Who do the NFL scouts love most?
Bob McGinn asked 19 personnel men who they believe is the best player in the draft... and who their favorite prospect is. Their answers revealed inside.
Aidan Hutchinson might not be the first pick in the NFL draft on Thursday night. He might not be the second, third, fourth or fifth choice, either, in one of the most mysterious drafts in years.
But the Jaguars, who own the first selection, and the Lions, who are at No. 2, as well the other teams situated near the top of the draft should know that Hutchinson was the consensus choice of football executives across the league.
In the last month, 19 personnel people were asked to name the best player in the draft regardless of position. Here were the vote totals:
BEST PLAYER IN THE DRAFT
10 – Aidan Hutchinson, Edge, Michigan.
4 – Evan Neal, T, Alabama.
3 – Ickey Ekwonu, T, North Carolina State.
1 – Ahmad Gardner, CB, Cincinnati; Kayvon Thibodeaux, Edge, Oregon.
Those same 19 evaluators then were asked to name their favorite player in the draft. That is, what one player did they most love to watch live, evaluate on tape or interview this year? Here were the vote totals:
FAVORITE PLAYER TO SCOUT IN THE DRAFT
3 – Aidan Hutchinson, Edge, Michigan.
2 – Nakobe Dean, LB, Georgia; Skyy Moore, WR, Western Michigan; Travon Walker, Edge, Georgia.
1 – Lewis Cine, S, Georgia; Luke Goedeke, G, Central Michigan; Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame; Dax Hill, S, Michigan; George Karlaftis, Edge, Purdue; Devin Lloyd, LB, Utah; Trey McBride, TE, Colorado State; Jalen Pitre, S, Baylor; Jameson Williams, WR, Alabama; Malik Willis, QB, Liberty.
“For me, he’s a pretty easy pick,” said an AFC executive. “Very good football player with all the intangible factors. Very safe, very clean, intelligence, work ethic. All the things you want and that make you feel good.”
Last year, in my similar poll for The Athletic, tight end Kyle Pitts of Florida emerged as the winner in both categories. In 2020, defensive end Chase Young of Ohio State outpolled quarterback Joe Burrow of LSU, 13-4, but didn’t receive a single vote as the favorite player. Burrow won the favorite vote by a 7-3 margin over his teammate at LSU, running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire.
“That’s sort of the issue, isn’t it?” another AFC personnel said when asked for his best player choice. “I don’t know. Hutchinson, I guess. Favorite? I’d give you Hutchinson there, too. There’s nothing wrong with him. He shows up every game. Good family background. Kind of a fun guy to be around.”
Some of Hutchinson’s supporters felt compelled to choose him almost out of default in a draft they framed as thin at the top.
“He’s just like that Alabama corner (Patrick Surtain) last year who was the safest pick in the whole draft,” another AFC scout said. “He’s from a great family. He’s strong, hard worker, he’ll be a captain. But compare him to DeMarcus Ware, the kid at Cleveland (Myles Garrett), Charles Haley, the elite pass rushers? He’s not in that league.”
Since 1956, the first time a player officially was listed with his defensive position, a total of 19 players on defense have been the No. 1 overall choice in the draft. This includes the AFL drafts from 1961-’66.
Of those 19 players, three are enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame: defensive end Buck Buchanan (1963), defensive end Lee Roy Selmon (1976) and defensive end Bruce Smith (1985).
Among the busts were defensive back Gary Glick (1956), defensive end Walt Patulski (1972), defensive tackle Kenneth Sims (1982), outside linebacker Aundray Bruce (1988), defensive tackle Steve Emtman (1992) and defensive end Courtney Brown (2000).