls, but it's clear on paper that the two squads majorly improved this offseason. Let's dive into each New York team's early-round draft picks, as well as a few late-round gems.

NEW YORK GIANTS

Round 1 (5): EDGE Kayvon Thibodeaux, Oregon

The Value: Thibodeaux was ranked the seventh-best draft prospect on PFF’s Big Board, and the Giants selected the edge rusher at fifth overall. The likelihood of Thibodeaux still being available at the Giants' second first-round pick (No. 7) was high considering how the board fell and the Carolina Panthers‘ major offensive line at No. 6 overall. Nonetheless, a team with well-documented pass-rushing needs selected the second-best edge rusher. It was a solid value selection, all things considered.

The Player: Thibodeaux’s talent was somewhat downplayed during the pre-draft process due to questions about his personality and commitment to the game of football. In an injury-hampered junior campaign at Oregon, he still registered a 35.3% pass-rush win percentage on true pass sets (fifth at the position) while collecting 47 total pressures en route to a 91.5 pass-rush grade. At 6-foot-3 and 254 pounds, he provides brute power that makes him an unreal defensive lineman pursuing the quarterback. His game-wrecking ability was on full display versus UCLA this past season, tallying nine total pressures — including four hurries, two hits and three sacks — on his way to a 90.6 pass-rushing grade. 

Run defense is still an area of improvement for Thibodeaux (just 19 stops on over 230 run defense snaps), but his overall upside is immense.

The Roster Impact: Adding Thibodeaux to the Giants' defensive front now creates an underrated quartet that’s more enticing to work with for new defensive coordinator Wink Martindale. Just last season, rookie Azeez Ojulari flashed his potential as an edge rusher (65.3 pass-rushing grade on true pass sets), while former first-round selection Dexter Lawrence led all Giants defensive linemen in pass-rushing grade (74.0) and true pass sets pass-rushing grade (82.9). A potential bounce-back season from fellow interior lineman Leonard Williams could help restore the dominance of past Giants defensive lines.

Round 1 (7): OT Evan Neal, Alabama

The Value: Out of the two remaining first-tier tackles to choose from, the Giants went with Neal, who PFF labeled as the sixth-best draft prospect and the third-best college tackle on the board. His versatility along Alabama's offensive line is coveted, and it’ll be useful as the Giants build up their offensive line.

The Player: Neal is a more complete offensive lineman than his other first-tier tackle prospect counterparts and gained experience playing left guard, right tackle and left tackle in his three seasons with the Crimson Tide. On film, Neal’s physical presence is put to work as an improved pass-protector (just 24 total pressures allowed the past two seasons) and a dominant run-blocker (two consecutive seasons of an 80.0-plus run-blocking grade).

In 2020, Neal registered just a 73.1 pass-blocking grade as a right tackle, dragged down by an underwhelming 67.4 pass-blocking grade on true pass sets (78th among all tackles). However, he starred as a run-blocker, posting an 86.4 run-blocking grade (T-20th). The evolution of his play as a lineman in college was perhaps a precursor to what he'll be capable of as an NFL tackle when he establishes a specific body type and a routine position along the offensive front. 

The Roster Impact: The jump Andrew Thomas took at left tackle from Year 1 to Year 2 was undeniable. Substantial improvements in overall grade (62.4 to 78.9) and pass-blocking grade (54.7 to 82.1) is exactly the sophomore leap many NFL teams want out of their second-year talents.

Once regarded as the Giants' weakest link on offense, the offensive line has become an underrated strength almost overnight with the inclusion of two young bookend tackles. Questions along the interior still remain, as veteran newcomers Jon Feliciano (56.9 overall grade in 2021) and Mark Glowinski (70.1) are expected to man the starting guard spots. For the time being, the Giants on paper now have their first competent offensive line in Daniel Jones‘ NFL tenure.

Biggest Draft Gem: Round 4 (114) — S Dane Belton, Iowa

The Value: The nickel safety position is a more coveted role in today's pass-happy NFL. Getting such an impactful talent in Belton during the middle rounds is a valuable asset for Giants defensive coordinator Wink Martindale.

The Player: Belton starred in his final college season at Iowa with the highest PFF coverage grade of his career (82.3). Playing as Iowa's “cash” defender, Belton thrived as a slot safety, allowing a 66.0 passer rating across 315 coverage snaps. He packs a powerful punch at 6-foot-1 and has shown an ability to thrive in a zone coverage slot role when given the opportunity (89.4 zone coverage grade in 2021).

The Roster Impact: Julian Love, a fourth-rounder in 2019, hasn’t been an ideal starting safety for the Giants. He allowed a troubling 108.7 passer rating in slot coverage in 2021, and his overall coverage grade hasn’t topped 60.0 in the two seasons since his rookie campaign. Belton being able to earn his stripes during training camp will go a long way toward him winning the slot safety job in 2022. 


NEW YORK JETS

Round 1 (4): CB Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, Cincinnati

The Value: The Jets decided to fast-track their secondary rebuild by taking PFF’s fourth-best draft prospect and the arguable CB1. Gardner would be a foundational cornerstone for any elite defense, and for the Jets to get him with their first top-10 selection is tremendous value. 

The Player: Gardner earned an 85.2 man coverage grade in his junior season after allowing just eight catches for 46 yards on 18 targets. The 6-foot-3 press cornerback thrived in physical man coverage situations while flexing some versatility in zone (70.6 coverage grade), making him the most complete cornerback prospect of the 2022 draft class. Jets head coach Robert Saleh had an aging Richard Sherman thrive in his press-zone scheme during his defensive coordinator stint in San Francisco. Sauce is a much more dynamic coverage prospect and can be an All-Pro talent by the end of his first NFL contract.

The Roster Impact: In one offseason, general manager Joe Douglas impressively remade a formerly anemic Jets secondary. The underrated signing of D.J. Reed from Seattle provides valuable competition for third-year product Bryce Hall for the No. 2 cornerback slot. Sauce as the Jets CB1 brings a level of coverage flexibility and prowess that the Jets have not had since Darrelle Revis. Each move to build up the Jets' defensive backfield puts the unit one step closer to becoming feared by opposing offenses for years to come.

Round 1 (10): WR Garrett Wilson, Ohio State

The Value: Garrett Wilson was PFF’s WR3 and the 14th-best prospect overall in the 2022 NFL Draft. General manager Joe Douglas prioritized getting a wide receiver with the team's 10th pick, and Wilson became his eventual guy. The former Ohio State standout's incredible upside makes the pick a big win for the team and quarterback Zach Wilson.

The Player: In his breakout junior season, Wilson posted an 84.5 receiving grade after tallying a 61.5% contested catch rate, 6.0 yards after the catch per reception and 19 forced missed tackles. In single coverage, 13 of his 18 catches went for first downs, and he hauled in five scores to complete an 85.9 receiving grade against man coverage. At the pro level, the former Buckeye can be the reliable top receiving option the Jets were missing last season. 

The Roster Impact: The Wilson-to-Wilson connection will only thrive if Zach Wilson takes the requisite steps forward as a passer in his second-year campaign. During his rookie season, his best passing depth grade came on underneath throws (69.3 grade on passes of 0-9 yards) — and even that mark wasn't anything to write home about. He’s not the most reliable medium-level passer, either (61.6 passing depth grade on throws spanning between 10-19 yards) and has a propensity to struggle under duress.

The Jets' talent at wide receiver is there with both Garrett Wilson and Corey Davis on the boundary and 2021 first-rounder Elijah Moore in the slot. Yet, when your franchise quarterback has very little to build upon from his rookie tenure as a passer, it makes his sophomore season a vital moment for his young career.

Round 1 (26): EDGE Jermaine Johnson II, Florida State

The Value: Johnson was the 32nd-ranked prospect on PFF’s draft board, and the Jets traded back into the first round to make him their third Day 1 selection. Johnson’s stock skyrocketed following a dominant weekend at the Senior Bowl, which made his freefall to No. 26 a bit of a shock. It was a value addition for general manager Joe Douglas, bringing in a credible pass-rusher to bolster the team's remodeled defensive front. 

The Player: Johnson came into the pre-draft process as one of the more complete edge prospects. His excellence on true pass sets (11 sacks and an 84.3 pass-rushing grade) and in run defense (22 run stops and a 78.9 run-defense grade) highlighted that fact in 2021. The former Georgia Bulldog transfer produced in a definitive starting role, and he did so in all facets.

The Roster Impact: Carl Lawson didn't play a down with the Jets last season after suffering a season-ending Achilles injury. In 2020 with the Cincinnati Bengals, Lawson earned an 84.9 pass-rushing grade after tallying 34 hurries, 24 hits and six sacks. With him returning alongside the rookie Johnson, the Jets suddenly have two bookend edge rushers who can terrorize opposing quarterbacks. Kicking John Franklin-Meyers inside (74.1 pass-rushing grade in 2021) to play alongside interior stud Quinnen Williams creates a fearsome foursome that is eerily similar to the frontline Robert Saleh had in San Francisco.

BIGGEST DRAFT GEM: Round 2 (36) — RB Breece Hall, Iowa State

The Value: Breece Hall was the 57th-best prospect on PFF’s big board and was RB2 behind Michigan State's Kenneth Walker. The Jets drafting a more bell-cow back adds a level of security within their backfield rotation that was full of inconsistency in 2021.

The Player: Hall was viewed by many as the top running back during the pre-draft process, and his numbers during his Iowa State tenure backed that up. In his final year with the Cyclones, Hall registered a stellar rushing grade (87.0), the highest offensive grade on the roster (86.6) and an underrated receiving grade that highlighted his versatility as a pass-catcher (80.0). He racked up 22 runs that eclipsed 15 yards or more alongside his 77 first-down runs.

The Roster Impact: With Hall in the fold, the Jets no longer have to worry about the RB1 role and can build the backfield depth behind it accordingly. Michael Carter was a mixed bag in his rookie campaign (77.3 rushing grade) and struggled as a pass-catcher (five drops, 58.9 receiving grade). How a healthy Tevin Coleman factors into a potential backfield trifecta (75.0 rushing grade in 2021) will remain to be seen, but the upside of Mike LaFleur's offensive rushing attack is through the roof if at full strength.

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