Five factors that feed uncertainty

What? WHO? As? huh? Seriously?

When teams start picking at 8 p.m. Thursday in the 2022 NFL Draft, the flies on the walls in the meeting room should have access to priceless bits of sound. Reactions of disbelief at another team’s decision could be at an all-time high as this is a draft class best known for producing few consensus opinions, beginning with the Jaguars’ plans for No. 1 and stretching through Saturday .

“We may not have the stars that we’ve had at the helm for the past few years, but I don’t think we’ve ever had more intrigue than this year,” said NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah, whose first draft as a scout 2003 was. “I don’t know that I can remember more insecurity.”

The last time the first overall pick wasn’t widely known on the eve of the draft — or, frankly, months before — was in 2018, when Baker Mayfield surprisingly passed Sam Darnold and Josh Allen. Mayfield has already lost his starting job and could be traded this weekend.

Here are five factors that feed the mystery of this design:

Aidan Hutchinson, Ikem Ekwonu, and Travon Walker
Aidan Hutchinson, Ikem Ekwonu, and Travon Walker
Getty Images; AP; USA TODAY sports

1. Who is number 1?

The Jaguars are reportedly choosing between offensive lineman Ikem Ekwonu and edge rushers Aidan Hutchinson and Travon Walker. Unless it’s Hutchinson, it’s impossible to imagine the Lions passing on the clean No. 2 hometown. If it’s Hutchinson, the Lions and then the Texans at No. 3 will turn to a pool led by Walker and fellow edge-rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux and cornerbacks Derek Stingley Jr. and Sauce Gardner.

Walker’s meteoric rise from the end of Round 1 in December to potential No. 1 is unprecedented. Ekwonu could be the No. 1 or No. 3 or the third-ranked offensive lineman (behind Evan Neal and Charles Cross) on the draft boards of teams that see him as a guard rather than a tackle. The Texans are considered the swing point.

2. Quarterback Preferences

The teams on the market are obvious: Lions, Panthers, Falcons, Seahawks, Saints and Steelers. But who wants safe, longtime starter Kenny Pickett? Who’s willing to take a boom-or-bust risk with Malik Willis? What appreciates Desmond Ridder’s dual threat ability?

Kenny Pickett
Kenny Pickett

The Panthers could pick Pickett at No. 6 or trade down – to fill their gap in second- and third-round players – and target him with an early-teen pick. But the risk is that the Saints (No. 16 and No. 19) or Lions (No. 32 and No. 34) could pack multiple picks to trade over the Panthers.

If the Panthers stay in 6th and pick an offensive tackle, quarterback mayhem is officially underway. Some sources predict no quarterbacks will make the top 18.

3. Eight teams swing twice – risk of injury?

A record eight teams — the Lions, Texans, Jets, Giants, Eagles, Saints, Packers and Chiefs — own two first-round players after a spate of trades recently.

One of those eight could be empowered to be extra aggressive and draw a player who’s expected to miss the start of the season while recovering from an injury — wide receiver Jameson Williams or edge rusher David Ojabo — because of it doesn’t feel like it’s coming from a zero first round if there’s another in the crease.

The Williams Sweepstakes is particularly wide open. The Chiefs’ two first-rounders are valued at #11 on the draft pick trade value chart. But a slew of teams, led by the Jets, Bills and Patriots, will never allow the Chiefs to see Williams as Tyreek Hill Light to get your hands on.

4. Deep in the middle

Chiefs general manager Brett Veach said he only had grades for the first round of about 16-18 players. Other teams have similar numbers, sources said. A team’s first-round goal can have a third-round score from another team – and vice versa.

The real value is in the depth of the middle rounds, which are crowded after a relatively shallow class of 2021 because the NCAA granted an extra year of eligibility due to the chaos caused by COVID-19. This class has more prospects in their mid-20s than usual. A nine-year low of 73 underclassmen declared. The Ravens are well positioned with seven picks ranging from #76 to #141.

5. Position value

Nothing polarizes the NFL quite like a position value argument: How high is too high for a safety? For an inside linebacker? For a center or a guard?

The answers will decide how Kyle Hamilton, Devin Lloyd, Tyler Linderbaum and Ekwonu get off the board respectively. Hamilton, Lloyd and Linderbaum are three of the cleanest ratings. A league source said Ekwonu is the safest to be a perennial All-Pro – playing guard.

Wide receivers Drake London, Garrett Wilson and Williams may be the only hopes this isn’t the first-ever draft without a player with offensive ability to make the top 10. Five factors that feed uncertainty


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