2022 NFL Draft insider notes: The surprising No. 1 pick some GMs expect, why two QBs will go to the top 10 and more

The draft is now less than two weeks away and there is no clear consensus first choice. And some scenarios that may have seemed unusual or extreme at the start of this process, for those actually involved in them, may well come to fruition by the time the Jacksonville Jaguars make their initial selection.

It’s a complicated way of saying that Michigan pass thrower Aidan Hutchinson, who many would have signed up with this pick weeks or months ago, may not be the Jags guy. And Georgia pass rusher Travon Walker, who has blown the combine with ridiculous athletic feats but doesn’t necessarily have the game’s movie to back it up, might just end up being the first name called out. At this point, for the evaluators I spoke with this week who are preparing to make choices, neither scenario would be shocking.

Jaguars general manager Trent Baalke is used to betting on talent, and in particular being heavily influenced by sporting metrics. He was rarely afraid to trust his instincts or shoot an injured player or go against the grain, and while that ultimately had a lot to do with his demise in San Francisco, there’s no indication to his peers that Baalke has changed. to a large extent. Additionally, the Jaguars have long been an organization that has focused on numbers — and test scores — as a major factor in player selection, and Walker is obviously the darling of that cohort.

Does Baalke look at Walker and see Aldon Smith, the 49ers’ former pass savant, only without the off-field issues that derailed what could have been Smith’s Hall of Fame career? Is he captured by Walker’s limitless advantage and determined to take it, with a higher ceiling, over Hutchinson, who is a safer choice, who has a higher floor and whose weekly output has eclipsed Walker? Baalke will try to play it close to the vest, but there have been stories in his past that some GMs believe will be in play again this spring.

“I’m buying it,” said a top executive picking in the first half of the first round. “We run scenarios based on Walker being the first choice. It sounds like something Trent would do.”

Of course, the Jaguars have managed to fool everyone in the past by picking near the top of the draft. Their selection of Blake Bortles was closed; it was also, to say the least, unfortunate. The team’s draft record has been, well, awful for the most part, despite spending a decade or so picking in the top 10. That might be enough to make some in this organization opt for something closer to the sure thing, a safe and highly productive super team leader in a top position with a very high floor. But that also might not be enough for Jacksonville.

What the Lions and Texans will do at Nos. 2 and 3

If Walker goes first, then the Lions take Hutchinson if they keep that pick, I firmly believe. However, they’ll listen to the offers and see what that draft spot will bring in trade, and going down and then selecting a quarterback is another scenario that’s getting a lot of traction in scouting circles.

But if there’s no deal that makes sense, the Lions would most certainly pounce on Hutchinson, a homegrown product who would be the face of a badly needed defense and provide an immediate punch to line. They let Charles Harris go in free agency. They desperately need to rush. And, the other players who believe they are most deserving of consideration are tackles; it’s the rare place where Detroit isn’t in crisis.

Could it be Malik Willis at 2 years old? I wouldn’t rule it out entirely, but if Hutchinson is sitting there, my hunch is the Lions are playing a little safer here, catching the Michigan Man and addressing the quarterback by jumping in the bottom end of the first round — in addition to No. 32, which they already hold through the Rams — and catching a passer there.

So, let’s just say it’s Walker and the Hutchinsons. What happens afterwards?

“If that’s how it goes, Nick (Texans general manager Nick Caserio) will take Neal (Alabama tackle Evan Neal) with that third pick,” said an executive familiar with the general manager. Texans. “I don’t even think it’s really a debate for him. It would be Neal at 3.”

Giants and Jets have a similar draft plan

Several executives have told me they expect the Jets and Giants to follow a similar philosophy with their duo of first-round picks. The question is, in what order?

“We think they both take an offensive lineman and a defensive lineman,” said an evaluator. “Which one do you think they catch first?”

Good question. I wish I had a better answer. I hope I will by the start of the draft. I would take a flyer about the Giants grabbing North Carolina State tackle Ickey Ekwonu with their first pick, if available, at age 5, then turn around and take his sparring partner for the next 10 years down the line. Oregon passes rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux with their selection at 7 o’clock.

First draft for rookie head coach Brian Daboll and general manager Joe Schoen. They have to build this thing from the inside whether or not Daniel Jones is part of the equation going forward at QB. It sounds like the stuff of an early foundation draft, and the Giants have been mostly horrible in the trenches for far too long.

Why two QBs will go into the top 10

Keep shaking your head at many of these fictional drafts that don’t put at least two quarterbacks in the top 10.

“Atlanta and Carolina almost have to take a quarterback,” said an evaluator familiar with both organizations. “They can’t wait another year. And they can’t sell the (quarterbacks) they have right now. If Willis or (Pitt QB Kenny) Pickett are there, I don’t believe they can pass them on. I’m pretty convinced.”

I am okay.

Panthers owner David Tepper has been snubbed too many times before, he’s failed to land a legit QB through free agency or trades, and the best part about the draft is that the kid can’t get you. say no. He cannot choose another team over you. You can’t be left at the altar (as the collective agreement works). It will resonate with that owner. Tepper is trying to get a new stadium and training facility built and he is trying to combat fan apathy.

Running Sam Darnold there with no replacements or potential upgrades on the roster isn’t going to fly. He leads a football team, but also runs a business. And he has no hope of selling. Top 10 QBs are an instant hope. You can market this (and cross your fingers they’re ready to play at some point sooner rather than later). High-level owner and strategist Steven Drummond will surely be part of this process – the consensus of people in this league that I know well, who know this franchise well, is that they will take Willis if the two QBs are there, and they will. will take Pickett if Willis is gone.

As for the Falcons, can Arthur Blank, at this point in his life, afford to spend an entire season with Marcus Mariota as the best chance to win a football game as QB, having finally moved on from Matt Ryan? Would you really wait until the third year of Coach Arthur Smith’s regime to allow him to start molding a college quarterback with some serious upside? Does that make sense?

Yes, they love some corners of this draft, but will Sauce Gardner be able to trigger a rebuild? I think both of these NFC South teams take a lead passer in the draft.

More insider notes on the 2022 draft

  • If the top two quarterbacks are gone by the time the Seahawks pick at 9, several executives have told me they think the odds of a trade are very high. The Vikings are clearly looking for a top corner, and jumping to 9 would likely secure one of the top two (Gardner or Derek Stingley, Jr), and Seattle at 12 could most likely still land one. of the best pass rushers on the board and continue to secure much-needed additional draft capital (even after the Russell Wilson trade). This is a potential script project to watch…
  • The Steelers and Saints are heavy on the QB market. And it doesn’t strike the industry as just for show, or some kind of elaborate smokescreen. “I saw the Steelers contingent on those pro days,” said an evaluator. “It’s not bluffing. That’s not how Kevin (general manager Kevin Colbert) works. I know they like some of these kids. I don’t think they’re jumping for Willis, but they’re up to something.” Cincinnati QB Desmond Ridder might be the guy, and maybe they’re moving lightly to do it…
  • The more I talk about the people directly involved in selecting players for this draft, the more I lean into Garrett Wilson as the best wide receiver to come off the board. There are varying opinions on this group, with some having more size than speed, or, in general, at least one attribute to make them a little but. It’s deep and it will produce NFL quality, but the order is up for debate. But I expect Wilson to be the first to go. “He’s the best of the bunch, and I think a lot of teams agree with us on that,” said a general manager. “There’s no Ja’Marr Chase in this group – nobody’s like that guy, it’s not that clear – but Wilson should be the first pick.”

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