The NFL scouting combine rarely vaults or tanks the stock of draft prospects – at least in terms of what they do in terms of on-field drills – such performances typically confirming what scouts know as opposed to being particularly revelatory. The most crucial information gleaned from a typical combine is derived from medical checks or players’ interviews with individual teams.
That’s not to say a combine can’t, at minimum, have a rippling effect in the early rounds of a draft, especially at this stage of the process. So with the 2022 edition complete, here’s a fresh Round 1 outlook for this April’s draft:
1. Jacksonville Jaguars – OT Ikem ‘Ickey’ Ekwonu, North Carolina State: The Jags are in the enviable/unenviable position of being the second team in four years with back-to-back No. 1 overall picks. The Browns went pass rusher (Myles Garrett) plus quarterback (Baker Mayfield), a course Jacksonville might also use considering QB Trevor Lawrence was selected in 2021 and this year’s best players might be edge guys. But Jacksonville needs to safeguard Lawrence, presumably for the next decade-plus, must better a 22nd-ranked run game and definitely needs to score more after posting the fewest points in the league in 2021. Enter Ekwonu, who’s a mauler with sweet feet on the blind side – the 6-4, 310-pounder ran a sub-5 second 40-yard dash at the combine – and has a delightful personality to boot. Given his potential to help unlock this offense, why not make a guy who once starred in “The Aristocats” as a kid a leading Jaguar?
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2. Detroit Lions – DE Aidan Hutchinson, Michigan: Certainly a highly realistic chance he goes No. 1 to Jacksonville given his widely praised character, relentless effort between the lines and production, the Heisman Trophy finalist setting a Wolverines record with 14 sacks in 2021. The 6-7, 260-pounder’s approach to the game certainly seems to dovetail with the culture Lions coach Dan Campbell is trying to cultivate, and Hutchinson’s local ties would surely make him a home run pick for Detroit – and he likes the idea of playing close to home – assuming, of course, that he “falls” this far.
MORE:Aidan Hutchinson, Kayvon Thibodeaux look the part of NFL’s next great pass rushers
3. Houston Texans – OT Evan Neal, Alabama: It would be perfectly sensible for GM Nick Caserio to deal this pick. He could also consider trading incumbent LT Laremy Tunsil in a bid for draft capital that’s badly needed to reconstruct this roster. But if the Texans stay put – regardless of Tunsil’s status – Neal would make a lot of sense, given he can play either tackle spot or guard and could serve as a nice building block of a team in dire need of a new foundation. Unlike Ekwonu, Neal (6-8, 337 pounds) didn’t work out in Indianapolis, but he could solidify himself as a bona fide option for the Jags at No. 1 with a strong showing at the Crimson Tide’s pro day later this month.
4. New York Jets – CB Ahmad ‘Sauce’ Gardner, Cincinnati: The NYJ haven’t had much sauce at corner since Darrelle Revis’ heyday and certainly didn’t in 2021, when they surrendered the most yards and points in the league. Gardner would be a safe plug-and-play selection, the consensus All-American allowing only 20 receptions in 2021, picking off three passes and – evidence of his all-around game – posting 40 tackles and three sacks. His 6-3, 190-pound build is just another selling point to a league that likes big corners.
5. New York Giants – DE Travon Walker, Georgia: A scheme-diverse, explosive (4.51 40 time and 35½-inch vertical leap … wow), 6-5, 272-pounder, Walker can pretty much do it all – from applying pressure to shutting down run lanes, to dropping into coverage. He only had 9½ sacks in three seasons with the Dawgs, so the lack of production is slightly puzzling even when viewed in the context of Georgia’s depth and fact Walker often lined up inside. But the ability is there – and so, too, might be increased opportunities by teaming him with former Georgia teammate Azeez Ojulari and interior disruptor Leonard Williams, a trio that could give Big Blue the makings of a scary pass rush for years to come.
6. Carolina Panthers – OT Charles Cross, Mississippi State: This may be one of the draft’s early wild-card spots given GM Scott Fitterer doesn’t have another pick in the first three rounds yet could also be tempted here by a quarterback prospect given Carolina doesn’t appear to have a long-term solution under center. The board may also fall in a way that Fitterer could easily move back just a few spots to get a guy he likes while still replenishing his draft ammo. Barring all of that, this team desperately needs a left tackle to protect whoever is throwing the ball, and Cross – he did a ton of pass blocking for the Bulldogs – could be the best candidate here.
7. Pittsburgh Steelers [PROJECTED TRADE with Giants] – QB Malik Willis, Liberty: Follow along now – this pick originally belonged to the Chicago Bears but went to the Giants last year in the draft night maneuver for QB Justin Fields. In this scenario, it changes hands again as two of the NFL’s blueblood franchises strike a deal, outgoing Steelers GM Kevin Colbert ensuring he leaves behind a potential franchise quarterback in the wake of Ben Roethlisberger’s retirement. Willis, who has an eye-popping arm, is the type of dual-threat passer coach Mike Tomlin has signaled a desire for and has provided ample evidence – including the viral video where he helped a woman on the streets in Indianapolis – that he’s the kind of player you want as the face of a franchise. And with Mason Rudolph still available as a bridge quarterback if Willis needs extra seasoning, this move could make all types of sense – especially since he seems unlikely to be available if Colbert stands pat at No. 20.
8. Atlanta Falcons – DE Kayvon Thibodeaux, Oregon: He’s arguably got a higher ceiling than Hutchinson but is currently a more unrefined product – and somewhat enigmatic, his decision to skip on-field drills at the combine the most recent case in point. In 30 games with the Ducks, the 6-4, 254-pounder had 19 sacks and 35½ tackles for loss. The Falcons would jump at such numbers, as their 18 sacks in 2021 were 11 fewer than the next-worst team. If Thibodeaux realizes his estimable potential, he should be providing something close to that level of production on his own.
9. Denver Broncos – OLB/DE Jermaine Johnson II: He checked in at 6-5 and 254 pounds at the combine and looks like the type of edge player who dovetails with the 3-4 defenses new coordinator Ejiro Evero has been associated with. Johnson may not be the second coming of Von Miller – who is? – but he’d bookend nicely with OLB Bradley Chubb on the heels of a productive senior season that included 11½ sacks and 17½ tackles for loss. And, while it’s apparent Denver needs a quarterback, let’s just wait and see what happens in the coming days …
10. Jets (from Seattle Seahawks) – S Kyle Hamilton, Notre Dame: Did we mention the Jets had the league’s worst defense last season? They’ve been particularly dreadful at safety, obtaining this selection in the deal for Jamal Adams in 2020 and losing franchise-tagged Marcus Maye to injury midway through last season. Coach Robert Saleh can’t afford to pass up a Kam Chancellor-sized specimen – Hamilton is 6-4 and 220 pounds with sub-4.6 speed – who can shore up deficiencies at the second and/or third levels. Hamilton can provide coverage, a box presence, blitzing ability and an intimidation factor to a unit lacking in all of those areas – just as Chancellor did for Saleh back when the latter was a defensive assistant in Seattle. (Note: With two more picks at the top of Round 2, GM Joe Douglas can wait to obtain offensive help for second-year QB Zach Wilson.)
11. Washington Commanders – QB Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh: Per NFL Network, the Commanders made a run at Russell Wilson at the combine but were rebuffed by Seattle. Assuming Washington has to resort to the draft if it can’t obtain a proven veteran, Pickett might be the most game-ready passer able to quickly elevate a roster that might otherwise be playoff caliber. A four-year starter, Pickett has poise, accuracy, a quick release, production and solid athleticism – perhaps enough NFL traits to help guide this team back atop the NFC East in short order.
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12. Minnesota Vikings – CB Derek Stingley Jr., LSU: His talents as a cover man are undeniable and were apparent for the 2019 national champions, for whom he had six interceptions, earning All-American honors for his efforts. But Lisfranc surgery limited him to three games in 2021 – a year after he was slowed by ankle issues – and prevented him from working out in Indy. But if Stingley performs well at LSU’s pro day on April 6, he could vault himself back into consideration as a top-five option and possibly ahead of Gardner. Either would be a boon to a Minnesota defense that has struggled in coverage lately and is likely to lose veteran CBs Patrick Peterson and Mackensie Alexander in free agency.
13. Cleveland Browns – WR Garrett Wilson, Ohio State: After laying down a 4.38 40-yard dash at the combine, the 6-foot, 183-pounder bolstered the argument he might be the top pass-catching prospect in a very deep class of them. Wilson, who’s effective both outside and from the slot, is also especially dangerous after the catch and scored 13 TDs last season (one as a rusher). Cleveland’s 27th-ranked passing attack needs at least one receiver – probably two – and Wilson would be a nice start (or finish, depending on free agency). Fun fact: Wilson and Browns QB Baker Mayfield are both alums of Austin, Texas’ Lake Travis High School.
14. Baltimore Ravens – DT Jordan Davis, Georgia: Perhaps the star of the combine after the 6-6, 341-pounder – and that’s a slimmed down version of the Bulldogs star – blazed a 4.78 40 and looked great in the drills. An All-American in 2021, Davis also won the Bednarik Award as college football’s top defensive player. He should be a top priority for a a 25th-ranked defense about to lose veterans such as Calais Campbell, Brandon Williams and Justin Houston from its front.
15. Philadelphia Eagles (from Miami Dolphins) – WR Drake London, USC: Yes, this would mean a first-round wideout for a third straight year for Philly, but the team can afford this move given how flush GM Howie Roseman is with options in 2022. At 6-4, 219 pounds, London would bring a different element to a Smurf-ish group that hasn’t gotten enough from holdovers like Jalen Reagor or 2019 second-round bust J.J. Arcega-Whiteside. London’s size would also be a plus for sometimes scattershot QB Jalen Hurts, who could use a Mike Evans-type target who had seven TD grabs in eight games last season. A broken ankle ended London’s 2021 season early and kept him from competing at the combine.
16. Eagles (from Indianapolis Colts) – C Tyler Linderbaum, Iowa: Yes, Philadelphia drafted C Landon Dickerson in the second round last year. However the Eagles lost G Brandon Brooks to retirement and could bid farewell to C Jason Kelce in free agency. And the upside of Linderbaum, a consensus All-American and the 2021 Rimington Trophy winner, is hard to ignore – and should largely offset any concern about his short arms. And given his widespread comparisons to Kelce, how could Philly go wrong?
17. Los Angeles Chargers – DE/OLB David Ojabo, Michigan: A native of Nigeria who grew up in Scotland, he had one tackle as a sophomore in 2020, so bit of an understatement to deem Ojabo raw. But what a breakout during his junior year, when the 6-4, 250-pounder erupted for 11 sacks – and it certainly didn’t hurt playing opposite Hutchinson. The Bolts’ issues against the run are well documented, but they’re about to develop more on defense with second-leading sack man Uchenna Nwosu set to leave in free agency … though picking Ojabo would assume a Wolverine could join forces with ex-Buckeye Joey Bosa.
18. New Orleans Saints – QB Matt Corral, Mississippi: He’s not big (6-1, 212 pounds), though might be a different story if you could measure his heart – however he’ll have to dial back his devil-may-care approach, which won’t work so well when he breaks the pocket to take on NFL defenders. Corral possesses sizable arm strength, athleticism and leadership skills – perhaps in sufficient quantities that he could restore New Orleans atop a diminished NFC South as a rookie.
19. Eagles – DE George Karlaftis, Purdue: In two full seasons (2019, 2021) for the Boilermakers, he compiled 13 sacks, 32 QB hits and 64 hurries. And with DE Derek Barnett headed for the open market, and Brandon Graham, who’s about to turn 34, trying to come back from a blown Achilles, Philadelphia clearly needs reinforcements off the edge.
20. Giants [PROJECTED TRADE with Steelers] – OT Trevor Penning, Northern Iowa: An excellent athlete who played the left side in college, Penning’s ability and fire is exactly what’s needed for an offense looking to unleash RB Saquon Barkley anew while creating better conditions as the new regime freshly assesses QB Daniel Jones.
21. Las Vegas Raiders – WR Treylon Burks, Arkansas: His 4.55 combine 40 seems downright pedestrian when stacked up against his receiver peers. But Burks’ 6-2, 225-pound frame still distinguishes him, especially if he can remotely justify Deebo Samuel comparisons after amassing 1,216 yards and 12 TDs by way of 80 touches from scrimmage last season. And if he joined a squad where TE Darren Waller and prolific slot man Hunter Renfrow can do most of the heavy lifting on the precision route front, then Burks would also be afforded the time to polish his already enticing skill set.
22. New England Patriots – CB Trent McDuffie, Washington: With a 4.44 40 time, elite cover skills and smarts, he could be a perfect Patriot … if he lasts this long. And with New England apparently poised to allow Pro Bowl CB J.C. Jackson to walk, a serious hole in the roster is about to form.
23. Arizona Cardinals – WR Jameson Williams, Alabama: ICYMI amid all those 40-yard dashes and questions about QB Kyler Murray’s future, the Cards extended the contracts of GM Steve Keim and coach Kliff Kingsbury through 2027 during the combine. So rather than make more short-term decisions on expensive and aging veterans, why not take a longer view here? Williams might be a top-10 pick had he not torn an ACL in the national championship loss to Georgia. He’s a burner who was remarkably productive in 2021, averaging 100 receiving yards and a TD catch per game. As soon as he’s healthy, he’s got the goods to eventually assume WR1 duties from DeAndre Hopkins and – in the nearer term, maybe even in 2022 – he can contribute to a team that may not be able to afford WRs A.J. Green and Christian Kirk.
24. Dallas Cowboys – G Zion Johnson, Boston College: Strong as an ox (combine-high 32 repetitions on the 225-pound bench press) but with relatively light feet, he could give this offensive line a nice shot in the arm just as G Connor Williams’ contract expires.
25. Buffalo Bills – LB Nakobe Dean, Georgia: The two-time-defending AFC East champs aren’t lacking for much but could use more juice at the second level, especially as MLB Tremaine Edmunds enters his walk year. Dean’s instincts, range, intelligence, leadership and background with a championship program would make him a great fit in Buffalo … even if his 5-11, 229-pound stature is suboptimal.
26. Tennessee Titans – LB Devin Lloyd, Utah: He features an all-around skill set that allows him to be a multi-faceted weapon, something the two-time-defending AFC south titlists haven’t had at linebacker recently. Lloyd had 22 TFLs in 2021 and surely would rack up quite a few more while operating in conjunction with this Tennessee front.
27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – DB Dax Hill, Michigan: Given the exodus it seems they’re facing – unless (for now) retired QB Tom Brady reverses himself – the Bucs could go any number of directions in the draft. One could be shoring up a secondary that will likely be bidding adieu to starting CB Carlton Davis and S Jordan Whitehead in free agency. Hill can play in the slot, box or center field, his 4.38 speed a welcome trait at any of those spots.
28. Green Bay Packers – WR Chris Olave, Ohio State: No, the Pack haven’t drafted a receiver in Round 1 since former Brett Favre favorite Sterling Sharpe in 1988. Yes, this could be the year they’ll need to strongly consider it with neither All-Pro Davante Adams nor Marquez Valdes-Scantling under contract. Olave could also be a nice enticement for QB Aaron Rodgers or merely a necessity for Jordan Love if the backup passer has to step into the lineup. Olave’s speed and smooth route running could eventually make him a No. 1 option, not to mention his ability to find the end zone – that occurring 32 times in his last 33 games for the Buckeyes.
29. Dolphins (from San Francisco 49ers) – OT Bernhard Raimann, Central Michigan: The head coach, Mike McDaniel, is new, but the necessity to safeguard – and better evaluate – QB Tua Tagovailoa does not change. One seemingly obvious way to do that is by upgrading one of the league’s worst offensive lines with an athletic tackle.
30. Kansas City Chiefs – CB Kyler Gordon, Washington: His 4.52 combine 40 time was a relative disappointment for such a highly regarded prospect. But given how often the ball is – and likely will remain – in the air in the AFC West, you can never have enough good corners. And the Chiefs may be in desperate need of one if Charvarius Ward and/or Mike Hughes sign elsewhere this offseason.
31. Cincinnati Bengals – OL Kenyon Green, Texas A&M: When you might have the league’s next great quarterback (Joe Burrow) on your roster, but he’s sacked a league-high 51 times in the regular season – and a record-tying nine more in a playoff game – pretty obvious what needs to be done. Green played every O-line position but center for the Aggies in 2021 but took most of his college snaps at left guard.
32. Lions (from Los Angeles Rams) – QB Sam Howell, North Carolina: He’s got a nice arm (92 TD throws and more than 10,000 yards in three years), nice mobility (nearly 1,000 rushing yards in 2021), nice makeup that rallies teammates and plentiful experience. What’s not to like if you’re GM Brad Holmes or coach Dan Campbell as you begin to weigh your options beyond current starter Jared Goff – especially if you can get the all-important fifth-year option with the final selection of Round 1?
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.