This Thursday, the National Football League takes part in the grand and glorious tradition of getting the hopes and dreams soaring or crashing for many football fans across the country and around the world. While the casual observer may partake in the viewing of the first round, it is the die-hard football fans that stack their empty pizza boxes and experience the entirety of the three-day event. For Lions season ticket holders and all Honolulu Blue fans, the draft is almost as important as the regular season.
This year’s draft may be the most volatile yet for predictions and mock drafts, with no clear consensus top player to be found. It makes for an intriguing “will they-won’t they” scenario that is sure to have Lions fans on the edge of their seat for the entirety of Thursday night.
With the eve of the NFL Draft upon us, I am back for my second annual predictions on what I think the team will do this year. I will also give my thoughts on what I believe the team should do. I will prepare accordingly for another therapy writing session to convince myself they are heading in the right direction. Before my dissapointment sets in, let’s look back at some of my takes from last season’s predictions. You can find those 2021 predictions here.
Lions Take an Offensive Tackle in 2021
Even though I had made a sturdy case for the Lions taking a quarterback in the 2021 NFL Draft, I was sure that they would end up taking an offensive tackle with the seventh overall pick. Sure enough, Brad Holmes and Dan Campbell did just that; Although, it wasn’t the tackle I expected it to be on the board when they picked up. The lions ended up taking Penei Sewell out of Oregon.
I originally had the Bengals make that selection with the fifth overall pick, but as I predicted, they would fall in love with the Chase and Burrow connection. So, the Lions replaced my predicted player – Rasawn Slater – with the best offensive tackle left on the board. Although I was happy with the selection, I was worried that the Lions were kicking the can down the road on a rookie quarterback, and I believed that could sprout problems in the future.
Three Different Paths
Regardless of what the Lions do at number two overall this year, it is clear from this offseason that general manager Brad Holmes and Dan Campbell are entrenched in their building-through-the-draft strategy. The Lions have yet to sign a big-time free agent contract heading into year-two of this regime. This would point to the Lions not being comfortable with their position in the current rebuild to be spending money they may not have or could need down the road. It could also speak to their hesitancy to buy into Jared Goff as the long-term solution at the quarterback position.
Last offseason, I made the case for why Jared Goff wasn’t the long-term solution for this ball club, and 2021’s regular season proved that to be the case. An up-and-down year for the Lions saw the team fall short in many contests. One could argue that a better quarterback could have sealed some of those close games for the team. However, given the change at offensive coordinator and the three-game stretch at the end of the season, many fans believe Goff could be that franchise QB if given the resources and time to improve. I would argue the Lions’ current team strategy does not back up that statement. If anything, it adds to the idea that Goff is the bridge quarterback to whoever the Lions bring in next.
The team will have the ability to drop or trade Goff in the 2023 offseason, saving significant cap room if they do. The Lions have not made a commitment to restructure that contract, and it makes me believe that the lions will look to bring in a younger franchise QB or look to trade for a free agent down the line.
That brings us to three different scenarios the Lions could look to do at number two overall. The first – and safest option for the team – is to take the best defensive player on their board. It’s almost impossible to know how the Lions truly feel about the prospects at the top of the draft, but it’s easy to see what holes they could fill based on how the general manager likes to draft. Brad Holmes has a history of drafting top defensive line talent, and it would be no surprise to see them go there again with pick two. Brad Holmes and the scouting department have spent a great deal of their offseason evaluating prospects like Kayvon Thibodeuax, Jermaine Johnson and Aidan Hutchinson.
Thibodeuax has gotten the most attention from the organization and has been an odds favorite to be the selection at two. The jury is still out on Kayvon Thibodeaux as a 30-plays-a-game type of player. Concerns with his motor and production have held him back on some big boards. I think many of these concerns are overblown and I do believe he would be a worthy pick at number two overall. However, there’s a prospect I think the Lions would run the card up to Roger Goodell and that guy is Aidan Hutchinson.
The former Michigan defensive edge rusher is considered one of the top three edge rushers in this class. Before the recent Travon Walker rumors, Hutchinson was the favorite to go to Jacksonville at number one overall.
Hutchinson would be my prediction for the number two overall pick, given his high-floor and the lack of concerns about his traits. I think that he goes to Jacksonville at number one, and for that reason I am not considering him for the number two overall pick. That brings it down to three edge rushers that the lions have expressed interest in and that could be in consideration at two. Travon Walker, Thibodeaux and Jermaine Johnson all have various reasons why they could be the pick.
Walker may have the highest ceiling of all three players, with his amazing attributes and athleticism that was on display at the combine. However, his lack of production and snap counts in college make him just as raw of a prospect as Ezekiel Ansah was coming out in the 2013 NFL Draft. I think the Lions do not find themselves in a scenario where the rest of the pass rushing group falls off to a point where they are forced to take someone like Walker, which is why I must take him out of consideration at two.
Jermaine Johnson may be the most talented pass rusher in the draft, but the Lions have invested too much into Kayvon Thibodeaux this offseason for me to think they would take Johnosn over him this late into the draft process. I believe the Lions will take Kayvon Thibodeuax at number two overall, filling an important position of need while giving them a plan for how they want to tackle the other four top 100 picks they own.
The second scenario I see the Lions pursuing is trading off two and taking a skill position like safety, defensive back or wide receiver. I do not believe the value is there for the Lions to draft one of these positions at two overall. There is plenty of hype around players like Cincinnati CB Ahmad Gardner, who would fill the same “local-favorite” check box that Hutchinson would.
He is arguably one of the most talented players in the draft, coming off one of the most impressive seasons a college CB has ever had. He provides elite height and length for the position, and his impressive 4.41 40-yard dash proves his game-tape speed is the real deal. There’s safety Kyle Hamilton out of Notre Dame, whose game-tape is some of the best highlight reel stuff that could end up on an NFL Films documentary. However, his off-field speed measurements have not matched what we have seen on the tape, and many scouts continue to consider him a polarizing prospect.
The Lions do have holes in the secondary that need filling, and the Lions could use a tall vertical threat at receiver like prospect Drake London from USC. I don’t see the value at two, which leads to the hope the Lions would seek a trade to the bottom half of the first ten picks to make a pick like Ahmad Gardner more valuable. I don’t see a scenario where the Lions would get a significant offer from a team looking to move up unless it was for a quarterback, which seems to be out of the running at this current time.
That brings us to scenario three; one that I am currently hedging bets on as the scenario I think the Lions need to pursue. Scenario three sees the Lions take quarterback prospect Malik Willis from Liberty with the number two overall pick. In my last predictions, I express concerns over the Lions ability to continue to have a chance to take top-tier quarterback talent, especially given the current team need for it. It is not often the Lions can take the best quarterback on the board. The last time they owned a number two pick was in 2010. The Jaguars took Trevor Lawrence last season, and I don’t see them trading off number one overall for any price. The time is most definitely now for the Lions if they are looking to bring in a rookie.
We know quarterbacks coach Mark Brunell and the rest of the staff have expressed positive thoughts about Malik Willis as a prospect. The Lions had the opportunity to coach Willis for a week at the Senior Bowl. They selected him as one of their three quarterbacks. They also brought him in for a top-30 visit, one of only two QBs they brought in. Kenny Pickett from Pittsburgh was the other quarterback they brought in. I believe he would be a target for the team if they were to wait until pick 32.
Malik Willis is considered a polarizing prospect, with many draft gurus and scouts citing him as the best QB of the draft class. Many others point to his limited production in his time at Liberty and some of his decision-making issues as reasons why he may be a year or two away from starting in the NFL. He may have a low floor but he also could have the highest ceiling out of the QB prospects.
His athleticism and throwing power have been compared to the likes of Josh Allen, and his flaws have similar comparisons. There’s no questions about his character on and off the field. The only real question for teams is whether they believe they are in the right position to bring in Willis to develop him into the quarterback he can be. Willis possesses all the traits to be a Big Game winning quarterback but will teams have the patience to wait for him to develop into one.
The Detroit Lions enter 2022 with arguably the most comfortable landing spot for a quarterback like Malik Willis. With no expectations that the team is ready to win playoff games, the Lions are the perfect organization to let Willis sit a year behind Jared Goff to learn the system and work on some of those decision-making issues that are holding him back from being a sure-fire generational talent.
I would argue that the Lions are running out of time to find someone like Malik Willis to be the eventual replacement for Goff. Many are quick to point out the excellent QB group coming down the line in the 2023 NFL Draft. However, it would be risky to hope that the Lions will be able to enter that offseason with the ability to trade or select one of those guys who are most likely not making it out of the top five. I would also add that if the team did end up with another top-three pick, that could bring in even more questions about the current regime.
I believe the time is now for the Lions to make that decision and take a rookie quarterback. Malik Willis could be that guy. I don’t believe the Lions should play the waiting game; Whether that’s at the tail end of round one this year or wait for the cards to fall in your favor again next offseason. Either scenario comes with more risks than I’m willing to take compared to taking a risk on a prospect like Malik Willis. Will the Lions take this path? I don’t think so. However, I sure hope Brad Holmes and the rest of the organization have a game plan to tackle the position in the future, or else I will be back here next offseason talking about the same concerns to you.
My Prediction: The Lions take an edge rusher, and address receiver and the secondary with picks 32 and 34. The Lions will take Kayvon Thibodeaux at two; Safety Lewis Cine out of Georgia at 32, and receiver Christian Watson from North Dakota State at 34.
This article originally appeared on Hillsdale Daily News: Second Annual Lions Therepy; predicting the Detroit Lions draft picks