LAS VEGAS (AP) — DEFENSE, DEFENSE.
That was, of course, the chant at the start of the NFL Draft on Thursday night, with the top five selections coming from that side of the ball, including edge rushers Travon Walker from national champion Georgia in Jacksonville and Aidan Hutchinson from Michigan in Detroit at No. 1 and 2.
It’s the first time in 31 years that no offensive player has made the top five picks. So naturally the next five picks were on offense. And those kept coming: all the way to #12.
But no quarterbacks, hardly a surprise in a draft rich in linemen, receivers and defensive backs.
The 6-foot-5, 275-pound Walker, who has raw elements in his game but an extremely high ceiling for his skill, joins former Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence as the Jaguars’ second straight selection. Walker was a one-year starter whose production (13 tackles for loss and 9 1/2 sacks) didn’t jump because he was part of a deep rotation at Georgia. His talent level has certainly impressed the Jaguars, the NFL’s worst team for 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 linebacker and it will be fine. I’d take it at #1 and wouldn’t even blink.
The Jaguars did not blink.
Commissioner Roger Goodell began proceedings by estimating that more than 100,000 fans were in attendance at the theater built specifically for the draft. Walker was not in Las Vegas.
Hutchinson, a sackmaster whose consistency and relentlessness helped the Wolverines to their first college football playoff, stays home as a pro. The 6-foot-6, 265-pounder whose father Chris was a star Michigan player in the 1990s, was a Heisman Trophy finalist last season.
“I’ve always wanted to be in 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 wide receiver Darryl Stingley, who was crippled in a preseason game in 1978. Gardner, of Cincinnati, was one of the main reasons the Bearcats broke into the college football playoffs last season. He wore a brashly jeweled necklace proclaiming his nickname, and even a chain accessorized with a jeweled sauce bottle.
The defensive run ended with Oregon edge rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux at the New York Giants.
“I am at this nirvana. I am at peace,” he said, noting that Hall of Famer Michael Strahan has been a mentor. “It’s set up or shut down.”
When the teams went to the other side of the ball, they couldn’t stop. It started with North Carolina State tackle Ikem Ekwonu at Carolina and Alabama tackled Evan Neal to the Giants. Both teams are in need, to say the least, up front.
Atlanta, devoid of wide receivers, got Southern California’s Drake London before Seattle launched into tackle Charles Cross from Mississippi State. Then came three more wides: Ohio State’s Garrett Wilson to the Jets and college teammate Chris Olave to New Orleans, who traded with Washington for 11th; and Alabama’s Jameson Williams, who is coming off a serious knee injury, at Detroit, which has advanced under a deal with division rival Minnesota.
Another standout Georgia player, defensive tackle Jordan Davis, was snapped up by Philadelphia at age 13 after another deal, bringing things back to the defensive end.
More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl and https://apnews.com/hub/pro-32 and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL