You know the routine by now: 1-32 early projections for the first round of the 2022 NFL draft, starting with the Jacksonville Jaguars at No. 1 -- again. I didn't project any trades in this Round 1 mock; let's wait until we get closer to free agency to determine what teams really need. This is just an exercise to show everyone what I'm thinking right now, based on my prospect rankings and what I'm hearing from execs, scouts and coaches in the league, who are doing a lot of prep to get ready for the NFL combine in March.
The good thing about the 2022 cycle is that there will be a combine this year. That was a crucial part of the pre-draft process that was lost to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021. And as for the Senior Bowl, which begins practices on Feb. 1, it should be a doozy. Six of the top seven quarterbacks in the class are expected to compete -- Kenny Pickett, Malik Willis, Desmond Ridder, Sam Howell, Carson Strong and Bailey Zappe -- along with several other potential top-50 picks.
OK, let's start with the Jags at No. 1. The draft order for picks 1-24 is set, and we're using ESPN's Football Power Index to project picks 25-32, so don't yell at me if you don't like which team is at No. 32. Check out the one-hour SportsCenter Special on ESPN+ to see Todd McShay and me talk through every pick.
Aidan Hutchinson, DE, Michigan
At this time last year, the Jags were starting a rebuild under a new coach and ... they're back at the same spot. Urban Meyer didn't even last a full season. I wrote last January that this wasn't going to be a quick fix, and they're not much closer to contending, hence back-to-back No. 1 picks. I do think they have their quarterback, even though Trevor Lawrence had a mostly abysmal rookie season.
So if the Jaguars get first dibs on any prospect in this draft, I'd go with Hutchinson; I have him ranked slightly ahead of Oregon edge rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux. Hutchinson, who finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting, is a dominant and consistent pass-rusher who can put up double-digit sacks as a rookie. He's a safe No. 1 pick. They can play him on the other side of Josh Allen, who is a really nice player. Now, there could be some talk about the Jags taking a left tackle here, but I'm not buying that over the value of having a truly great edge rusher. Yes, left tackle might be more of a "need," but they should take the best prospect, not fill the biggest need.