NFL – Draft: What are the Jaguars doing in first place?

Follow the first round of the NFL Draft Thursday, April 28 at 8 p.m. on RDS2 and RDS Direct.

When NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell took the mic last year for the first pick of the 2021 NFL Draft, the Jacksonville Jaguars believed their fortunes would change with the pick of quarterback Clemson Trevor Lawrence. A year later, the same Jaguars will again be speaking in the front row of the auction, but this time the identity of the very first player selected remains uncertain.

Protect Lawrence or attack the other quarterback?

Given the draft, the question remains whether the Jags want to hedge their investment in Lawrence with a top-class lineman to avoid an Andrew Luck scenario, or want to put pressure on opposing teams with probably the second most important part of a successful team, a Star Quarterback Chaser. This first question automatically develops a second set of sub-questions. If Jacksonville chooses the defensive line, Michigan’s Aiden Hutchinson, Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux, or Georgia’s Trevor Walker? And if not, on offense? Evan Neal from Alabama or Ikem Ekwonu from NC State?

Everything seems to indicate that the Jags will be headed for one of the Quarterback Chasers, but since the NFL draft is always full of surprises, don’t put your house on it for safety!

On the one hand Hutchinson, a complete defensive end who does everything well, both against the run and against the pass. At six feet tall, he finished the 2021 season with 14 quarterback sacks and a Heisman Trophy nomination. His game is comparable to that of the 49ers’ Nick Bosa and his impact should be felt immediately in the NFL.

On the other side is Kayvon Thibodeaux’s call for potential. He hasn’t destroyed everything in the NCAA, but his physical potential is undeniable at a six-foot frame with a deadly first step. The former ESPN No. 1 recruit in 2019 has all the tools in his chest after high school, but whether he can develop them to become an impact player in the NFL remains to be seen. In that sense, Thibodeaux is very similar to former first overall winner Jadeveon Clowney. Thibodeaux could also pay the cost of not developing Clowney, who has disappointed more often than not in the NFL. But if Josh Allen’s dominance at the Buffalo Bills proved anything, it’s that the successful development of a prospect with all the tools transforms a franchise.

As if racking our brains between two top prospects for the quarterback rusher position wasn’t enough in recent weeks, a third name has come to the fore. Georgia University’s Travon Walker was never far behind the other two, but the drafting process allowed him to put his nomination for the first-choice up for discussion. A bit like Thibodeaux, Walker is a complete athlete and he has all the physical makings to be dominant. He did very well on physical tests and draft interviews, which caught the eye of several teams. His attitude and leadership allowed him to rise in the draft forecasts. His stats aren’t amazing at 9.5 quarterback sacks in three seasons with the Bulldogs, but several analysts believe Georgia’s playing style is more responsible for his low stats than anything else. Another big conversion potential for NFL reasons.

On the other side of the coin, if the Jaguars are looking to transform their organization through their quarterback, it wouldn’t be foolish to invest in a lineman who can protect Lawrence’s health.

Evan Neal is one who has been highly anticipated throughout his college career. At 6’1″ and about 337 pounds (sometimes heavier according to various sources), Neal has the physique to keep his cool at Goodell Circuit. Neal excels in ground play thanks to his power, but he knows how to use his big frame to force defensive players around him to go to the quarterback in a passing situation. In the last two seasons, he’s only allowed pressure on his quarterback 24 times. However, he might have a harder time curbing the pace of the NFL’s fastest defensive end. Last year in Alabama he made the transition from right tackle to left tackle, a versatility that could serve the Jaguars…or any team!

Another possible lucky front row player would be Ikem Ekwonu. Ekwonu came to NC State with far fewer expectations than Neal, but he managed to slip into the left tackle role in his rookie season. A little smaller than Neal, he makes up for that with considerable power that makes him particularly menacing in ground play. Ekwonu plays aggressively, but his pass protection still needs work. Ekwonu played four games at left-back in 2020 before switching to offense, where he finished his collegiate career. A gentleman off the pitch, Ekwonu oozes aggression on the pitch. If he can channel that power and aggression, he could be a formidable lineman in the NFL.

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