Hamilton vs. Hutchinson/Thibodeaux is this year’s Chase vs. Sewell

Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson, Notre Dame’s Kyle Hamilton, and Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux all should be considered at No. 1 for Jacksonville Jaguars.
Photo: Getty/AP

When a team has as many holes as the Jacksonville Jaguars and is in rebuild mode, it can be difficult to determine who to take, not because of talent level, but because certain positions are more vital to a rebuild than others. Obviously, the most important position for a successful rebuild is quarterback, which the Jags took care of last year with Trevor Lawrence. However, the second-most important position is up for debate.

There are many analysts and media personalities out there who live by the ideology that in order to build a winning football team you have to have a good quarterback, be able to protect your quarterback, and be able to get to your opponent’s quarterback. By that logic, the Jaguars selection at No. 1 overall should be rather easy. Pair the non-Buffalo Josh Allen with either Aidan Hutchinson or Kayvon Thibodeaux. Build the second coming of Sacksonville and get lauded by your fans for making a smart decision after a 2021 season filled with embarrassing mistakes.

In 2022, we’ve learned better. That ideology is showing some cracks, though. Last year, Oregon tackle Penei Sewell should’ve been much more valuable than LSU receiver Ja’Marr Chase. Obviously, that wasn’t the case. Chase played at an All-Pro level breaking numerous records along the way and proving once and for all that talented receivers can make just as much of an impact as elite offensive linemen.

With that hindsight granting us clarity ahead of the 2022 NFL draft, many fans are becoming more open to the possibility of Jacksonville selecting Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton with the first overall pick.

Hamilton is arguably the most complete player in the upcoming NFL draft. He can do anything you would ask him to at an elite level. Need him to cover the deep right zone in a Cover 2 Man scheme? He’s got you. Need him to step up and play man-to-man against a slot receiver? No problem. Need him to step up and help support against the run game? He’s there in a flash. Need him to go up and get an interception? He can do that, too. Hamilton has virtually no flaws as a prospect. I know that phrase gets thrown around a lot lately. After all, people were saying the same things about Kyle Pitts a year ago, but Hamilton really fits the bill. There are even people out there who, even after seeing what Micah Parsons did this year, believe Hamilton would’ve been the best player in last year’s draft class as well.

So, by that description, what’s the issue? Why not just take Hamilton first? Well, you see… Hamilton plays a position that doesn’t rush the passer. Don’t get me wrong, Hamilton can absolutely be used as a strong safety, which is one of the best positions for rushing the quarterback from the secondary (i.e.: Jamal Adams and Brandon Jones), but most experts seem to agree that Hamilton would be best used as a free safety because of how quickly he can recognize plays. Without that opportunity to wreak havoc on the opposing quarterback, many people might think that Hamilton has less potential to make an immediate impact on a struggling defense.

The saying goes, “a good pass rush hides a bad secondary,” meaning that if Jacksonville can put together a defensive line capable of getting pressure on quarterbacks, QBs will make rushed decisions and force throws into places where the secondary lie waiting. Even great receivers have trouble getting open when their quarterback isn’t given enough time to wait for their route to develop. At the same time, even the best cornerbacks and safeties can’t guard receivers all day. If the defensive line can’t get to the opposing quarterback, no matter how good the coverage, eventually receivers will find open spaces and the offense will move the sticks.

So, does Jacksonville have a good enough pass rush already in house to justify selecting Hamilton?

The Jaguars ranked 18th in pressure rate and 27th in sacks, all despite blitzing the quarterback the fifth-most often of any team (31.5 percent blitz rate). Maybe that’s why, despite three of the four starters in Jacksonville’s secondary (Shaquill Griffin, Andrew Wingard, and Tyson Campbell) all recording PFF grades over 62.0 in 2021 with 65-70 considered starting-caliber in the NFL, the Jaguars still allowed the second-highest completion percentage in the NFL (69.4 percent — only ahead of Philadelphia) and recorded the third-lowest interception rate (1.3 percent).

I will say, the biggest issue with Jacksonville’s secondary this year was free safety Rayshawn Jenkins. Hamilton would fill that role very nicely, but if the Jags seriously want to compete next season, Hutchinson or Thibodeaux would give them the best opportunity to do so. At the same time, Hamilton could be the answer in the long run. There’s much more talent at the edge rusher position in the upcoming draft class. At pick 33, there’s a strong possibility that the Jags could still land someone like Michigan’s David Ojabo, Penn State’s Arnold Ebiketie, USC’s Drake Jackson, Florida State’s Jermaine Johnson, South Carolina’s Kingsley Enagbare, Houston’s Logan Hall, or San Diego State’s Cameron Thomas.

The Bengals’ selection of Chase last year has helped humble me and helped me grow as an analyst. While I still believe a solid edge rusher is more important than an elite safety, I’ve grown more fond of always taking the best player available first overall. Not only is Hamilton a great fit with Jacksonville, but the abundance of edge rushing talent in this year’s draft will give Jacksonville a great opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. Both Hutchinson and Thibodeaux are phenomenal players and will wind up being superstars for whichever team ends up selecting them, but Jacksonville should take Hamilton.

Watch. Now that I’ve said all this, the Jags are going to blow everyone away and select Alabama offensive tackle Evan Neal first overall. That’s always how these things go.

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