• Sat. Apr 1st, 2023


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NFL Draft 2022: After two-year delay, event finally arrives in Las Vegas

Travon Walker
Travon Walker is among the leading contenders to be the number one draft pick after impressing at the NFL combine

It is two years later than planned but the NFL draft is finally getting the Las Vegas treatment.

Now all the glitz and glamour normally associated with what is a life-changing day for many young players is back.

A red-carpet stage has been constructed in front of the Bellagio fountains, with the main stage built beside the Caesars Forum.

From hundreds of hopefuls, 21 players have been invited to attend the first round of the three-day event, which begins on Thursday (01:00 BST, Friday).

And for the first time in years, there is no standout among them so it is anyone’s guess who will have the honour of being the first name called out by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

Why is the draft important?

Making the right selections on draft day can make or break your franchise. Just look at the Cincinnati Bengals.

With the first pick in 2020 they chose quarterback Joe Burrow. Then with the fifth pick in 2021 they took receiver Ja’Marr Chase, Burrow’s former college team-mate.

The pair galvanised the Bengals and led them to last season’s Super Bowl. They were beaten in the showpiece game but it is a clear indication that the draft system works given they were the NFL’s worst team in the 2019-20 season.

In each of the past two seasons, that has been the Jacksonville Jaguars so they will again choose first in this year’s draft.

It is just the second time since 2000 that a team has had the number one pick two years running.

Last year, it was no surprise to see the Jaguars go for quarterback Trevor Lawrence. This year, fans and analysts are split.

Do the Jags boost their offensive line to give Lawrence greater protection? Or do they choose a pass rusher to go after the opposing quarterback?

The draft takes places over three days with round one on Thursday, rounds two and three on Friday and four to seven on Saturday – with 262 picks
The 32 NFL teams have one pick each round – unless they have been traded – and some teams have extra ‘compensatory’ picks
Last season’s worst team, the Jaguars, get the first pick in each round and Super Bowl winners, the Los Angeles Rams, select last

Who will be the number one pick?

This year’s draft class is light on highly-rated quarterbacks so it is expected that, for the first time since 2017, the top pick will not be a QB.

In fact, this year’s draft could be the first since 2000 to see defensive players as the first two off the board.

That is because the top prospects are dominated by pass rushers, with defensive ends Aidan Hutchinson and Travon Walker having emerged as the leading contenders.

Hutchinson has just claimed a team-record 14 sacks with Michigan and was runner-up for the Heisman Trophy, awarded to the season’s best college player.

Walker started all 15 games for Georgia, who beat Michigan before defeating Alabama in the national championship game.

At the start of the year, Oregon’s defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux was expected to go first but teams have apparently been put off by ‘character concerns’ that have emerged during the draft process.

Aidan Hutchinson
Michigan graduate Aidan Hutchinson threw the first pitch at a Detroit Tigers game last weekend. Could he stay in Michigan with the NFL’s Detroit Lions, who have this year’s second draft pick?

What about the other picks?

That process is so intense that even a quarterback’s hand size was a talking point this year.

At the NFL combine, where the top prospects do various physical and mental tests, Kenny Pickett’s hand was short of what is considered the ideal size for an NFL quarterback.

In just 18 days, it had grown by the time of his pro day, which is another chance for players to showcase their skills at their home campus, yet was still short of the desired nine inches.

Despite all that, it still seems the Pittsburgh graduate will be the first quarterback selected. Many analysts say the Carolina Panthers will take him at six having had three different starters in that position last season.

Because of previous trades, eight teams have two first-round picks, with the beleaguered New York teams – Giants and Jets – having a great chance to turn around their fortunes with two in the top 10.

Atlanta, Seattle and Pittsburgh all saw long-term quarterbacks move on in the off-season and have top-20 picks. Malik Willis, Desmond Ridder and Matt Corral are among the other top QB prospects.

Who else to look out for?

Aberdeenshire’s David Ojabo spoke to BBC Scotland in 2020 about his NFL goal

Born in Nigeria and raised in Scotland, David Ojabo did not play American football till he was 17 but was set to be a top-20 pick.

Like his former Michigan team-mate Hutchinson, Ojabo is also a pass rusher and impressed at the combine.

But while doing an individual drill on Michigan’s pro day he suffered a torn Achilles that will rule him out of most, if not all, of the 2022 season.

The 21-year-old is still expected to be selected in the second round, perhaps even late in the first.

Devin Lloyd, the top-rated linebacker, is looking to honour two of his former Utah team-mates.

In 2020, Ty Jordan died after a self-inflicted accidental gunshot to his stomach. Shortly after, Lloyd opted against declaring for the 2021 draft to play another year at Utah.

Aaron Lowe adopted Jordan’s jersey number for the 2021 season but in September, he was shot dead at a house party.

Utah won their conference championship just nine weeks later, with Lloyd the game’s Most Valuable Player.

Meanwhile, Alabama A&M’s Aqeel Glass hopes to become the first quarterback from a historically black college and university (HBCU) to be drafted since 2006.

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