ESPN has been diving into the 2022 offseason and analyst Mel Kiper kept their momentum going by releasing his first mock draft of the season ($ubscription required) on Wednesday.
His draft partner Todd McShay dropped his first mock of the season about a month ago, giving the Detroit Lions Michigan EDGE rusher Aidan Hutchinson when Detroit held the No. 1 overall pick. Last week, McShay and Kiper joined forces to kick off their ESPN First Draft podcast with a joint mock draft focusing on the top five, and this time, Kiper gave the Jaguars Hutchinson at No. 1 and McShay gave the Lions Oregon EDGE Kayvon Thibodeaux.
This was Kiper's first opportunity to pick for the Lions this offseason, but not much changed. The Jaguars took Hutchinson first overall and the Lions landed...
Pick No. 2: Kayvon Thibodeaux, DE, Oregon
Here’s Kiper’s explanation of his selection:
It’s a no-brainer to take Thibodeaux or Hutchinson here, whoever is still on the board. Thibodeaux, who was a No. 1 overall high school recruit, has elite upside. His get-off at the snap is lightning-quick, and though he’s still developing secondary pass-rush moves, he doesn’t need them when he can blow by offensive tackles before they’re out of their stance. Thibodeaux had half as many sacks (seven) as Hutchinson this season, but he had the second-best pressure rate in the country (17.8%). Charles Harris, who led Detroit with 7.5 sacks this season, is a free agent, which makes this even more of a problem position.
As we have seen in our weekly Mock Draft Roundups, the standard approach in most mock drafts this season is to have the two edge rushers go off the board first, though there is the occasional addition of off-script player, like Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton or a tackle or quarterback.
Most mock drafts wait until the Lions' second pick in the first round—via the Rams—to pair the Lions with a quarterback (if they do at all) and Kiper followed suit once again.
Like McShay in his first mock draft, Kiper gives the Lions...
No 28. Sam Howell, QB, North Carolina
It’s worth noting that Howell was the fourth quarterback off the board in Kiper’s mock, with Liberty’s Malik Willis going at No. 11, Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett at No. 18, and Mississippi’s Matt Corral landing at No. 20.
Here’s Kiper’s explanation on why he paired Howell with the Lions:
I’m not sold on Jared Goff being Detroit’s guy past 2022, so why not take a quarterback flier here with the pick it got from the trade with the Rams? By taking Howell in Round 1, the Lions would get his fifth-year option, which means they could hand over the reins in 2023. Yes, they have a lot of needs, but if they think they can get their future starting signal-caller, they should pounce. Howell is a tricky evaluation, and he could definitely drop to Round 2. He looked like a potential top-10 pick after his sophomore season in 2020. At the beginning of the 2021 season, though, he really struggled, and he put a lot of bad tape out there while throwing to a completely new set of pass-catchers. He settled back in and improved down the stretch, finishing with 24 touchdown passes and nine picks, plus 11 rushing scores. He throws a beautiful deep ball and has tremendous touch on passes.
Like McShay, Kiper points to the Lions going quarterback here to get a fifth-year option, and as I did in my evaluation of McShay’s draft, I’m going to push back against this strategy as a motivating factor to select a signal-caller. Would it be nice to have a fifth-year option on a quarterback? Sure. But it can't be a driving force to reach for a player—heck, even Kiper admits, Howell “could definitely drop to Round 2”.
The Lions own pick 2 and the Rams’ first round pick. The great @MelKiperESPN breaks down Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux and whether a QB could be in play with their second pick on today’s First Draft.— Field Yates (@FieldYates) January 17, 2022
S/O @HOMAGE for the Bengals hoodie. pic.twitter.com/WmTL4JV3KU
Overall, we haven’t learned much from ESPN’s mock drafts so far. In all of their mock drafts this season, Hutchinson has gone first, Thibodeaux second, and they believe the Lions will select Howell with their Rams pick.