Last year, the Jaguars couldn’t sprint to the podium fast enough to select Trevor Lawrence with the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft.
This year, they can’t give the No. 1 pick away.
“Nobody has called directly,” Jaguars general manager Trent Baalke said last week.
Last year’s draft, which was loaded with elite quarterbacks and receivers, was easy for prognosticators. Every mock draft started 3 for 3 because everyone knew the order was going to be Lawrence, Zach Wilson, and Trey Lance. There also was no doubt that Kyle Pitts, Ja’Marr Chase, Jaylen Waddle, and Penei Sewell were going in the top 10. The only unknown was the order.
This year’s draft, to be held Thursday through Saturday night in Las Vegas, is the exact opposite. The Jaguars’ No. 1 pick remains a mystery. The top 10 is a total tossup. Most draft analysts don’t have their first quarterback ranked until the 20s. Eight teams have already dealt away their first-round picks. The teams at the top of the draft are trying to trade back, but with no luck so far.
“I don’t know that I can remember a year with more uncertainty,” said NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah, a 10-year NFL scout. “It’s kind of fun not even knowing who the first pick is going to be.”
Jeremiah points to Purdue pass rusher George Karlaftis as an example of how varied the grades are on some of the prospects.
“There’s teams that think he’s one of the top 15 players, and there’s teams that think he’s not worth a first- or second-round pick,” Jeremiah said. “So that’s where to me it’s different than any other draft.”
Chiefs general manager Brett Veach has the Nos. 29 and 30 picks and in most years would be feeling confident about coming away with two solid players. But he said the Chiefs have a first-round grade on only 18 players and “the odds of maybe one of those guys falling isn’t great.”
“When you look at value in this draft, 30-60 is really good,” Veach said. “There will be really good players in that second and third round.”
This draft doesn’t seem to have elite talent at most of the glamour positions — quarterback, receiver, or defensive end. It could mark the first draft in history that doesn’t have a quarterback, running back, receiver, or tight end go in the top 10, though Jeremiah believes otherwise.
“The Jets kind of are one that stands out to me,” said Jeremiah, noting that New York has the fourth and 10th picks. “If the Jets had the pick of the litter at No. 10 with all the wideouts still left, I would have a hard time believing that they don’t walk away with that guy if that’s the case.”
Quarterback, especially, is a position without any must-have prospects. Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett and Liberty’s Malik Willis have a chance to go in the top 10, and Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder and Ole Miss’s Matt Corral have a chance to go in the first round, but only because quarterbacks are usually over-drafted. If teams stick to their boards, this could mark the first draft since 2013 with no quarterbacks taken in the top 10.
ESPN’s Mel Kiper said Mac Jones, the fifth quarterback taken in 2021, would be the first quarterback drafted in 2022. Jeremiah believes there will be more jockeying for quarterbacks at the end of the first round instead of the beginning because the quarterbacks are all considered projects. The end of the first round is better than the beginning of the second because a first-round contract comes with a fifth-year option, buying the team and player another year of development.
The draft is deep at receiver, which may work against some of the top players. Pro Bowl talent such as Deebo Samuel, D.K. Metcalf, A.J. Brown, and Terry McLaurin has been drafted in the second and third rounds in recent years. As many as six receivers could be taken in the first round this year, but probably toward the middle and later parts.
“I think you’re going to see receivers every year, from now on, being one of the deeper classes because of all the seven-on-seven and all the passing that’s starting at youth level,” Bills GM Brandon Beane said.
Of course, just because the draft doesn’t appear to have elite talent at the top doesn’t mean it will end up being a bad draft. Patriots director of player personnel Matt Groh said the draft has “good depth.”
“It’s so easy to just get caught up on the splash names, 1 through 5,” he said. “Every year it’s pretty easy to say, ‘OK, well, here’s a group of players in that second and third round.’ There’s just more of those players than there are guys at the very top of the board.”
The top of the draft will be dominated by pass rushers, cornerbacks, and offensive linemen. But just days before the draft, no one seems to know which players will have their names called.
“There’s so little that’s known at this point in time,” Jeremiah said. “We don’t know where these quarterbacks slot in and where they’ll end up going.
“It provides a lot of intrigue. We might not have those ‘star’ stars that we’ve had the last couple years up at the top, but I don’t believe we’ve ever had more intrigue than we do this year with this draft.”
Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.