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2022 NFL mock draft roundup: Nakobe Dean heavily projected to Lions at pick No. 32

Identifying the players that have been mocked to the Lions over the past week.

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL: JAN 10 CFP National Championship Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

We have finally reached the month of April, and just four Saturdays from today, the NFL will be wrapping up rounds four through seven of the 2022 NFL Draft. Day 3 can be a grueling seven hours with 160 players selected—the Detroit Lions currently are slotted to draft four of them—and then another several hours of teams scrambling to sign undrafted free agents.

In the world of mock drafts, though, the focus isn’t on Day 3. The attention goes to the top-100 picks where teams can make or break their offseasons.

In this week’s installment of Lions' mock draft roundup, we see the Lions' first pick starting to take shape, see the projecting of quarterbacks to the Lions take a slight dip, and an overwhelming favorite at No. 32 show up this week.

First, let’s take a closer look at who is being projected to the Lions with the No. 2 overall pick this week.

Jacksonville picks anyone but Aidan Hutchinson first overall, and the Lions select...

Well, this scenario has finally narrowed to the single idea that if Hutchinson is available, the Lions will take him—which has seemed to be where things have been pointing for weeks.

Jacksonville takes Aidan Hutchinson first overall and the Lions select...

While Hutchinson remains the presumed favorite, the debate over who is next in line rages on, with no consensus even among the local writers. Over the past week, our own Ryan Mathews went with Malik Willis in his mock draft 3.0, Chris Burke landed on Kayvon Thibodeaux, while Justin Rogers, Nick Baumgardner, and I went with Travon Walker.

Walker has been the hot name of late. We are even seeing his name come off the board first in some mock drafts. Of the 23 mock drafts that had Hutchinson off the board first, 12 of them projected the Lions to grab Walker with the second pick. It will be interesting to see if he continues to receive this high a share of projections (52-percent) as we work our way through these final weeks.

One thing that seems sure to sway the tide is the heavy Lions presence at Oregon’s Pro Day and the visual evidence of Thibodeaux meeting with general manager Brad Holmes and front office executive Chris Spielman. While attending pro days is by no means an indication the Lions are planning on picking Thibodeaux—only former offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn visited Oregon last year to get a look the Penei Sewell, the Lions' eventual first-round pick—it is worth taking note, and will surely sway some analysts.

One surprise was the lack of love for Hamilton, as only Frelund’s stats-based model went with Hamilton at pick No. 2 for the Lions. The Notre Dame safety’s reported 40-yard dash time in the 4.7’s at his pro day this week surely caused some reactionary retreat away from him in the projections.

Quarterback focus

  • Malik Willis, QB, Liberty - Four projections at pick No. 2 (above), zero at pick No. 32
  • Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh - Brian Bosarge (Draft Countdown)
  • Matt Corral, Mississippi - Mike Tannenbaum (ESPN), Ryan Wilson (CBS Sports)
  • Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati - Brentley Weissman (The Draft Network, at No. 34), Ryan McCrystal (Sharp Football Analysis)
  • Sam Howell, North Carolina - Josh Edwards (CBS Sports, No. 34), Tankathon (Staff)

Last week, nearly 61 percent of mock drafts projected the Lions to take a quarterback sometime within the first 34 picks, the highest share I’ve seen while mock draft tracking. This week, that number settled back down to 43 percent, which has been more reflective of the percentages this offseason.

It still surprises me to see quarterbacks projected at pick No. 34 in the second round when the Lions also hold pick No. 32, which comes with a fifth-year option. In theory, it’s plausible that the player the Lions would take at 32 was just so much better they couldn’t risk passing on him. But if that was the case, it says a lot about the quarterback they’re taking at 34. “Less valuable” is not exactly a quality you want in a quarterback.

Pick No. 32 and 34

Per usual, the projections for pick No. 32 are split between wide receiver and all three levels of the defense, save for one guard projection. While a few players had more than one mock drafter project them to the Lions, the most glaring thing that sticks out this week are the eight (!) projections sending Georgia linebacker Nakobe Dean to the Lions.

There have been rumors that Dean’s size (or lack thereof, 5-foot-11 12 231 pounds) is scaring some teams off, but that won’t bother the Lions one bit. Their defense values speed and playmaking ability over height and weight.

“We did not want to put an emphasis on size, like, ‘How big can you be?’ That’s not what we want,” Lions’ coach Dan Campbell said last June. “I would rather have somebody that was 220 (pounds) and could freaking fly as an inside linebacker. That just fits what we’re doing.”

The Lions have done a lot of homework on all the Georgia linebackers this offseason, sending linebacker coach Kelvin Sheppard and Spielman to run drills at their pro day, and Dean was the first one through every drill. Dean is an impressive player on the field but one of the things that stood out during the season, and at the pro day, was that he was the unquestioned leader of that championship defense. That on-field role is something he will continue to pursue at the next level:

“That’s my goal; going straight to get a green dot,” Dean said at the Combine, indicating he wants to be the player who relays the plays into the rest of the defense. Another trait that screams Dan Campbell.

Dean would easily be the best linebacker on the current roster and give the Lions a leader in the middle of their defense for at least the next five years.