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LAS VEGAS — Some things are simply true in this town and haven’t changed, even while the NFL draft is visiting:
The older hotels with the big names everyone recognizes still cover their floors with the planet’s dingiest carpeting and their lobby casinos still fill the air with cigarette smoke. And no one complains or perhaps even notices because there are games of chance to be played, shows to see, or enormous blue pools to visit.
Maybe that’s why the 2022 draft is a good fit here — because this draft also comes with some warts, just ask the teams that need a quarterback.
But no one is complaining because even the first round that begins at 8 p.m. on Thursday will be a wonderful game of chance, the most attended show on the strip, and a record eight teams are scheduled to visit the talent pool two times in the round.
And what a round we might have because even its start could be something of a surprise.
“I went to bed last night thinking one guy was going to be the first pick and woke up this morning and said, ‘Nah,'” NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah told OutKick on Wednesday.
The Jacksonville Jaguars own the first pick and could still go a number of different directions. Multiple NFL people believe the first pick will be Georgia defensive lineman Travon Walker. But North Carolina State offensive tackle Ickey Ekwonu remains in the mix, too.
Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson supposedly had the top spot virtually locked up a couple of weeks ago, but that thinking has changed recently.
“I don’t understand how this even works,” Hutchinson said Wednesday, acknowledging what looks like a drop from the top spot. “It’s hard not to see at this point with Travon coming up and the odds out there coming out. The teams are going to do what they’re going to do.”
Jeremiah believes the Jaguars could throw a “curveball” and pick Ekwonu. But he sees the path for Walker to Jacksonville to be much more clear.
“I know with Doug [Pederson] having been in Philly with two great tackles,” Jeremiah said. “So I understand the argument for that with Ickey.
“I went back and watched Walker and did not think he played great when I watched the end of last year. So I can wrap my mind around saying, ‘OK you take Ickey, he plays right tackle. You just signed Cam Robinson to play left tackle, trying to help your quarterback.”
So Jeremiah is weighing both Walker and Ekwonu at No. 1
“I think it’s one of those two,” he said.
If Walker goes No. 1 to Jacksonville, the consensus among folks within the league is the Detroit Lions, who hold the No. 2 pick, will select Hutchinson and keep the Michigan Wolverine in the state.
If Ekwonu goes No. 1, then the Lions will have a discussion about Walker versus Hutchinson. At any rate, Hutchinson does not fall out of the top 5.
The amazing thing in all this is Walker has come from way back in the draft pack to possibly be its leader by the end of Thursday night. He didn’t start a game at Georgia until 2021 and had only 6 sacks last season, compared to 14 for Hutchinson.
But Walker was amazing at the NFL Combine, running the 40-yard dash in 4.51 and flashing a 35 1/2 inch vertical leap at 275 pounds.
So is Walker the latest workout warrior whose gifts don’t translate to games?
“I would say this, the tape does show his speed,” said Stanford coach David Shaw, who will be part of the NFL Network coverage this weekend. “The tape shows his physical tools. He is long, he is physical. You see him win one-on-one matchups.
“So it’s not like you have a guy who runs really fast but can’t play. This guy is running over guards. He’s beating tackles in speed rushes. He’s playing the game against the best competition at the highest [college] level. You just don’t see the volume that maybe you see in other guys. But the tools are there. The talent is there.”
NFL analyst Charles Davis has been a Walker believer for some time, placing him atop his mock draft for months. Why?
“Walker’s traits, gifts, speed of play, effort of play, and understanding that Georgia didn’t ask him to be that guy — they asked him to be one of the other guys, take on double teams,” Davis said. “They have three linebackers who are going to be drafted because he did the dirty work.
And there’s this: “Trent Baalke is the GM in Jacksonville,” Davis said. “The type of players he drafted at San Francisco look a lot like Travon Walker.”
How about the rest of the draft?
Jeremiah predicts three wide receivers will be picked in the top 10.
“I have the wideouts flying,” he said, referring to Ohio State’s Garrett Wilson to the New York Giants, Drake London to the New York Jets and Alabama’s Jameson Williams to the Atlanta Falcons with the No. 8 selection.
The quarterbacks have been a topic of discussion and perhaps even disappointment in some circles because the class offers no obvious elite talent.
Most everyone believes Kenny Pickett and Malik Willis will be the first two quarterbacks selected, but where they go won’t merely depend on their abilities, according to Shaw.
“You’ve got two buckets with the quarterbacks,” Shaw said. “You’ve got a bucket of quarterbacks who are ready to play. They’ve got experience, they’ve got talent. They can come in and start right away. Pickett’s at the top of that list.
“And then you’ve got the quarterbacks that maybe have a higher ceiling athletically but maybe aren’t quite as polished as Pickett. We’re talking Willis. But there are multiple guys in those two buckets for me.”
And why is this important to the coach serving as a network analyst?
“This is when I take my scouting hat off and put my coaching hat on and ask where am I as a coach?” Shaw said. “Am I on the hot seat? If yes, then don’t give me a guy that’s going to take two years to develop because somebody else is going to be coaching that guy.
“If I’m on the hot seat, give me a guy who’s more ready to play so I can keep my job and we can win right away because he has to play right away.
“But if I’m a new coach and I have a year or two and we’re building, yeah, give me one of those guys that has a potentially higher ceiling. And I’ll grow with him over the next year or two if he’s not ready to play right now.”
Follow on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero