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KRYK: NFL Draft wrapped in more uncertainty than ever

Who’ll go No. 1? Who’ll be first QB taken? Who’ll be top receiver taken? Or top edge rusher? Who knows!

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Everybody is guessing — more than even usual.

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No one, outside of maybe a handful of Jacksonville Jaguars leaders, knows which player they’ll take as the NFL’s No. 1 overall pick on Thursday night.

Similarly, who knows who’ll comprise the Top 5 overall picks of the draft — or even, within a five-pick window, where the first quarterback will be selected?

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There’s that much uncertainty wrapping the 2022 NFL Draft.

As much as ever, guessing games permeate virtually all pre-draft discussion, speculation and reporting, as reflected in the ever-growing avalanche of discordant mock drafts — which this year are like your office’s March Madness bracket submissions, with picks all over the map, and no two remotely alike.

The NFL Draft kicks off Thursday night in Las Vegas at 8 p.m. EDT, with Round 1. It continues Friday starting at 7 p.m. EDT (Rounds 2-3) before concluding Saturday (Rounds 4-7) starting at noon EDT.

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TSN (via ESPN), ABC and NFL Network will all provide live TV coverage.

You’d think University of Michigan pass rusher Aidan Hutchinson would be the best bet to go No. 1 overall, to the Jaguars, shortly after NFL commissioner Roger Goodell pretends again to revel in being booed off the draft stage. That’s because Hutchinson was a rare defensive Heisman Trophy finalist last year in NCAA football’s top division. He still sits atop most media experts’ mock drafts.

Since January, most money was placed on Hutchinson going No. 1 overall. But last week University of Georgia pass rusher Tavon Walker supplanted Hutchinson as the odds-on favourite.

To give you a sense of how tightly packed the top talent is this year among incoming ex-collegians, CBSSports.com draft expert Chris Trapasso lists Walker as the No. 45 prospect in his Top 300.

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Why so much discrepancy this year, so much uncertainty?

Because so many top prospects lack something important. Experience. Or size. Or football IQ. Or reliable desire. Or some on-field trait required of someone rated among the top two or three at his position.

Indeed, if there is a consensus about this year’s draft it’s that — by all the various player-grading systems embraced by team talent evaluators or media experts alike — there’s a dearth of overall elite prospects.

Reports over the past week cited unnamed NFL GMs as stating there might be no more than 15 legit first-round players up for grabs. The elite-talent shortfall is especially glaring in the 2022 quarterback class.

All that is why some are predicting there might well be more teams this year hoping to trade down from the first half of Round 1, than trade up to it.

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And why not trade down? If there’s that much uncertainty, then turning one pick in the Top 32 into, say, two picks in the Top 40 might be far more prudent. The best drafting teams know that even prospects deemed to be slam-dunk certainties seldom are.

So why not this year just maximize your number of picks, and, say, take two early on at a position of need, to increase your odds that one will pan out?

NFL Network’s top draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah said “there’s a lot of truth” to volume picking.

“Every draft has some players that come in clear packaging, where I feel like you know exactly what you’re getting,” Jeremiah said. “There’s not a lot of them, and I’m not saying they’re all the best players, but some of them are just more clearly defined than everybody else.

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“Outside of that, with the vast majority of these players, it’s going to be largely dependent on where they go, how they’re used, how they’re coached, who they’re with. I think there is a lot of logic behind trying to get as many bites at the apple as you can, or using those resources to try and find those clear-packaging players … I think the moral of the story is when you have all these picks, you give yourself a lot more options.”

As for individual positions, we all like to start with the most success-dependent position in pro sports — quarterback. And either Kenny Pickett of the University of Pittsburgh or Malik Willis of Liberty University is universally expected to be the first passer picked. In most years, though, neither would be ranked so high at his position.

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Pickett is seen as someone who’s ready to play, fresh out of the box, but his both arm and accuracy wow no one, plus he’s viewed widely as a scrappy QB already operating near his potential’s ceiling.

Willis is sort of the opposite, a raw pro prospect who possesses a drool-worthy gun of an arm, with so much growth potential his ceiling might require a sniper’s binoculars even to be seen. But Willis, too, isn’t as accurate as any team typically wants in a top QB pick.

Opinions on both are all over the place.

Chad Reuter of NFL.com foresees Pickett going No. 2 overall to the Detroit Lions, while Mel Kiper Jr. of ESPN doesn’t believe Pickett will even go in the Top 10. Trapasso of CBSSports.com rates Pickett 14th overall.

Willis might well be snared within the first 10 picks, but Pete Prisco of CBSSports.com is adamant the 22-year-old is a pure project — a second-round pick at best. Apparently many within the league concur with Prisco.

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Other than edge rusher — what with Hutchinson, Walker and University of Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux all expected to be gone by the sixth pick, if not even 1-2-3 to start Thursday night (in whatever order) — many other positions, not just quarterback, offer few consensus No. 1 prospects.

As many as three offensive tackles could go within the first 10 selections, but in what order? Some rate University of Alabama’s Evan Neal the best. Others, North Carolina State’s Ikem (Ickey) Ekwonu. Charles Cross of Mississippi State is deemed the No. 3 OT.

NFL Network’s Jeremiah said this of the No. 1 OT debate, which underscores the one-glaring-thing-missing issue this year:

“I like Ekwonu. I know teams around the league are a little split around him because he’s kind of raw in pass pro(tection). But it’s all there. It’s all in his body. He’s a dominant, dominant run blocker who I think has some inside/outside ability.”

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Among defensive backs, University of Notre Dame’s Kyle Hamilton is viewed as one of the most impressive safety prospects in years. He’s even the No. 1 overall talent, according to Trapasso of CBSSports.com. Hamilton is fast, fierce and huge for a safety, and a couple of months ago was a Top 10 lock in many top mocks. But he ran slow 40-yard-dash times at his pro day; if he goes at all in the Top 10 now, probably it’d be late, in the 8-10 range.

But again, who knows.

At cornerback, another crucial NFL position, Ahmad (Sauce) Gardner of the University of Cincinnati is seen by most as best, although some award that honour to LSU’s Derek Stingley Jr., with Matt Miller of ESPN.com even predicting Stingley will go No. 3 overall.

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As for wide receiver, it’s another deep and talented class. Expect several to go in Round 1, even in the top half alone, probably starting with either Ohio State’s Garrett Wilson or USC’s Drake London. That is, unless Alabama’s Jameson Williams sneaks ahead by some team betting he remains the best draft value of the bunch; many say that would have been the case had Williams not torn an ACL in the NCAA national championship game just in January.

Another highly-regarded Bama Crimson Tide receiver, John Metchie III, might have been selected in Round 1 had he himself not torn an ACL, in December. As it is, Metchie might go as high as Round 2 or 3 on Friday night, or perhaps not until Day 3 on Saturday.

After being born in Taiwan and raised until age six in Ghana — and before attending high school in the States, to maximize his chances to land a football scholarship at a top NCAA school — Metchie lived for eight years in Brampton, Ont.

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The only other Canadian prospect this year is seen to have a realistic shot at getting drafted took a similar route south of the border for high school, to maximize his NCAA football value, but he’s from Ottawa: Jesse Luketa, a Penn State University defensive lineman. He’s seen as a likely Round 4-7 pick.

Metchie and Luketa, in that order, are rated as the top two prospects in the CFL Scouting Bureau’s Top 22 rankings, released last week.

A few others either born or raised in Canada might get either an offer to sign with an NFL team shortly following the draft’s conclusion Saturday night, as what’s called a priority free agent, or a get an offer merely to try out at an NFL team’s rookie camp early next month.

One might be Syracuse University linebacker Tyrell Richards, who’s from Brampton, the No. 3 CFL Draft prospect. Or possibly the No. 11 CFL prospect, Louisiana Tech wide receiver Samuel Emilus of Montreal.

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For a sense, however, at the uphill climb facing many hoping to land an offer as an undrafted free agent, Emilus is rated the No. 189 linebacker by Dane Brugler of TheAthletic.com, when he has draft grades on only 35.

University of Waterloo quarterback Tre Ford of Niagara Falls, Ont., happens to be the fastest quarterback (4.46 seconds in the 40) of any of the 63 quarterbacks Brugler ranks for this year’s NFL Draft. Brugler ranks Ford as the No. 54 QB.

Might Ford’s speed enable him to get a chance at some NFL team’s camp to try out, say, at slot receiver? Former New England Patriots wideout great Julian Edelman played strictly QB in college, after all. But Ford would have to have the inclination to switch positions, plus the hands, WR instincts and most of all the ability to translate his great in-line speed into short-area bursts and quickness to have any shot as an NFL slot.

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As a QB, Ford is the CFL Draft’s No. 4 prospect.

Western University’s Deionte Knight is another Canadian with a possible post-draft, free-agent shot. Brugler ranks Knight as the No. 83 edge rusher, when Brugler has assigned only 32 with a draft grade.

John Kryk now writes a weekly newsletter on NFL matters. Content is exclusive to that platform. You can have it automatically dropped into your email inbox on Wednesdays simply by signing up — for free — at torontosun.com/newsletters

[email protected]

@JohnKryk

NFL Draft order, Round 1:

  1. Jacksonville
  2. Detroit
  3. Houston
  4. New York Jets
  5. New York Giants
  6. Carolina
  7. New York Giants (from Chicago)
  8. Atlanta
  9. Seattle (from Denver)
  10. New York Jets (from Seattle)
  11. Washington
  12. Minnesota
  13. Houston (from Cleveland)
  14. Baltimore
  15. Philadelphia (from Miami)
  16. New Orleans (from Indianapolis, via Philadelphia)
  17. Los Angeles Chargers
  18. Philadelphia (from New Orleans)
  19. New Orleans (from Philadelphia)
  20. Pittsburgh
  21. New England
  22. Green Bay (from Las Vegas)
  23. Arizona
  24. Dallas
  25. Buffalo
  26. Tennessee
  27. Tampa Bay
  28. Green Bay
  29. Kansas City (from San Francisco, via Miami)
  30. Kansas City
  31. Cincinnati
  32. Detroit (from Los Angeles Rams)

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2022 NFL Draft facts:

  • Eight teams have two first-round picks, a record.
  • There will be 262 selections in all.
  • Day 1’s selections figure to conclude at about 11:30 p.m. EDT; Day 2’s at about 11 p.m. EDT; Day 3’s at about 6:30 p.m. EDT.
  • Teams have 10 minutes to make a pick in Round 1, seven minutes in Round 2, five minutes in Rounds 3-6, four minutes in Round 7.
  • Jacksonville and Kansas City have the most picks of any team (12 apiece), Miami the fewest (four).
  • Because of prior trades, Miami, Las Vegas and the Los Angeles Rams each don’t make a pick until Round 3, late on Friday evening.
  • Kansas City has the most picks over Days 1-2, with six: Two in Round 1 (29th and 30th), two in Round 2 (50th and 62nd) and two in Round 3 (94th and 103rd). If they wanna move up in Round 1, say to find the best Tyreek Hill replacement, they have more than enough capital to rise as high as they want.
  • After Carolina picks sixth overall, it doesn’t have another selection until Round 4, at 137th overall. So if the Panthers intend to draft a QB with a chance of playing this year, it figures they’ll use their first-rounder on it — or trade down a bit in Round 1 to acquire a second high pick

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