With the NFL season now officially over, publications are turning their attention to the offseason—mainly free agency, which starts next month, and the 2022 NFL Draft.
The draft is especially important for the Detroit Lions, seeing as they have two first round picks (No. 2 and 32) and a high second-round pick (34). Detroit is in desperate need for a talent infusion, and ESPN’s Todd McShay did his best to help them out in his 2022 Mock Draft. 2.0. ($)
You may remember in his first mock draft—from all the way back in mid-December—the Lions grabbed Michigan edge defender Aidan Hutchinson with the (then) first-overall pick, and then North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell with the (then) 25th-overall pick. Our own Erik Schlitt broke down those selections here.
So now that the Lions are picking a little later than McShay expected back then and we’ve gone through most of the college all-star games, how has McShay’s selections for the Lions changed?
Well, they haven’t.
After slotting offensive tackle Evan Neal to the Jacksonville Jaguars with the first-overall pick, McShay gives the Lions Hutchinson again.
“This is a slam-dunk scenario for the Lions,” McShay writes. “They gave up 5.9 yards per play (29th) and 26.9 points per game (28th), opposing quarterbacks had the third-best QBR against them (53.4), and only two teams had fewer sacks than their 30 on the season. Hutchinson — who is from Michigan and played his college ball under an hour from Detroit — is a relentless pass-rusher who had 14.0 sacks and 66 pressures last year.”
Last week, Pride of Detroit talked to Hutchinson, and the All-American defender spoke highly of what is happening in Detroit right now.
“I think they’ve got a really good head coach,” Hutchinson said. “He seems like a really good dude in the interviews that I’ve seen. I think the Lions are definitely on the up-and-up.”
With the 32nd pick, McShay goes with Howell again. The quarterbacks that had previously come off the board include Kenny Pickett to the Commanders (Pick 11), Malik Willis to the Steelers (17, trade up), and Matt Corral to the Saints (18).
“Tough and competitive, Howell fits well with the Lions’ organization,” McShay said. “He is super accurate hitting the deep rail shots, and he has a quick delivery and good touch. But his footwork needs work, and he will need to improve the anticipatory intermediate-level throws. Let Howell sit behind Jared Goff, whose dead money falls from $30.5 million in 2022 to $10 million in 2023 and $5 million in 2024.”
Howell is an intriguing prospect. Entering his 2021 season, many believed he had an opportunity to solidify himself as the top quarterback in the class after back-to-back solid seasons with over 3,500 yards, 30+ touchdowns and just seven interceptions in each year. However, Howell lost a lot of his supporting cast going into his final year at North Carolina, including four offensive weapons who were drafted last April. As a result, Howell produced a disappointing season.
The Lions got a good look at Howell earlier this month at the Senior Bowl, and general manager Brad Holmes mentioned that he actually views the struggles that Howell—and the other two Senior Bowl quarterbacks—went through as a potential positive.
“They’ve all kind of battled some kind of adversity, and I thought that was kinda cool,” Holmes said. “You’ve got Howell, he lost a lot of skill (players) in the pass. He’s got kind of a new cast he’s working with.”
At the Senior Bowl, Howell put on a decent, but unspectacular performance. Throughout the week of practices, he was overshadowed by Willis, but in the game he performed admirably, completing 6-of-9 passes for 67 yards.
He also had some playful banter with Lions new offensive coordinator Ben Johnson, who, too, used to play quarterback for the University of North Carolina.