Jan 30, 2020; Miami, Florida, USA; Artist rendering of the 2020 NFL Draft stage in Las Vegas on the lake in front of the Bellagio hotel with boats ferrying players and VIPs to the action on display at he Super Bowl LIV Experience at the Miami Beach Convention Center. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Jaguars on clock on eve of unpredictable NFL draft

For the second consecutive year, the Jacksonville Jaguars hold the cards atop the NFL draft.

Unlike the 2021 class, there are no sure things on the eve of the 2022 NFL Draft, which will air from stages in and around Las Vegas and the world beginning Thursday night.

“We worry about our board and how we have players valued,” Jaguars general manager Trent Baalke said. “I really don’t pay much attention to what other people are thinking or saying because you don’t know. You don’t know what’s fact. You don’t know what’s fiction at this point. This is a unique period where I think there’s a lot of guys that are valued very similar.”

Baalke and owner Shad Khan were in lockstep in April 2021 when Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence was their pick following months of in-person and Zoom conversations with the team. Those calls also included coach Urban Meyer, who was fired before the end of the season and replaced by Doug Pederson, a Super Bowl championship coach with the Philadelphia Eagles.

Khan and Pederson said a meeting Wednesday would be used to “solidify” the Jaguars’ draft board. The consensus No. 1 player available is Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson. He rebounded from a leg injury to record 14 sacks for the Wolverines last season and carries himself with the “Everybody’s All-American” demeanor that attracted Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh to offer him a scholarship.

The separation between Hutchinson and the pack is tighter than previous years in part because there is no clear-cut pecking order among the quarterback class.

Field Level Media’s Mark Jarvis rates Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett and Liberty’s Malik Willis as first-round picks with Matt Corral (Ole Miss) and Desmond Ridder (Cincinnati) among the top 50 prospects available.

Jacksonville’s direction might alter the plans of the Detroit Lions at No. 2. Oregon defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux, Cincinnati cornerback Sauce Gardner, Georgia defensive end Travon Walker and three offensive tackles — NC State’s Ike Ekwonu, Alabama’s Evan Neal and Charles Cross from Mississippi State — also carry top-10 grades.

Walker entered the discussion at No. 1 when he clocked a 4.51-second 40-yard dash at the Scouting Combine at 6-foot-5, 272 pounds.

“I truly feel it’s a blessing just to be in a position that people talk about me No. 1 coming from a lot of people really sleeping on me,” Walker said Tuesday.

Georgia head coach Kirby Smart said scouts are not new to the scene regarding Walker’s rare traits at his size. His 10-yard split of 1.54 seconds, faster than Hutchinson (1.61) and Thibodeaux (1.56), and Walker’s 36-inch vertical in Indianapolis opened eyes, too.

“He’s a freak,” Smart said, adding Walker’s 35 1/2-inch arm length also separates him from peers. “He’s got a lot of length. He’s an incredible athlete.”

Arm length has been the knock on Hutchinson, who measured 32 1/8 inches at the combine, but there are evaluators more focused on his on-field production.

Vegas odds shifted this week in Walker’s favor.

Neal and Ekwonu are coveted left tackles but the Jaguars signed Cam Robinson to a three-year deal and the Lions used their first-round pick on Penei Sewell last year.

That throws open the dart board for multiple teams behind the Lions, but the Houston Texans are set at left tackle with Laremy Tunsil and might be inclined to go with a defensive back or top remaining pass rusher depending on how the board falls for general manager Nick Caserio. He said six teams likely have six different players rated as the best at most positions.

“This draft, generally speaking, it’s a little bit of a crapshoot,” Caserio said. “I think there’s players that are all over the place. I don’t think there’s a consensus on any player.”

–New York, New York
The Jets are slated to pick fourth, one spot before the Giants in the first round. Both teams have multiple first-round picks and two selections in the top 10.

General manager Joe Douglas and the Jets are building around 2021 first-round pick Zach Wilson and targeting blocking help and skill-position weapons. But Douglas is known for coveting defense and applying a “best player available” strategy.

“There’s pressure every offseason, but obviously this year, having four picks in the top 38, if we do this the right way, it could really be special,” Douglas said.

The Giants reportedly met Wednesday to make a decision on the fifth-year option of quarterback Daniel Jones. Not picking up his 2023 salary would change the thinking of how new general manager Joe Schoen might invest his two top-10 picks. The Giants have picks No. 5 and No. 7 thanks to the 2021 draft-day trade with the Bears that netted quarterback Justin Fields for Chicago.

But that move, just like the Jones pick, were made by a different general manager and head coach.

Hired after helping rebuild the Buffalo Bills as assistant GM, Schoen was transparent in his desire to shore up the offensive line.

“If you want to build it up on both sides of the ball, build it up front. Offensive line, that’s very important,” he said.

–Receiver records
As many as seven wide receivers are considered first-round talents by Field Level Media and teams are likely to vary dramatically in their ranking of the order with Ohio State’s Garrett Wilson and Southern California’s Drake London in the thick of that race.

Seven wide receivers were drafted in the first round of the 2004 draft, including Larry Fitzgerald (Cardinals), Roy Williams (Lions) and Lee Evans (Bills).

Alabama’s Jameson Williams might be gone sooner than expected. Williams’ talent is not the question, but how teams view his draft value coming off of a torn ACL in the national championship game.

The Green Bay Packers traded Davante Adams to the Las Vegas Raiders and are closely studying options to replace the All-Pro. Green Bay has two first-round picks.

“The last few have been pretty deep, and I think this one is another one,” Packers GM Brian Gutekunst said.

–Field Level Media

Mar 3, 2022; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Liberty quarterback Malik Willis (QB16) goes through a drill during the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Malik Willis favored over Kenny Pickett to be first QB taken in draft

The oddsmakers like Liberty quarterback Malik Willis to be the first quarterback selected in this week’s NFL draft.

The margin between Willis and Pitt’s Kenny Pickett is close, but Willis is the narrow favorite at multiple sportsbooks as of Tuesday, two days before the first round is held in Las Vegas.

Willis was the -190 favorite at DraftKings, with Pickett also owning reasonably short odds at +170. At BetMGM, Willis opened at -155 and Pickett was next at +130.

Then there is a considerable gap between them and the third option, Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder. Ridder stood at +800 at BetMGM and +1000 at DraftKings. Matt Corral of Ole Miss was fourth (+1600 at BetMGM, +1800 at DraftKings).

Willis led the Flames in both passing and rushing in 2021, putting up 2,857 passing yards and 27 touchdowns while rushing for 878 yards and 13 more scores. He guided the Flames to an 8-5 record and a 56-20 victory in the LendingTree Bowl over Eastern Michigan.

Pickett burst onto the national scene in his senior season, leading Pitt to its first ACC championship and being named a Heisman Trophy finalist. He ranked fifth in the nation in passing yards (4,319) and third in passing touchdowns (42).

The top five teams in the draft order — the Jacksonville Jaguars, Detroit Lions, Houston Texans, New York Jets and New York Giants — are not expected to take a quarterback. The Carolina Panthers, at No. 6 overall, are the first team that may be interested in a quarterback.

The Atlanta Falcons (eighth overall) and Seattle Seahawks (ninth) are also in the market for a quarterback after trading away Matt Ryan and Russell Wilson, respectively.

–Field Level Media

Dec 19, 2021; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Detroit Lions quarterback Jared Goff (16) looks on from the sidelines during the fourth quarter against the Arizona Cardinals at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Jared Goff: ‘No concern’ if Lions draft a QB

Detroit quarterback Jared Goff said it’s “no concern” if the Lions decide to draft a quarterback next week.

He passed for 3,245 yards and 19 touchdowns in 14 games (3-10-1 record) in his first season with Detroit in 2021.

Goff, 27, was acquired in a March 2021 trade for fellow signal-caller Matthew Stafford, who went on to lead the Los Angeles Rams to a Super Bowl LVI championship.

“I trust those guys,” Goff told reporters Thursday, referring to the Lions’ front office. “They’ve expressed a lot of confidence in me and feel good about where I’m at and where I’m at with them and where we’re headed. I’m excited about. But if anything were to happen there (with drafting a QB), no, no concern.”

Goff has two years remaining on the four-year, $134 million contract he signed with the Rams in September 2019. He carries a cap hit of $31.15 million for the 2022 season, per Spotrac.

The Lions have the No. 2 pick in the first round of the draft, which begins on April 28. They also have the 32nd pick in the opening round, courtesy of the Rams from the Goff-Stafford trade.

–Field Level Media

Dec 19, 2021; Tampa, Florida, USA; A detail view of New Orleans Saints helmets against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the second half at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Saints, Eagles swap first-round picks in massive trade

The New Orleans Saints picked up a second first-round pick in this month’s NFL draft from the Philadelphia Eagles in a trade Monday that involved eight total selections changing hands.

The Eagles dealt the 16th and 19th overall picks plus a sixth-rounder to the Saints in return for the 18th overall pick, selections in the third and seventh rounds, New Orleans’ 2023 first-round pick and a 2024 second-rounder.

The hefty trade leaves the Saints with two picks in the middle of the first round instead of one.

Philadelphia had started the day with three first-round selections — Nos. 15, 16 and 19. No. 15 originally belonged to the Miami Dolphins before a pre-draft trade last year helped Miami move into Philadelphia’s sixth overall spot. The 16th pick first belonged to Indianapolis and conveyed to the Eagles in the Carson Wentz trade.

The Eagles hung onto No. 15 and received No. 18 from New Orleans while adding another first-round pick in 2023.

New Orleans missed the playoffs in 2021, the first season following Drew Brees’ retirement. The Saints re-signed Jameis Winston to be their presumptive starting quarterback once he recovers from last October’s ACL tear.

Adding a second first-round pick may signal the Saints’ intent to package them in order to move up.

The Eagles’ front office has said they will start Jalen Hurts at quarterback in 2022 and they needed to put more pieces around him on offense.

–Field Level Media

Lions GM Brad Holmes speaks to the media on Tuesday, Jan.11, 2022, in Allen Park.

Lions

Lions GM: Willing to trade out of No. 2 slot

Detroit general manager Brad Holmes has put the NFL on notice: The Lions are willing to trade out of the No. 2 slot in the upcoming NFL draft.

In fact, Holmes told The Detroit News on Tuesday that he’s had “dialogue with a couple of teams” already.

With the team sticking with Jared Goff as their quarterback this season and the 2022 QB class considered weaker than years past, the Lions could have multiple offers at No. 2. Further, with Jacksonville picking at No. 1 and having taken Trevor Lawrence last year, the Lions’ spot could be where the first QB gets selected.

“I think definitely we could pull that trade off, if the other team is willing, before the draft,” Holmes said. “I would say right now it’s still relatively early for those discussions, but I would expect for it to heat up, especially with the pick that we have this year.”

Holmes added that the Lions have no dependencies on what Jacksonville does ahead of them.

The Lions also pick at No. 32 overall, acquired from the Los Angeles Rams in the Matthew Stafford-Goff trade. The Lions also received the Rams’ first-round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft in the trade.

Speaking of Goff, Holmes said the Lions are “happy with where Jared’s at right now.”

“Jared played good football for us late in the year, so we have a lot of optimism about Jared going forward, so we have a quarterback,” Holmes told reporters.

But that doesn’t mean they won’t draft a QB and stash him behind Goff for a period of time.

“Sure, I could see some advantage of there is a young quarterback that can learn under Jared,” the second-year GM said. “I don’t think Jared would have any issues taking on that role. He’s had more younger guys with less experience behind him, so he’d be very comfortable with that.”

The Lions head into the draft with nine total picks, including two in the third round but none in the fourth.

–Field Level Media

Mar 5, 2022; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Louisiana State linebacker Damone Clark (LB10) goes through drills during the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Report: LSU LB Damone Clark has spinal fusion surgery

Former LSU linebacker Damone Clark is undergoing spinal fusion surgery Thursday, NFL Network reported.

An MRI at the scouting combine in Indianapolis earlier this month revealed a herniated disk, per the report.

ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. has Clark ranked as the No. 4 inside linebacker prospect in the 2022 NFL Draft class.

The report said Clark will likely miss his 2022 rookie season but he is expected to make a full recovery.

Clark led the Southeastern Conference with 136 tackles in 2021, adding 5.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and one interception in 12 games for the Tigers.

–Field Level Media

Mar 3, 2022; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide offensive lineman Evan Neal during the NFL Scouting Combine at the Indiana Convention Center. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Two OTs climb NFL draft boards

Jacksonville’s draft board might be the only one that matters when it comes to determining the No. 1 prospect in the 2022 NFL Draft.

The Jaguars select first in consecutive drafts after drafting Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence in 2021.

The scouting of draft pundits entering the NFL Scouting Combine is focusing on two offensive tackles, Alabama’s Evan Neal and North Carolina State’s Ikem Ekwonu. Edge pass rushers Aidan Hutchinson (Michigan) and Kayvon Thibodeaux (Oregon) are also in the mix to be the No. 1 pick.

“I wouldn’t be shocked if I went No. 1 overall,” said Ekwonu in a media session at the combine on Thursday in Indianapolis. “I feel like that’s something I’ve put the work in for it. I feel like when that time comes, I wouldn’t be shocked by it.”

ESPN mock drafts pair Ekwonu with the Jaguars and The Athletic also touts the NC State blocker as the top pick in the 2022 draft.

Hutchinson and Thibodeaux are getting plenty of support elsewhere, as is Neal, who weighed in at 337 pounds — apparently all muscle based on his appearance in Indianapolis.

Neal will not participate in on-field workouts — opting instead for Alabama’s pro day on March 30 — but did sit down with head coach Doug Pederson and a contingent from Jacksonville’s front office on Tuesday night.

If he’s selected first overall, Neal would be the top pick out of Alabama in NFL draft history. Joe Namath was the No. 1 pick in the AFL draft in 1965.

“You have a whole lot of Alabama players that were worthy of having the No. 1 spot. If the stars align for that to be me, that would be extremely special.”

Ekwonu has played guard and tackle, and met with the Jaguars on Tuesday in Indianapolis, he said.

“I feel like I’m barely scratching the surface of my potential at left tackle, and I feel like with some work and some refinement in the my game, I can definitely be great at it.”

–Field Level Media

Dec 31, 2021; Arlington, Texas, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide offensive lineman Evan Neal (73) celebrates the win over the Cincinnati Bearcats after the 2021 Cotton Bowl college football CFP national semifinal game at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Alabama’s Evan Neal picking up support as No. 1 pick

When push comes to shove, the public believes the Jacksonville Jaguars will choose to protect franchise quarterback Trevor Lawrence rather than make life more difficult on opposing signal-callers.

Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson remains the +165 favorite at BetMGM to be the first pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. However, his odds have lengthened since opening at +100.

Meanwhile, Alabama offensive tackle Evan Neal has seen his odds shorten from +2500 to +175 with the public backing him with 33.2 percent of the bets and 43.2 percent of the money wagered on the No. 1 pick. Neal started 40 games at Alabama across both tackle positions and left guard.

Neal has already overtaken Hutchinson at DraftKings, where the former Crimson Tide star is being offered at +120 to +200 for Hutchinson. Oregon defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux and North Carolina State offensive tackle Ikem Ekwonu are both being offered at +700.

Thibodeaux has been backed by the second-most money wagered at BetMGM with 13.7 percent of the handle at +350 odds. Hutchinson has been backed by 13.3 percent of the money and 15.7 percent of the bets to Thibodeaux’s 11.8 percent.

Ekwonu has been another rising name with several teams holding tops picks likely to be in the market for pass protectors. He opened at +10000 to be the No. 1 overall pick but is now being offered at +400 at BetMGM.

The Detroit Lions hold the No. 2 overall pick followed by the Houston Texans, New York Jets and New York Giants in the top five.

Lindy’s Pro Football Draft guide listed edge rusher and offensive tackle among the Jaguars’ three biggest needs entering the offseason. Edge rusher was also listed among the Lions’ and Texans’ top three needs, while the Giants could be looking at replacing up to four starters along their offensive line.

–Field Level Media

Oct 30, 2021; Raleigh, North Carolina, USA;  North Carolina State Wolfpack tackle Ikem Ekwonu (79) warms up prior to a game against the Louisville Cardinals at Carter-Finley Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

Evan Neal, Ikem Ekwonu lead class of 73 early entrants for 2022 NFL Draft

The NFL granted 73 collegiate underclassmen special eligibility for the 2022 NFL Draft, the league said Friday.

To receive the special eligibility, a player must meet the league’s rule that requires a player be three years removed from high school, and he also must renounce his college football eligibility.

Players on the list include several who were prominent in college football in 2021: Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral; running backs Tyler Allgeier (BYU), Breece Hall (Iowa State) and Isaiah Spiller (Texas A&M); Georgia linebacker Nakobe Dean; Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton; LSU defensive back Derek Stingley Jr.; offensive tackles Evan Neal (Alabama) and Ikem Ekwonu (N.C. State); and wide receivers Garrett Wilson (Ohio State), Drake London (USC), Wan’Dale Robinson (Kentucky), Skyy Moore (Western Michigan), David Bell (Purdue) and John Metchie (Alabama).

The deadline for receiving applications for special eligibility was Monday.

In addition, 27 underclassmen notified the NFL that they have fulfilled their degree requirements and will enter the draft, including North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell, Nevada quarterback Carson Strong, Purdue defensive end George Karlaftis, Iowa center Tyler Linderbaum, Oregon defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux and Georgia running back Zamir White.

Neal, Ekwonu, Hamilton and Thibodeaux were projected as Top 5 draft picks in NFL.com’s mock draft, released Friday.

The draft is scheduled to be held April 28-30 at Allegiant Stadium in Paradise, Nevada, home of the Las Vegas Raiders, who have the No. 22 overall pick.

–Field Level Media

Defensive end Aidan Hutchinson is a Heisman trophy candidate.

Syndication Detroit Free Press

Potential No. 1 pick Aidan Hutchinson declares for NFL draft

Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson made a foregone conclusion official on Wednesday, announcing he’s entering the 2022 NFL Draft.

Hutchinson had a huge season for the Wolverines in 2021, tallying 62 tackles (16.5 for loss), 14 sacks, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and 12 quarterback hits. He was a consensus All-American, the Big Ten’s defensive player of the year, and winner of the Lombardi Award, Ted Hendricks Award and Lott Impact Trophy.

He finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting.

“My Michigan legacy is complete, and it was truly the best time of my life,” Hutchinson, a product of Plymouth, Mich., posted on Twitter. “Onward and upward to the 2022 NFL Draft. Thank you for everything, Wolverine nation and beyond.”

Hutchinson was a starter from the day he walked onto campus in Ann Arbor. In all, the 6-foot-6, 265-pound Hutchinson played 43 games for the Wolverines, recording 160 tackles, 18.5 sacks, nine passes defensed, four forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.

Pro Football Focus ranks Hutchinson as its No. 1 overall draft prospect, and some of the latest mock drafts project him as the No. 1 or 2 pick.

–Field Level Media