With the second wave of free agency in the books and the 2022 NFL Draft inching closer, it’s logical to think the focus of mock drafts would narrow as rosters fill up. But this offseason has been anything but predictable and at times has been downright illogical.
In fact, I’m not sure I can remember a year that provided less clarity of what’s teams may do at the top of the draft. Things have shifted from the Jacksonville Jaguars taking an edge rusher, to them taking an offensive tackle, back to them taking an edge rusher, specifically Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson, to the Lions possibly trading up one spot to draft Hutchinson, and now there is the possibility of the Jaguars skipping over Hutchinson in favor of Georgia’s Travon Walker.
As far as the Detroit Lions and pick No. 2, things also remain cloudy. Thankfully last week's run on offensive tackle projections disappeared quickly, but projections of a quarterback to the Lions have skyrocketed, and a new name has been introduced into the conversation on the edge from a respected local writer.
Let’s take a closer look at who is being projected to the Lions this week, starting with the No. 2 overall pick.
Jacksonville picks anyone but Aidan Hutchinson first overall, and the Lions select...
- Aidan Hutchinson, EDGE, Michigan — by Luke Easterling (The Draft Wire), Mark Schofield (Touchdown Wire), Doug Farrar (Touchdown Wire), Maurice Jones-Drew (NFL.com), Staff (Tankathon)
- Malik Willis, QB, Liberty — by Damian Parson (The Draft Network), Cam Mellor (Pro Football Network)
This has boiled down to what I think most people expect. If Hutchinson is there, he is almost surely the pick. His combination of playstyle and personality are a perfect mesh for Dan Campbell and the Lions coaching staff, and most believe Detroit would prioritize keeping the local prospect home.
That is unless the Lions are so in love with Willis as a prospect that taking their quarterback of the future trumps all other positions. More on this in a bit.
Jacksonville takes Aidan Hutchinson first overall and the Lions select...
- Malik Willis, QB, Liberty — Chad Reuter (NFL.com), by Derrick Klassen (Football Outsiders), Chris Trapasso (CBS Sports), Marcus Mosher (The Game Day), Sawyer Hicks (Draft ID)
- Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame — by Mel Kiper (ESPN $ubscription required), Josh Edwards (CBS Sports), Shane Hallam (Draft Countdown), Ian Cummings (Pro Football Network)
- Kayvon Thibodeaux, EDGE, Oregon — by Ryan Wilson (CBS Sports)
- Travon Walker, EDGE, Georgia — by Nick Baumgardner (The Athletic, $) Daniel Jeremiah (NFL.com), Pete Prisco (CBS Sports), Nate Davis (USA Today), Brendan Donahue (Sharp Analysis)
- Jermaine Johnson, EDGE, Florida State - by Dave Birkett (Free Pre$$)
With Hutchinson off the board, things are all over the place. The idea of Willis to the Lions gets more love, Hamilton still has plenty of supporters, Thibodeaux’s stock continues to fall, Walker’s continues to rise, and Birkett adds Johnson’s name to the mix, though he recognizes that he is “probably on an island with this pick.”
Birkett’s logic makes sense and falls in line with several of my thoughts, but we differ a bit on his final conclusion. I agree Hutchinson remains the top target, Willis remains a risky choice for a general manager (Brad Holmes) that has a pattern of playing it safe in the draft, and Hamilton’s positional value may hurt his consideration. I also agree with Birkett’s assertation that Thibodeaux’s fit with the Lions may not be as perfect as people have previously believed.
If the above players are out of the conversation, that leaves Johnson and Walker as the best remaining edge rushers, and it comes down to which style of play this team prefers/needs. If you’re looking for an edge bender, Johnson is your man. But if you are looking for an athletic freak with positional versatility, then you’ll probably lean towards Walker.
At the end of the day, there appears to be six logical options for the Lions at No. 2, and at this time, no one has any idea which way this team is leaning—and that is probably exactly what Holmes wants.
In addition to the seven analysts who believe the Lions could take Willis with pick No. 2, there were another seven analysts who believe the Lions would take a quarterback with either pick No. 32 or No. 34:
- Matt Corral, QB, Mississippi - by Mark Schofield (Touchdown Wire), Mel Kiper (ESPN), Shane Hallam (Draft Countdown at pick No. 34)
- Desmond Ridder, QB, Cincinnatti - by Brendan Donahue (Sharp Analysis), Staff (Tankathon)
- Sam Howell, QB North Carolina - by Ryan Wilson (CBS Sports)
- Carson Strong, QB, Nevada - by Maurice Jones-Drew (NFL.com)
So if you’re keeping track of the math, that means of the 23 mock drafts reviewed this week, 14 of them have the Lions taking a quarterback somewhere within the first 34 picks of the draft. That’s roughly a 60/40 split in favor of the Lions landing a new signal-caller.
The fan base is split on when they would want the Lions to pick a quarterback (if they were forced to draft one). Earlier this week, I presented two dueling mock drafts, each featuring the Lions selecting a quarterback and safety with their first-round picks, and I asked the fans to vote on which was better. The results were split, almost down the middle:
Personally, I still think the Lions are not in an ideal position to grab a quarterback in this draft cycle, but I understand the logic of taking one now, and if they were to select one, I’d want it to be the best one possible. That probably means Willis at No. 2 overall for me.
On to the non-quarterbacks projected to the Lions with pick No. 32.
Pick No. 32 and 34
Treylon Burks, WR, Arkansas - by Pete Prisco (CBS Sports)
Christian Watson, WR, North Dakota State - by Damian Parson (The Draft Network), Luke Easterling (The Draft Wire)
George Pickens, WR, Georgia - by Dave Birkett (Free Pre$$), Chad Reuter (NFL.com, No. 34), Ryan Wilson (CBS Sports, No.34)
Jordan Davis, DT, Georgia - by Cam Mellor (Pro Football Network)
Travon Walker, EDGE, Georgia - by Sawyer Hicks (Draft ID)
David Ojabo, EDGE, Michigan - by Derrick Klassen (Football Outsiders), Shane Hallam (Draft Countdown)
George Karlaftis, EDGE, Purdue - by Josh Edwards (CBS Sports)
Boye Mafe, EDGE, Minnesota - by Chad Reuter (NFL.com), Marcus Mosher (The Game Day, No. 34), Ian Cummings (Pro Football Network, no. 34)
Devin Lloyd, LB, Utah - by Ian Cummings (Pro Football Network)
Nakobe Dean, LB, Georgia - by Daniel Jeremiah (NFL.com)
Damone Clark, LB, LSU - by Dave Birkett (Free Pre$$, No. 34 - pre-injury)
Christian Harris, LB, Alabama - by Damian Parson (The Draft Network, No. 34)
Daxton Hill, FS/DB, Michigan - by Nick Baumgardner (The Athletic, $), Nate Davis (USA Today), Chris Trapasso (CBS Sports)
Jaquan Brisker, S, Penn State - by Doug Farrar (Touchdown Wire)
Lewis Cine, FS, Georgia - by Marcus Mosher (The Game Day)
What the Lions do at picks No. 32 and 34 remains even more of a mystery, but considering how the top of the draft is playing out, this is no surprise. What has remained consistent is the position groups that the Lions are paired with: wide receiver, defensive line, linebacker, and safety.
If the Lions were able to land Burks, Watson, or Pickens at one of these spots, that’s probably a win for the Lions, as they would secure their future WR-X spot, which is one of the remaining big needs on offense.
I’m not sure any of the Georgia defensive line will be there, but if any of them are, they would be tremendous additions to the Lions front. What’s worth recognizing here is the quality of edge rusher most are projecting to be available if the Lions pass on one at No. 2. Ojabo just injured his Achilles and could miss a big portion of the season (if he plays at all), Karalaftis is expected to go much higher, especially Ojabo injured, and would provide value, but a notable step down from the top guys. While Mafe is becoming an ever-popular companion piece to drafting a quarterback at No. 2. Mafe is an incredible athlete, but he is also very raw and struggles to set the edge and get off blocks, which would likely take him out of the starter conversation for this team.
These picks seem to be a sweet spot for linebackers and safeties and the Lions would do well to add any of the ones suggested above. Heck, they could grab two, they’ve got the draft capital to get it done, and I’d be totally fine with it.