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Five things that surprised us on the NFL draft’s opening night

On a trade-filled night, Jameson Williams jumped, and Jermaine Johnson plummeted
FSU defensive end Jermaine Johnson, widely projected to be a top-15 pick Thursday night, lasted until the 26th pick when he finally was selected by the Jets.
FSU defensive end Jermaine Johnson, widely projected to be a top-15 pick Thursday night, lasted until the 26th pick when he finally was selected by the Jets. [ JOHN LOCHER | Associated Press ]
Published Apr. 29|Updated Apr. 29

TAMPA — The predictability of the 2022 NFL draft started and ended with the chorus of boos that accompanied Roger Goodell to the podium at the evening’s outset.

We knew that was coming. What followed was 3½ fickle hours that no draftnik nor Vegas bookmaker could precisely nail down, making this draft one of the most intriguing in years.

Of all the surprises, here are the five that caught us most off-guard (in chronological order):

1. Stingley before Sauce

LSU cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. (7), limited to only three games last season due to a left-foot injury, was the third player selected (by the Texans) in the NFL draft Thursday night.
LSU cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. (7), limited to only three games last season due to a left-foot injury, was the third player selected (by the Texans) in the NFL draft Thursday night. [ DERICK HINGLE | Associated Press ]

The night’s first jolt came at No. 3, when the Texans took LSU cornerback Derek Stingley Jr., who played in only 10 of LSU’s last 23 games after a dazzling freshman season in 2019.

The very next pick, the Jets took Cincinnati’s Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, widely deemed the draft’s top corner.

A consensus All-American in 2019, when he had six interceptions (including two in the SEC title game) and 15 pass breakups, Stingley missed three starts in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season and was limited to three starts in 2021 due to a left foot injury.

“This one’s a surprise to me, I thought Sauce Gardner would be the first corner,” NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah said. “But you go back to 2019, and that version of Derek Stingley’s as good as anybody in this entire draft class. Very fluid, smooth athlete.”

2. Quite a jump for Jameson

Alabama wide receiver Jameson Williams, who tore his ACL in the national title game, was chosen by the Lions with the 12th pick of the NFL draft Thursday.
Alabama wide receiver Jameson Williams, who tore his ACL in the national title game, was chosen by the Lions with the 12th pick of the NFL draft Thursday. [ JOHN LOCHER | Associated Press ]

Amid the flurry of trades Thursday, the Lions appeared poised to select a potential franchise quarterback when they worked out a deal with NFC North rival Minnesota to move up 20 spots, from No. 32 to No. 12.

“This is a franchise-altering type of move,” ESPN’s Louis Riddick said.

Instead, they used the pick — their second of the opening round — on Alabama receiver Jameson Williams, a first-team All-American and one of the fastest players in college football. The only glitch: Williams, once timed at running 23 mph by a GPS during a Crimson Tide practice, tore his ACL in the national title game against Georgia.

“He’s an awesome football player, and he’s a tremendous warrior on the football field,” ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. said. “I’ve always contended they beat Georgia if he plays that entire football game in the national title game.”

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3. A baffling ‘Hollywood’ ending

On Thursday, the Cardinals traded the draft's No. 23 overall pick to the Ravens for receiver Marquise "Hollywood" Brown, who is reunited with former Oklahoma teammate and (and Cardinals quarterback) Kyler Murray.
On Thursday, the Cardinals traded the draft's No. 23 overall pick to the Ravens for receiver Marquise "Hollywood" Brown, who is reunited with former Oklahoma teammate and (and Cardinals quarterback) Kyler Murray. [ RON SCHWANE | Associated Press ]

In an obvious — but underwhelming — attempt to appease quarterback Kyler Murray, the Cardinals traded the night’s 23rd overall pick to the Ravens for fourth-year receiver Marquise “Hollywood” Brown and the draft’s No. 100 selection.

Brown, a teammate of Murray at Oklahoma, had 91 catches for 1,008 and six touchdowns in a breakthrough 2021 season, but will be a free agent after 2022. The trade prompted Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson to express his dismay with a three-letter tweet that included an abbreviation of a four-letter word.

4. Titans swap Brown for Burks

Upon being traded Thursday to the Eagles, former Titans wide receiver A.J. Brown (11) reportedly came to terms on a four-year, $100 million contract extension.
Upon being traded Thursday to the Eagles, former Titans wide receiver A.J. Brown (11) reportedly came to terms on a four-year, $100 million contract extension. [ JAMES KENNEY | AP ]

Titans fans may have been taken aback by their team’s decision to deal a pricey veteran (A.J. Brown) and draft a prospect of similar build and upside (Arkansas’ Treylon Burks), but it ultimately might be replicated by other teams.

At least until the currently crazy receiver market stabilizes.

The Eagles, who haven’t had a Pro Bowl receiver since 2013, gave up the No. 18 and 101 picks to secure Brown, who had 1,000-yard seasons in 2019 and 2020. Philadelphia then promptly came to terms with the fourth-year veteran on a four-year, $100 million extension, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapaport.

By contrast, Burks — Arkansas’ leading receiver each of the last three years — likely will earn around $3.5 million this season from Tennessee as part of his rookie deal.

Brown is 6-foot-1, 226 pounds; Burks measured at 6-2, 225 at the NFL combine.

5. Elam the first Florida guy to go

Florida cornerback Kaiir Elam (5) follows a play during the second half of last September's game against Alabama.
Florida cornerback Kaiir Elam (5) follows a play during the second half of last September's game against Alabama. [ PHELAN M. EBENHACK | Associated Press (2021) ]

While a few mock drafts had Florida safety Kaiir Elam going somewhere in the first round, virtually none had him going before FSU edge rusher Jermaine Johnson.

Yet on a night rife with twists and trades, Elam was taken at No. 23 by the Bills, three spots before the Jets took Johnson, ranked the 11th-best draft prospect on Kiper’s board.

“You can’t play 61 snaps a game and be an iron man and slip down here to 25, and something not be going on,” Riddick said of Johnson, a Georgia transfer who had 11.5 sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss in his lone season in Tallahassee. “It just doesn’t make any sense.”

Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls

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