With the NFL Draft officially just under two weeks away, it’s time to reevaluate the Detroit Lions’ roster, re-assess their needs, and look at the players available to them in the 2022 NFL Draft class.
We start with the quarterback position, where Lions general manager Brad Holmes has a big decision on his hands. The timing to draft a quarterback works out perfectly this year, as they can develop him for a year behind Jared Goff, and by the time he’s ready to be out there, the Lions could be ready to compete. And with the second overall pick this year, the Lions don’t have to spend multiple picks to get their next guy. The top option should be there for them.
Unfortunately, this year’s draft class of quarterbacks comes with a ton of question marks. Unlikely most years, there is no clear-cut No. 1 player who most analysts agree should be taken first or second overall. The Lions will have to decide if they’re willing to take on significant risks to employ their next franchise quarterback, or punt on the decision another year, knowing they may not have the prime opportunity to grab the best quarterback in future years’ draft classes.
Let’s take a closer look at the Lions’ current roster and the options they have in the draft.
Under contract: Jared Goff (signed through 2024), Tim Boyle (2022), David Blough (2022), Steven Montez (2022)
Short term need: 3/10
Long-term need: 7/10
Jared Goff is likely the team’s starter in 2022 regardless of what the Lions decide to do at quarterback in this year’s draft. With the way he finished the season, coaches have expressed enough interest to see what Goff can do with a healthier roster with upgraded skill positions—and a second year under this coaching staff.
However, 2023 represents a potential break in the relationship between the Lions and Goff. The veteran quarterback is due to cost $30.65 million against the cap, but with only $10 million remaining in guaranteed money on the contract, Detroit could save over $20 million in cap space if they felt comfortable moving on from Goff.
Long story short, the Lions need a long-term quarterback. They may think they have one in Goff still, though, so his 2022 season will be absolutely critical.
Day 1/Early Day 2 options: Liberty’s Malik Willis, Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett, Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder, Ole Miss’ Matt Corral, North Carolina’s Sam Howell
With the second overall pick, it appears it’s Malik Willis or pass. The dual-threat quarterback has wowed analysts with his physical tools, but he represents a huge risk considering the offense he ran at Liberty was often simple, one-read looks. The Lions have expressed confidence in their staff to develop a quarterback, but Willis could take some time.
Pickett has potentially worked his way into the conversation in early Round 1 likely because he is a far more pro-ready prospect. He isn’t as exciting of a player as Willis and his ceiling isn’t as high as him, either. However, there is less risk surrounding Pickett. The Lions did bring Pickett in for a top-30 visit, so there is at least moderate interest in him.
Moving into Pick 32/34 territory, Ridder, Corral, and Howell are potential options if Detroit believes spending early draft capital on this draft class of quarterbacks is too rich for their blood. Ridder is an intriguing prospect that seems to be rising up draft boards late in the process. He has the athleticism that Willis brings, but doesn’t quite have the arm strength. Corral may not have the arm strength that some of these other passes have, but his accuracy is a little more consistent, and with above average athleticism, he’s not afraid to tuck the ball and run.
The Lions are likely very familiar with Howell after spending a week with him at the Senior Bowl. He entered 2021 as one of the favorites to become QB1 in this draft class, but after an exodus in talent around him, he had a disappointing final college season.
If the Lions are looking for a Goff replacement, it’s bad business to look beyond the first and second rounds, but they do have a potential long-term need at backup with Boyle and Blough only on one-year deals. So don’t rule out a late quarterback sometime in this draft.
Zappe, too, was on the Lions’ Senior Bowl team and had one phenomenal season in college, throwing for 62 (!) touchdowns and nearly 6,000 yards. He probably lacks the physical traits to be a starting NFL quarterback, but his intelligence for the game could be an asset in team meetings.
Eleby will have some local love, and the Lions went to his pro day. He’s a bit small by NFL standards (6-foot-1) and he’s pretty raw in all aspects of his game. But with a little seasoning he could develop into a legitimate backup, especially with the confidence he clearly plays with—sometimes to his own detriment.
Coan is a transfer from Wisconsin after losing his starting job there. In one year at Notre Dame, he produced 25 touchdowns and seven interceptions on the way to an 11-win season. He lacks the athleticism to be a rushing threat, but he’s a cerebral thrower in the pocket who could safely employ a game plan if Detroit were in a pinch.
Thompson may or may not get drafted, but his physical abilities will land him on a roster at some point this summer. He’s got decent arm strength and can run the ball—even if he did so less and less in his five-year run at Kansas State. Inconsistencies plague his game, though, so you have to wonder if he’ll ever develop into a more reliable passer.