Buying or Selling Latest 2022 NFL Draft Rumors, Buzz

Brent Sobleski@@brentsobleskiNFL AnalystApril 19, 2022

Buying or Selling Latest 2022 NFL Draft Rumors, Buzz

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    NFL draft preparation is as much about deciphering what should happen through the din of the preseason process as it is actual evaluations.

    Smokescreens aplenty arise. Teams often use it to distract from the prospects their front offices actually like, or they serve as an attempt to get particular individuals to fall during the process for their benefit.

    But there's also another possibility. Sometimes there's truth behind the facade.

    General managers and those who cover the league must ascertain which part of the rumors and buzz is real and what isn't.

    Which players are rising or falling based on how franchises view them? Are their real concerns with certain prospects? What matches between player and team make the most sense?

    The draft serves as an unsolvable jigsaw puzzle that those in charge must do their best to piece together beforehand to prepare for almost any possibility. This is exactly why every organization works through numerous scenarios in the weeks leading up to the event.

    With the 10 days remaining before the first round officially begins in Las Vegas, the latest chatter still centers on the quarterback crop, with a few defensive players also coming into the spotlight.

Georgia's Travon Walker Is Favorite to Go No. 1 Overall

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press


    The Jacksonville Jaguars are in a bit of a predicament as the owners of this year's top draft selection. The organization claims the No. 1 overall pick for the second consecutive year. Unlike last year with quarterback Trevor Lawrence, a consensus top talent isn't available. 

    "Tough call for Jacksonville because [Michigan's] Aidan Hutchinson's such a safe pick," an anonymous general manager told NBC Sports' Peter King. "I look at [Jags GM] Trent Baalke's history going back to San Francisco.

    "That year he picked Aldon Smith [2011], look who he passed on—J.J. Watt, Cam Jordan. Bigger guys, sturdier guys. Trent picked the guy with tools and traits, Smith. That's why I think he'll take Travon Walker. Great kid, and he's got all the traits except consistent production."

    A lack of production shouldn't be glossed over, especially when a franchise plans to sink the draft's very first selection in said player. 

    Yes, Georgia featured a loaded defense with playmakers at every level. Furthermore, the coaching staff didn't ask Walker to be a pass-rusher consistently screaming off the edge. Even considering the defensive lineman's situation, the 21-year-old managed only 9.5 sacks in three seasons and played mostly along the interior. 

    "Walker's a one-year starter who had six-and-a-half sacks, with a lot of talent around him on a great Georgia defense," another general manager told King. "Again, I like him—but I prefer to base the grade on how he played football."

    Therein lies the concern. Walker is a phenomenal athlete with all the physical traits to blossom into an elite defender. His relative athletic score ranked third overall among defensive ends over the last 35 years, according to Pro Football Network's Kent Lee Platte. But he's also a major risk because he's much further behind on the developmental spectrum than other available defensive linemen. 

    For the Jaguars, a much safer pick may be the better play when there are similar talents available who can create an instant impact.

Kayvon Thibodeaux's Destiny Lies with New York Jets

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    Stephen Brashear/Associated Press


    Every year, a top prospect is picked apart to the point where it becomes embarrassing for those within the league who leaked information or made anonymous quotes against a young man. 

    Oregon's Kayvon Thibodeaux is the latest example. 

    Over the last two months, Thibodeaux's motor and attitude have been consistently questioned despite playing through a high ankle sprain during his final year on campus. 

    "He is a me guy, but we don't have a problem with him," a general manager told King. "His selfishness is overrated. Character-wise, he doesn't have a lot of negatives—he wants to be a great player, and I think he has all the tools to be a good NFL pass-rusher."

    Thibodeaux entered this season as one of the favorites to become the No. 1 overall pick. For full disclosure, the Oregon product remains Bleacher Report's highest-graded prospect. He stepped onto the Ducks' campus and dominated as a true freshman, won the Morris Trophy as the Pac-12 Conference's best defensive lineman the following year, and became a consensus All-American as a junior despite his injury.

    Awards don't fully encapsulate a prospect's potential, but Thibodeaux's explosivity and capabilities as an edge-rusher positioned him to be the next Myles Garrett or Jadeveon Clowney. Then, questions arose. However, Thibodeaux still appears earmarked for a top-four selection. 

    The defensive end met with the New York Jets Friday, according to NFL Network's Peter Schrager. 

    "I heard it went awesome," Schrager said on Good Morning Football. "Kayvon Thibodeaux came in and was spectacular. And by spectacular, not in the physical traits or on the board—spectacular in that, 'I'm a team guy, I wanna be great.'" 

    With Carl Lawson coming off a ruptured Achilles tendon and New York tying for No. 25 in sacks last season, the fourth overall pick appears to be Thibodeaux's draft floor. 

No Quarterbacks Will Be Drafted Among Top-10 Selections

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press


    It's not a secret. This year's quarterback class is one of the weakest in recent memory, but all it takes is one team to pull the trigger sooner than expected. 

    The Carolina Panthers, who own this year's sixth overall pick, appear to be the pendulum point. 

    "But unless Carolina takes one," a general manager told King, "I can't see any team picking one in the top 10."

    The comment is somewhat surprising and not because of the available talent. Rather, the need remains significant for certain organizations. Carolina may be the most obvious, with owner David Tepper seemingly steadfast in his determination to improve the position. The Atlanta Falcons and Seattle Seahawks are both without starting-caliber or long-term solutions at quarterback, and they own this year's eighth and ninth overall picks, respectively. 

    Signal-callers are almost always artificially inflated because the NFL is a quarterback-driven league, and everything is geared toward the position. With the rookie pay scale, a play for a suspect prospect has become far more palatable. In the end, teams may move up to get their preferred QB. 

    "I could actually see a scenario where if Carolina is focused on one guy at quarterback, they might have to move up a spot or two to make sure they get their guy," another GM told King.

    "I say that because you look at the teams in the middle of the round. New Orleans might want to move up, and with two ones now [at 16 and 19], they've got the ammo to move up. Pittsburgh [at 20] has had all their people at all these quarterback workouts—Mike Tomlin, [GM] Kevin Colbert, scouts."

    Liberty's Malik Willis is the most obvious option because he offers the most upside. He is also the furthest from being NFL-ready from a developmental standpoint among the top tier, though a team in need of a quarterback can't overlook his fantastic athleticism and electric arm talent.

    Someone will take a chance early because the position is too important not to do so.

Derek Stingley Jr. Settles Among Top-10 Picks

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    Sam Craft/Associated Press


    Derek Stingley Jr. was considered a future top-10 pick. Then, he wasn't. Now, he is again. 

    According to ESPN's Matt Miller, positive buzz has been building in Stingley's favor since his pro-day workout. However, previous questions about the cornerback's health and level of play still linger to some degree. 

    "Stingley is probably going in the top 10, and he hasn't played well since 2019," a league general manager told King. "How are you not worried about that? There's not a great, clean corner in this draft, and after the top two, I've got questions on them all."

    Cincinnati's Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner worked his way into being almost universally accepted as CB1. Stingley previously held the title, but the underclassman played in only 10 games over the last two seasons and missed the majority of last year's campaign because of a Lisfranc injury. His play certainly didn't live up to his performance after a breakout true freshman campaign during the Tigers' national championship run. 

    To be fair, Stingley revealed he actually injured his foot before the start of the 2020 campaign and simply played through it until he couldn't any longer, per The Athletic's Brody Miller

    When healthy, the 20-year-old cornerback may be the class' best defensive prospect. He certainly looked the part early in his collegiate career. According to yet another evaluator, Stingley has "the best feet of any corner I've ever seen."

    Stingley's pro-day effort reminded everyone what caliber of prospect he really is when he posted an impressive individual workout, including a low 4.4-second 40-yard dash, per NFL Network's Lance Zierlein. More importantly, the defensive back felt good doing it. 

    "Oh yeah, the 40, I could've run faster than that, but I feel fine. I don't feel any soreness or anything, so I'm good to go," Stingley told NFL Network's James Palmer (h/t Nick Shook). 

Ohio State's Garrett Wilson Sticks as WR1 and Top-10 Pick

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    Jay LaPrete/Associated Press


    Yet another deep wide receiver class is about to enter the NFL ranks. Generally, six targets are accepted as strong-first round possibilities. 

    USC's Drake London, Alabama's Jameson Williams, Penn State's Jahan Dotson, Arkansas' Treylon Burks and Ohio State's Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson have been attached at the hip throughout this year's draft cycle. None of the six has really established himself as the clear-cut top option, at least from an outside perspective. The league views it a little differently. 

    "Based on conversations I've had with teams since draft meetings have ended, Ohio State's Garrett Wilson is the consensus top receiver in this year's draft," Pro Football Network's Tony Pauline reported

    Pauline's sources served as a representation of a certain amount of teams but not all of them. Those he spoke with view Wilson as a strong top-10 possibility as well.

    "People inside the [New York] Jets' facility in Florham Park do not believe Wilson makes it to them with their second pick in Round 1, the 10th selection. This means it's a distinct possibility the [Atlanta] Falcons will take him at No. 8. The overall feeling is should the Falcons pass on Wilson at eight and the Jets at 10, the [Washington] Commanders will swipe him off the board with the 11th pick."

    The stacking of this year's wide receivers is important on two levels.

    First, varying skill sets can be found among the previously mentioned group. Some are bigger and more physical. Others are better route-runners. Wilson may be the most explosive of the bunch, potentially giving him an edge when teams are officially on the board. However, none of this year's crop is viewed similarly to Ja'Marr Chase last year, leading to the second point. 

    Without a truly elite option, there is no guarantee that the top wide receiver even goes in the initial 10 selections. Wilson may be under consideration by the Falcons and Jets, but other positions probably should take priority since it's such a deep receiver class. 

Steelers and Cincinnati's Desmond Ridder Make a Match

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    Gerald Herbert/Associated Press


    The Pittsburgh Steelers' traveling tour of this year's quarterback throwing circuit reinforced the already-obvious situation in which the franchise finds itself. General manager Kevin Colbert and head coach Mike Tomlin are all-in with this year's quarterback crop despite signing Mitchell Trubisky to a free-agent contract. 

    The thought of the Steelers not coming away with a developmental option in this year's first round seems like an organizational failure, though Pittsburgh doesn't hold fate in its hands. 

    If the Carolina Panthers, Atlanta Falcons, Seattle Seahawks or New Orleans Saints decide they like one of this year's signal-callers enough, each is currently better positioned to do so. But two important aspects will determine what the Steelers can do. 

    Generally, two quarterbacks have been viewed as a strong first-round possibilities, even in a down class. Liberty's Malik Willis presents tantalizing upside, while Pittsburgh's Kenny Pickett is a more developed option ready to step into a starting role. A third option picked up steam recently despite putting together a stellar final season on campus. 

    "Meanwhile, just about all the teams I've spoken with give Desmond Ridder a first-round grade and believe he'll come off the board in the bottom half of Round 1," Pauline said

    Pauline's projection has the Cincinnati quarterback situation right where the Steelers currently sit with the 20th overall pick. 

    "Ridder is really the wild card in the second half of Round 1," Mike Kaye of PFN wrote. "If the NFC South pounces on Pickett and/or Willis in the first 16 picks, look for Ridder to be a prime target of the Pittsburgh Steelers at No. 20."

    Ridder fits exactly what the Steelers need as a mature quarterback prospect capable of immediately competing for the starting spot while adding the type of athleticism Tomlin craves

Green Bay Packers Pass on a 1st-Round Wide Receiver Yet Again

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    Rick Osentoski/Associated Press


    When Aaron Rodgers drops back to pass this year, the reigning MVP may not recognize his targets. Davante Adams and Marquez Valdes-Scantling are now with the Las Vegas Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs, respectively. 

    Allen Lazard and Randall Cobb remain on the roster. The organization also signed Sammy Watkins to a one-year, $4 million contract. The Packers aren't in a position where they must force a wide receiver with either of their first-round selections. 

    "Here's the thing about Green Bay: They never go first round at a wide receiver," Jeremy Fowler said on ESPN's SportsCenter. "So second round or third round, they crush it in the draft with receiver. So they could do that." 

    While Green Bay's fan base might lose their collective minds by not using the 22nd or 28th picks on a wide receiver, the move makes sense in this year's class. The real depth of this year's class can be found on the second day. 

    "One of our analytics guys was talking about how COVID made this draft richer," a general manager told King. "Look at all the picks Baltimore has in the third and fourth rounds. [The Ravens have seven in the third and fourth combined.] Those picks are absolute gold. They are going to have a great draft. Five years from now, that will be the story to look back on."

    The Packers could address the trenches earlier in the process by drafting an offensive tackle and defensive lineman or another edge-rusher. Considering the wide receiver depth, the Packers' pair of second-round picks could very well be the sweet spot to address the position. 

    No incoming rookie will outright replace Adams, who is the game's best wide receiver. The Packers simply need another target that can threaten opposing defenses. Recent history shows those players can be found beyond the opening frame. 

Washington's Kyler Gordon Sneaks into 1st Round

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    Ted S. Warren/Associated Press


    Cornerbacks are always in demand since a pass-first league requires defenders capable of slowing today's dynamic receivers. 

    Cincinnati's Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner, LSU's Derek Stingley Jr. and Washington's Trent McDuffie are viewed as consensus first-round options. From there, questions abound about which cornerback will be the next off the board. McDuffie's teammate, Kyler Gordon, appears to be the favored choice. 

    "Spoke to a few teams recently, and none think he makes it to Round 2," ESPN's Matt Miller tweeted about Gordon.

    Jeremy Fowler backed Miller's report: "Heard his name multiple times this weekend from scouts who thought he's been underplayed in process." 

    Gordon will have some competition from Clemson's Andrew Booth Jr., Florida's Kaiir Elam and possibly Auburn's Roger McCreary. The position itself will be pushed up boards because every team is looking for a quality cover corner. 

    However, Gordon might have the inside track as the class' CB4 and is a strong first-round contender. 

    According to Pro Football Focus' Austin Gayle, Gordon tied for second among the incoming corner class by allowing a minuscule 0.7 yards per coverage snap. The first-team All-Pac-12 performer also didn't allow a single touchdown over the last two seasons. 

    The 5'11", 194-pound corner doesn't have top-end speed, but he does have elite change-of-direction skills and plays press coverage at a high level. 

    Teams near the back end of the first round won't wait if their secondary needs to be addressed. Gordon may not display elite speed, but he played the position at a high level over the last two years, making him an extremely valuable prospect.