A new season awaits
With the wait almost over for another season of the NFL, we will soon get the answers to the questions on everybody’s lips. Can the Los Angeles Rams take home the league title for the second year in a row? Was last season’s Cincinnati Bengals performance just a one-off? And does a 44-year-old Tom Brady still have enough gas left in the tank?
Before the answers to any of those questions are revealed, the league’s teams have to make their selections at this year’s NFL draft. The 87th edition of the event will run for three days at the Caesars Forum on the Las Vegas Strip, starting on Thursday at 9pm Eastern Time, with the Jacksonville Jaguars kicking off proceedings.
Great picks can prove vital for not only the next season, but many years to come
The draft is an incredibly important element of the league. Great picks can prove vital for not only the next season, but many years to come. In 2000 for instance, six quarterbacks were chosen before the New England Patriots decided to take a chance on Tom Brady. The rest is history, as the GOAT spent 20 seasons with the team securing a record six league titles.
Before this year’s Las Vegas event kicks off, VegasSlotsOnline News has taken a look at five of the most exciting prospects and their odds of getting picked. Could one of these young players ultimately become the next Tom Brady, Jim Brown, or Jerry Rice?
Aidan Hutchinson – Michigan Edge
Aidan Hutchinson is the name that arises most when experts discuss this year’s NFL draft. There’s a lot of buzz around the Michigan Wolverines defensive end, and understandably so. Last season, Hutchinson led the defense that saw Michigan win the Big 10 Championship before bowing out in the semi-final of the College Football Playoffs.
racked up 16.5 tackles for a loss
Michigan’s defense carried the team during that impressive 2021 campaign, with Hutchinson the main reason. The edge’s stats speak for themselves. He racked up 16.5 tackles for a loss, 14 sacks, two forced fumbles, and three passes defensed. Not only that, but the 21-year-old created an impressive highlight reel of fearless play in the process.
All of this was enough to get scouts very excited about Hutchinson, but some have noted a few negatives to the young prospect, including his shorter arm length and 4.74-second seven-yard dash time. However, his physicality, athleticism, explosiveness, and versatility were all enough for CBS Sports to rate him highest in its 2022 NFL draft rankings.
The Michigan star will likely get snapped up quickly this year, so DraftKings has Hutchinson favorite for the number one draft pick at +400.
Kenny Pickett – Pittsburgh Quarterback
The competition for top quarterback prospect in this year’s NFL draft is a close-fought affair. The Liberty Flames’ Malik Willis has turned a lot of heads with his impressive arm strength, while Ole Miss QB Matt Corral’s field vision, toughness, and mobility have also gained attention. That said, it’s Pittsburgh man Kenny Pickett at the top of VSO News’ list.
The young quarterback really found his rhythm in 2021, leading Pittsburgh to its first ACC Championship. Where the QB really shines is in his passing accuracy. Last season, he completed 67% of his passes for 4,319 yards, scoring 42 touchdowns in the process. He certainly isn’t averse to running as well, scoring five rushing touchdowns over the season too.
Despite his performance last season, some scouts have raised concerns regarding Pickett’s small hands. Cameras even caught Scott Fitterer, general manager for the Carolina Panthers, making the QB hold a football for comparison during a recent visit. Pickett is also a little older than some of the other players at 23.
top of the list for teams looking for a fresh-faced quarterback
Regardless, the Pittsburgh man should be top of the list for teams looking for a fresh-faced quarterback. The Carolina Panthers, Atlanta Falcons, Seattle Seahawks, and Pittsburgh Steelers are all on the hunt for a player in that role. Although it’s very doubtful Pickett will go first in this year’s draft, FanDuel has him as an outside shot of earning number two pick at +10000.
Breece Hall – Iowa State Running Back
If there’s one stat to get you excited about Iowa State running back Breece Hall, it’s his 511 carries over the past two seasons of college football. That’s 111 more carries than any other Power Five running back in the same time span. His 4.39 40-yard dash time has also turned a lot of heads, as has his 40-inch vertical jump.
Over the past three seasons with Iowa, Hall has scored 50 touchdowns with 3,941 rushing yards. In total, 23 of these touchdowns came in the 2021 season, along with 1,472 rushing yards, and 302 receiving yards. He’s also earned Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year honors twice and helped Iowa State reach the Cheez-It Bowl last season.
His highlight reel is full of impressive touchdowns from deep:
There really are no glaring weaknesses in Hall’s game. If we’re nitpicking, scouts may want to see more from the running back in regards to his receiving. He wasn’t really utilized in this sense for the Iowa State Cyclones, with most of his production coming from dump-offs and screens; although when called on to do so, he has shown that he can produce in this area.
Despite these minor grievances, a lot of teams will be keeping an eye on 20-year-old Hall in Las Vegas this Thursday. Due to the order of the teams picking, Breece Hall has little chance of being selected really early in this year’s draft. BetMGM has the Iowa State star as a +15000 outsider to go third.
Ikem Ekwonu – North Carolina State Offensive Tackle
In just the 2021 season, North Carolina prospect Ikem Ekwonu went from a relatively unknown player to a major star that teams are fighting over in this year’s draft. In December, he was named a first-team All American by the Football Writers Association of America after an impressive season making 11 starts at left tackle.
the most feared lineman in the ACC”
The Athletic previously referred to Ekwonu as “the most feared lineman in the ACC,” and it isn’t difficult to see why. He’d already made a name for himself in his first two years with NC, leading the team with 37 pancakes in his freshman year. He carried this success all the way through to his final season, in which his protection of QB Devin Leary’s blind spot helped the team reduce their sacks per game.
Experts have praised the 21-year-olds versatile frame which allows him to start both guard and tackle. He stands at six feet and four inches, but still has quick feet and great movement allowing him to mirror speed rushers off the edge. While he may not be a finished pass protector yet, his outstanding ability to block runs has set him apart.
Ekwonu is another hot prospect in the conversation for first picks in this year’s draft. Jaguars general manager Trent Baalke has even confirmed that the team is considering Ekwonu as a number one pick. Gamblers can bet on the OT to get snapped up first at odds of +750 with DraftKings.
Ahmad ‘Sauce’ Gardner – Cincinnati Cornerback
Our last candidate is certainly full of confidence, describing himself as “the chosen one” in the build-up to the draft. “I feel like I’m the best in the draft,” Sauce Gardner said while speaking during an NFL charity event this week. “There’s no doubt about it. There’s no way I can be bust.”
Associated Press All-American and American Athletic Conference accolades
While some may think the Cincinnati cornerback a little too brash, his talent does allow for such an optimistic mindset. Gardner first showed his potential in high school, where he led his team to a state championship, scoring two receiving touchdowns in the title game. He then carried this success into college football, securing Associated Press All-American and American Athletic Conference accolades in his final season.
During his three-year career with Cincinnati, Gardner didn’t allow a single receiving touchdown. In fact, the cornerback recently said in an interview that he doesn’t even remember the last touchdown he allowed. In his final year with Cincinnati, he had 40 tackles, 4.5 for a loss with three sacks, three interceptions, and four pass breakups in 14 starts.
While his many positives include his long limbs, sticky hands, and intense competitiveness, some scouts have raised concerns regarding Gardner’s below-average build and room-for-improvement footwork. Regardless of his few faults, both the New York Jets and New York Giants have expressed a serious interest in choosing the cornerback as their first picks.
FanDuel has Gardner at +5000 to go as the second pick at the 2022 NFL draft.