There’s always some level of uncertainty and speculating surrounding the NFL Draft and this year is no different. Will there be a blockbuster trade? Which prospects will go higher than expected and which ones will fall down? More importantly, will the Jacksonville Jaguars select Michigan Aidan Hutchinson with the first overall pick? All signs point in that direction.
Even though offensive linemen Evan Neal took the center stage at Alabama’s Pro Day and Georgia defensive lineman Travon Walker’s stock is soaring up ahead of the draft, Hutchinson seems poised to go first. In fact, Austin Gayle of Pro Football Focus sees the Jaguars taking him with the No. 1 pick in his latest mock draft. Gayle points out the Michigan native is still the favorite to be the top pick and adds that “he wouldn’t want it any other way“.
"The 6-foot-7, 260-pounder simply checks every box across the board — his production, intangibles and athleticism are all at elite levels. He cleared the 95th percentile in both the short shuttle (4.15s) and three-cone (6.71s) drills at the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine and earned the highest composite score among 41 different key performance indicators that Michigan strength and conditioning coach Ben Herbert tests among any Wolverine over the past two seasons."
Since the end of the 2021 NFL season, Hutchinson has been seen as the potential No. 1 pick but he became the favorite when the Jaguars applied the franchise tag on left tackle Cam Robinson. Having said that, Evan Neal can line up at different spots across the offensive line, which could make him an enticing choice.
Aidan Hutchinson is the favorite but the Jaguars can take different paths.
Aidan Hutchinson is the most polished pass rusher in this year’s draft and signing former San Francisco 49ers defensive end Arden Key shouldn’t factor in the Jaguars’ decision with the top pick. The former Michigan Wolverine could turn the Jaguars’ front seven into a dominant group. On the other hand, Evan Neal gives them a chess piece Jacksonville can use however they see fit.
Based on the Jaguars’ free agency moves, Hutchinson should get the call but Doug Pederson also told the media that tagging Robinson won’t preclude them from taking an offensive lineman in the draft. In fact, taking Neal would allow the Jags to part ways with Robinson or right tackle Jawaan Tayler if neither of them proves to be the long-term answer at their respective spots. While it would be highly unusual to have the top pick play guard in his rookie campaign, Neal could bolster the trenches in the short and long term.
The Jaguars need to decide which side of the trenches they want to address with the top pick and they need to get it right, something they haven’t done often in recent years. While Hutchinson is still the favorite to go number one, it’s not as clearcut as taking Trevor Lawrence was last year, which makes this a must-watch plot in this year’s draft.