Fact or Fiction: Updating the Latest Buzz Around 2022 Draft-Day Rumors

Alex Ballentine@Ballentine_AlexFeatured ColumnistApril 27, 2022

Fact or Fiction: Updating the Latest Buzz Around 2022 Draft-Day Rumors

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    Michigan edge Aidan Hutchinson
    Michigan edge Aidan HutchinsonAssociated Press

    With just one day before the 2022 NFL draft, there's no shortage of rumors floating around regarding the event. The question is which rumors are true and which are fabrications. 

    Whether it's rumors surrounding veterans who could be traded, surprise picks or teams targeting specific players, there are rumblings of all kinds. 

    It's also peak time for lies and half-truths as teams will inevitably leak information they are hoping winds up in the hands of their opponents. 

    As usual, some of this year's predraft rumors will turn out to be true. Others won't come to fruition. 

    As we languish in the last hours of anticipation for this year's draft in Las Vegas, here's a look at whether the latest buzz will wind up being fact or fiction.  

Fiction: Jaguars Will Take Travon Walker with the No. 1 Pick

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    Georgia edge Travon Walker
    Georgia edge Travon WalkerAssociated Press

    Aidan Hutchinson has officially been replaced as the favorite to go first. 

    ESPN's Todd McShay reported Monday that "all the intel" he's gathered is pointing toward the Jacksonville Jaguars taking Georgia defensive lineman Travon Walker with the first overall selection. 

    The idea of Walker at No. 1 isn't new. Maurice Jones-Drew of NFL Network had Walker going to Jacksonville in a mock draft back in March. 

    But that pick has gone from being a shock to being the expectation. He's the current betting favorite to go No. 1 at DraftKings Sportbook

    There's reason to believe it's true. In the past, general manager Trent Baalke has shown he has an affinity for athletic traits. When he was the GM of the San Francisco 49ers, he took Aldon Smith seventh overall in the 2011 draft despite Smith having just three sacks in his final season at Missouri. 

    And Walker posted the third-highest relative athletic score of any defensive end since 1987, per Kent Lee Platte of Pro Football Network. 

    However, it's worth noting that nearly all of the people McShay talked to told him they would take Michigan end Aidan Hutchinson over Walker. And while Smith didn't have a ton of sacks in his final season at Missouri, he had 11.5 as a freshman. The most Walker ever recorded in a single season was six.

    With Hutchinson and even proven offensive tackles like Alabama's Evan Neal and NC State's Ikem Ekwonu on the board, it's hard to believe Baalke is going to risk taking Walker with the first overall pick.  

Fiction: Texans Will Take Derek Stingley Jr. at No. 3

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    LSU cornerback Derek Stingley Jr.
    LSU cornerback Derek Stingley Jr.Associated Press

    The Houston Texans could be seen as a wild card within the top five. They have needs all over their roster and are in a position to take the top player on their board. 

    That puts several prospects in play, and Ian Rapoport of NFL Network added another name to the mix Tuesday: LSU cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. (B/R scouting report here). 

    In his reporting, Rapoport brought up offensive tackles Ikem Ekwonu and Evan Neal along with cornerback Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner before calling Stingley "one to watch."

    The ceiling for Stingley is elite. His freshman season at LSU in 2019 included six interceptions, and he held opponents to a 51.4 passer rating on a team that won the national championship, according to PFF

    However, he hasn't registered an interception since that season and gave up a passer rating of 128.1 in the three games he played in 2021 with a foot injury. 

    Gardner has three years of consistent tape backing him up. According to PFF, he hasn't given up a touchdown in three seasons, and the highest passer rating he allowed was 39.4 as a freshman.

    It's hard to justify taking Stingley over Gardner, especially with the third overall pick. 

Fiction: Jets Will Take Jermaine Johnson over Kayvon Thibodeaux at No. 4

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    Florida State edge Jermaine Johnson II
    Florida State edge Jermaine Johnson IIAssociated Press

    The New York Jets have two big opportunities to improve the talent on their roster with the fourth and 10th picks. 

    One need they could address is edge defender. While names like Kayvon Thibodeaux and Travon Walker are fairly common in the top five of mock drafts, Dane Brugler of The Athletic reported Monday that the Jets could favor a surprise candidate in Florida State's Jermaine Johnson II (scouting report here).

    It would be shocking if they took Johnson over Thibodeaux at No. 4. The Oregon edge-rusher is the No. 1 overall player on the Bleacher Report Scouting Department's big board, while Johnson is 38th. 

    Johnson is 23 years old and has just one season of real college production. His 11.5 sacks in 2021 look impressive on first glance, but half of those came in two games against Miami and Jacksonville State. Johnson racked up a pressure rate of 21.4 percent against Jacksonville State and Boston College but was at just 10.8 percent against everyone else, per Ryan McCrystal of Sharp Football Analysis. 

    It isn't as though defensive end is the only need for the Jets. Cornerbacks and offensive tackles should be in play as well. So even if the Jets don't actually like Thibodeaux, it seems much more plausible they'll take someone like Evan Neal or Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner at No. 4.  

Fact: Panthers Will Not Trade for Baker Mayfield on Day 1

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    Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield
    Browns quarterback Baker MayfieldAssociated Press

    After the Cleveland Browns went all-in on trading for and signing Deshaun Watson despite the 22 pending civil lawsuits from women accusing him of sexual assault and misconduct, Baker Mayfield needs a new team. 

    The Carolina Panthers are in need of a starting quarterback. Given the success Mayfield had in 2020 and the fact that he played through a torn labrum in a difficult 2021 season, it would make sense for the Panthers to be interested in acquiring him. 

    Just don't expect any sort of trade to be worked out during the first round of the draft. Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reported Monday the Panthers are not expected to make a move for Mayfield in Round 1. He noted the Panthers will wait until after the round unfolds before considering their options. 

    That makes sense. The Panthers pick sixth and could take a quarterback. 

    The Browns have certainly not set themselves up to get much compensation for Mayfield. ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported in March that the team wanted "an adult" at quarterback and did not come to an agreement to trade their incumbent starter before eventually acquiring Watson. 

    While a draft-weekend trade is within the realm of possibility, there isn't much impetus on teams to offer up a trade when the Browns may have to just release Mayfield down the line. 

Fact: Eagles Prefer Jameson Williams at No. 15

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    Jameson Williams
    Jameson WilliamsAssociated Press

    This year's crop of wide receivers is interesting from an evaluation standpoint. 

    The Bleacher Report Scouting Department is high on USC's Drake London with a 9.0 grade, but receivers 2-7 are close, with Ohio State's Chris Olave (8.7) coming in second and Garrett Wilson (8.3) coming in sixth. 

    The result is going to be teams tipping their hand on what they're looking for. It's a diverse group, and a peek at big boards across the internet will yield several different perspectives on where each should be ranked. 

    So when Todd McShay of ESPN reported Monday that Alabama's Jameson Williams is the receiver the Eagles "prefer" with the No. 15 pick, it's easy to buy into that narrative. 

    Williams was tabbed as the receiver with the "best speed" in a February iteration of the B/R big board. One of the only drawbacks to drafting him early is that he is still recovering from the torn ACL he suffered in the national championship game against Georgia. 

    The Eagles have already shown they are willing to remain patient in building this team. They already traded one of their first-rounders in this year's draft to gain a first-round pick in 2023. 

    They aren't going to mind if they have to give Williams a longer runway to being an impact player if it means they get a big-play threat to pair with DeVonta Smith.   

Fact: Teams More Interested in Trading Back Than Trading Up

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    Jets general manager Joe Douglas
    Jets general manager Joe DouglasAssociated Press

    The idea that there are more teams looking to trade back than trade up is one that seems to come out every year. 

    This year is no exception, and there's reason to believe it. Adam Schefter of ESPN reported Monday that "multiple teams in the top half of the draft have inquired with others to try to trade back in the first round." 

    The notion that this year's top 10 prospects are a bit underwhelming is supported by the B/R big board. According to B/R's grading scale, a prospect with a 9.5 to 9.9 grade is a top-five prospect, while a 9.0 to 9.4 grade indicates a top-10 prospect.

    Kayvon Thibodeaux (9.2), Evan Neal (9.0) and Drake London (9.0) are the only prospects to receive a top-10 grade. 

    The lack of quarterbacks also factors in. Last year's big board featured four in the top 10. This year, Cincinnati's Desmond Ridder is the top-rated quarterback at No. 17. 

    While there are a few teams that may want to trade back, the biggest challenge is going to be finding a partner. 

Fiction: Tyler Linderbaum Will Fall Out of the 1st Round

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    Iowa center Tyler Linderbaum
    Iowa center Tyler LinderbaumAssociated Press

    The fall of Tyler Linderbaum (scouting report here) during the predraft process is one of the more puzzling developments. According to NFL Mock Draft Database, Linderbaum was No. 9 on the consensus big board in February and a popular top-15 selection in mock drafts. 

    Now there's buzz that he won't even be selected in the first round. 

    ESPN's Todd McShay reported that he has heard of three names that could fall out of Round 1: Linderbaum, Georgia linebacker Nakobe Dean (scouting report here) and Purdue defensive end George Karlaftis (scouting report here). 

    That same drop in perception hasn't happened on the Bleacher Report big board. The Iowa center is ranked 12th overall and No. 1 among interior offensive linemen in the latest iteration. 

    Linderbaum's below-average size (6'2" and 296 pounds) and positional value as a center are likely to keep him in the latter part of the first round. 

    However, it's hard to see teams passing him by in the first 32 picks. He has been the top-graded center by PFF in each of the last two seasons. He finished fifth in 2019 after switching from the defensive side of the ball. 

    Allowing Linderbaum to fall to the second round would be a massive overthink by GMs.

Fact: There Will Be a Late Run on Quarterbacks in the 1st Round

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    Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder
    Cincinnati quarterback Desmond RidderAssociated Press

    The 2022 class of quarterbacks is hard to figure out. The Bleacher Report Scouting Department has a first-round grade on one passer: Desmond Ridder of Cincinnati (scouting report here). 

    Even that opinion is far from consensus. The Athletic put together a big board drawing from more than 60 analysts, and Ridder was QB4 in those rankings. 

    Therein lies the problem. No one can agree who is the best quarterback, let alone on his ability to lead a franchise.

    That uncertainty could lead to a somewhat unique situation. Tom Pelissero of NFL Network reported Monday that there could be a "bit of a run late in Round 1 on Thursday night, with one or more trades back in to snag a quarterback."

    This would make sense. Taking a player in the first round gives teams the possibility of a fifth-year contract option. The option is more expensive than it was before the 2020 collective bargaining agreement, but it still offers an extra year of team control.

    In addition, there are teams in the back half of the round that could be looking for a quarterback. The New Orleans Saints (16th, 19th) and Pittsburgh Steelers (20th) could both be looking for a 2022 starter. The Titans (26th) could be a surprise candidate to draft a quarterback. Ryan Tannehill is entering his age-34 season. 

    It's much more likely that there will be three or four quarterbacks taken in the back half of the round than the first half.