Turning-Point Draft for Jalen Hurts, DK Metcalf, & Others

Philadelphia Eagles QB Jalen Hurts
Philadelphia Eagles QB Jalen Hurts
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

NFL Draft - Baker Mayfield and Jimmy Garoppolo will obviously be watching the 2022 NFL draft very closely.

The San Francisco 49ers may ship Garoppolo off to the Carolina Panthers or... well, the Carolina Panthers for a Day 2 or 2023 pick sometime during draft weekend. The Cleveland Browns may pay someone to haul Mayfield away like an old mattress or a Brock Osweiler. Both quarterbacks will see the number of potential starting opportunities dwindle toward zero as Kenny Pickett, Malik Willis, and others leave the board. It's going to be a tense weekend for a pair of much-talked-about starting-caliber quarterbacks.

This article isn't about them, though. It's about 10 other NFL players who will be glued to their screens over the next three days, for a variety of reasons.

Justin Fields, QB, Chicago Bears

Fields has been dealt a rotten hand. His 2021 DVOA and DYAR are down near the Point of No Return, even for a rookie. The departures of Matt Nagy and Ryan Pace are a good thing, but regime/scheme/philosophy changes are a bad thing for a second-year quarterback. And while Trevor Lawrence will benefit from an upgraded (if overpriced) receiver corps and Zach Wilson has two new tight ends and two top-10 draft picks to look forward to, Fields may have the weakest supporting cast in the NFL, and the Bears don't select until No. 39 and No. 48.

Fields needs the Bears to go receiver-receiver in the second round. Or perhaps receiver-right tackle or receiver-tight end. Or package their picks to move up for someone with WR1 potential, like Georgia's George Pickens or an unexpected first-round slider. Ryan Boles and Matt Eberflus might go any of those routes—at least one wide receiver is almost a given—but the Bears have needs on defense, too.

Every pick that isn't used to help Fields could end up hurting him. And Fields cannot afford to take even one step backward.

Jalen Hurts, QB, Philadelphia Eagles

The plan for Hurts appears to be to build around him in 2022, monitor his development, and commit in 2023 if he makes strides as a passer, but use two 2023 first-round picks to transition smoothly to another quarterback if he does not. It may be the most coherent plan for a friend-zoned young quarterback in decades. Chalk it up as a lesson learned from that guy in Washington.

But what does building around Hurts in 2022 mean? Jameson Williams or Treylon Burks as one of their first-round picks? An early-round double dip at receiver? And what happens if Malik Willis slides or someone like Matt Corral is sitting on the board on Day 2? Aggressive, unexpected quarterback moves are what brought Hurts to Philly in the first place.

The good news here for Eagles fans is that Hurts has the mindset to handle a quarterback competition like a professional, and that any early-round receiver will be a vast upgrade over Jalen Reagor.

DK Metcalf, WR, Seattle Seahawks

The 49ers will inevitably bend over backward to accommodate Deebo Samuel, and he will probably be back with the program by the time training camp arrives. A.J. Brown and Terry McLaurin will get more or less the contracts they are hoping for from the Titans and Commanders. But what about Metcalf, their fellow fourth-year receiver?

Metcalf is a fantasy rock star with a league-average DVOA. He may also be the one-trickiest pony in the NFL. Metcalf led all receivers with 35 deep targets (15-plus yards) up the left or right sidelines last season per Sports Info Solutions but had just nine receptions, fewer than teammate Tyler Lockett, Ja'Marr Chase, Darnell Mooney, Quez Watkins, Dallas Goedert, and a total of 22 players. And that was with Russell Wilson at quarterback much of the year. Yes, Wilson was playing hurt for part of that time, but for all his athletic gifts, do numbers like those really suggest that Metcalf fits as the deep threat for a developing quarterback like Zach Wilson?

Metcalf might get traded. He might get a new quarterback. The Seahawks may or may not be rebuilding, so anything is possible, and Metcalf should keep his ringer on at all times.

Michael Thomas, WR, New Orleans Saints

We're told Michael Thomas is healthy and eager to return to the field for the Saints. We're told this, second-hand and inferentially, by new coach Dennis Allen, who visited Thomas in Southern California over a month ago. Thomas himself remains mostly enigmatically silent, save for his appraisal of the early-April Saints-Eagles trade:

Is Thomas looking for Jameson Williams to lift the lid on the defense? A fellow Buckeyes star such as Garrett Wilson or Chris Olave to be his Robin? A better quarterback alternative than Jameis Winston and Andy Dalton? Both? Were his previous beefs with Sean Payton, the whole Taysom Hill experiment, or some other element of the Saints organization? If he is not completely satisfied with the team's direction, will his ankle flare up again?

Thomas hasn't caught a touchdown pass since December 22, 2019, but the Saints still extended his contract this offseason, because that's what the Saints do. (Thomas has also no-doubt noted the recent spike in wide receiver salaries.) It's unclear where his nagging ankle injury ends and his dissatisfaction begins. But Allen recognized the need for a personal ambassadorial visit with his brittle/reluctant WR1. Whatever the Saints do with their two first-round picks, they had better hope that Thomas approves.

Kadarius Toney, WR, New York Giants

From the sublime to the ridiculous: the Giants may be looking to trade Toney, the 20th overall pick in the 2021 draft.

Let the lowballing begin!

Toney is a gifted slash/slot weapon with a high-strung reputation who frequently clashed with the even higher-strung Joe Judge coaching regime. Judge is gone, and Toney has reported for OTAs, but the fact that neither Toney nor the Brian Daboll staff appears all that eager to establish a new relationship won't exactly prompt other teams to offer fistfuls of future draft picks for a receiver who caught 39 passes last season, 26 of them within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage.

As I wrote a few weeks ago, the Giants really want to trade James Bradberry, a quality cornerback who is costing them $21 million in desperately needed 2022 cap space. Bradberry could end up on the Bills or Chiefs once Derek Stingley and Sauce Gardner are off the board (one of them to the Giants, quite possibly) and any fantasies about trading up for them are exhausted.

Toney? He could fetch a Day 3 pick, once lots of similar prospects with zero baggage leave the draft board.

Mekhi Becton, OT, New York Jets

Becton missed all but the first few snaps of last season. He's currently absent from voluntary workouts, but such workouts are indeed voluntary, and Brian Costello of the New York Post reports that Becton's partner has a baby on the way. Still, there have been rumors about the Jets' dissatisfaction with Becton. The Jets have a long, proud history of blaming their first-round picks for their woes, and such prophecies have a habit of fulfilling themselves.

Becton was a beast in college. He looked like a building block at left tackle in 2020. And the Jets could draft either Evan Neal or Ickey Ekwonu with one of their top-10 picks and plug the rookie in at right tackle or guard. But selecting a tackle when the Jets have a need at every position on the roster—and the top of the draft board is flush with edge rushers, cornerbacks, and wide receivers—would be a troubling sign that Becton is about to go the way of Sam Darnold, Jamal Adams, and Leo Williams.

Jackson Carman, OG, Cincinnati Bengals

Bengals fans have a case of Jackson Carman on the brain, and that's a good thing. Fans only worry about their left guard when they don't need to worry about their quarterback or the rest of their roster.

The Bengals added La'el Collins, Ted Karras, and Alex Cappa in free agency, so they won't be forced to draft for need along the offensive line. But Carman, a second-year converted Clemson left tackle, is still penciled in as a starter. Carman blew 12 blocks in just 12 games per Sports Info Solutions, a high rate for an interior lineman, and committed four false starts. Per ESPN's Ben Baby, offensive coordinator Brian Callahan delivered an endorsement of Carman last week that was equal parts encouraging and cryptic:

Carman may well improve with a year of NFL experience and better blockers surrounding him. The Bengals could also draft Boston College's Zion Johnson, fold their arms, and say "We DARE you to try to get to Joe Burrow." They could even do both. But Carman may breathe just a tiny bit easier if the Bengals opt for a pass-rusher or linebacker on Thursday night.

Kenneth Murray, LB, Los Angeles Chargers

The Chargersranked 30th in run defense last season, per DVOA. Interior defensive line was the team's biggest problem, and we can assume that former first-round pick Jeremy Tillery will be phased out of the team's plans. But what about their linebackers? Kazir White is now in Philly. And Murray is coming off a poor sophomore season, in part because of a season-long injury that both required early-April surgery and a long Instagram explanation.

Murray is another player I loved coming out of college. He can fly in the open field, but he has not been much of a gap-filler and has had some miserable days as an open-field tackler. Maybe a healthy ankle will change things. But the Chargers are in Nakobe Dean territory with the 17th overall pick, and there will also be a lot of high-upside talent on the board at linebacker in the third round. Murray could find himself rehabbing his ankle and competing for a role at the same time.

Tyrann Mathieu, S, Free Agent

The Honey Badger Free Agency Tour 2022 included well-publicized virtual visits with the Eagles and a face-to-face visit with the Saints, but no contract offers. Translation: Mathieu's agent is working hard to either drum up interest in him or scare the Chiefs into making a better offer. No one has blinked so far, with the Chiefs sounding tepid about Mathieu's return, the Eagles reportedly balking at Mathieu's asking price and the Saints at full aging defender capacity.

As often repeated here at Walkthrough: the Internet sees Mathieu as a versatile perennial All-Pro, but NFL teams see him as a pricey veteran with a moderate- to high-maintenance temperament and a role that cannot be easily carved out of every defensive scheme. Teams also see a safety class loaded with Kyle Hamilton/Jaquan Brisker/Jalen Pitre/Dax Hill/Lewis Cine/Nick Cross talent. There are going to be versatile starting-caliber safeties on the board in the second round. The team that signs the Honey Badger will probably be a team that whiffs on all of those Day 2 safeties.

Mathieu may ultimately return to the Chiefs, especially if they go receiver/edge rusher or receiver/cornerback with the 29th and 30th picks. But Mathieu's agent may not know which other teams to target with a phone call to nudge the Chiefs along until late on Friday night.

Join Football Outsiders on Draft Weekend!

This will be the 21st NFL draft I have covered in some capacity. If my draft coverage were a person, it could legally drink on Thursday night, just as I will be legally drinking as soon as each day of the draft ends.

I have covered four drafts in person—three at Radio City Music Hall and one at the Philadelphia Museum of Art—but in-person draft coverage is not cost-effective: the Internet access often stinks and the access to prospects non-existent. I graded every single pick of all seven rounds for Bleacher Report from 2016 through 2020; I don't mind not doing that anymore. I started providing pick-by-pick analysis of the first three rounds for a small content service in 2002 using dial-up Internet from my childhood bedroom. David Carr, Julius Peppers, and Joey Harrington were the top picks. The first three rounds extended from Saturday afternoon to about midnight. I slept fitfully that night, with the ESPN bah-dah-duh, bah-dah-duh noise invading my dreams, beckoning me to assemble another scouting report. I also covered the first three rounds for Football Outsiders last year, better equipped and more experienced after years of attending Senior Bowls and combines and talking to actual football people.

This year, I will be writing a little less and enjoying it much more. Derrik Klassen and I will be breaking down each of the first-round selections as they happen across social media; all you have to do is follow Football Outsiders and you will see our capsules and hear our thoughts. On Friday, I will be haunting the Football Outsiders Open Discussion Thread, as will some other members of the team. On Saturday, I will be watching the later rounds and analyzing the earlier ones for the first-ever Football Outsiders Preliminary Performance Assessments, which we will probably call "draft grades" for brevity, even though draft grades are silly. (I will also be providing a little content to the Times as well.)

Why the change? Well, real-time grades of sixth-round offensive linemen are utter bullsh*t. Those 700-word dissertations I wrote on first-round picks in the past were mostly pre-written, and the same content can be found in both the FO 40 and some past editions of Walkthrough. And the market has changed, of course; some stuff does not provide as much bang for the buck as it used to.

The draft evolves. The media landscape evolves. Football Outsiders evolves. But our commitment to providing insightful, entertaining, high-protein/low-sugar football coverage never changes. And we're lucky to have a passionate, knowledgeable legion of new and longtime readers who are eager to be part of the football/analytics conversation. We hope to see all of you throughout draft weekend and beyond!

Remember, Football Outsiders' 2022 NFL draft coverage is presented by Underdog Fantasy.

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31 comments, Last at 28 Apr 2022, 8:06pm

1 "Carolina Panthers for a Day 2 or 2023 pick"

No "or" needed. They don't have any 2022 day 2 picks. 

The Browns really backed themselves into a corner with the backup QB signings. There's no point in a team offering more than a condonitional 7th for an expiring but fully guaranteed Baker.

2 Giving up on Becton is weird

I guess that's a reason why theyve been bad for a while. Anything less than a top 55 pick and you're better off keeping him.

24 The idea that the Jets are…

The idea that the Jets are giving up on Becton comes from the Media Industrial Complex and not their GM Douglas.  If you check his history he usually gets good value from trading guys or picks, and usually doesn't sell at the lowest point.  They hung onto a disgruntled Jamal Adams for a little while and got 2 first round picks back, got a 2nd round for Darnold.  Not likely Becton is getting traded now; more likely they have a competition even if they draft Neal or Icky, and loser gets traded to a contender whose left tackle blew out their knee in camp.  For a first round pick.

Part of the reason I've been down on Neal and Icky is because the Jets really don't need them, and they don't blow me out of the water the way Becton did (or the way Sauce Gardner does).  I also like the depth at the position (Salyer from Georgia, Tom from Wake Forest).  Obviously Neal and Icky are really good prospects; I especially like Ekwonu's play to the whistle attitude, but think he may be best at guard.

27 Then there's the Flacco trade

But in reality I don't think you'll get a 1st after drafting someone else and losing out. That seems high for a guy that's good but not quite as herald as the other top 5 picks (Darnold positional value too and Adams being a multi time pro bowler and all pro too). Can't imagine team would pony up a 1st for a guy that hear can't stay in shape. 

Ikem is impressive though too, better bench, 10, 20 and 40 yarder than Becton. Another reason to always let em fail at tackle first. 

28 Maybe not a 1st, but if say…

Maybe not a 1st, but if say the Packers lose their left tackle in preseason, would they really not send a first, especially if Becton looks good?  Fant would probably not yield that high a pick.  They wouldn't be trading the rookie though.

29 Oh no.

I wouldn't want the Packers to do that for only 2+1 years and has nothing to do with the player wanting out but the team not liking him, and then flip him to the other side (didn't play their his last year of college either). And that doesn't sound like them anyways, thankfully. 

IDK if anyone else here would want their team to do that either but they can speak up and make the case if they want. I'd counter with a 3rd and Yosh Njiman. 

31 The situation I am speaking…

In reply to by ImNewAroundThe…

The situation I am speaking to (which, honestly, the Packers wouldn't do, because Bakhtairi got hurt last year and they didn't trade for anyone), is if a contender lost their left tackle and then traded for one from the Jets, since if the Jets actually draft Neal or Ekwonu, they could conceivably have 3 tackles who could play the left side.  

3 No Tanier Pen Portraits!!??

This is a tragedy! These were the only things I used to read about 5th round TEs and developmental tackles. Genuinely informative but wholly irreverent.

I wish Mike very well, but the one thing I did not want to hear was that he was going to be enjoying the draft rather than providing this absolutely essential service  (for which I have never paid so much as a dime).

Yours sincerely,

Disgusted of London

4 The giants are a laughing…

The giants are a laughing stock right now, but unlike their in town counterparts, they weren't always a mess. They were in many ways the Steelers light in the NFC. Unimaginative yes, but stable and professional and usually competent enough to ride out the rough seas.

Suddenly, they've sunk so low that it's frankly weird to see them living in the toilet for this long with no coherent plan on how to get out.

For the morbidly curious, I'd love for there* to be a deep dive into how it all came to be.

17 Ha, Coughlin's last 4…

In reply to by COtheLegend

Ha, Coughlin's last 4 seasons were better or equal to 80+% of the seasons since.

The original post wasn't just "how did the Giants become mediocre" (which is "Eli Manning aged") it was "how did the Giants become a laughing stock." Coughlin wasn't a fantastic, top-tier coach or anything, but he definitely kept them above "laughing stock" level.

18 Drop From Mediocre to Laughing Stock

I would say that the the cut-off point of going from mediocre to laughing stock was the Gettleman GM hiring. As my brother once ranted to me: why did the Giants give Odell Beckham a big contract extension, and then, a season later, trade him, and then draft a QB in the first round, who could have used a good receiver like OBJ to help his development?

11 Giants

I'll give my older brother credit: He sounded the alarms on "What are the Giants doing!?!?" I think around 2014, before the rest of football fandom caught on.

Through my eyes as an Eagles fan in the NY area (so I see and hear a lot of Giants banter), I would say their downfall started to come about because of the mix of the following items:

1) Lack of a post-Eli plan (something else that my older brother sounded the alarm on early)

2) Some poor first round picks (Ereck Flowers, Eli Apple, Deandre Baker, arguably Evan Engram). Also, David Wilson, while maybe not a "poor" first round entirely because of poor performance, did not work out.

3) Off the top of my head, and without a full set of evidence and facts to support this, I had the impression that the Giants organization evaluated and viewed their roster as if they were maybe one or two pieces away from getting back to the Super Bowl, and approached their offseasons under that premise. The Saquon Barkley draft pick may have best exemplified this mindset.

To think, entering the 2017 season, the Giants were actually a dark horse Super Bowl contender. I was shocked to see how bad things got for them that season, and that things haven't gotten much better for them.

13 Complacency

In reply to by COtheLegend

A lot of went wrong was complacency. They were incredibly lucky to win the 2 Super Bowls with what were fringe playoff teams, and they thought that both their roster and their strategy were better than they actually were.

As a result they picked a few luxury players (Saquon, Engram etc) and a lot of stodgy white "lunch pail guys", whiffed on a top-10 QB and the rest is (enjoyable) history. 

25 The giants are a laughing…

The giants are a laughing stock right now, but unlike their in town counterparts, they weren't always a mess.

This statement rings true, but in the 70s you would have gotten guffaws from New Yorkers.  Both teams stunk up the seventies (their best was several .500 seasons from the Jets), and in 1982 and the beginning of 1983 no one would have thought the Giants would be the team to win Super Bowls; Parcells went a disastrous 3-12-1 while benching their franchise QB, Simms, and the Jets had made it to the playoffs two years in a row, and a AFC championship game in 1982.  The Giants persevered because George Young turned around the organization and the Maras stuck behind him.  Meanwhile, the Jets jettisoned the hard boiled head coach who led them to the playoffs because Walt Michaels lost it in the playoffs against the Raiders and the Dolphins, screaming at the locker room ceiling because he thought Al Davis was listening (probably right) and flipping out over the Dolphins not turning on the drainage system for the field for the Mud Bowl (again, he was right).  Joe Walton knew offense, but he didn't handle the team well until 1985, when the Jets got Bud Carson to run the defense, and O'Brien blossomed.

5 The Bears probably have the…

The Bears probably have the worst championship equity both this year and future years of any team in the league. Given the cost of drafting fields, they are in a deeper hole than where they were after John Fox was fired.

I realize theres a need to maximize the talent around Fields, but frankly, given where they are drafting it feels impossible that it's going to be this season even if they pulled a reverse Carolina and spent every pick in the draft on offense. Painful as it is, I think you just need to draft best player available with some positional bias and just pray for a miracle turnaround for Fields. Because Fields is likely going to end up a bust in the vein of someone like Derrick Carr. Someone who might have been good but was never given a chance but since you can't undo the past, it ends up moot.

10 Justin Fields, who Mike…

Justin Fields, who Mike starts this whole premise of people who should be glued to the draft, is probably the person who most assuredly should NOT be watching the draft!

All he gets to watch is other teams improving themselves by taking guys with major upside. There may still be a quality WR available at 39, but is he anybody anyone is truly excited about? Unlikely. And while there are other teams with no 1st day draft picks, they'll be watching to see how their competitors for the division do. Vegas and Denver will be very interested in seeing who the Chargers and Chiefs draft for instance. Justin Fields will be watching his hoped for cellar dwelling mates the Lions draft guys with massive athleticism to harass Justin twice a year. If I were Justin I'd book a 3-day carribean cruise and try to forget all about it!

26 The unconscionable decision…

The unconscionable decision was to let Ryan Pace trade up to draft Justin Fields in a lame duck year. They should have fired Pace after 2020 when it was conclusive that the QB he traded up in the 1st round to draft was a bust. Or they could have made it clear that Pace was not allowed to trade future 1st round picks (not that meddlesome owners are generally a good thing). Heck, I would have been apoplectic but I would argue that there would have been more logic to extending Pace and Nagy through at least 2023 so that they would have had a guarantee at Fields's first 3 seasons and would have been incentivized to develop him rather than win meaningless 2021 games.

The very best case scenario at this point is that Justin Fields becomes a great QB and the Bears will have wasted 2 and more likely 3 or all 4 years of his rookie contract. God knows that Matt Nagy could not have done more to hurt his development if he had actively sabotaged him. Maybe the Bears could be contenders in 2023 if Fields is that difference-maker, but they still lack so much talent at multiple positions.

8 Reading this article, it…

Reading this article, it occurs to me that Jimmy G and Baker are uniquely tied to someone like Justin Fields. In prior spaces, I have suggested the Colts should intentionally head straight into the dumpster for a QB. But there is something I didn't factor.

The cost of missing on a first round qb isn't just the high pick you used or the salary you are committing to him. Its the wasted years. An average of three years, a fired coaching staff, and a rudderless regime by the end of it. The bears didn't end up in a wasteland by accident. And while Ryan Pace and Nagy deserve a lot of blame, the reality is you can trace all of their moves down to the uncertainty of Trubisky and then later a reaction to Trubisky ending up a bust. If Trubisky turns into Mahomes, then all of their moves that look like misses today are either hits or rendered irrelevant. 

Fashionable as it is to lambaste Cousins or Baker, those teams could win the SB and have gotten into the divisional round with their respective QBs. Imagine being a fan and watching three years of awful football and emerging on the other side with another prospect of wasted three years. String together enough of these and you get the senile Al Davis years, the Browns up until the turn of this decade, or the Jaguars for most of the last two decades or the Lions for much of their history. 

21 Not only the wasted years,…

Not only the wasted years, but all the knock-on decisions you end up making in that span to prop the guy up: "He needs some targets, spend another high pick on a receiver! He needs better protection, spend another high pick on a tackle! He needs a better scheme, fire the coach and hire someone he likes!"

So you're not just committing a high draft pick to the position, you're really committing like 3 (and probably some 2nds and 3rds) and probably at least one major sideline-personnel decision - with the presence of your foundering QB prospect distorting your decision-making process as you do. You're drafting or signing a position because you "need" one, regardless of the merits of the specific player (and regardless of the state of the rest of the roster), and (IMO, even worse) you're judging a coach by how well he gets along with The Chosen One. And if/when (let's be honest, when) that doesn't work, you're dumping everyone and doing it all over again, because now those guys aren't "right" for your new Chosen One. Becton and Toney up there are perfect examples.

I guess on some level it's just "bad decision-making is bad", but going all-in on a rookie QB for a rebuild lends itself to vicious cycles of failure in a way that blowing a top pick on a DE or whatever just doesn't.

Only semi-related, but honestly the more I think about it the more I think what the Colts are doing at QB is kind of brilliant. The Broncos, Bucs, and Rams all brought home a trophy with a similar strategy, and while I don't think the Colts' roster is quite as good as any of theirs, they're in better position to catch some breaks and ride them to glory than they would be by bottoming out, or trading a bunch of 1sts to move up for an "elite" prospect. It's one thing if there's an Andrew Luck-level talent to get, but there's maybe one of those every 5 years, if that.

22 As long as their are guys…

As long as there are guys like Peyton Manning and Joe Burrow who show up and reverse a grizzly 5 year stretch within one season and then catapult your trajectory for the next decade and a half; that path will always be too tantalizing to pass up, even if its an absurd low odds play. I have to admit, I was against paying Dak Prescott the money he got, but the alternative is so much worse. I can't even begin to imagine life as a Seahawks fan and the future of the team.

This fact has deep ripple effects too. It basically means that QB salaries will continue to be inflated as the downside risk provides the QB all the leverage in the world. I suspect the cost savings have come directly out of the paycheck to running backs and will start to bleed out of other positions next if it hasn't already.

For me personally, I would prefer we tweak the rules in favor of defense such that you can win using alternative strategies. Right now, the only QBs that come at a bargain are either on rookie contracts or veterans who really shouldn't be starting. Anyone better than that with a pulse becomes overpaid. 

23 Exactly

It's a lot like democracy - it's the worst way of running a football team except for all the others.