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NFL combine could clear up whether ex-Michigan Wolverine Aidan Hutchinson will be taken No. 1

By MICHAEL MAROT

AP Sports Writer

INDIANAPOLIS — Kayvon Thibodeaux looked like a lock to be this year’s top NFL draft pick — until Aidan Hutchinson played his way into the conversation.

Now, with eight weeks until draft night, offensive linemen Ikem “Ickey” Ekwonu and Evan Neal are in the debate, too.

This four-man race to the top has become a hot topic at this week’s annual scouting combine and has rekindled a familiar question: Who’s No. 1? With no quarterbacks likely to be selected right away, the guys in the trenches are the favorites.

“You have to take the player you think is the best fit for the organization and makes the biggest difference,” Jacksonville Jaguars general manager Trent Baalke said earlier this week in Indianapolis. “If that’s an offensive tackle, you do it. If it’s an edge rusher, you do it. This draft has a lot of unique players. There may not be that clear No. 1, but there are a lot of good football players at the top.”

Baalke’s job is to sort it all out in a draft that comes with several unique features.

The Jags already have their franchise quarterback after taking Trevor Lawrence last year.

The one seemingly virtual certainty: A seven-year run of quarterbacks going first or second will end. None is likely to even make the conversation.

Until recently, Thibodeaux, the All-American out of Oregon, appeared to be the odds-on favorite. He had seven sacks last season despite missing 2 1/2 games with a sprained ankle that slowed him through some other games.

But as his stock had been sliding, Hutchinson could emerge as the best.

The former Michigan star broke the school’s single-season record with 14 sacks, led the Wolverines to a Big Ten title and their first playoff appearance while becoming the third defensive player to finish as the Heisman Trophy runner-up. He did it all after recovering from a fractured right ankle that ended his 2020 season.

Just don’t expect Hutchinson to make the pitch. He’d rather let his play suffice.

“I’ve been playing football for a long time, so I know what pressure is, I know the type of player I am and that calms me a little bit,” he said. “I think we’re all trying to be the best players we can be and whichever team picks us is going to get a good player.”