The first round of the 2022 N.F.L. draft, the most important date in the league’s off-season, begins on Thursday, and this time with more than the typical pomp and circumstance from the glitz of being set in Las Vegas.
This year’s event also comes amid a frenzied free agency period, when franchise centerpieces like quarterback Russell Wilson and receiver Tyreek Hill departed their teams via trades. Over seven rounds across three days, 262 prospects will be welcomed into the professional ranks and fans will immediately begin to speculate about whether their teams’ new stars will contribute immediately or need time to develop. And as seen through last season’s fireworks with Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, veteran players can grab the spotlight based on their teams’ decisions.
Below is a look at everything to know ahead of the 2022 N.F.L. draft.
What time does the N.F.L. draft start?
The first round begins Thursday at 8 p.m. Eastern. ESPN, NFL Network and ABC will broadcast the event, and it will be streamed on the ESPN and N.F.L. mobile apps. Rounds 2 and 3 will kick off Friday at 7 p.m., and Rounds 4 through 7 will start Saturday at noon.
Where is the draft?
For the first time, Las Vegas will host the draft. The city was scheduled to stage the event in 2020, but the league held the event virtually because of the pandemic. Las Vegas has become the next stop on the N.F.L.’s draft map after the league in 2015 relocated the event from New York, its usual location since 1965, and began taking bids for different host cities. Since then, Chicago, Philadelphia, Nashville, Dallas and Cleveland have hosted the event, which will be in Kansas City, Mo., in 2023.
What will the draft look like?
N.F.L. Commissioner Roger Goodell will announce the teams’ selections at a constructed stage near the Caesars Forum on the Las Vegas Strip. Beforehand, the 21 prospects invited to attend the draft will strut on a red carpet on a stage floating in the fountain of the Bellagio Hotel & Casino. A league spokesman confirmed that the prospects will not be ferried to the stage on boats, which had been a rumored feature of the plans for the 2020 draft before it shifted to a virtual format.
Which team has the most picks?
The Jacksonville Jaguars, who will be selecting first overall for the second consecutive year, and Kansas City are tied for the most total draft picks with 12. The Miami Dolphins hold the fewest selections with four.
The Jets currently hold five draft picks within the first three rounds, including the fourth and 10th selections. Look for the team to potentially trade down to acquire even more picks, or perhaps offload that draft capital to acquire a veteran player. With little consensus about impactful players atop this year’s draft, the budding leaguewide trend of trading out of the first round could continue: Because of previous blockbuster trades, including the pickups of Matthew Stafford by the Rams and Deshaun Watson by Cleveland, eight N.F.L. teams could enter this year’s draft without a first-round pick.
Which prospects will attend the draft?
The N.F.L. confirmed that 21 prospects will be in Las Vegas to attend the draft. Georgia, the reigning national champion, will have the most players there, with defensive linemen Jordan Davis, Devonte Wyatt and linebacker Nakobe Dean all planning to be on site. Travon Walker, another of the team’s defensive linemen, will participate remotely despite his rising draft stock and rumors he could be selected first overall.
Aidan Hutchinson, the defensive end from Michigan who finished second in Heisman Trophy voting and set a school record for the most sacks in a single season (14), still leads most mock drafts and will attend the event in person. Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux, another pass rusher who will attend the draft, was once viewed as the top player available but slipped in projections as evaluators questioned whether he always played at full speed.
At No. 2, the Detroit Lions could potentially take a cornerback, which would be the highest slot that position has ever been drafted. Cincinnati’s Ahmad Gardner, known as Sauce, who did not allow a receiving touchdown in his collegiate career, seems to be the likely choice.
Only two quarterbacks — Liberty’s Malik Willis and Mississippi’s Matt Corral — will be on hand.
Potential first-round picks who declined the N.F.L.’s invitation and will participate in the draft remotely include Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett, Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder and Louisiana State cornerback Derek Stingley.
Why are there so few quarterbacks in attendance?
Because this year’s group — unlike last year, when five teams selected quarterbacks within the first 15 picks — is considered weak by evaluators. The Athletic’s most recent mock draft projects only three quarterbacks will be taken in the first round.
The Carolina Panthers, who currently hold the No. 6 overall pick, are considered the earliest team that could select a quarterback and the Pittsburgh Steelers, drafting at No. 20, could also choose a quarterback as they rebuild after Ben Roethlisberger’s retirement in January and the death of Dwayne Haskins this month.
Each of the top passing prospects in this year’s draft has a notable knock against him. Pickett reportedly has small hands. Willis’s strong arm and mobility haven’t negated concerns over his accuracy and decision-making ability. Corral, who won 10 games last season in the competitive Southeastern Conference, injured his ankle during a bowl game and did not participate in the scouting combine. Questions about his health have lingered, though he threw for N.F.L. scouts at Mississippi’s pro day workout.
Which position groups are the strongest, then?
Defensive lineman, by far. The Athletic’s mock draft predicts that eight defensive linemen and edge rushers will be taken in the first round, including three — Hutchinson, Walker and Thibodeaux — in the first five picks.
The demand for those players atop the draft demonstrates the league’s renewed emphasis on pass rushers after successive Super Bowl wins by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Los Angeles Rams, teams whose defenses dominated the line of scrimmage. Offensively, teams will look to protect their quarterbacks and give them passing targets, as seven offensive linemen and six wide receivers are projected as first-round picks.
From where will this year’s draft drama come?
This year, frustrated wide receivers could possibly ignite the news cycle before Goodell even calls a name. The Jaguars gave Christian Kirk a $72 million contract in free agency, setting the market for Hill and Davante Adams in their quests for contract extensions. Both receivers got paid, but only after being traded to new teams.
The 49ers receiver Deebo Samuel asked to be traded, reportedly unhappy with his contract and usage as a running and receiving hybrid. The Titans’ A.J. Brown did not report for voluntary off-season workouts. Though their coaches have said they would not trade Samuel or Brown, a team with a strong offer in the draft could potentially sway front offices.
The 49ers’ Jimmy Garoppolo and the Browns’ Baker Mayfield, castaway quarterbacks who have yet to be traded by their teams this off-season, are also candidates to be moved during the draft.
What’s the first-round order?
1. Jacksonville Jaguars
2. Detroit Lions
3. Houston Texans
6. Carolina Panthers
7. Giants (from Chicago)
8. Atlanta Falcons
9. Seattle Seahawks (from Denver)
10. Jets (from Seattle)
11. Washington Commanders
12. Minnesota Vikings
13. Houston Texans (from Cleveland)
14. Baltimore Ravens
15. Philadelphia Eagles (from Miami)
16. New Orleans Saints (from Indianapolis through Philadelphia)
17. Los Angeles Chargers
18. Philadelphia Eagles (from New Orleans)
19. New Orleans Saints (from Philadelphia)
20. Pittsburgh Steelers
21. New England Patriots
22. Green Bay Packers (from Las Vegas)
23. Arizona Cardinals
24. Dallas Cowboys
25. Buffalo Bills
26. Tennessee Titans
27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
28. Green Bay Packers
29. Kansas City (from San Francisco through Miami)
30. Kansas City
31. Cincinnati Bengals
32. Detroit Lions (from Los Angeles Rams)