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Sunday July 3rd, 2022 7:43PM

Defense 1st, then offense at top of NFL draft, no early QBs

By The Associated Press
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LAS VEGAS (AP) — D-E-F-E-N-S-E, D-E-F-E-N-S-E.

That sure was the chant at the outset of the NFL draft Thursday night, with the first five selections coming on that side of the ball, including edge rushers Travon Walker of national champion Georgia to Jacksonville and Aidan Hutchinson of Michigan to Detroit at Nos. 1 and 2.

It's the first time in 31 years that no player on offense went in the opening five picks. So, naturally, the next five choices were on offense. And those kept coming: right through No. 12.

But no quarterbacks, hardly a surprise in a draft rich with linemen, receivers and defensive backs.

The 6-foot-5, 275-pound Walker, who has some raw elements to his game but an extremely high ceiling for his skills, joins former Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence as the second straight top overall selection by the Jaguars. Walker was a one-year starter whose production (13 tackles for loss and 9 1/2 sacks) doesn’t jump out because he was part of a deep rotation at Georgia. His talent level certainly impressed the Jaguars, the NFL’s worst team the past two years.

“He’s an athletic freak,” Georgia defensive coordinator Will Muschamp told The Associated Press. “I swear to God he could line up at middle linebacker and go be fine. I would take him at No. 1 and not even blink.”

The Jaguars didn't blink.

Commissioner Roger Goodell began the proceedings by estimating more than 100,000 fans were on hand at the theater built specifically for the draft. Walker was not in Las Vegas.

Hutchinson, a sack-master whose consistency and relentlessness helped the Wolverines to their first College Football Playoff, is staying home as a pro. The 6-foot-6, 265-pounder whose father Chris was a star player at Michigan in the 1990s, was the Heisman Trophy runner-up last season.

“I always wanted to be at Detroit. I’m grateful to be a Lion,” he said.

Cornerbacks Derek Stingley Jr. and Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner went next, to the Texans and Jets, respectively.

LSU's Stingley is the grandson of former Patriots receiver Darryl Stingley, who was paralyzed in a 1978 preseason game. Gardner, of Cincinnati, was a major reason the Bearcats broke through into the College Football Playoff last season. He wore a brash bejeweled necklace proclaiming his nickname, and even an accessorized chain with a bejeweled sauce bottle.

“I know I’m going to be a great teammate and I’m going to be a sponge, somebody that’s able to take information from everyone and not feeling like I’m too good for anyone,” Gardner said. “Just being a hard worker.”

The defensive run concluded with Oregon edge rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux to the New York Giants.

“I’m at this nirvana. I’m at peace," he said, noting that Hall of Famer Michael Strahan has been a mentor. "It’s put up or shut up.”

When teams got around to the other side of the ball, they couldn't stop. It began with North Carolina State tackle Ikem Ekwonu to Carolina and Alabama tackle Evan Neal to the Giants. Both teams are needy, to say the least, up front.

“It feels good legacy-wise,” Ekwonu said. “I knew this class would be special. It’s really exciting.”

Atlanta, depleted of playmaking wide receivers, got Southern California's Drake London before Seattle went for tackle Charles Cross of Mississippi State. Then came three more wideouts: Garrett Wilson of Ohio State to the Jets and college teammate Chris Olave to New Orleans, which traded up with Washington for the 11th slot; and Alabama's Jameson Williams, coming off a serious knee injury, to Detroit, which moved up in a deal with division-rival Minnesota.

Another Georgia standout, defensive tackle Jordan Davis, was taken by Philadelphia at 13 after yet another deal, getting matters back to the defensive side.

Perhaps the biggest surprise early on was Baltimore trading top receiver Marquise Brown to Arizona for the 23rd spot. Until Philadelphia moments later acquired another solid wideout in A.J. Brown from Tennessee for the 18th pick.

So the desire to add pass catchers didn't apply only to rookies, of which six were taken in the top 18. Penn State's Jahan Dotson joined the parade to Washington, then the Titans added Arkansas WR Treylon Burks with the pick acquired for A.J. Brown.

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