Draft day is almost here. After months and countless hours of planning, the NFL’s 32 teams spring into action and take the next steps in their efforts to improve their rosters
By now you’ve read dozens of mock drafts, and each day seemingly brings another draft-related rumor or speculation. But no one really knows how things will play out.
It also doesn’t stop us from trying to figure things out ahead of time. Even at this very moment, NFL decision-makers and their staff members are making calls and exchanging texts with their peers, counterparts and player representatives in hopes of gaining a better understanding of what to expect and how to react.
Here are six bold predictions formed based on conversations with league insiders about the draft, player evaluations and whispers being exchanged leading up to Thursday.
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Jaguars take offensive tackle at No. 1
Word is there are disagreements within the Jaguars braintrust over what to do with the first overall pick. Do they firm up an offensive line charged with protecting Trevor Lawrence and select an offensive tackle in North Carolina State’s “Ickey” Ekwonu or Alabama’s Evan Neal? Do they address the other side of the ball and take Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson? Although they used the franchise tag on offensive tackle Cam Robinson for a second straight year, it’s clear he’s not the long-term solution at the position, which could prompt the Jags to take Ekwonu or Neal. Multiple NFL talent evaluators believe the offensive tackle this year outshines the pass-rusher group, and so, as new coach Doug Pederson looks to solidify the foundation of this team, offensive line makes the most sense.
Surprise developments at quarterback
There are a number of differing opinions about how the quarterback draft class shakes out. Here are the two most common schools of thought offered by NFL coaches and front-office members when asked for their bold predictions:
1. There will be no quarterbacks taken in the top 10 – Almost everyone in the league would agree that this year’s draft lacks a clear-cut generational passer. But some believe there are quality options. It just might take a little longer for these signal callers to reach their potential.
Opinions also differ on where to project these quarterbacks. Could Liberty’s Malik Willis really go No. 2 overall to Detroit? Some think so. Would Carolina or Atlanta use the No. 6 and 8 picks on a signal-caller? All scenarios are certainly possible. However, many people believe the top-rated passers could wind up waiting longer. While the Lions could certainly select a quarterback with their top pick and groom him behind Jared Goff, they also have more pressing needs and could deem it wise to address them rather than roll the dice on a quarterback like Willis, seen by some to have high Boom-or-bust potential, or pickett, a passer with a seemingly low ceiling. Atlanta and Carolina could operate similarly.
2. There will be a panic-induced run on quarterbacks. While some NFL insiders expect quarterbacks to slide, some of their peers believe things could play out in an entirely different manner. This scenario involves teams reaching on passers out of fear of missing their Plan B selection. If one quarterback is taken earlier than most team draft boards project, other squads hoping to address the position could feel pressure to make trades to position themselves to get one of the remaining options – overpaying to check a box at the most important position, despite the sure ceilings of each available prospect.
Flurry of mid-first-round trades
Whether teams are active because they don’t want to miss out on quarterbacks or are otherwise looking to move up or down the board, this could rank among one of the most trade-heavy drafts in recent years. Some believe that once the draft nears the end of the top 10 or ventures into the teens, teams lower in the order could try to move up to ensure their chances of securing their targets. In the words of one talent evaluator, there’s not a huge bit of separation between some of these players with first- and second-round grades. That could spark a willingness on the parts of teams with early picks to move down in the draft and accumulate assets for the future – if they can find buyers.
Several more first-round WRs than QBs
Quite a few wide receivers could hear their names called in the first round. There’s so much talent at the position that one NFC executive predicts that six wideouts could go in the first round, and another cluster could then follow in the second. An AFC talent evaluator believes this crop of pass-catching talent is so deep (featuring names like Garrett Wilson, Jameson Williams, Drake London, Chris Olave, Treylon Burks, Jahan Dotson, Skyy Moore, George Pickens, Christian Watson) that it’s very likely that the second round will yield a eventual Pro Bowl selection or two.
Multiple eventual second-round stars
As mentioned, the drop-off from mid-first to the mid-second round in this year’s draft is not considered to be significant. And that means teams could find some real potential impact players in Round 2, including some who could wind up outshining those taken ahead of them. Defensive linemen Travis Jones (UConn) and Logan Hall (Houston) and pass rusher David Ojabo (Michigan) are three prospects some NFL scouts view as potential stars even if they slip into the second round. Meanwhile, a projected first-round edge rusher that is generating a good deal of buzz despite skepticism from some in the NFL scouting ranks: Kayvon Thibodeaux (Oregon). He has been widely expected to be taken in the top 10. But that could be a mistake, some in the league caution. Citing a small lower body and limited upper body flexibility, some scouts fear Thibodeaux could be this year’s Vernon Gholston.
Baker Mayfield gets traded
The former face of the Browns has spent the last month waiting to learn where the next chapter of his career will kick off. The Browns haven’t wanted to part with him on the cheap. But at the same time, they have very little leverage. The list of potential suitors is limited, but eventually, a deal likely will be struck, and there’s a good chance it’s this week. Look for something to go down around the second day of the draft and for the Browns to recoup a couple of selections in next year’s draft.
Meanwhile, a couple of other veterans to keep an eye on regarding potential trades: 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, although he’s still recovering from shoulder surgery, and Giants wide receiver Darius Slayton, who is still on his very affordable rookie deal. Deebo Samuel wants a trade, but there’s not a strong sense around the league at this point that the 49ers will oblige.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Mike Jones on Twitter @ByMikeJones.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NFL Draft 2022 bold predictions: Major surprise with No. 1 pick