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Wednesday, May 25, 2022

NFL Draft: There’s a new heavy favorite to be the first overall pick

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First it was Evan Neal. Then Ikem Ekwonu had a little buzz.

But now there’s a new betting favorite to be the Jacksonville Jaguars’ first overall pick in the 2022 NFL draft.

According to BetMGM, Michigan plus Aidan Hutchinson is now a -350 favorite to be selected first. A big gap follows: Next in line are Neal (+600) and Ekwonu (+1000).

The over-under for Hutchinson’s draft position has been set at 1.5. You get odds of -350 for taking the under, +250 for the over.

Interestingly, Ekwonu is about as likely as another pass-rusher, and it’s not Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux. Georgia’s lead Travon Walker is also at +1000, with Thibodeaux earning the fifth highest odds at +2000.

Among quarterbacks, Liberty’s Malik Willis leads the way at +5,000, followed by Pitt’s Kenny Pickett (+8,000) and a trio at +15,000: North Carolina’s Sam Howell, Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder and Ole’s Matt Corral. Miss.

The Jaguars have been active in free agency, but one of their first moves, putting the franchise tag on left tackle Cam Robinson, seemed to indicate they might not be drafting a first tackle overall. The Jaguars also reportedly liked what they saw from 2021 draft pick Walker Little.

When we asked head coach Doug Pederson at the NFL combine what it would take for a tackle to be the No. 1 overall pick, Pederson indicated that it would take a pretty special player to land him there.

Michigan defensive lineman Aidan Hutchinson (31) reacts after participating in the vertical jump at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis on March 5, 2022. (AP Photo/Steve Luciano)

Hutchinson makes sense for the first pick. The Jaguars ranked 21st in sack percentage and tied for 23rd in rushing yards allowed per game. Josh Allen is a fixture up front, but the future of 2020 first-rounder K’Lavon Chaisson is unclear with a new staff in town.

Most of the Jaguars’ spending has been on the offensive end during their free-agent flurry. They signed linebacker Foye Oluokun and defensive tackle Folorunso Fatukasi, but have yet to add a standout running back.

In our Hutchinson scouting report, we compared him to former NFL defensive lineman Chris Long, who played for Pederson with the Eagles for two years, helping them win the Super Bowl title. Pederson knows that he too needs to develop locker room chemistry, and in addition to being a very good prospect, his character has garnered rave reviews from talent evaluators and decision makers.

The team that hates hearing Aidan Hutchinson’s odds the most

The owners of the second overall pick, the Detroit Lions, might have to go back to the drawing board.

Hutchinson became a Heisman Trophy finalist near the Lions’ facility, and they need more pressure players up front, especially after the release of Trey Flowers. Additionally, Hutchinson’s no-nonsense approach was believed to be attractive to Lions head coach Dan Campbell.

Hutchinson’s landing in Detroit felt like a natural. But if he’s off the board at No. 1, who would Detroit turn to?

Taking an entry a year after drafting Penei Sewell seventh overall, with Taylor Decker on board, could be a huge luxury. Both Neal and Ekwonu could be tested at shooting guard, of course, but drafting shooting guard with the No. 2 pick raises serious questions about position value.

Is Walker or Thibodeaux in play? Maybe. Both players’ draft position over-unders are set at 3.5, with Ekwonu a slight favorite between the two going before that.

But we also think Notre Dame S Kyle Hamilton could be an option. (For what it’s worth, Hamilton’s draft position is set at 6.5, underdog.)

Like guards, safeties rarely get picked in the upper reaches of the draft. The last safety chosen in the top five was Eric Berry by the Chiefs in 2010. The last No. 2 safety overall? You have to go back to the late Eric Turner in 1991.

If the Jaguars are closing in on Hutchinson, the Lions effectively move into the driver’s seat for the draft. Is there a clear option? Right now, it’s hard to say which direction they’ll be heading.

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