The 2022 NFL draft is still more than two months away, and there’s a lot of time for the narrative at the top of the first round to change. We’ve already seen a shift among NFL draft analysts about what will happen with the first overall pick, with the popular trend leaning toward Alabama offensive tackle Evan Neal being the choice instead of the months-long suggestion that it would be Michigan edge rusher Aidan Hutchinson.
But just because NFL draft analysts are beginning to change their stance doesn’t mean that it’s a consensus opinion. Take the oddsmakers at Caesars Sportsbook, for example, who still have Hutchinson as the betting favorite to be the Jacksonville Jaguars’ pick at No. 1.
Hutchinson (+160) has a narrow lead over Neal (+200). The gap widens a bit between Neal and the third most-likely prospect to be the first pick, Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux (+400).
North Carolina State offensive tackle Ikem Ekwonu is fourth at +800, and from there, the odds get a bit steeper. Mississippi State offensive tackle Charles Cross (+4000), Liberty quarterback Malik Willis (+4000), and Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett (+5000) are the remaining prospects who have a pulse at being the No. 1 pick.
Evan Neal is the safe bet to be the first overall pick
It isn’t hard to understand why Neal has closed in on Hutchinson to be the oddsmakers’ top choice. He’s already become that guy for most NFL draft analysts, and after studying his tape, I’m leaning in that direction too.
My top prospect in the 2022 NFL draft is Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton, but the best player doesn’t always go first overall. Especially if the best player is a safety. But our No. 2 player is Neal and considering he plays a premium position that’s also a weakness of the Jaguars, it’s a square peg, square hole scenario. Jacksonville’s number one goal this offseason will be to build the roster around quarterback Trevor Lawrence, and the best way to do that is by ensuring his protection is strong.
Neal is an absolute freak. His massive frame is complemented well by better-than-expected movement skills and the strength of a professional wrestler. Barring injury, Neal will be a high-level starter in the NFL for a decade. So, yeah, the Jaguars can feel pretty good about spending the first pick on him if that’s the direction they take.
The only way I don’t see Neal being the No. 1 overall pick at this point is if the Jaguars decide to trade out. The 2022 NFL draft offers its most value in the latter portion of the first round and high number of day two prospects who profile as quality NFL starters.