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Mel Kiper sends Tua Tagovailoa to Detroit in latest mock draft

The ESPN analyst could not resist the polarizing choice of matching a quarterback with the Lions.

NCAA Football: Louisiana State at Alabama John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Last month, Mel Kiper Jr. selected Jeff Okudah for the Detroit Lions at the third-overall pick, a choice that has been rapidly growing in popularity among both analysts and fans. The Ohio State cornerback seems like a natural fit, and regardless of if Darius Slay is on the team next season, acquiring a talented, young corner is a necessity for the organization going forward.

Kiper released his latest mock draft on Tuesday and decided to go a whole different direction. With Okudah still on the board after the obvious choices of Joe Burrow and Chase Young at No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, the ESPN draft analyst went with Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa:

The Lions say they’re not shopping quarterback Matthew Stafford, but there is some buzz that they like Tagovailoa, who might not work out for teams before April’s draft because of his hip injury. Is that just a smoke screen? We’re still two months away from the draft, of course. Stafford’s contract is extremely tough to trade in 2020 — the team could have up to a $32 million dead-cap hit — but what if Detroit likes Tagovailoa so much that it keeps Stafford on the roster for another year? This pick also seems like the perfect spot for a team to trade up to get a quarterback, whether that’s Tagovailoa, Justin Herbert or someone else. Could the Chargers or Raiders or Jaguars move up to jump the Dolphins at No. 5 and get their guy? Everything is in play here, and since I’m not going to project trades, I’ll stick with Tagovailoa at No. 3.

There is a lot to unpack in his explanation here. First off, Kiper claims that the Lions “like Tagovailoa” and does not totally buy into the claim that they are not shopping Matthew Stafford. During draft season, basically any information coming out of front offices needs to be taken with a mountain of salt, but theoretically both of these ideas could be true. Tagovailoa is a dynamic talent who could be a game-changer if healthy. All signs point to a clean recovery from his hip injury, and the Lions surely would stay away if there were any concerns about his condition.

The financial angle is an interesting one, as is the idea of how 2020 plays out. It still looks like Detroit is in a win-now situation for the upcoming season, which means that Stafford almost certainly must remain under center. This would work for Tagovailoa anyway, as the young quarterback prefers the apprenticeship model as opposed to jumping right into the deep end. With Stafford’s contract basically impossible to move, it would make sense to let the rookie sit and learn for a year while the veteran is still under contract.

However, the most notable part of this blurb is the very last section. Like most mock drafts, Kiper avoided creating any trades here. It still remains the position of most of the staff at Pride of Detroit that the Lions should—and will—look to move the pick for additional draft capital, letting a different team select Tagovailoa at No. 3. It makes for a fun headline to imagine the Lions taking the Alabama quarterback, but at this point it is purely fantasy to believe it will happen.