The outset of the 2022 NFL Draft in Las Vegas had a definite defensive flavor.
The first five players selected Thursday night play on the defensive side of the ball, beginning with the Jacksonville Jaguars using the No. 1 overall pick on Georgia edge rusher Travon Walker.
There wasn’t an offensive skill player chosen until the Atlanta Falcons selected Southern California wide receiver Drake London with the eighth overall pick.
The biggest Las Vegas-style theatrics occurred in the middle of the first round when the Philadelphia Eagles acquired receiver A.J. Brown from the Tennessee Titans for the 18th overall pick and a third-round choice.
Brown was disgruntled with his contract situation and Philadelphia resolved that by reportedly agreeing to a four-year, $100 million, including $57 million guaranteed, with the 2020 Pro Bowler. The Titans used the pick on a replacement, Arkansas wideout Treylon Burks, who caught 66 passes for 1,104 yards and 11 touchdowns in 12 games last season.
The only quarterback selected in the first round was Pitt’s Kenny Pickett, who was chosen by the Pittsburgh Steelers, meaning he will play his NFL home games in the same stadium where he starred as a collegian.
Pickett set school single-season records of 4,319 yards and 42 touchdowns last season — the scoring passes are also an Atlantic Coast Conference mark — and Pitt career records of 12,303 yards and 81 touchdowns.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said Pickett will compete with Mason Rudolph and Mitchell Trubisky for the starting job. Pittsburgh was searching for a replacement for the retired Ben Roethlisberger.
“We circled the globe, or at least the United States, the last couple months, exploring and researching, and it’s funny that we ended up with the guy next door,” Tomlin said.
The Jaguars kicked off the festivities for the second straight season and were sold on Walker, who had six sacks last season while helping Georgia win the national championship. He had 9.5 sacks over three seasons with the Bulldogs.
Walker started all 15 games last season after not previously making a single start.
Walker, who wasn’t in Las Vegas, was involved in a car accident two weeks ago in Georgia. He said in a post-draft teleconference that it was a minor crash.
“Just a little fender-bender, nothing crazy,” said Walker, who watched the draft from a hotel in Atlanta. “It’s not really much of details to give you. It wasn’t much to it. Just a little fender-bender. Things happen.”
Walker, who was clocked in 4.51 seconds over 40 yards, is the first Georgia player to go No. 1 overall since the Detroit Lions selected quarterback Matthew Stafford in 2009.
Georgia had five defensive players selected. In addition to Walker, defensive tackle Jordan Davis (No. 13) was selected by the Eagles, linebacker Quay Walker (No. 22) and defensive tackle Devonte Wyatt (No. 28) both went to the Green Bay Packers and safety Lewis Cine was the 32nd and final pick of the round by the Minnesota Vikings.
Jacksonville chose quarterback Trevor Lawrence from Clemson to start the 2021 draft.
The Lions tabbed defensive end Aidan Hutchinson with the second pick. The Heisman Trophy runner-up was pleased to stay in the area after being a star at Michigan.
“I’m happy I get to go back to Detroit, go back to Motor City, hopefully win some ballgames and get back to winning,” Hutchinson told NFL Network. “I’m fired up.”
Hutchinson set a school record with 14 sacks last season while earning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors.
The Houston Texans used the third overall pick on LSU cornerback Derek Stingley Jr., who played in just 10 games over the past two seasons.
Stingley was limited to three games in 2021 due to a foot injury, but NFL teams never forgot the talents he displayed while being a consensus All-American in 2019. He recorded six interceptions in 15 games that season and helped the Tigers win the national championship.
The New York Jets also tabbed a cornerback at No. 4, Cincinnati’s Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner.
The player who had nine career interceptions in 37 games (28 starts) with the Bearcats showed off a new SAUCE necklace.
“The Jets fans know, man. They know about the sauce. You can’t have too much sauce,” Gardner said. “So I added a new addition — extra sauce. This new pendant is the extra sauce.”
The New York Giants used the fifth overall pick on edge rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux of Oregon.
Thibodeaux had 35.5 tackles for loss — including 19 sacks — in 32 games (21 starts) over three seasons for the Ducks.
“Just to be part of the family and an organization like this is ridiculous,” Thibodeaux said of joining the Giants.
The Carolina Panthers ended the splurge on defensive players when they tabbed North Carolina State offensive tackle Ikem Ekwonu with the No. 6 pick.
Ekwonu started 31 games at NC State — 27 at left tackle, four at left guard — and grew up in Charlotte, so he was ecstatic to be chosen by the Panthers.
“This is a dream come true. This feels so surreal,” Ekwonu said. “To grow up being a Carolina Panthers fan and now I’m going to be in that building is really just crazy to me.”
The Giants were on the board again at No. 7, and they followed the Panthers’ lead by selecting offensive tackle Evan Neal of Alabama.
Neal started all 40 games at Alabama and brings versatility as he started 15 games at left tackle, 13 at left guard and 12 at right tackle. He was a consensus All-America left tackle in 2021.
Atlanta grabbed London at No. 8, the highest the club has selected a wide receiver since tabbing Julio Jones sixth overall in 2011.
London made 160 catches for 2,153 yards and 15 touchdowns in 27 games at USC. He had 88 receptions in just eight games last season and was Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year despite sustaining a season-ending ankle injury.
The Seattle Seahawks chose offensive tackle Charles Cross of Mississippi State with the ninth pick. Cross started 22 games at left tackle over the last two seasons and earned first-team All-SEC honors.
The Jets, choosing 10th, tabbed Ohio State receiver Garrett Wilson, who caught 70 passes for 1,058 yards and 12 touchdowns last season.
Another Ohio State wideout went 11th, Chris Olave, after the New Orleans Saints obtained the pick from the Washington Commanders.
Alabama receiver Jameson Williams went 12th to the Lions. After Philadelphia chose Davis, the Baltimore Ravens selected Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton 14th and the Houston Texans followed with Texas A&M guard Kenyon Green.
The Commanders chose Penn State wideout Jahan Dotson with the 16th pick, and the Los Angeles Chargers followed by selecting guard Zion Johnson of Boston College.
After Burks went to the Titans as part of the Brown trade, the Saints selected Northern Iowa offensive tackle Trevor Penning with the 19th overall choice.
Pickett’s selection didn’t start a run on quarterbacks. Liberty’s Malik Willis, often mentioned as a first-round pick, wasn’t chosen and will be available Friday when the second and third rounds are held.
–Field Level Media