NFL draft preview: Rebuilding Detroit Lions appear to be kicking QB decision to future

Detroit Free Press

Free Press sports reporter Dave Birkett takes a position-by-position look at the top prospects and biggest Detroit Lions needs in the 2021 NFL draft. This is the fifth in an eight-part series.


The Lions are in a weird situation at quarterback. They clearly are in the early stages of a rebuild and have a top-10 pick (for the third straight year) in a deep quarterback draft, but don’t seem inclined to address the position after trading for Jared Goff and signing Tim Boyle in free agency. It’s possible they are keeping the extent of their quarterback interest under wraps, but it seems more likely they are kicking the real decision at quarterback — on Goff or someone else — down the road.

The Lions bought low on Goff, who does not turn 27 until October and played in a Super Bowl 27 months ago. He likely has a two-year window to prove he can be the long-term starter in Detroit after the Lions restructured his contract for cap purposes. Goff does not Matthew Stafford’s arm talent, and his time with the Los Angeles Rams was doomed by his relationship coach Sean McVay. But the former No. 1 overall pick is at minimum a serviceable bridge quarterback who the organization could be hoping is something more.

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Boyle was a camp star with the Green Bay Packers two years ago, though that organization didn’t believe enough in his future to pass on taking Jordan Love in the first round as Aaron Rodgers’ heir apparent last spring. David Blough will compete for the backup job, but looks more like a No. 3 after the Lions’ offseason maneuvering. If the Lions don’t spend a first-round pick on the position, there is no reason for them to take a young quarterback at all.

NEW MOCK: Why Lions can’t go wrong by taking Oregon’s Penei Sewell at No. 7

On the roster: QB: Jared Goff, Tim Boyle, David Blough.

Top 3 QB prospects: 1. Trevor Lawrence, Clemson; 2. Justin Fields, Ohio State; 3. Zach Wilson, BYU.

Other players with Michigan ties: None.

Day 3 sleeper: Sam Ehlinger, Texas.

Recent Lions draft picks at QB: 2020-None. 2019-None. 2018-None. 2017-Brad Kaaya (6th round). 2016-Jake Rudock (6th round).

Draft dish

Lawrence is the type of prospect that comes along once in a generation, on par with Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning and John Elway. He has been the presumptive No. 1 pick of this draft since he led Clemson to a national championship as a true freshman. Four other quarterbacks are considered potential top-10 picks, though each comes with his own warts and risk.

I put Fields No. 2 in my rankings because of his dual-threat ability and track record. He started two seasons at Ohio State and played well in big games, though teams have picked apart his mechanics. Wilson, the presumptive No. 2 pick of the draft, had one phenomenal year at BYU after battling injury most of the 2019 season, but like North Dakota State’s Trey Lance, thrived against inferior competition. He ranks a tick ahead of Lance on my list because of his deep-ball accuracy.

BIRKETT: Why Trey Lance to Lions makes sense, even after Jared Goff’s arrival

Lance has more upside than anyone in this class beyond Lawrence, but he is a year away from being an NFL starter and needs to go to a team that will develop him properly. Just 20 years old, he made 17 career starts, one in 2020 after NDSU’s fall season was moved to the spring. He threw one career interception and ran for 1,100 yards and 14 touchdowns while leading the Bison to a national title in 2019.

Alabama’s Mac Jones is a more polished passer than Lance, though he, too, made 17 college starts. Jones, the expected No. 3 pick to San Francisco, is less of an athlete than Fields, Wilson and Lance, but gets high marks for the way he processes information on the field. Florida’s Kyle Trask, Texas A&M’s Kellen Mond and Stanford’s Davis Mills are possible Day 2 picks, but the position thins out quickly after the top group.

SLEEPER: If Lions pass on top QBs, here’s why Davis Mills could be mid-round steal

Contact Dave Birkett at Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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