Fans should be treated to a lot of misdirection and unforeseen circumstances Thursday night with the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft. There is significantly more first round variance than it has come across through media projections. There is a larger pool of players that could be considered in the first round relative to previous years. Here are some of the burning questions and superlatives with just hours until the No. 1 overall selection is announced:
Will a running back be taken in the first round?
Two running backs were taken in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft. It takes a team that feels as though they are a few pieces away from being Super Bowl contenders to make it happen. If any running back is selected in the first round, it will be Iowa State’s Breece Hall. He offers great size in addition to great testing at the NFL Scouting Combine. At the end of the day, I would lean towards zero running backs being taken, but Buffalo is the wild card.
Who could be a surprise first-round addition?
More than two weeks ago, I wrote about five prospects that could and should get steam in the first round: Georgia safety Lewis Cine, Michigan safety Daxton Hill, Georgia linebacker Quay Walker, Houston defensive tackle Logan Hall and North Dakota State wide receiver Christian Watson. At the time, they were not popular projections. All are still possible but Tulsa offensive tackle Tyler Smith should also be in that discussion. Smith is a young, tenacious blocker that carries the type of profile teams often gamble on in the first round.
Who could be a surprise top 10 choice?
Alabama wide receiver Jameson Williams’ Over/Under is set at 11.5, according to Caesars Sportsbook. He makes a lot of sense as a potential top 10 choice but I feel as though he has been discussed a lot. Instead, Georgia defensive tackle Jordan Davis is the answer. His Over/Under is currently set at 13.5. NFL teams are known to gamble on traits and Davis tested unlike any defensive tackle that has ever been seen at the combine.
Will any veteran NFL players be traded Thursday night?
49ers wide receiver Deebo Samuel is the only player that should be monitored Thursday night. San Francisco has Super Bowl aspirations and if they are unable to reconcile their differences with the star wide receiver, then they have to move to get something in return now. Cooler heads should prevail and Samuel likely stays put.
Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield and Giants cornerback James Bradberry have also been mentioned as potential trade candidates. Neither would involve a first round pick and thus there is no motivation to get a deal done Thursday. In fact, it makes more sense for teams in the mix to wait until Friday or Saturday.
How many quarterbacks are taken in the first round?
Liberty’s Malik Willis seems like the free space on the Bingo card. From there, through trades up and down, it is easy to find a scenario in which Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett and/or Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder join him. The projection is that two quarterbacks are taken inside the first round, but a third would not be a surprise.
Most difficult team to project: Houston Texans
It feels as though edge rushers are going to be the first two picks in the draft. At No. 3 overall, the board is much more wide open. A case could be made that the Texans would take a cornerback, edge rusher, offensive lineman, safety, etc…If they take the third edge rusher off the board, then it is going to create for other teams to take the fourth and final from that perceived top group. There are three teams inside the top 13 with two first round picks and those teams likely have a small pool of players to choose from so expect some movement up and down the board.
Most likely to take a quarterback: Pittsburgh Steelers
Pittsburgh has been linked to Liberty quarterback Malik Willis throughout the draft process. For most organizations, it could be construed as a smokescreen, but the Steelers have historically been straight forward. The media had an idea or the franchise’s interest in Devin Bush before they traded up. The rumored Najee Harris interest began early and that is who they ultimately chose. At some point, leadership’s actions have to be respected.
Most likely to trade up into the top 10: Philadelphia Eagles
General manager Howie Roseman loves a good deal. If one of those top cornerbacks fall down the board or they have a preference at wide receiver, there is reason to believe Philadelphia could trade up with all of the capital they have accumulated. If they stay put, then the board could fall unfavorably as it has countless times working through projections.
Most likely to trade out of the top 10: Carolina Panthers
The Seahawks and Giants are a few other teams that could theoretically trade out of the top 10. It is a buyer’s market as more appear motivated to trade out than there are partners willing to move up. Carolina does not pick until No. 137 overall after the initial choice at No. 6 overall. If they are not taking a quarterback, they should trade back a bit, recoup some Day 2 draft capital and take the best player available; fingers crossed it is an offensive lineman.
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