Welcome to the time of the year when you hear about hip bending, hand size, five-technique players and countless other terms that signify that it is NFL draft season.
Unlike last season when quarterback Trevor Lawrence out of Clemson was the no-doubt choice as the top picks, there are decisions for the Jacksonville Jaguars to make as they pick first once again.
This will be the sixth time in the Super Bowl era that the same team will pick first overall in consecutive drafts.
Taking a look back, it would be generous to suggest that the results were not overly positive. The most productive duo might have been the first during that time as former Oklahoma defensive end Lee Roy Selmon was the top pick by the expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1976 followed by former USC running back Ricky Bell in 1977. Selmon enjoyed a Hall of Fame career while Bell’s promise was never fully realized as he died of cancer at the age of 29.
The Buccaneers had the top pick again in both 1986 and 1987. Auburn running back Bo Jackson vowed not to play for Tampa Bay when a flight he took to meet with the team in the pre-draft process resulted in his loss of eligibility as Jackson was in the midst of an outstanding baseball season at Auburn. Former Miami quarterback Vinny Testaverde was the top selection in 1987.
Cleveland took defensive end, Myles Garrett, out of Texas A&M No. 1 overall in 2017 and the next year selected quarterback Baker Mayfield with the top pick. The Browns also had the No. 1 overall selection in 1999 and 2000 when they picked former Kentucky quarterback Tim Couch and defensive end Courtney Brown out of Penn State. Cincinnati made Dan Wilkinson, a defensive lineman from Ohio State, the top selection in 1994 and the following year it was Ki-Jana Carter, a running back out of Penn State, who was the top pick.
For those who bet online, there are currently four players vying for the No. 1 spot.
Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson (+140) has the best odds to go first overall followed by Oregon defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux (+160), Alabama offensive tackle Evan Neal (+200) and North Carolina State offensive tackle Ikem Ekwonu (+400).
Best Player or Most Important Hole to Fill?
Former NFL scout Daniel Jeremiah is not the only person who lists Hutchinson as the top prospect in the 2022 NFL draft. However, if you look at recent mock drafts, nearly all of them have Evan Neal going to Jacksonville. That pick makes sense as he would protect the blind side of Lawrence for a decade or so.
NFL Draft Top 50 https://t.co/FDhWUicbwu
— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) February 1, 2022
The last offensive tackle selected first overall was Eric Fisher by the Kansas City Chiefs in 2013 in what was a pretty forgettable first round. The fact that Fisher had a solid but unspectacular career shouldn’t scare off Jacksonville from going that route considering the previous three offensive tackles to be picked first (Ron Yary, Orlando Pace, and Jake Long) combined to play in 18 Pro Bowls. Yary and Pace are both in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
No Ducking Oregon Product’s Potential
For weeks and even months, Oregon defensive lineman Kayvon Thibodeaux was thought to be the top player available in the upcoming draft. He has fallen behind Hutchinson in the minds of many who earn a living trying to predict the order that college stars will be picked in the NFL draft. He has fallen back a bit in the Las Vegas odds.
Hutchinson clearly had the better season but is he really more talented than Thibodeaux? Jeremiah had Thibodeaux as his sixth-best prospect.
Anybody who watched the Tampa Bay-Kansas City Super Bowl saw how pivotal a dominant front seven can be in applying pressure to even the most composed of NFL quarterbacks so don’t expect Thibodeaux to fall too far.
NC State Lineman Rising Fast
If Jacksonville opts to go defense, could Neal end up being the second offensive tackle selected?
North Carolina State’s Ikem Ekwonu is coming on strong. He may not be the pass blocker that Neal is but as a run blocker, he is considered to be ahead of the former Alabama star.
In 2021, it could be argued that Rashawn Slater was the best lineman selected even though he was taken five picks after Penei Sewell became the first offensive lineman off the board. The Slater-Sewell debate could rage for years and perhaps the same will be true about Neal and Ekwonu.
Injured Stars Are Draft Wild-Cards
Safeties aren’t exactly hot commodities at the top of the draft. The first safety off the board in 2021 was Jevon Holland who was the 36th overall pick by the Miami Dolphins and he showed that he should have gone much higher. Kyle Hamilton certainly won’t be waiting until the second round to hear his name called and perhaps he’ll be a top-five selection even after suffering a season-ending knee injury in late October.
Alabama receiver Jameson Williams went down in the Crimson Tide’s loss to Georgia in the national championship game. Where he goes in the first round will likely be determined by how far along he is in the rehabilitation process come draft time. It could be a situation where one of the elite NFL teams takes a flyer on the talented Williams even if he might not make an immediate impact as a rookie.
Passing Grades for QBs?
Quarterbacks have been selected first overall in 11 of the 15 drafts. Joe Burrow, the No. 1 pick in 2020, will be starting in the Super Bowl across from 2009 No. 1 overall pick Matthew Stafford. There was talk that this was the year that 2019 top pick Kyler Murray and the Arizona Cardinals would to standing at the top of the NFL mountain.
This much is clear, a quarterback will not be the first player off the board in this year’s draft. There’s a chance that no quarterback will be selected in the top half of the first round although history has shown that quarterbacks tend to get selected higher than their pre-draft ranking.
Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett is the 18th overall prospect according to Jeremiah. The next quarterback in his rankings is Matt Corral of Ole Miss at No. 34 followed by Liberty’s Malik Willis at No. 35 and North Carolina’s Sam Howell at No. 36.
Bulldogs to Dominate Again?
The Georgia defense will likely be remembered as one of the most dominant units in recent college football history as the swarming defense led the Bulldog to the national title.
There will be plenty of members from that unit hearing their names called in the first round.
Linebacker Nakobe Dean is ranked as the seventh-overall prospect by Jeremiah, defensive linemen Travon Walker (No. 15) and Jordan Davis (No. 16) could also go in the top half of the opening round. Linebacker Quay Walker (No. 31), defensive tackle Devonte Wyatt (No. 38) and safety Lewis Cline (No. 50) are also among Jeremiah’s top-50 prospects.
The NFL betting lines when it comes to the top draft picks will be changing often between now and April 28 when the 2022 draft kicks off with the first round. The fact that both the New York Jets and New York Giants have two picks in the top 10 will only intensify the hype surrounding this year’s draft.