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NFL Draft: Gorney's report card, memories of first-rounders as HS prospects

The 2022 NFL Draft is underway, as our Adam Gorney gives out grades for each first-round pick and recalls what he remembers of each selection when they were high school prospects.

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1. JACKSONVILLE: DE TRAVON WALKER, Georgia

GORNEY: Travon Walker is a talented defensive lineman who is a rare athlete but I'm afraid he's more of a tester than a producer on the field. Maybe he wasn't playing in the perfect position for his abilities and maybe the Georgia defensive linemen get the work done so the linebackers can clean up but Aidan Hutchinson is the best player in this draft and is a physical force who has rare qualities as well.

Jacksonville could have had Hutchinson but took the risk on Walker. It could pay off but there are too many questions in production for me.

Grade: B-

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2. DETROIT: DE AIDAN HUTCHINSON, Michigan

GORNEY: The Detroit Lions did the smart thing – and it's what Jacksonville should have done. Aidan Hutchinson is a physical beast, produced big stats when he was on the field, played great against Michigan's toughest competition and is more athletic than he's getting credit for when compared with Walker.

I remember Hutchinson at the Rivals Camps being the same guy – fierce, hungry and powerful, and he's actually gotten more athletic during his time in college. He was ranked as the eighth-best defensive end in the 2018 class but he's done far more than anyone ranked ahead of him. Hutchinson should have been the No. 1 pick.

Grade: A+

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3. HOUSTON: CB DEREK STINGLEY JR., LSU

GORNEY: The No. 1 player in the 2019 class goes No. 3 and Houston made a great pick. The pre-draft discussion about Derek Stingley not having the desire to be great or whatever else was borderline ridiculous because anyone who's ever met Stingley knows he has that dog in him.

He's a freak athlete and was so outstanding when we saw him in high school that we made him No. 1 in the class even though that's rare for a cornerback. That ranking bore out because the Texans saw what we did: Not many people come around like Stingley often. Is he perfect? No. But I don't buy into the nitpicking when it comes to his ability, his time at LSU being underwhelming or his desire to be great.

Grade: A

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4. NY JETS: CB AHMAD GARDNER, Cincinnati

GORNEY: Rivals ranked Gardner as a three-star so I asked then-Midwest analyst Josh Helmholdt why and he had a great line: "He was Ahmad Gardner in high school. He didn't become Sauce until he got to college." Gardner was always a talented kid. He was well-known at powerhouse Detroit Martin Luther King but he hadn't really developed physically. The Michigan schools passed on him and then he went to Cincinnati and developed physically and in his skills.

Looking back, I wish Gardner was ranked higher but often development happens later. His stats are amazing especially that he never gave up a touchdown and that Alabama basically schemed away from him in the College Football Playoff.

Grade: A-

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5. NY GIANTS: DE KAYVON THIBODEAUX, Oregon

GORNEY: I saw Kayvon Thibodeaux a thousand times in high school but my first memory was when he was in eighth grade during a spring 7on7 workout in Los Angeles. I leaned over to his coach, Ivan "Pinky" Stephenson and asked him, "Who is that kid?" He told it was Kayvon Thibodeaux and since that time I was pretty sure he was going to end up a five-star.

Thibodeaux just looked different and moved different even as a middle schooler and he always carried himself like he was the best player on the field. At times, I was concerned about effort at the high school level but by the time he was a senior it was almost like he was done with high school and ready for college. He's a rare athlete that can not be blocked when he puts in max effort.

Grade: B+

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6. CAROLINA: OT IKEM EKWONU, NC State

GORNEY: I love the position versatility of playing guard and tackle and the meanness Ikem Ekwonu played with at NC State but he's the third-best offensive tackle in this class behind Evan Neal and Charles Cross.

Ekwonu is a better run blocker than pass blocker. He was a three-star in high school which looks like a miss now but he wasn't incredibly physically gifted with long arms and off-the-charts athleticism.

I think while the Carolina Panthers needed somebody to protect the quarterback and open up run lanes, there were better options out there in Neal and Cross.

Grade: C+

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7. NY GIANTS: OT EVAN NEAL, Alabama

GORNEY: Just as Jacksonville should have taken Hutchinson over Walker, Carolina missed by taking Ekwonu over Evan Neal, the best offensive tackle in this class. He was a five-star in high school even with some bad weight on him because the thinking was he would get to college, trim down and be a complete and total dominator. That's exactly what happened.

He was at numerous Rivals Camp Series events and was just so massive, played with a major chip on his shoulder, always wanted to prove he was the best on the field and now that's he's leaner, Neal is even more athletic than ever. You can watch him do explosion drills on YouTube that would blow anybody away. He had the NFL frame in high school and did exactly what he needed to do at Alabama.

Grade: A

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8. ATLANTA: WR DRAKE LONDON, USC

GORNEY: Drake London was a four-star and in the Rivals250 but his production at USC – and now his draft position – means he should have been higher. That would have been a very tough call considering only seeing him in high school. London was a basketball player first at that point, he didn't really do camps or much 7on7 and played against average competition at Moorpark so it was tough to gauge just how talented he would become.

He's a very good player but with Jameson Williams and Garrett Wilson still on the board, this feels a little high.

Grade: B-

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9. SEATTLE: OT CHARLES CROSS, Mississippi State

GORNEY: Charles Cross was a tall, lean, great-looking kid at the Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio and that's where we got our best look at the Laurel, Miss., standout. It looked like he was going to be overmatched early in the week but he had such incredible footwork and athletic ability and played tougher than he looked all week.

Immediately, he entered that five-star conversation and we moved him up – and I'm happy that we did. Cross got big-time pre-draft ratings and while I prefer Neal slightly, Cross is a tremendous talent who didn't even get to show all his skills at Mississippi State and should be even better in the pros.

Grade: A

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10. NY JETS: WR GARRETT WILSON, Ohio State

GORNEY: Rivals usually likes to have right at 32 five-stars in each recruiting class to reflect the first round of the NFL Draft. Wilson was No. 32 in the 2019 class but for whatever reason that recruiting cycle we didn't name Nos. 31 and 32 five-stars and so Wilson – despite being outstanding at every event we saw him at for years – ended up as a four-star. Very upset about how that one turned out but we will live with it.

Wilson is a fantastic pick because he can play inside or outside, he's so smooth and catches everything. Sure he benefitted from having phenomenal receivers around him at Ohio State but it could also be argued it limited his stats as well.

The Jets made a smart pick but I still prefer Jameson Williams although I fear some NFL teams might be worried about his knee injury.

Grade: A-

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11. NEW ORLEANS: WR CHRIS OLAVE, Ohio State

GORNEY: Chris Olave's three-star ranking was completely my fault and I definitely regret this one. But when I saw Olave during a 7on7 during the summer in Huntington Beach, Calif., he was either not having a great day or just wasn't feeling it because he definitely didn't dominate and as a high school receiver he was not all that physically impressive.

Of course, I was wrong and I take ownership because Olave has blossomed into something really special even among an outstanding group of receivers at Ohio State. But the Buckeyes stumbled onto Olave when they were looking at QB Jack Tuttle and they struck gold. No excuses, Olave was a miss but I still think Jameson Williams is the best receiver in this draft.

Grade: B+

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12. DETROIT: WR JAMESON WILLIAMS, Alabama

GORNEY: Jameson Williams is the best receiver in this draft, a track superstar and while he didn't catch on at Ohio State, he went to Alabama and caught 79 passes for 1,572 yards and 15 touchdowns even though every defense knew the ball was coming his way often. He can take the top off of any defense and he's become a more physical receiver than when he was in high school.

Williams probably would have been rated much higher if he wasn't so lean and undersized in high school and the fear was he was a speedster but could get pushed around on the field. But defenders can't push him around if they can't catch him. There is tape of him already moving around and the knee injury he sustained shouldn't have a lasting effect. It dropped him in this draft but I'll stand by he's the most exciting and best receiver available in this draft.

Grade: A

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13. PHILADELPHIA: DT JORDAN DAVIS, Georgia

GORNEY: Jordan Davis was a four-star prospect but outside the Rivals250 and there were reasons for that although it looks like a miss now that he's a first-round pick. Davis was not sure if he was going to be an offensive lineman or defensive lineman over the long term and he was very heavy at times during his high school career that might've limited his upside.

I don't love that he had just two sacks this past season and against high-tempo offenses couldn't stay on the field for long stretches. But he is big, powerful and tough, and has destroyed offensive linemen in the SEC.

Grade: B

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14. S KYLE HAMILTON, Notre Dame

GORNEY: Kyle Hamilton should have gone in the top 10 because when you watched him through high school and then during his time at Notre Dame, he made plays all the time. He has the ability to play all over the field and make an impact. He's always been someone who was in the right spot.

I do hesitate just a slight bit because of the slower 40-time at the combine but it's something I'm not all that worried about because his on-field speed is at the highest level. Testing is important but on-field production trumps that and too many decision-makers got in their heads about the slow 40 time. Hamilton is – and always has been – a baller.

Grade: A

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15. HOUSTON: OG KENYON GREEN, Texas A&M

GORNEY: Rivals listed Kenyon Green at 6-foot-5 but he was a hair under 6-foot-4. That shouldn't matter much because his position versatility is so valuable to NFL teams. He was a big, physical kid in high school who pushed people around but there were always questions about whether he could play outside at Texas A&M or if he would eventually move inside.

Green played more guard but kind of did both and that could continue in the NFL. Only Neal, Darnell Wright and Cross were rated ahead of him in the 2019 class as it's turned out to be an absolutely loaded group.

Grade: B+

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16. WASHINGTON: WR JAHAN DOTSON, Penn State

GORNEY: Jahan Dotson has always been about production whether it was in high school and especially at Penn State. But he was undersized and that held back his ranking a little bit coming out of Nazareth, Pa., where he wasn't playing against elite competition.

It was probably a little too conservative but Dotson ended up No. 164 in the 2018 class and at a position that was led by five-stars Amon-Ra St. Brown, Justyn Ross, Jaylen Waddle and some other five-stars that didn't pan out. Dotson has amazing speed, lined up inside and outside at Penn State, and never dropped the ball ... like ever.

Grade: B+

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17. LA CHARGERS: OG ZION JOHNSON, Boston College

GORNEY: Zion Johnson was unranked in the 2019 class, went to play at Davidson out of Indianapolis (Ind.) Cathedral and then transferred to Boston College where he blossomed even further. He has position versatility and has proven that in the ACC but he's probably a guard in the NFL.

Johnson did attend a Rivals Combine but was still developing as a player at that time. Now a first-round NFL Draft pick, we definitely missed on this one but it's also a slight stretch this high although the Los Angeles Chargers are looking to stock up on offensive line talent.

Grade: C+

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18. TENNESSEE: WR TREYLON BURKS, Arkansas

GORNEY: Treylon Burks ended up No. 146 in the 2019 class and No. 21 at receiver and almost all of his evaluation was based off film work because the Warren, Ark., prospect was hardly ever seen at national events, didn't do a ton of interviews, committed early to Arkansas and never looked back.

In hindsight, Burks should have been higher with those huge hands and that big, powerful frame. He's fast in his routes but there was just not a huge body of work to go off of because the four-star was a little bit of a ghost during all the events where everyone else competed. Still, Burks was super productive at Arkansas and I love this pick.

Grade: A

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19. NEW ORLEANS: OT TREVOR PENNING, Northern Iowa

GORNEY: Unranked out of Mason City (Iowa) Newman Catholic, the Hawkeyes didn't take him, the Cyclones didn't take him but Trevor Penning went to Northern Iowa and turned that modest move into a first-round selection. Gotta love it. Penning really aroused the interest of NFL teams because he plays with an incredible edge and toughness. But he does hold so that's something he has to knock off so the New Orleans Saints aren't behind the sticks all the time especially at the NFL level.

Penning knocked around lesser competition at Northern Iowa and now takes a major step up. He's very talented, very tough and very physical but a big challenge awaits.

Grade: C+

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20. PITTSBURGH: QB KENNY PICKETT, Pitt

GORNEY: I get it. Kenny Pickett played at Pitt, in the stadium where he'll play with the Steelers, and it makes sense. He's also much more athletic than he gets credit for and that will be an asset for the Steelers' offense as well. This pick is so Pittsburgh Steelers in every way. And Pickett's accuracy won out over Malik Willis' issues in that area but I still take Willis because of his incredible playmaking ability and arm strength.

Pickett had first-round potential and quarterbacks go early and the Pittsburgh thing makes sense but Willis gets the edge for me. Not heavily recruited out of high school, Pickett made the perfect choice by going to Pitt where the coaches accentuated his strengths. It's turned into a first-round pick and a dream come true.

Grade: B

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21. KANSAS CITY: CB TRENT McDUFFIE, Washington

GORNEY: I liked Trent McDuffie in high school. He was very talented and what stood out most was that he almost never made a bad call or was out of position. But I would be lying to you if I said I saw first-round potential in his game at that point. He was on the smaller side, not all that physical and while he was fast and didn't make errors, I saw him as a very competent player going to Washington and then having the potential of getting drafted at some point.

That was obviously the wrong call but I also give credit to the Huskies because they've developed so many defensive backs who didn't necessarily blow anybody away in high school and made them top picks.

Grade: B-

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22. GREEN BAY: LB QUAY WALKER, Georgia

GORNEY: Quay Walker always looked great, had size and length, and produced so he was a fringe five-star for Rivals in the 2018 class but ended up No. 38 overall. Micah Parsons was the No. 1 linebacker that year and his success is very hard to argue. Walker had a strong career at Georgia and put up numbers this past season helping lead the Bulldogs to the national title.

But do I think he should be the first linebacker taken in this draft? No way. I can understand passing on Nakobe Dean maybe if you're worried about his size or whatever (I wouldn't be) but Utah's Devin Lloyd is a superstar in the making and should've been the pick.

Grade: C+

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23. BUFFALO: CB KAIIR ELAM, Florida

GORNEY: Kaiir Elam at one point was considered for five-star status and now I regret us not pulling the trigger on that ranking. I always loved Elam's length and his competitiveness. At camps he was always in our ear to tell us how good he was. He definitely backed it up. Elam can play on an island, he trusts his eyes and his athletic ability and he can get off blocks to come up and hit as well.

The testing numbers were there, he played at a school that traditionally develops defensive backs and after Gardner and Stingley Jr., Elam could've made an argument as the best CB in this draft class.

Grade: A-

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24. DALLAS: OT TYLER SMITH, Tulsa

GORNEY: A two-star out of Fort Worth (Texas) North Crowley, Tyler Smith is a big, mean lineman who played both inside and outside in high school and never saw his recruitment take off. He had no Power Five offers even as a Texas kid with TCU right down the road.

Smith did well at Tulsa and even in big games manhandled some top-notch defensive ends but he was never really on our radar and wasn't on the national scene much. This feels like a stretch with other proven players still on the board along the offensive line.

Grade: C

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25. BALTIMORE: C TYLER LINDERBAUM, Iowa

GORNEY: Tyler Linderbaum was a mid-level three-star out of Solon, Iowa, but not as an offensive lineman because that was not his primary position in high school. Linderbaum mainly played defensive tackle and that's the spot he also played at the Army All-American Bowl.

He was a talented kid and I love linemen who are also wrestlers but his recruitment never took off because Iowa, Iowa State and Minnesota State were his only offers. Here's even more proof that coach Kirk Ferentz and that Iowa staff really know what they're doing when recruiting and developing linemen of all sorts.

Grade: A

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26. NY JETS: DE JERMAINE JOHNSON, Florida State

GORNEY: Jermaine Johnson was sort of an unknown two-star coming out of Eden Prairie, Minn., who then went the JUCO route and signed with Georgia. After the Bulldogs, the No. 2 JUCO prospect then went in the portal and landed at Florida State. He had a phenomenal season with 12 sacks and 70 tackles and has the explosiveness and athletic ability to be really special.

He took a circuitous route to this point but it's worked out and this late in the first round, Johnson is a steal.

Grade: A-

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27. JACKSONVILLE: LB DEVIN LLOYD, Utah

GORNEY: Devin Lloyd was my biggest miss in this draft. He ended up as a two-star prospect in the 2017 class but he was a big safety in high school who was probably transitioning to a linebacker and, again, was someone who wasn't seen all that much during the camp and 7on7 circuit.

That's really not an excuse because with his physical tools, I should've seen the potential especially with him going to Utah and getting some of the best coaching in America. Lloyd could make an argument as the best linebacker in this class and this is a very smart pick – a dumb ranking by me.

Grade: A-

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28. GREEN BAY: DT DEVONTE WYATT, Georgia

GORNEY: Devonte Wyatt was a three-star coming out of high school where he picked Georgia but then had to go to junior college at Hutchinson (Kan.) C.C. where he got another year of seasoning and added his fourth star. What I love about Wyatt is that he's aggressive, a gap shooter, very sudden and someone who doesn't just take up space but attacks the backfield and makes plays.

Georgia has really made a statement in this first round and it should only snowball into more recruiting success. Wyatt was probably a fringe first-round selection but he's off the board now and it's going to be huge for the Bulldogs.

Grade: B+

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29. NEW ENGLAND: OG COLE STRANGE, Chattanooga

GORNEY: Cole Strange was never on my radar. He was ranked as a two-star defensive end from Knoxville (Tenn.) Farragut who chose Chattanooga over Army, Morehead State, Tennessee-Martin and Western Carolina. It's amazing a few years later, Strange has moved to an interior offensive lineman and is now the first-round pick of the New England Patriots.

Grade: C

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30. KANSAS CITY: DE GEORGE KARLAFTIS, Purdue

GORNEY: The question I had when seeing George Karlaftis in person was whether he had the athleticism to come off the edge or would need to move inside at the next level and that was at the Army All-American Bowl. He was definitely a talented player with position versatility and was someone who could really make an impact at Purdue but I didn't see him as a surefire first-round NFL Draft pick.

It's a big credit to Karlaftis, who added another 20 pounds in West Lafayette to have such an impactful career and become a first-rounder. No. 1 overall pick Travon Walker was the fourth-best defensive end that recruiting cycle but Karlaftis was much further down the list at No. 14 overall.

Grade: B

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31. CINCINNATI: S DAXTON HILL, Michigan

GORNEY: Daxton Hill was not the biggest safety in the world but he had long arms and had a sense of where the ball was going before it got there. That's what made him a five-star and one of the most coveted players in his class. He actually de-committed from Michigan and Alabama wanted him badly but Hill ended up picking the Wolverines and it served him well.

That safety class also had Kyle Hamilton and Lewis Cine,, but we stuck with Hill as the No. 1 safety and it looks like a smart pick.

Grade: B+

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32. MINNESOTA: S LEWIS CINE, Georgia

GORNEY: I love Cine. I love his attitude, his confidence, his style of play, how he developed at Georgia and an argument could be made that he's the best safety in this draft. In high school, Cine was still growing into his body and was kind of all arms and legs sometimes but he got bigger, stayed fast and had a stellar career with the Bulldogs.

In hindsight, he was far better than the No. 5 safety in the 2019 class.

Grade: A-