Jaguars free agency moves will shape strategy in 2022 NFL Draft

(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) /

The Jacksonville Jaguars made several moves to replenish their roster in free agency. While most positional groups are in good shape ahead of the 2022 NFL Draft, pass rusher remains a need, which is why the Jags will most likely take one with the first overall pick.

Brad Spielberg of Pro Football Focus recently talked about how free agency changed the first-round strategy of eight teams in this year’s draft, and the Jags were among them. He notes that before free agency, offensive linemen Evan Neal (Alabama) and Ikem Ekwonu (North Carolina State) were in play at No. 1. But after applying the franchise tag on Cam Robinson and due to the presence of sophomore Walker Little, taking an offensive line with the top pick seems unlikely. Moreover, he sees Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson as a lock to get the call.

"A month out from the big day, this pick seems more and more like a lock, with Hutchinson pairing up with Jaguars edge defender Josh Allen along the defensive line. Jacksonville signed seven external free agents for at least $8 million per year, but none of those moves addressed the edge defender unit. Look for the Jaguars to do so when they kick off the 2022 NFL Draft."

The Jaguars could have made a run for Von Miller or Chandler Jones in free agency but opted not to. Jadeveon Clowney is still available in the open market but it doesn’t look like Jacksonville will pursue him. That’s why taking a pass rusher in the first round looks like the path they will take.

It’s not a given that the Jaguars will draft Aidan Hutchinson.

Aidan Hutchinson is the consensus number one pass rusher in this year’s class but there have been some legitimate talks about the Jags pursuing Georgia defensive end Travon Walker first overall. In fact, former Jaguar and NFL Media analyst Maurice Jones-Drew had them taking him in his latest mock draft.

While Walker isn’t as polished as Hutchinson, Austin Gayle of PFF believes inexperience and the role he played in college should “combat any production concerns” about him. After all, Hutchinson played 1,514 snaps in college while Walker got 529. One reason why his draft stock has gone up in recent weeks was his outstanding performance at the NFL Scouting Combine.

One pro player Walker has been compared to is edge rusher Rashan Gary, the Green Bay Bay Packers’ 2019 first-round pick. Both had limited production but both displayed superb athletic traits and power at the collegiate level when given the chance. Gary has gotten progressively better over the last three years and logged 9.5 sacks in 2021.

Whether it’s Walker or Hutchinson, all signs point to the Jaguars selecting a pass rusher with the top pick. With the draft pretty much a month away, the team’s brass seems to have narrowed down their list of potential selections but they still have work left to do.

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