If you ask most NFL draft experts, the “Michigan football star Aidan Hutchinson to the Detroit Lions” dream is dead.
Free-agent deals, trades and franchise-tag designations have spurred a new slew of draft projections this week and transformed what many thought the first round would look like.
The Lions have three of the top-34 picks and could use one of them (likely the latter two) to draft their quarterback of the future. With the draft about five weeks away, several quarterbacks in this class are performing at pro days and in workouts this week.
But the debate centers on the top of the draft, where Detroit picks second.
[ It makes more sense than ever for Detroit Lions to go young at QB ]
For much of the offseason, the assumption was the Jacksonville Jaguars, who pick first, would take an offensive tackle to sure up the line protecting 2021 top selection Trevor Lawrence. That calculus has apparently changed.
When Jacksonville stuck the franchise tag on OT Cam Robinson, analysts took that as a signal the Jaguars, in need of talent all across their roster, would not spend top draft capital at the position. Thus, the “Hutchinson goes from a visit for the Orange Bowl to playing in Florida full time” narrative has become dominant.
Our Dave Birkett will drop his latest mock draft Thursday. Here’s what we noticed when looking at mock drafts released in the past few days:
ESPN expert likes Lions to take safety at No. 2
Mel Kiper Jr. dropped his latest prediction – along with positional rankings from himself and his ESPN colleagues – early Tuesday and had Hutchinson No. 1 to the Jags.
Why did he change his mind from his previous, pre-combine mock draft, when North Carolina State’s Ikem Ekwonu was projected No. 1 and Hutchinson No. 2, to the Lions?
“Jacksonville decided to franchise tag left tackle Cam Robinson for the second straight year,” Kiper writes, “taking away its need for a top-tier blindside protector (at least for a year) for quarterback Trevor Lawrence. Now, Hutchinson is the heavy favorite to go to the Jags – barring a desperate team trading up.
“Hutchinson, my top-ranked prospect in this class, could get double-digit sacks playing on the other side of Josh Allen in new coordinator Mike Caldwell’s defense. The Jaguars made a few big-money moves in free agency, but there’s still a huge hole at defensive end. “
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So the Lions go with Kayvon Thibodeaux, right? Thibodeaux is the consensus second-best pass rusher in the class; he thought to have a higher ceiling but a lower floor than the more-polished Hutchinson.
Not so fast. Kiper has the Lions taking a defensive back, Notre Dame’s Kyle Hamilton, with a top-three pick for the second time in three drafts.
“Hamilton is a playmaking safety in a 6-foot-4 frame who would immediately raise the ceiling of a defense that has struggled for years,” Kiper theorizes. “He can play in the box, out of the slot and as a center fielder. Normally I’d say this is too high for a safety, but Hamilton is a unique and special defender. Detroit brought back safety Tracy Walker, but he could play with Hamilton. “
Kiper said Hamilton may be the safer choice than Thibodeaux and is more of a lock to be a difference-maker. A class light on elite quarterback prospects, the top-ranked draftees are defenders and offensive tackles, the latter of which the Lions invested their top pick in last year.
[ Dave Birkett: These clues swayed me to pick Kayvon Thibodeaux for Lions in mock draft 2.0 ]
Kiper did stay consistent with one pick – just as he did earlier this month, he has the Lions taking Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral with their second pick (No. 32, via the Matthew Stafford trade with the Los Angeles Rams).
Travon Walker gets some love to Lions at No. 2
Georgia 6-foot-5, 272-pound defensive lineman Travon Walker’s stock has risen the past three weeks, thanks to incredible testing numbers. He ran an absurd 4.51-second 40-yard dash, which, when I was a kid, was still considered relatively fast for a wide receiver. His 35-inch vertical leap and 4.32 shuttle time reek of explosion and agility.
Walker won a national championship with the Bulldogs, posting 33 tackles, six sacks and two pass deflections playing in an NFL-talent-laden defense.
Kiper bumped him up from the No. 17 pick to No. 6 for his workout efforts. But CBS analyst Josh Edwards and USA TODAY’s Nate Davis have Walker going all the way up No. 2 with the Lions.
Davis, like Kiper, indicated either offensive tackle would be a solid selection, but drafting an offensive lineman seems duplicative.
[ Lions get good look at Georgia LBs Nakobe Dean, Travon and Quay Walker at pro day ]
“Barring a trade, fast-rising Walker would be a sensible alternative (to Hutchinson), especially in the aftermath of DE Trey Flowers’ release. … Walker can pretty much do it all – from applying pressure to shutting down run lanes to dropping into coverage, “Davis writes. “He only had 9½ sacks in three seasons with the Dawgs, so the lack of production is slightly puzzling even when viewed in the context of Georgia’s depth and fact Walker often lined up inside.
“But the ability is there – and so, too, might be increased opportunities by teaming him with Charles Harris and Romeo Okwara, a trio that could form a decent pass rush.”
Like others, most CBS draft analysts, think Aidan Hutchinson goes No. 1
Three of the four CBS prognosticators with constantly updating mocks have Hutchinson, a Heisman finalist, as the top pick to the Jags – but they vary in what they believe the Lions will do.
Edwards, as referenced earlier, has Walker to Detroit after Hutchinson is off the board.
“Walker may physically remind John Dorsey of Myles Garrett and although he has a lot of work to do in order to become as skilled of a pass rusher, it is difficult to overlook the traits,” he wrote. “I have heard Liberty quarterback Malik Willis could also be an option here but I am not buying it yet; that is too rich for my blood.”
Thibodeaux is the choice at No. 2 for Ryan Wilson and Kyle Stackpole, who each had Hutchinson No. 1. Chris Trapasso of CBS went “old school” (by that we mean “winter”) in projecting Alabama’s Evan Neal, who came into the offseason as many experts’ top tackle, at No. 1. He has the Lions getting Hutchinson.
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Michigan’s David Ojabo, Dax Hill still on first-round radar
David Ojabo’s rise from football newcomer to NFL player has been slowed by a terribly timed injury, but teams aren’t giving up on the Michigan defensive star.
Ojabo, relatively inexperienced but thought to be the top outside linebacker in the draft, was a near-consensus first-round pick following a double-digit sack season as a junior. But after suffering an Achilles injury during Michigan’s pro day last week, some wondered how bad his draft stock would be hit.
According to the six mocks viewed by the Free Press, Ojabo could still be a day one pick, but Dax Hill is a more likely Wolverines first-rounder.
Kiper thinks the injury, which could keep Ojabo out for six months or longer, pushed Ojabo to the second round. Stackpole doesn’t have him in his first-round mock and Wilson had him picked No. 35 in his two-round mock. Edwards has him 30th to the Kansas City Chiefs.
Kiper and Trapasso are cool on Hill as a top-32 pick, but Edwards has him No. 25 to the Buffalo Bills and Wilson has him No. 19 to the Philadelphia Eagles. Hill goes No. 20 to Pittsburgh in Stackpole’s update.
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