With the lack of a clear No. 1—or No. 2—prospect in this year’s NFL Draft class, the landscape of what the Detroit Lions could do with the second overall pick is constantly shifting. Midway through the college football season, it seemed like Oregon defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux was the consensus No. 1 with Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson not far behind. By the end of the season, the two had flopped positions. Somewhere in the few months since, Georgia’s Travon Walker joined the conversation, and after putting on a show at the NFL Combine, he’s now an integral part of the conversation when talking about the top edge defenders in this year’s class.
The latest to hype Walker’s draft stock is ESPN’s Todd McShay, who dropped a two-round mock on Tuesday. While Hutchinson predictably went to the Jacksonville Jaguars with the first pick, McShay slotted Walker to the Lions at two.
“Walker might not have the career sack production (9.5 across 36 career games), but he has the versatility and explosion to anchor the Lions’ defensive line,” McShay wrote.
That versatility is what led our own Erik Schlitt to take Walker in our ongoing Community Mock Draft.
“Walker will likely be at his best lining up between the 3- and 9-technique, including as a standup outside linebacker, but he can take over at the nose in sub-packages or drop into coverages due to his freakish physical attributes,” Schlitt wrote to justify the pick.
While many have focused on Detroit’s need for a primary edge rusher who can get to the quarterback, Walker’s versatility to play everywhere could make him an every-down back, a reliable run defender, and give the Lions some interior pass rush they’ve been missing since Ndamukong Suh skipped town. And if properly developed, he has the ridiculous athletic profile to be a pretty dang good rusher coming of the edge, too.
Later in the mock, McShay went with the ever-popular decision of taking a quarterback at the end of the first round. This mock’s quarterback du jour was Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder.
“Ridder isn’t a sure thing, and he has too many ball-location misses, but his strong arm, good mobility and high-end ability to read the field make him an intriguing pick to cap off Day 1,” McShay wrote.
Ridder fits the dual-threat quarterback trend that/ is taking over the NFL these days, and the Lions likely got a good, close look at him at the Senior Bowl, even if he was coached by the Jets that week. And while he got progressively better in his four years as a starter at Cincinnati, many question whether his average arm strength and below average accuracy can truly translate into an above average starter at the NFL level.
Given Detroit’s continued support for Jared Goff, I’m not sure drafting a quarterback at 32 is in the cards unless it’s a quarterback who could benefit from a couple years of development behind Goff. In my opinion, Ridder is more the type of quarterback who will most benefit from playing time.
To close out his two-round mock for the Lions, McShay filled one of Detroit’s biggest needs by grabbing Michigan safety Daxton Hill at 34.
“Hill probably belongs in the first round, but the Lions get lucky with the smooth, speedy safety on Day 2,” McShay wrote. “He reminds me a bit of Budda Baker and would be an upgrade on the back end of the Lions’ defense. Detroit allowed 70 plays for 20-plus yards last season (sixth most), but Hill has the range to limit those big plays.”
This seems like one of McShay’s most logical picks. Hill fits a need, he’s good value here, and his speed/arm length combo makes him a player capable of being a ballhawk, as evidenced by his eight pass breakups last year. Throw in a gritty, fearless mentality when it comes to stopping the run (4.5 tackles for loss) plus versatility to play nickel, and Hill seems like a good fit for Detroit’s split-zone scheme.