Monday, July 4, 2022

2022 NFL Draft: Five bold first-round predictions, from Steelers’ new QB to record wide receiver run

The 2022 NFL offseason has been a whirlwind of big-name movement, and many of the headlines have emerged suddenly and surprisingly: Russell Wilson to the Broncos, Deshaun Watson to the Browns, Davante Adams to the Raiders, Tyreek Hill to the Dolphins. Now, the draft is upon us, and more drama is on tap.

No one knows exactly how the first round will play out, especially with such a disparity on opinions on top prospects, but here are five bold predictions for Day One of the action:

The Jaguars take an OT at No. 1

For weeks — nay, months — the talk has centered on Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson and, more recently, Georgia’s Travon Walker as leading candidates to go first overall. Both pass-rushers, the reasoning goes, would instantly fill one of the top remaining needs for a Jaguars team that invested at pretty much every other position this offseason. And we don’t doubt Hutchinson and Walker are — or were — in the conversation at No. 1.

But everyone in that building knows the clearest path out of dysfunction is proper development of quarterback Trevor Lawrence. Why else would they have hired Doug Pederson, known culture-builder and QB mentor? Or wildly overpaid for wide receivers like Christian Kirk and Zay Jones? Or dropped almost $50 million for Brandon Scherff up front? Or committed (more) franchise-tag money to left tackle Cam Robinson?

Everyone understandably assumes general manager Trent Baalke is running the show, but let’s not forget Pederson has a voice. He wants his QB upright. Even with Robinson back, at least for 2022, another premium investment up front — likely in the form of Alabama’s Evan Neal or NC State’s Ikem Ekwonu — would further shore up the line for the short and long term.

Kayvon Thibodeux doesn’t make it out of the top three

Who decided this guy wasn’t gonna be a legitimate candidate to go No. 1? He’s got the physical upside of someone like Walker and the proven pass-rushing resume of someone like Hutchinson. Apparently his abundant confidence is a turn-off to some, but how many teams presently wish they, not the Rams, had traded for Jalen Ramsey and his unbreakable ego? Unless he truly bombed interviews behind closed doors, he feels primed to go earlier than expected. This is a freakish talent at a position of huge importance. Detroit (No. 2) and Houston (No. 3) may well swipe him before the Jets (No. 4) get a chance.

Kenny Pickett stays in Pittsburgh

That’s right, a hometown connection! Malik Willis might be the apple of the Steelers‘ eye at QB, but you could probably say the same for every QB-needy team, because the Liberty product is the only true high-octane signal-caller bet of this class. Odds are, weak class or not, Willis is going to be off the board ahead of the Steelers’ No. 20 pick, and we’re not so sure Pittsburgh is willing to pay a premium to move up, knowing Mitchell Trubisky and/or a Day Two addition can compete to hold down the fort until 2023. Pickett, on the other hand, could be in for a big slide if he makes it past the Panthers at No. 6, and beyond the Steel City ties, he’s got both the steady accuracy and requisite athleticism that coordinator Matt Canada is seeking.

A record seven WRs are selected

Seven is the highest number of receivers ever to be drafted in the first round, but that could easily be matched on Thursday. Garrett Wilson (Ohio State), Drake London (USC) and Jameson Williams (Alabama) are all but locks to go in the top 15, while Chris Olave (Ohio State) and Treylon Burks (Arkansas) feel like safe bets to be taken in the top 25. That’s five already. Then you’ve got Jahan Dotson (Penn State), George Pickens (Georgia) and Skyy Moore (Western Michigan) who could easily appeal to receiver-hungry teams (e.g. Chiefs, Packers, Titans) picking on the back end.

Baker Mayfield trade terms are finalized

By the end of Thursday night, most teams still in search of 2022 QB help will have either found their answer or decided to, at most, take a Day Two flyer on competition. That should quickly finalize the limited market for the disgruntled Browns QB, with Cleveland then able to swap Day Two or Day Three picks — or perhaps net a conditional 2023 pick — and confirm Watson’s polarizing ownership of the remodeled QB room. In terms of most likely landing spots for Baker, our list remains the same: the Panthers and Seahawks make the most sense, but the Lions and Texans can’t be totally ruled out, either.

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