December 1, 2021

Which CFB Star Is the Best Bet to Go No. 1 in 2022 NFL Draft?

The 2022 NFL Draft is still five months away, but the end of the college football regular season pushes the mega event to the forefront of the discussion. It's at this point in the year where the worst NFL teams know they're in the running for the No. 1 overall selection, and the top players are wrapping up their respective seasons. Much will change between now and the end of April, but there are value bets to be placed.

Sportsbooks such as DraftKings and BetMGM have continued to offer odds on who will be the top pick come April 28. Some names — such as Oregon edge rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux, Ole Miss passer Matt Corral, and Alabama tackle Evan Neal — have been consistent all year. As expected, some have also completely fallen out of the picture.

We're going to look at the three best bets to end up being the top overall pick and take a quick glance at why the other options are longshots. NFL evaluators always hold more information than the public, and I've stayed tuned in with scouts and executives throughout the year. 

Kayvon Thibodeaux, Edge, Oregon (-110)

The best bet to go No. 1 is still Kayvon Thibodeaux. With -110 odds, he's not going to return a big haul, but his odds are temporarily down right now. By the end of the draft process, he'll be the best edge fit for the majority of the teams with the best odds of being the top selection.

Thibodeaux's excellent athleticism finally met the skill set and production arc everyone wanted to see. He's still raw as a technician, making him more of a project than past slam-dunk prospects like Myles Garrett and the Bosa brothers. But he proved in 2021 that he's not solely reliant on his speed, length, and impressive traits.

The 6-foot-5, 250-pounder has room to grow on his frame. With 18 career sacks and 34.5 tackles for loss, he can be a solid creator off the edge. The Detroit Lions, Houston Texans, and the New York Giants are especially good fits in terms of scheme and personnel needs. 

Aidan Hutchinson, Edge, Michigan (+250)

After a historic performance against rival Ohio State, Aidan Hutchison is absolutely in the running for the top overall pick. His breakout 2021 campaign has highlighted a skill set comparable to current NFL All-Pro T.J. Watt. He's that athletic and dynamic as a creative pass-rusher. 

His production has been off-the-charts this season in addition to being a dominant presence on film. He's tallied 54 tackles, 12 sacks, and two forced fumbles in his senior season. He can play as a stand-up linebacker or as an edge player with his hand in the dirt and win with strength and speed.

There may be some concern that Hutchison's arm length is 32 ⅛" and his breakout came late in his career. But for the New York Jets and Jacksonville Jaguars, he might be a better fit due to his polish and versatility. His odds at +250 are not bad at all and I think he could even become the favorite if Michigan continues to win. 

Evan Neal, Offensive Tackle, Alabama (+1200)

Instead of Matt Corral or another quarterback, the best value is offensive tackle Evan Neal. At +1200, he has the best longshot return we can find. Simply put, no quarterback should be taken No. 1, and Neal is a worthy top tackle prospect. 

Neal would be an excellent pick for the Jaguars, Texans, Jets or Giants if they decide to pass on an edge rusher. I have a hard time seeing Detroit or one of the QB-needy teams reaching for Corral this year at No. 1 when this class is full of passers with red flags. Neal will walk in as a 6-foot-7, 370-pound mauler as opposed to a raw, flawed passer.

This is the year a team will opt for a safe tackle like Neal over a quarterback with questions regarding decision-making (Corral), health (Carson Strong), age and hand size (Kenny Pickett), upside (Sam Howell), and readiness (Malik Willis). Consider putting a partial unit on Neal since he fits every team capable of getting the No. 1 pick.

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