Redrafting the 2022 NFL Draft: Sauce Gardner, Ikem Ekwonu find new homes in the top three

Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA; New York Jets cornerback Sauce Gardner (1) celebrates following a play during the second quarter against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

• Jaguars make Sauce Gardner the No. 1 pick: The original No. 4 selection has established himself as a top cornerback in the NFL already.

• Seahawks trio jumps into first round: Tariq Woolen, Abraham Lucas and Kenneth Walker III have made big splashes so far this season despite all being later-round draft picks.

• Garrett Wilson becomes new WR1: The Jets wideout goes to the Giants at No. 7 in this re-draft, surpassing Drake London.

Estimated Reading Time: 11 mins

Is it too early for a do-over of the 2022 NFL Draft? Yes, it is. 

But will that stop us from having some fun using hindsight to shake up the picks now that we’ve seen what some of these players are capable of halfway through their rookie seasons? No, it won’t.

Obviously, NFL teams don’t pick players solely for the first few games they suit up as pros. The original draft picks were made with a long-term view in mind. Still, this draft format is a fun way to give a shoutout to those who are already standing out early in their careers. Here we go.

1. Jacksonville Jaguars: CB Sauce Gardner

Original Pick: EDGE Travon Walker

For as much as I’m sure the Jaguars believe Travon Walker can be a great edge player for them down the line, Sauce Gardner has to be the pick here. He has a 90.4 coverage grade on the season and has allowed only 20 catches for 189 yards on 347 coverage snaps. He feels like he’s a top-10 cornerback (maybe even higher) in the entire NFL already.

2. Detroit Lions: EDGE Aidan Hutchinson

Original Pick: EDGE Aidan Hutchinson

I still believe the Lions would have made Hutchinson the pick here, even with Walker on the board. Hutchinson leads all rookies with 4.5 sacks on the season, but his 61.4 pass-rush grade and 11.8% pass-rush win percentage show there’s still plenty left for him to tap into.

3. Houston Texans: OT Ikem Ekwonu

Original Pick: CB Derek Stingley Jr.

Ekwonu has the highest overall grade of any rookie offensive lineman this season, at 73.6. His run-blocking and pass-blocking grades are both steady at 71.4 and 70.0, respectively. He’s allowed three sacks on the year, but across 494 snaps. If Houston were going a different direction, this would be the one.

4. New York Jets: CB Derek Stingley Jr. 

Original Pick: CB Sauce Gardner

Stingley’s coverage numbers aren’t the best midway through his rookie season. He has a 53.3 coverage grade and has given up over 400 receiving yards. But he’s not exactly playing the style of coverage his skill set lends itself to (man coverage). If Gardner was off the board, the Jets would take Stingley here, and the grades would’ve been better.

5. New York Giants: EDGE Travon Walker

Original Pick: EDGE Kayvon Thibodeaux

Walker has basically been what we expected halfway through his rookie season. His play-to-play impact has been limited, but the flashes are brilliant. He has two sacks and ranks second among rookies in pressures (20), albeit with just a 51.4 pass-rush grade and a 9.4% pass-rush win percentage. His run-blocking grade (67.3) has been solid, as expected.

6. Carolina Panthers: OT Charles Cross

Original Pick: OT Ikem Ekwonu

Cross’ run-blocking grade still needs work (59.9), but his 71.8 pass-blocking grade is making up for it. He’s still allowed 25 pressures on the year, but you can see the promise he’s showing in the pass game with all the starting experience he's getting.

7. New York Giants (via Bears): WR Garrett Wilson

Original Pick: OT Evan Neal

Wilson is currently the highest-graded rookie wide receiver (81.4). He has 522 receiving yards, two touchdowns and 14 contested catches on 63 targets. He has already become the focal point of the Jets' passing game and wouldn’t get out of the top 10 in a re-draft.

8. Atlanta Falcons: WR Drake London

Original Pick: WR Drake London

The Falcons can’t have much buyer’s remorse with London at No. 8, so he stays the pick here. He’s been their go-to guy, earning a 79.1 receiving grade and tying for the league lead in most targets without a drop (55). His 15 contested catches rank second among rookies, and his 46.7% contested catch percentage is near the top, as well.

9. Seattle Seahawks (via Broncos): EDGE Kayvon Thibodeaux

Original Pick: OT Charles Cross

Thibodeaux missed some time due to injury, so his common stats are not near the top of the list. But he’s also shown some flashes of great play. He has 16 total pressures, which ranks fifth among rookies, and sports a 12.6% pass-rush win rate. A more healthy and confident Thibodeaux should increase those numbers as the season wears on.

10. New York Jets (via Seahawks): WR Chris Olave

Original Pick: WR Garrett Wilson

Olave currently leads all rookie wide receivers in yards (618), contested catches (16) and first downs (28) and ranks second only to Jahan Dotson in average depth of target (15.7). He has delivered in every way his scouting report said he would. 

11. New Orleans Saints (via Commanders): OT Evan Neal

Original Pick: WR Chris Olave

Neal has struggled a bit midway through his rookie season. He has just a 52.5 overall grade this season, but there’s no reason to panic. The man on the other side of the Giants' offensive line, Andrew Thomas, also got off to a slow start in the NFL, and now he’s one of the game's best left tackles this season.

12. Detroit Lions (via Vikings): WR Jameson Williams

Original Pick: WR Jameson Williams

Williams hasn’t played yet this season, but it’s hard to change this pick because he’s exactly what the Lions need. Despite the lack of stats to rattle off, he’ll likely be their top guy when he's finally healthy from the ACL injury he suffered at Alabama last season.

13. Philadelphia Eagles (via Browns): DI Jordan Davis

Original Pick: DI Jordan Davis

The Eagles have to be happy with their return on investment with Davis. He’s been an absolute force in the middle, posting a 74.2 run-defense grade and six solo stops on limited snaps.

14. Baltimore Ravens: S Kyle Hamilton

Original Pick: S Kyle Hamilton

It’s been a learning curve for the versatile defensive back Hamilton, who has played a ton of different positions for the Ravens. He’s taken 83 snaps at free safety, 64 as a strong safety and 74 as a slot cornerback. Through all those positions, he’s still earned an 80.5 grade in coverage that ranks seventh among 91 qualifying safeties in the NFL this season.

15. Houston Texans (via Dolphins): CB Tariq Woolen

Original Pick: OG Kenyon Green

Woolen, originally a fifth-rounder, has been a gem of a pick for the Seahawks this season. He still leads all rookies in interceptions with four, which is also tied for second in the entire league. So far, he’s earned an 83.3 coverage grade and is yielding just a 56.7 passer rating allowed when targeted.

16. Washington Commanders (via Colts): CB Trent McDuffie

Original Pick: WR Jahan Dotson

McDuffie has played in only two games this season due to injury, but he’s already flashed starter potential. He has a 79.3 coverage grade on the year with a 39.6 passer rating allowed when targeted.

17. Los Angeles Chargers: OG Zion Johnson

Original Pick: OG Zion Johnson

The Chargers needed offensive line help in the draft, and Johnson has really flashed for them as the right pick. Inconsistencies have yielded a lower 63.0 overall grade, but he's played over 550 snaps and has an impact run-blocking percentage of 12.9%, a top-10 mark for rookie offensive linemen.

18. Tennessee Titans (via Saints): WR George Pickens

Original Pick: WR Treylon Burks

Pickens was a first-round talent who went off the board in the second round, and the rest of the league sees it now. He has played the most receiving snaps of any rookie receiver (296) and has 338 receiving yards on the season. His contested-catch percentage is one of the highest among rookies, at 50%.

19. New Orleans Saints (via Eagles): OT Abraham Lucas

Original Pick: OT Trevor Penning

Lucas is currently the third-highest-graded rookie offensive lineman, at 71.8. There aren’t many third-round picks at offensive line positions who can come in and start right away, but that’s exactly what Lucas has done. His 74.3 pass-blocking grade is also third-highest among rookie offensive linemen.

20. Pittsburgh Steelers: OT Tyler Smith

Original Pick: QB Kenny Pickett

The plan wasn’t for Smith to have to come in and play left tackle right away in his rookie season, but that’s what injuries to players around him have forced him to do, and he’s held his own. He has a 69.1 overall grade while giving up only 16 pressures on 474 snaps. The Steelers could really use an offensive line upgrade, even though Pickett is starting for them now.

21. Kansas City Chiefs (via Patriots): CB Jack Jones

Original Pick: CB Trent McDuffie

Jones has been a star in the Patriots' secondary halfway through his rookie season. As a fourth-round pick, his coverage grade is tied with Sauce Gardner for the best mark in the class (90.4). The Chiefs picked McDuffie here, and while he's off the board in this re-draft, I still think they’d take a cornerback in Jones.

22. Green Bay Packers (via Raiders): WR Jahan Dotson

Original Pick: LB Quay Walker

Dotson has played in only four games, but he's still shown he can be an impact player in this league. He has the highest average depth of target for all rookie wide receivers (16.4 yards) and still leads all rookie wideouts in receiving touchdowns, with four, despite not playing since Week 4.

23. Buffalo Bills (via Cardinals through Ravens): CB Martin Emerson

Original Pick: CB Kaiir Elam

Emerson has been a major steal for the Browns, as they selected him in the third round and he’s already a big-time difference-maker. Across 218 coverage snaps, he’s allowed just 253 passing yards while forcing eight incompletions and making six solo stops. Kaiir Elam hasn’t been bad by any means, but for the fun of this exercise, we’ll make the switch.

24. Dallas Cowboys: WR Treylon Burks

Original Pick: OT Tyler Smith

Burks has been hot and cold so far this season. He began the campaign with two game grades in the high 70.0s but then had two games in the low 50.0s before getting hurt. Still, the Cowboys were looking for another receiver at the deadline.

25. Baltimore Ravens (via Bills): C Tyler Linderbaum

Original Pick: C Tyler Linderbaum

So many people loved Linderbaum’s game as a prospect but didn’t like his measurables; they wondered if he could hold up in the NFL. Well, he can. As a starter with 549 snaps, Linderbaum has the fourth-highest grade among all rookie offensive linemen, at 71.5. What’s most impressive is his 76.4 run-blocking mark.

26. New York Jets (via Titans): RB Breece Hall

Original Pick: EDGE Jermaine Johnson II

Before his season-ending injury, it felt like Hall was on a path to win Offensive Rookie of the Year. In just six and half games, he recorded 462 rushing yards with 16 missed tackles forced and 15 explosive runs of 10 yards or more. Even though Dameon Pierce has the better stats and the better grades, I couldn’t take him away from Jets fans in this mock, even if they got him for an even better deal in the second round.

27. Jacksonville Jaguars (via Buccaneers): EDGE George Karlaftis

Original Pick: LB Devin Lloyd

Devin Lloyd has been an impact player in a few areas for the Jaguars. But with Jacksonville selecting Sauce Gardner at the top of this draft, they need some trench help. Karlaftis has already seen a ton of action this season. His 233 pass-rush snaps are third-most among rookies, behind only Travon Walker and Aidan Hutchinson. His 23 pressures rank second, and his 18 quarterback hurries come in at No. 1.

28. Green Bay Packers: S Jaquan Brisker

Original Pick: DI Devonte Wyatt

Brisker has been as advertised halfway through his rookie season. He has a 73.9 coverage grade, which is third-highest among rookie safeties. He's also been good on the blitz, boasting a 75.2 pass-rush grade on 15 such snaps.

29. New England Patriots (via 49ers): WR Romeo Doubs

Original Pick: OG Cole Strange

The Patriots need playmakers in the passing game badly, and the preseason hero that was Romeo Doubs could have been that guy. His 153 yards after the catch ranks second among all rookies, and his three receiving touchdowns are also second-most.

30. Kansas City Chiefs: RB Kenneth Walker III

Original Pick: EDGE George Karlaftis

I know, I know — the Chiefs picking a running back in the first round. But knowing how good Kenneth Walker has been, how fun would this be? Since becoming the full-time starter in Week 5, Walker has the most rushing yards (513), most rushing touchdowns (7) and the most explosive runs (15) among all rookies.

31. Cincinnati Bengals: OT Jamaree Salyer

Original Pick: S Daxton Hill

OK, would this actually happen in a re-draft since Salyer was a sixth-round pick? Probably not. But his college tape was good, and across 355 snaps at left tackle for the Chargers this season, he’s earned the second-highest overall grade for a rookie offensive lineman, at 72.8 with a 74.1 pass blocking grade. For as much as I like Daxton Hill as a player, the Bengals need better offensive linemen, and Salyer can play both tackle and guard — and clearly well.

32. Minnesota Vikings (via Rams): CB Kaiir Elam

Original Pick: S Lewis Cine

Elam didn’t fall out of the first round in this one. He’s played 255 snaps so far this year and has allowed 267 yards with a 68.1 coverage grade. There are plenty of things for him to clean up, including some missed tackles, but the talent is there.

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