NFL Draft: First Pick Candidates

New Jacksonville head coach and Super Bowl-winning leader Doug Pederson has outwardly spoken out on his intention of drafting an immediate starter with the first pick in the NFL Draft this upcoming April. There are four players who have a shot at going number one, all of them being immediate impact players. Here are some reasons for drafting and not drafting each of the candidates.

Ikem Ekwonu, OL, NC State

Ekwonu has risen on draft boards since the conclusion of the college football season when many believed the first two picks were going to be edge rushers. When the Jaguars slipped into the first spot, it was widely considered that they were going to go after a lineman to help protect young quarterback Trevor Lawrence. If you want a young QB to succeed, they are going to need some time to throw the ball, and that’s what Ekwonu gives you.

One of the biggest strengths that Ekwonu has is his off-the-field presence. He’ll be a great addition to a Jaguars locker room that hasn’t felt united in several years.

Though he’s a gentle giant off the field, on the field he’s quite violent. He plays mean and aggressive, and his length allows him to recover from poor positioning as well as help out the guard beside him.

He also does some great work in the open field which will be perfect for a young quarterback as they protect Lawrence with play calling by calling out screen plays and letting their young running backs catch the ball in some space.

Ekwonu’s biggest weakness according to scouts is his poor coordination between his hands and his feet. This is a very difficult skill to improve, making this pick sort of risky. Additionally, his violence is sometimes completely out of control, and the Jaguars are going to have to tame him a bit, hopefully not slowing down his growth in the process.

He’s exactly what the Jags need, but he is still a bit raw. His potential is endless though, and the Jaguars are going to need a long-term answer on the line if they want to have any success in the passing game.

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Aidan Hutchinson, DE, Michigan

Hutchinson was one of the big breakout players in college football last season, leading his team all the way to the College Football Playoffs after starting the year completely unranked. He’s competing with Oregon edge rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux to be the first defensive player off the board, and he probably had the edge for a multitude of reasons.

Hutchinson has an incredible motor and great stamina, so even when a QB seems to have a ton of time, they don’t. Eventually, Hutch will get to the quarterback with a burst of speed that comes out of seemingly nowhere.

He also has an incredible explosion off the line to beat a tackle right from the snap. Once he gets downhill momentum, his strength can overpower just about anyone.

Hutchinson does have some weaknesses though which is why he wasn’t really on the big boards to start the college football season, the main being his habit to run out of control.

He plays with a ton of passion and drive, but that can lead him to just run around and take himself out of plays on occasion. The Jaguars need a defense to support Lawrence’s output, so Hutchinson could be the go-to guy when it comes to pressure on the quarterback, but his ultimate craziness could put him out of the running for the first pick.

Kayvon Thibodeaux, EDGE, Oregon

Thibodeaux was the likely first overall pick going into the college football season, but injuries and inconsistencies have seen him fall off the top line of some big boards. However, his unique talent gives him a great shot at being taken first overall.

Thibodeaux is the more steady pick at edge rusher between he and Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson. He’s quick and has a bunch of really good pass-rushing moves to duck below and around offensive linemen.

He also has great hands which grant him leverage and he’s great at blowing up plays by hitting running backs in the backfield. His motor, though not as great at Hutchinson’s, shows itself best when he pursues running backs threatening to take off to the second level.

However, Thibodeaux’s talent comes mostly from intense training and practice as opposed to natural talent, which has some scouts worried about his ability to continue to improve throughout his career. He also lacks a bit of awareness when it comes to learning and executing defensive play schemes.

He’s likely going to be a great player in the NFL, and the Jags may not want to overthink this one and just take the supposed sure thing defensive end to lead that side of the ball. Their defense just wasn’t good last year for more than a half at a time, and the Oregon star could bring some consistency to Jacksonville.

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Evan Neal, OL, Alabama

Neal is the other lineman option for Jacksonville to select with the number one pick. Unlike Ekwonu, Neal is a national champion and will bring that pedigree to a Jaguars team who hasn’t won many games in the last decade outside of their deep run in 2017.

Neal is very strong and very athletic for his large size. He has an explosiveness that will overwhelm defenders and he’s very flexible as well allowing him to stop defenders trying to gain the edge.

He’s also a fantastic run blocker because of his speed and strength. But this speed doesn’t necessarily translate to lateral movement.

His mobility is a bit lower than scouts would like it to be, and his reaction speed is also sometimes a tad late. He needs to work on not having such heavy feet when moving because it affects his stability which makes it harder to block some of the elite speed rushers. His readjustment and recovery blocking is also not great.

Neal has fantastic measurables and a lot of experience blocking some of the best in college football’s toughest conference. He’d be the safer pick at OL, but he may not have the potential to grow as much as Ekonwu does.

Learn more about the College Football Playoff here.

 


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