With less than a month left in the 2021 regular season, many have already started heavily focusing on the 2022 NFL draft. With an ESPN SportsCenter mock draft special on ESPN2 at 5 p.m. ET on the docket for Tuesday, Todd McShay published his first Mock Draft of the new draft cycle.
For his selections, McShay used ESPN’s power index to project the draft order, which slotted the Lions with picks No. 1 and No. 25, the latter being via the Los Angeles Rams selection acquired by the Lions via the Matthew Stafford trade.
With two realistic options at the top of the draft, McShay went with the hometown hero...
1. Aidan Hutchinson, EDGE, Michigan
The Lions need to take the best player available, and right now, that’s Hutchinson. The production speaks for itself: He has 14.0 sacks, 73 tackles, 19 tackles for loss and a pair of forced fumbles, and he tends to play at his best in the biggest spots. Detroit is in the bottom five in yards allowed per play (5.9), points allowed per game (27.2) and sacks (20), and while Romeo Okwara, Julian Okwara, Trey Flowers and a host of others can be impact players, Hutchinson could be the guy on the edge for the Lions.
The debate between Hutchinson and Kayvon Thibodeaux is going to rage all offseason, but I’m firmly on team Hutchinson right now. Maybe it’s recency bias coming into play, as Hutchinson completely obliterated Ohio State and Iowa in his last two games, on his way to a Heisman second-place finish, but he is loaded with appeal.
Not only is Hutchinson a dominating foundational player, but he is able to elevate his game and the games of those around him when it matters the most. Even beyond his impressive athleticism and boundless skill set, his work ethic is a perfect match for what Lions coach Dan Campbell wants in a leader. The fact that he’s a local product is just icing on the cake.
This pick makes a ton of sense.
25. Sam Howell, QB, North Carolina
There will always be QB-needy teams, and while this class lacks a surefire franchise guy, it does have plenty of high-upside passers who could become just that. I actually like Howell a little more than Desmond Ridder. The UNC product reads the field well and shows good touch and timing on his throws.
Jared Goff’s dead money would fall from $30.5 million in 2022 to $10 million in 2023 and $5 million in 2024, so I wouldn’t be surprised if Detroit drafts someone like Howell at the end of the first round to secure the fifth-year option and lets him learn behind Goff for a year before handing over the keys.
The reason McShay mentions liking Howell better than Ridder is because they’re ranked QB4 and QB5 in his rankings. You read that right, in a notably weak quarterback class, he has the Lions taking the class’s fifth-best quarterback with a top-25 pick.
- Kenny Pickett went at No. 12 to the Pittsburgh Steelers
- Matt Corral at No. 13 to the Washington Football Team
- Malik Willis at No. 17 to the Denver Broncos
- Desmond Ridder at No. 19 to the New Orleans Saints
- Leaving the Lions to scoop up Howell at No. 25
McShay suggests in his final sentence that the Lions would be inclined to take a quarterback here “to secure the fifth-year option,” and while in a bubble having an extra fifth-year option on a quarterback is appealing, it shouldn’t be a motivating factor to reach for a position—yes, even a quarterback.
While the Hutchinson selection made all the sense in the world, this pick resonates in the opposite direction for me. I’m not against taking a quarterback with a later first-round selection, but the value in taking Howell isn’t there for me.
In a rebuild, you can’t afford to miss on your early picks, and there are too many question marks surrounding Howell for me to support this selection.