The Atlanta Falcons selected wide receiver Drake London with the eighth pick in the NFL Draft.

London, 20, was a two-sport athlete at the University of Southern California, initially playing basketball before committing full-time to football.

The 6'5 star broke out in a big way in 2021, recording 88 catches, 1084 yards and seven touchdowns in just eight games.

In six of his eight games, London had at least 130 yards, and caught at least nine passes in all but one fixture.

The Falcons are in big need of receiver help after former first-round pick and top option Calvin Ridley was suspended for betting on NFL games last season, when he was away from the team with an injury.

London was the first receiver selected on Thursday and while he was considered in contention for that honour, Ohio State's Garrett Wilson was the favourite, who ended up going 10th to the New York Jets.

Kayvon Thibodeaux is now a member of the New York Giants, claiming he spoke his selection with the fifth overall pick into existence.

Thibodeaux had once been in the conversation to be the first player off the board in Las Vegas, but saw fellow edge rushers Travon Walker and Aidan Hutchinson go before him with the first and second picks.

But he did not have to wait long to hear his name called, the Giants selecting the former Oregon star to boost a defense that ranked 26th in pass rush win rate in 2021, according to Stats Perform data. 

Blessed with an extremely explosive first step and the ability to translate speed to power and bend around the edge, Thibodeaux's pressure rate of 24.5 per cent last year was the fourth-best among edges in this class.

Speaking on stage after his selection, Thibodeaux said: "I manifested it, we had great talks. [The Giants] FaceTimed me right before I got on the plane."

Two selections later, the Giants bolstered the other side of the trenches, taking Alabama offensive tackle Evan Neal seventh overall.

The Giants were 22nd in pass block win rate last year and will likely slide Neal in at right tackle, having taken left tackle Andrew Thomas fourth overall in 2020.

The Houston Texans sprung a surprise with the third overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, selecting cornerback Derek Stingley Jr.

Many had expected the Texans to take a pass protector or an edge rusher with their top choice.

However, after the Jacksonville Jaguars took Travon Walker and the Detroit Lions selected Aidan Hutchinson, the Texans instead elected to boost their secondary with Stingley.

Stingley was many observers' second-ranked corner in the class behind Cincinnati's Ahmad 'Sauce' Gardner.

But the Texans have backed Stingley to rediscover his remarkable form of his freshman year at LSU in 2019, when he helped the Tigers to a National Championship.

Stingley had six interceptions and 15 pass breakups that year, but he struggled to replicate that level of play in 2020 and missed most of 2021 through injury.

He will be tasked with improving a pass defense that allowed the third-most yards per pass play (7.12) in 2021.

The Jets (7.11) were fourth on that list and immediately followed the Texans by taking Gardner with the fourth overall pick.

The Detroit Lions have selected edge rusher Aidan Hutchinson with the number two pick in the NFL Draft.

Hutchinson, 21, set a school record for sacks with 14 in 16 games at Michigan in his senior season and was billed as the likely number one pick shortly after the college football season ended.

The Lions went 3-13-1 in 2021 and struggled mightily to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks, ranking 30th in the league in sacks.

Speaking on stage in Las Vegas after his selection, Hutchinson said: "It's great, I'm happy I get to go back to Detroit, the Motor City. I'm fired up."

The Lions pick again at 32 and 36.

The Jacksonville Jaguars took a significant gamble with the first overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, using that selection on Georgia edge rusher Travon Walker.

Walker usurped Aidan Hutchinson as the favourite to go number one overall late in the pre-draft process.

And the Jaguars, picking number one overall for the second successive year after taking Trevor Lawrence first in 2021, proved the noise around Walker correct by backing him to develop into a dominant pass rusher at the next level.

General manager Trent Baalke made that move despite Walker finishing his college career with the Bulldogs with just 9.5 sacks, six of those coming in a final season that saw Georgia win the National Championship.

Walker registered 31 pressures on 259 pass-rush snaps for a pressure rate of just 12 per cent, according to Stats Perform data.

Those numbers were in stark contrast to Michigan star Hutchinson, who had a pressure rate of 30.8 per cent in 2021.

However, the Jaguars will be hoping his outstanding athletic traits translate to vastly improved production in the pros.

Though his Georgia defensive line mate Jordan Davis stole the show at the Combine with his remarkable 40-yard dash, Walker's pre-draft workout was exceptional.

Measuring at 6ft 5in and 272 pounds, Walker ran the 40 in 4.51 seconds, putting him in the 98th percentile for defensive ends. His 10-yard split of 1.62 seconds placed him in the 70th percentile.

Walker's arm length (35 and a half inches), hand size (10 and three-quarter inches) and wingspan of over seven feet (84 and a quarter inches) all measured in the 95th percentile for his position.

In the vertical jump and broad jump, which gauge lower-body explosiveness, Walker produced efforts to put him 80th and 87th percentile respectively. In the three-cone drill, used for edge players as an examination of their flexibility to turn the corner and beat an offensive tackle to the outside, Walker posted a time of 6.89 seconds, good enough for the 93rd percentile.

Picking him first overall is a bet on athletic ability over production. It is a massive risk and, as the Jags look to build around a generational quarterback talent in Lawrence, it is one they cannot afford to have backfire.

The Jacksonville Jaguars took a significant gamble with the first overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, using that selection on Georgia edge rusher Travon Walker.

Walker usurped Aidan Hutchinson as the favourite to go number one overall late in the pre-draft process.

And the Jaguars, picking number one overall for the second successive year after taking Trevor Lawrence first in 2021, proved the noise around Walker correct by backing him to develop into a dominant pass rusher at the next level.

General manager Trent Baalke made that move despite Walker finishing his college career with the Bulldogs with just 9.5 sacks, six of those coming in a final season that saw Georgia win the National Championship.

Walker registered 31 pressures on 259 pass-rush snaps for a pressure rate of just 12 per cent, according to Stats Perform data.

Those numbers were in stark contrast to Michigan star Hutchinson, who had a pressure rate of 30.8 per cent in 2021.

However, the Jaguars will be hoping his outstanding athletic traits translate to vastly improved production in the pros.

Though his Georgia defensive line mate Jordan Davis stole the show at the Combine with his remarkable 40-yard dash, Walker's pre-draft workout was exceptional.

Measuring at 6ft 5in and 272 pounds, Walker ran the 40 in 4.51 seconds, putting him in the 98th percentile for defensive ends. His 10-yard split of 1.62 seconds placed him in the 70th percentile.

Walker's arm length (35 and a half inches), hand size (10 and three-quarter inches) and wingspan of over seven feet (84 and a quarter inches) all measured in the 95th percentile for his position.

In the vertical jump and broad jump, which gauge lower-body explosiveness, Walker produced efforts to put him 80th and 87th percentile respectively. In the three-cone drill, used for edge players as an examination of their flexibility to turn the corner and beat an offensive tackle to the outside, Walker posted a time of 6.89 seconds, good enough for the 93rd percentile.

Picking him first overall is a bet on athletic ability over production. It is a massive risk and, as the Jags look to build around a generational quarterback talent in Lawrence, it is one they cannot afford to have backfire.

The 2021 NFL Draft was unreservedly the year of the quarterback. The 2022 draft is anything but.

A year on from quarterbacks going 1-2-3 in a first round that saw five taken in total, it is tough to make the case for any of the consensus best five from this year's uninspiring crop going in the top 10.

None of that quintet come without significant concerns that will make it hard for franchises to justify spending a premium pick to make them the quarterback of the future.

But there is a clear hierarchy among the group, with two players the standout choices for teams eyeing a potential day-one starter and one prospect standing alone as the home-run swing who brings as much risk as he does reward.

Quarterbacks inevitably get pushed up the board in the draft but, even with the top three members of this class, it may take some teams to get desperate for that to happen his year.

The pro-ready pair

Talk of Kenny Pickett going in the top 10, with the Carolina Panthers viewed as a landing spot due to his connections with head coach Matt Rhule, has raised plenty of eyebrows.

Yet for all the justifiable concerns about taking a quarterback whose ceiling at the highest level may be limited due to arm strength that can make deep throws outside the numbers a challenge for Pickett, the reality is that the former Pittsburgh quarterback is the most pro-ready player at the position in this class.

Last season, Pickett produced an accurate, well-thrown ball on 82.70 percent of his throws, the highest ratio of anyone in the draft. His pickable pass rate of 2.11 percent was also best in class.

Pickett excels at throwing with timing and anticipation, frequently hitting his receivers in stride to maximize their potential to create yards after the catch. He can make throws with pressure in his face and moves well in the pocket to escape pressure while also succeeding at breaking structure and creating with his legs.

Having displayed accuracy in throwing across his body on the run, Pickett will not enter the league with the "statue" concerns that Mac Jones faced last year.

And, though the ball does often die in the air when he goes deep, Pickett's completion percentage of 51.4 percent on 20-plus yard throws put him top of the class, while he was second in well-thrown percentage (68.06) on such attempts.

The upside of a top-10 selection may be absent from Pickett's game, but he should be the leading candidate if a team is looking for a rookie who can play right away, and the gap between him and Cincinnati's Desmond Ridder is perhaps larger than many would believe.

Ridder will go into the league having had the benefit of succeeding while being asked to operate in a manner that should help him acclimatise to the NFL quicker than most. He showed calm under pressure, negating it through intelligent pocket movement, and consistently worked through his progressions before finding his checkdown.

Another impressive timing thrower who is a better athlete than he is given credit for and boasts a stronger arm than Pickett, deep accuracy will be the main concern surrounding Ridder at the next level.

His overall well-thrown percentage of 75.66 was the third-worst in the class and Ridder was the second-worst by that same metric on downfield throws as just 58.57 percent of his deep attempts were accurate.

Ridder can offer a baseline of quarterback play because of what he was asked to do at Cincinnati, but teams must decide whether that is worth the cost of a late first or high second-round pick when there is the possibility to swing for the fences on a higher ceiling quarterback who may take significantly longer to blossom into a starting-calibre player.

Talkin' bout Willis

Unquestionably the most divisive quarterback of the 2022 class is Liberty's Malik Willis, who between his elite-level arm and his remarkable proficiency running the ball in the open field has the highest upside of any signal-caller in this year's crop.

With his 27 rushing touchdowns tied with Malik Cunningham for the most by an FBS quarterback over the last season, Willis demonstrated speed, vision, elusiveness and contact balance as a runner, making him a threat with the ball in his hands from anywhere in the field. Willis led all quarterbacks in this class with a yards per carry average of 6.64 on scrambles and was second with 7.42 on designed runs.

Adept at completing off-platform throws and displaying unerring accuracy throwing on the move, it is extremely exciting to think about Willis could become, his ability to blend touch and velocity when going deep allowing him to post the fourth-best well-thrown percentage (61.11) in the class on throws of 20 yards or more.

Willis fits the role of modern-day NFL quarterback better than any of his contemporaries in the draft but harnessing his obvious potential will take time.

So little was asked of him by Hugh Freeze at Liberty that there are question-marks over whether Willis will be ready to start in the NFL even after a year on the bench.

Though he can get through his progressions and perform full-field reads, Willis struggles significantly as a processor. He plays far too slow in working through his reads, leading to him holding the ball too long and failing to hit open receivers underneath.

Playing too slowly at the NFL level is a recipe for disaster. A team will fall in love with Willis' traits, but they must be prepared to be ultra-patient in waiting for the right moment to maximize them.

A Rebel with a cause... for optimism?

Willis has remained in the QB1 discussion despite struggling in his only 2021 game that saw him go up against one of his quarterback counterparts in this class.

Perhaps unsurprisingly given their respective supporting casts, Willis was outplayed when he and Liberty faced off with Ole Miss and their quarterback Matt Corral.

Yet Corral does not head into the draft in the first-round discussion even after a season in which he helped the Rebels to 10 wins and delivered a well thrown ball on 80.69 per cent of his pass attempts.

He displayed that accuracy while averaging the lowest air yards per attempt (8.20) of any of the top quarterbacks. A decisive thrower to the short and intermediate areas, Corral had the confidence to let it rip due to playing in an offense that relied predominantly on run-pass option plays that provided him with open looks.

When the throwing windows got tighter, Corral struggled to display the same accuracy and consistently risked turnovers on deep passing attempts. No quarterback in the 2021 class had a higher pickable pass rate on throws of 20-plus yards downfield than Corral's 9.80 per cent.

Corral, though, does have the arm to push the ball downfield with success, as reflected by his well-thrown percentage of 60.78 on deep attempts, which puts him less than a percentage point behind Willis.

Possessing the elusiveness in the pocket to evade pressure and the athleticism to be a viable threat on the ground, Corral ticks a lot of the boxes required for a quarterback to succeed in the modern NFL. However, after playing in such a simplified offense at Ole Miss, it would be a significant stretch to expect him to be able to helm an NFL attack early in his pro career.

The team that invests in Corral will likely initially view him as a high-end developmental backup and that is the role North Carolina's Sam Howell can also expect to fulfil for many of the same reasons.

Howell understandably struggled to adapt after losing NFL draft picks Dyami Brown, Michael Carter and Javonte Williams following the 2020 season and there was little in last year's tape to build a compelling case for him as a first-round pick.

Blessed with the arm strength to make throws to every level, Howell averaged more air yards per attempt (11.45) than any quarterback in the class.

But only Willis had a lower well-thrown percentage than Howell's 75.60 and that declined to 50 per cent on throws of 20 or more yards.

Simply put, the consistency throwing the ball was not there for Howell in his final season, in which he was reliant on one-read RPO throws and scrambles or designed runs.

He frequently ran the ball if his first read was not open, showing impressive contact balance to stay on his feet through attempted tackles when he did so.

Howell's 8.42 yards per carry average on designed runs was the highest among quarterbacks in the class. The blend of huge arm and intriguing running ability is likely to entice a team into taking a bet on him as a day-two project, but the road to Howell being a viable NFL starter will be a long one.

Kyler Murray's future with the Arizona Cardinals has been secured after the franchise took up a fifth-year option in the quarterback's contract.

Murray had been at the centre of speculation after his agent Erik Burkhardt issued a statement in February calling for Arizona to make "a real commitment" to the 24-year-old with a new contract offer.

According to a report from the NFL network, the Cardinals have now exercised the fifth-year option in Murray's deal, locking him in for nearly $30million in 2023, an escalation resulting from Murray making two Pro Bowl appearances.

Cardinals general manager Steve Keim indicated in early March that the option would likely be taken up, and with Murray now under contract for a further two seasons in Arizona, the pressure on the franchise to strike a long-term deal with the 24-year-old has been lessened.

The quarterback threw 3,787 yards with 24 touchdown passes and five rushing TDs throughout the 2021 season, also posting the NFL's second-highest completion rate at 69.2 per cent.

Last month, coach Kliff Kingsbury said he was "excited" about Murray's future in Arizona after he helped the team post their best record for six years in 2021 (11-6).

The player himself, meanwhile, insisted in March that he was "happy" in Arizona and "was not too worried" about his future with the team despite the mounting speculation.

Murray was the first overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft and the team have a 22-23-1 record in the games where he has featured.

It has been five years since a defensive lineman was last taken first overall in the NFL Draft.

Back in 2017, Myles Garrett's name had been written in pen next to the number one slot for a long time before the Cleveland Browns officially gave him the distinction of being the first player off the board.

Garrett was seen as a can't-miss prospect, and he has lived up to that billing, with his 361 career quarterback pressures the fourth-most in the NFL since 2017.

All the signs are pointing to an edge rusher going first overall again in 2022. However, while Garrett was a sure thing, the Jacksonville Jaguars appear set to select a player who is anything but.

Talk of Aidan Hutchinson and Kayvon Thibodeaux going number one has given way to the belief Georgia's Travon Walker will be hearing his name called first in a class filled with more divisive prospects than clear-cut stars.

Walker has emerged as the favourite despite finishing his college career with Georgia, which ended with the Bulldogs winning the National Championship, with just 9.5 sacks.

His stock has risen sharply in the wake of stunning athletic performance at the NFL Scouting Combine, yet given his mediocre production compared to his contemporaries in the edge class and the role he played for Georgia, selecting Walker would represent a substantial gamble by the Jags.

A year on from selecting Trevor Lawrence with the first overall pick, it is a gamble Jacksonville cannot afford to backfire.

Walker's production woes

Any conversation about Walker must begin by addressing the elephant in the room: the production, or lack thereof.

Walker had 3.5 sacks over his first two seasons before displaying a marked improvement in that regard as Georgia's dominant defense laid the foundation for their National title.

Indeed, he registered six sacks, 17th among all defenders in the SEC, yet his pressure numbers are illustrative of a player who failed to impact the quarterback on a consistent basis.

Walker registered 31 pressures on 259 pass-rush snaps for a pressure rate of just 12 per cent, which is in stark contrast to the player he appears to have usurped as the number one pick, Michigan star Hutchinson, who had a pressure rate of 30.8 per cent in 2021.

Only 16 of Walker's pressures involved him beating a pass blocker. Hutchinson beat a pass protector on 72 of his 85 quarterback pressures.

Yet the paucity of pass rush production is in part a reflection of how Walker was utilised by the Bulldogs.

Though Walker played 96 more snaps as a pass rusher than a run defender, his goal in attacking pass protectors was not always to get to the quarterback but to soak up attention from the offensive line and open rush lanes for second-level defenders.

As a result, teams evaluating Walker only saw flashes of his potential as a pass rusher, but it is the combination of those flashes and his astounding athletic profile that appears to have enticed the Jaguars into taking a significant risk.

Crushing the Combine

Though his Georgia defensive line mate Jordan Davis stole the show at the Combine with his remarkable performance in the 40-yard dash, Walker's pre-draft workout stands among the finest in NFL history.

Measuring at 6ft 5in and 272 pounds, Walker tore down the track in 4.51 seconds, putting him in the 98th percentile for defensive ends. His 10-yard split of 1.62 seconds was not quite as impressive but was still good enough for the 70th percentile.

Walker's arm length (35 and a half inches), hand size (10 and three-quarter inches) and wingspan of over seven feet (84 and a quarter inches) all measured in the 95th percentile for his position.

In the vertical jump and broad jump, which gauge lower-body explosiveness, Walker was in the 80th and 87th percentile respectively. In the three-cone drill, used for edge players as an assessment of their flexibility to turn the corner and beat an offensive tackle to the outside, Walker posted a time of 6.89 seconds that put him in the 93rd percentile.

Walker's testing suggests he has the physical skill set to blossom into an explosive and bendy pass rusher whose arm length should allow him to win hand fights with offensive linemen, with half the battle for pass rushers being the ability to make contact before the pass protector.

Evidence of his potential to develop into that player was sporadic during his college career, but the glimpses of that promise were undoubtedly tantalising.

A home-run swing

With Georgia frequently mixing up their defensive fronts, Walker played in a variety of roles. He was used as a defensive end in both 4-3 and 3-4 fronts and also played as a 3-technique defensive tackle lined up on the outside shoulder of the guard.

As such, it is difficult to know what Walker's best position is, though his versatility is undoubtedly part of his appeal.

Walker's athleticism clearly makes him a mismatch problem for guards when pass rushing from the inside. He had 13 pressures from the defensive tackle spot, with nine of those seeing him beat a pass protector, his quickness off the snap extremely tough for interior offensive linemen to react to and posing them significant issues when Walker was used in a stunt by the Georgia defensive line.

That same burst has facilitated his – albeit limited – success on edge. Though he needs to do a better job of translating his speed to power, when he does do so and gets his long arms into the pads of blockers, he can produce an impressive bull rush to help collapse the pocket.

On the top of that, Walker has fleetingly displayed the ability to get around the corner and flatten to the quarterback, with the acceleration he demonstrated on the 40 track showing up in the closing speed he displays when he has a path into the backfield and an opportunity to force a negative play.

Such closing speed can also be a substantial asset in the run game, in which Walker's arm length and power in his hands come into play in helping him disengage from blocks, freeing him to hunt the ball carrier.

Defending the run was certainly Walker's strength statistically last season, with only UAB's Alex Wright (18.7 per cent) and Hutchinson (17.9 per cent) recording a better run disruption rate among edge rushers than Walker's 12.9 per cent.

Of course, excelling as a run defender is a long way from being enough to justify a number one overall selection and, to make such a decision, the Jaguars must believe they can harness the untapped pass rush potential and refine a limited set of moves, with the rip move and the push-pull the only two with which Walker has enjoyed anything resembling consistent success.

The Jaguars do have a highly experienced defensive line coach who would be tasked with developing Walker. Brentson Buckner has worked with the likes of Chandler Jones and Jason Pierre-Paul during his career and was the defensive line coach for the then Oakland Raiders in 2019 when Maxx Crosby had 10 sacks as a rookie fourth-round pick.

Crosby, however, did not have the massive burden of expectation of being the number one overall pick.

Too often the Jaguars have seen top-five picks go to waste. Between 2012 and 2017 they picked in the top five for six consecutive drafts and only one of those selections, now Los Angeles Rams star Jalen Ramsey, even made a Pro Bowl.

In an era that will be defined by whether they take advantage of the gift of having Lawrence fall into their lap with the top overall pick last year, they cannot afford to miss on premium draft picks.

By likely taking Walker over Hutchinson, the Jags are going with the home-run swing over the prospect most believe to be a pro-ready day-one contributor. If they are to turn their fortunes around and contend with Lawrence, that swing must make contact.

Nashville SC have confirmed three new investors have joined their ownership group, including NFL star Derrick Henry and actor Reese Witherspoon.

Tennessee Titans running back Henry is a two-time All-Pro and has featured in two Pro Bowls, while he was named the NFL Offensive Player of the Year in 2020 and led the league for rushing yards and touchdowns in 2019 and 2020. 

The 28-year-old has now, alongside actor and producer Witherspoon and her husband, the technology investor Jim Toth, joined the ownership group of Nashville SC, who had their inaugural season in MLS in 2020 and sit eighth in the Western Conference with three wins so far this season.

All eight of Nashville's games so far in 2022 have been played on the road, but that will change on Sunday when they welcome the Philadelphia Union to their new stadium, GEODIS Park.

With a capacity of 30,000, it is the largest soccer-specific stadium in the United States or Canada.

"As a kid growing up in Florida, I imagined being a professional sports owner and the opportunity to do that with an MLS club is truly a dream come true," said Henry, who was drafted by the Titans in 2016 and becomes the fourth player in NFL history to own an MLS team.

"My investment in Nashville SC is way more than financial, it's truly an investment in the city of Nashville.

"The chance to be part of a club like Nashville SC, especially after seeing what they are accomplishing in the community, was an opportunity I did not want to miss."

Witherspoon added: "As a Tennessee native, it is thrilling to see how much growth and development has come to our home state.

"One of the things that my whole family is most excited about is Nashville Soccer Club! The opportunity to go as a family and watch a world-class team compete has been such an incredible experience."

Witherspoon is not the first A-list film star to have invested in soccer in the United States, with Natalie Portman having founded Angel City FC, who debuted in the National Women's Soccer League this year. 

Tennis greats Billie Jean King and Serena Williams, along with a host of huge stars across sports and entertainment, have a stake in Angel City.

San Francisco 49ers general manager John Lynch said he "can't ever imagine wanting to move on from" Deebo Samuel after the star wide receiver requested a trade.

Samuel was used by the 49ers in a unique hybrid role for the 2021-22 season, increasing his productivity, but also increasing his wear-and-tear as he handled more physically demanding running back carries as well as his primary receiver duties.

The 2019 second-round pick amassed a career-high 1,405 receiving yards and six receiving touchdowns from 77 catches, and added career-highs in rushing yards (365), rushing touchdowns (eight) and carries (59).

Speaking to the media at a pre-draft press conference, Lynch said even after considering what the 49ers could gain through a trade, he views Samuel in the class of player in which a team should never part ways with by choice.

"I can't ever imagine wanting to move on from Deebo," he said.

"You put yourself through the exercises of, even though we don't have a first-round pick, you have to be thorough in this process and prepare for everything, and as you go through and do that [you realise] he's just too good of a player. You don't let guys like that walk."

The praise for Samuel did not end there, with Lynch calling him a "game-changing player for the franchise."

"I told Deebo this," he said. "I think he's the perfect illustration of what Herm Edwards used to talk about, 'When will meets skill you got the opportunity to be special' – and I think Deebo embodies that as much as anybody.

"He's got tremendous will. He's a very talented player. By virtue of the way he plays, it's inspiring. 

"So, to me, that entails leadership. Do you make people around you better? He checks that box. 

"He's a great teammate, and I think of things like prior to games, he gets out there and is throwing the ball to fans.

"He's a great member of our community. We got nothing but love for him."

Despite the public nature of Samuel's request to leave San Francisco, Lynch insists the bridge is not burnt, and he believes he can salvage the relationship.

"We pride ourselves on our communication with our players," he said. "This is no different. I'm confident we can find the solutions for whatever is going on.

"That's life, you've gotta work through things. That's what we plan on doing.”

In 2022, safeties are not players who can get NFL fans out of their seats.

Gone are the days of the ultra-physical safeties whose careers are defined by compiling highlight reel hits.

The NFL's continued development as a passing league built on the foundation of a seemingly ever-expanding number of athletic dual-threat quarterbacks has facilitated the implementation of more malleable defenses with a variety of pitches in their arsenal to help them rise to the increasingly difficult challenges they face.

This is not an era where defenses can have one safety to play the role of enforcer and one with the range to play the deep middle. Teams ideally need both safeties to have the skill set to play the deep middle and down in the box while also possessing the ability to match up with wide receivers and tight ends in the slot.

In essence, teams must have safeties to enable them to effectively play the two-high zone coverages that were, last season at least, the most widely used solution to the explosive passing games proliferating around the NFL but also provide them with the personnel to stop the run while operating from those shells.

The 2022 NFL Draft may not have the same star quality as previous rookie classes. However, what it does boast is several of those multi-faceted safety prospects, with the headliner among that group Notre Dame's Kyle Hamilton.

Were the league still dominated by single-high safety defenses, Hamilton would not have found himself in the discussion to be the first overall pick in the draft. 

He doesn't have the range of a baseball center fielder that is required to be an elite single-high safety, but his combination of versatility and college production had many asking whether he could be the first name off the board in Las Vegas despite playing a position that has typically not seen its importance reflected by high draft selections. 

Hamilton has the athleticism and awareness to make game-changing plays when lined up deep in two-high looks, while he also possesses the downhill speed and physicality to be an asset against the run and the coverage ability and build to excel matched up against tight ends and receivers.

As a modern-day NFL safety, Hamilton ticks all the boxes, and every team in the league could use him. There is not one defense he would not fit. 

Still, he is unlikely to go number one to the Jacksonville Jaguars but, during a time in league history where safeties do not command the exposure they certainly deserve, Hamilton is a candidate to revitalise the fortunes of the two teams from the NFL's biggest market who each have a pair of top-10 picks.

A flexible turnover machine

Hamilton was deployed all over the field during his time with the Fighting Irish. In 2021, he played 222 snaps as a deep safety, 137 as a slot cornerback and 53 as a box safety.

And, as his numbers illustrate, Hamilton was extremely effective at influencing the game regardless of where he lined up.

Hamilton registered eight interceptions between 2019 and 2021, the fifth-most among FBS safeties during that period.

He also added 16 pass breakups, Hamilton's on-ball production a testament to his blend of instincts and athletic ability.

Hamilton excels at reading the eyes of the quarterback to drop into throwing lanes and make plays on the ball, with his eye discipline and efficiency in changing direction enabling him to pick up new assignments in coverage on the fly.

Using his 33-inch arms to stay in tight man coverage and disrupt passes at the catch point, Hamilton has additionally demonstrated prowess for recovering separation and jumping the routes of receivers, showcasing another gear to help him get to the ball when he has a chance to take it away.

While the downhill thump he offers and his long speed in pursuit are significant parts of Hamilton's skill set, it is the fact his versatility is supplemented by turnover production that makes him so appealing, particularly to teams like the New York Jets who have found takeaways extremely hard to come by.

The final piece of Saleh's secondary puzzle?

The Jets, who own selections four and 10, managed just 14 takeaways last season, putting them 31st in the NFL, with the Jaguars (nine) the only team to record fewer.

Pass rush plays a substantial role in a defense's ability to force turnovers, but the Jets – even with Carl Lawson missing the entire season through injury – ranked third in pass rush win rate last season, perhaps indicating that their struggles taking the ball away were a result of the performance of the secondary and a lack of luck.

Hamilton has the talent to significantly influence the former, and he would join a secondary that is in better shape than it is perhaps given credit for.

Starting cornerback Bryce Hall had the lowest combined open percentage (14.61) allowed across man and zone coverage of all corners in the NFL with at least 100 coverage matchups in 2021.

The Jets also added strong safety Jordan Whitehead, who during his time with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers showed his prowess for making plays in coverage and down near the line of scrimmage.

Whitehead registered eight pass breakups and two interceptions in 2021 while his tally of 14 tackles for loss over the last two seasons is bettered only by Jamal Adams among safeties (15).

Not short of talent up front, infusing Hamilton into the secondary could give Jets coach Robert Saleh the back seven he needs for his defense to take a leap to help them compete in the AFC East, and the team with whom they share a stadium may also have designs on him elevating their defense to the NFL's elite.

Safety could be Giant strength for Martindale

There wasn't much good about the New York Giants in 2021, yet their defense did rank 11th in yards per play allowed (5.31).

That defense will be run by Don "Wink" Martindale in 2022, and there is no doubt a respected defensive mind of his calibre would relish the chance to get to work with a chess piece like Hamilton. The Giants are in a great spot to give him that opportunity, picking fifth and seventh.

At the safety position, the Giants already possess one versatile and seemingly quickly improving player in Xavier McKinney. 

McKinney spent 838 snaps lined up as a deep safety last season but did play 96 in the slot, with his combined open percentage allowed of 17.07 the third-best among safeties with a minimum of 100 matchups.

The Giants' secondary will likely lose a veteran player with cornerback James Bradberry expected to be traded, yet by pairing McKinney with Hamilton, they would immediately boast one of the most multi-faceted defensive backfields in the NFL, one which would offer Martindale the opportunity to decrease his dependency on single-high looks, having predominantly leaned on Cover 3 shells in his final year as defensive coordinator of the Baltimore Ravens.

As is the case with the Jets, the Giants still have a lot of questions to answer, especially on the offensive side of the ball, where there are doubts over two first-round selections at quarterback at different points of their career and a clear need for a further infusion of talent among both groups of wide receivers.

In an offense-driven league, it is the answers to those questions that may determine how quickly two teams that have spent far too long in the mire can ascend back to contention.

But neither franchise is in a spot to thumb its nose at a defensive building block who fits exactly where the game is going and has the potential to become an elite player at his position. Safety has historically not been a highly valued position in the draft, but Hamilton's ceiling is such that he could eventually be regarded as a franchise-changing selection for the team that is willing to put history to one side, and the Jets and Giants have the positional need and the potential opportunity do just that.

Tom Brady has agreed to restructure his contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Brady announced his retirement earlier this year, yet performed a U-turn on that decision last month to re-sign with the Bucs, who he led to a Super Bowl success at the end of the 2020 season.

There had been rumours that the Bucs were set to hold discussions with the 44-year-old, seven-time Super Bowl champion over potentially tying him down beyond the 2022 season, though general manager Jason Licht quashed that speculation.

Tampa have, however, managed to restructure Brady's existing deal to create over $9million of salary cap space ahead of next week's NFL Draft.

ESPN's Adam Schefter reported the news on Friday, citing league sources.

However, Brady is still set to become a free agent at the end of the season despite the restructuring.

Brady passed for more yards (5,316) than any other quarterback in the NFL across the 2021 regular season, registering a league-high 43 touchdown passes. His completion percentage of 67.5 ranked ninth.

Tampa reached the postseason, but lost to eventual Super Bowl winners the Los Angeles Rams.

The overarching narrative surrounding the 2022 NFL Draft class is well established. It's not a star-studded class, but it's a deep class.

And nowhere is this draft deeper than at edge rusher.

NFL teams place a premium on players who can get after the quarterback, but this year they may not have to spend a premium pick to land such a prospect who can make an immediate difference at the highest level.

Like quarterbacks, top pass rushers get pushed up the board, but some teams may be content to wait until day two of this year's draft to boost their front seven, safe in the knowledge that there will still be a host of talented edge players available.

By its very nature, the draft is a subjective exercise, but a look at the pressure numbers for the top edge rushers in this class provides an idea of how they should be stacked as opening night in Las Vegas draws ever closer.

The sure thing

He may not end up as the first overall pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars, but Michigan's Aidan Hutchinson has the most compelling case as the most complete and the most 'pro-ready' edge rusher in the draft.

Hutchinson has the flexibility to bend around the edge but can also win with his bull rush and has the quickness to successfully attack the inside shoulder of opposing offensive tackles.

Boasting a well-refined repertoire off pass rush moves, including the cross-chop, two-hand swipe, rip, club and swim, Hutchinson's pressure rate of 30.8 per cent in 2021 was topped only by UAB sleeper Alex Wright (31.3 per cent). Similarly, Wright (18.7 per cent) was the sole player to top Hutchinson's run disruption rate of 17.9 per cent.

Yet while Wright recorded 11.5 sacks in three seasons at a Group of Five school, Hutchinson had 14 in the 2021 campaign alone as he helped Michigan come within touching distance of the mountaintop – the Wolverines losing in the College Football Playoff semi-finals.

He also demonstrated considerable prowess against the run, registering double-digit tackles for loss in 2019 (10) and 2021 (16.5).

Beating a man on 72 of his 85 pressures in 2021, Hutchinson has an array of tools by which to defeat pass protection and will enter the league as a high-floor, day-one contributor.

Should the Jags choose to go in a different direction, the team that land him may be sending thank you cards to Jacksonville for years to come.

Debate club

At the start of last season, it would have been tough to find much debate around Oregon star Kayvon Thibodeaux, a prospect almost universally seen as a future top-five pick.

Now there are questions over whether he will even go in the top 10.

Any potential fall down the board will not be down to his ability to generate pressure, which he did on 24.5 per cent of his pass-rush snaps in 2021, beating a pass protector on 44 of his 49 pressures.

Instead, doubts around Thibodeaux seem to be tied to a perceived lack of effort and concerns over his love of the game, a reflection of the archaic way in which the league often views prospects who have the temerity to have outside interests away from the field.

Any such worries over his other interests should certainly not overshadow Thibodeaux's consistently outstanding performances, which have seen him create pressure through his excellent first step and ability to translate speed to power.

Indeed, Thibodeaux can generate an exceptional bull rush but can also bend around the edge and has the quickness to win to create disruption up the middle, his tremendous physical traits supplemented by a well-stocked repertoire of pass-rush moves.

With 35.5 tackles for loss and 19 sacks in three seasons, Thibodeaux has the production, the athleticism and the tape of a sure-fire top-five prospect. More bemusing than talk of him falling down the draft is the hype around the player who could well go number one overall.

Georgia's Travon Walker has the God-given athletic gifts over which teams salivate, running the 40 at the Combine in 4.51 seconds at 272 pounds, yet he does not have the production to back it up, with his tape from an extremely successful collegiate career with the Bulldogs leaving more questions than answers.

Deployed primarily as a run defender and often asked on passing downs to either drop into coverage or open up rushing lanes for blitzing linebackers, Walker had only 9.5 sacks in college. 

That six of those came in 2021 could be seen as a sign of progress. However, with Walker posting a pressure rate of just 12 per cent and beating his man on only 16 of his 31 pressures, he clearly still has a long way to go as a pass rusher.

Between his obvious explosiveness and the power he has in his hands, Walker is, in essence, an exciting project for the right defensive line coach to mould. However, the presence of more proven higher-floor pass rushers at the top of the draft makes the prospect of the Jaguars putting the burden of rapidly developing him on their staff a needless risk for Jacksonville.

Destined for day one

If the Jags are determined to hitch their wagon to a former Georgia star with only one season of college production, they would be better served by choosing Jermaine Johnson II to be that player.

Johnson transferred from Georgia to Florida State and thrived on a poor Seminoles team in 2021, racking up 11.5 sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss. 

A force against the run in his lone season in Tallahassee, Johnson's pressure rate of 16.8 does not paint the picture of an elite edge prospect.

However, only Hutchinson had more adjusted sacks (18) than Johnson's 17, a two-hand swipe move and a spin move helping him beat a pass protector on 40 of his 50 pressures. If he can become more consistent in pairing his explosiveness with leverage and use his flexibility to turn the corner more regularly, Johnson has a chance to emerge as the cream of this year's edge rush crop.

Penn State's Arnold Ebiketie is another transfer who made the most of his change of scenery, excelling in his single year with the Nittany Lions after switching from Temple, using his long arms to superb effect as he posted a pressure rate of 21.1 per cent, his success in getting into the pads of opposing pass protectors allowing him to record 9.5 sacks and 18 tackles for loss.

Ebiketie is still building his pass rush weaponry but blends leverage, speed and power to win with his bull rush. Able to win to the inside and around the edge, the arrow is pointing up for Ebiketie and there will be no shortage of teams ready to try to keep him on that trajectory in the pros.

Explosiveness and power are the calling cards of Purdue's George Karlaftis, who, after playing only two games in 2020, had a pressure rate of 21.9 per cent last season.

Only Hutchinson and Wright beat a pass protector more often than Karlaftis (47), and the former Boilermaker figures to soon be testing the anchor of tackles around the league after consistently putting Big Ten competition on skates.

Each of that trio are likely to come off the board on night one. That same honour probably won't be afforded to South Carolina's Kingsley Enagbare or Drake Jackson of USC, though both had top-five pressure rates in 2021.

Enagbare (24.6) has an array of moves to rival Hutchinson and a bull rush akin to that of Karlaftis when he puts it all together, but a lack of speed and flexibility to turn the corner may force him to wait until day two. Jackson (24.2) was third in adjusted sack rate (6.7 per cent) and flashed dominance with his first step and dip to get around the edge, but a failure to truly take over games at the Pac-12 level will likely mean his celebrations will have to wait until the Friday of draft week.

The injury gamble

Hutchinson's former Michigan team-mate David Ojabo would almost certainly be in the first-round mix had he not suffered an Achilles injury during his pro day.

Due to that piece of misfortune, teams must now decide whether they are willing to take a risk on a player who may not be healthy enough to contribute significantly as a rookie.

Agreeing to that gamble will mean putting faith in Ojabo's long-term potential, which is undoubted.

Nigerian-born Ojabo moved to the United States from Scotland in 2017 and originally played basketball before turning his attention to American football.

Still relatively inexperienced, Ojabo has enticing room to grow but at the same time demonstrated impressive polish as he broke out in 2021 with 11 sacks and 12 tackles for loss.

With a pressure rate of 21.3 per cent and the highest adjusted sack rate in the class at 7.6 per cent, Ojabo can get the better of pass blockers through a number of avenues.

He has the speed to get around the edge, has developed an excellent spin move and possesses a rip move with which he has also found success.

For a player who came to the sport late, Ojabo has also demonstrated impressive awareness of the importance of playing half a man when rushing the passer.

Encouragingly refined but still boasting untapped potential, there is obvious risk in taking Ojabo, but depending on the progress of his recovery, he could quickly make an impact as a designated pass rusher on third down.

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