Detroit Lions passed on QB in 2021 NFL draft. A look at 6 potential candidates in 2022

Detroit Free Press

Not long after he took Oregon offensive tackle Penei Sewell with the seventh pick of last week’s NFL draft, Detroit Lions general manager Brad Holmes got a text from his quarterback, Jared Goff.

“He was fired up about it,” Holmes told the Free Press early Friday morning. “He should be fired up about it. He’s got a good offensive line in front of him.”

Goff will play behind what could be one of the NFL’s better offensive lines this fall, and when he does, he will have the added benefit of not having his replacement waiting in the wings.

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In drafting Sewell at No. 7, the Lions passed on quarterbacks Justin Fields and Mac Jones and gave Goff the chance to prove he can be the long-term solution the Lions are looking for at the position.

The Lions did consider taking a quarterback in this year’s draft, something Holmes was up front with Goff about after Goff arrived in a January trade with the Los Angeles Rams.

Holmes and Lions coach Dan Campbell traveled to pro days to see most of this year’s top quarterback prospects in person, and their appearance there was not for show. Holmes admitted Friday that he would have taken a quarterback had there been one available who ranked high enough on his board.

NEW YEAR, NEW GOFF?: What went wrong with Jared Goff in L.A., and why new Lions QB can get right in Detroit

There wasn’t, so the Lions did the next best thing.

“If there was a quarterback that was just like graded way higher over Penei we would have had to strongly consider that,” Holmes said. “But it unfortunately for our sakes, it wasn’t — Penei was the highest-rated guy when we took him.”

Holmes defended Goff last week, while at the same time acknowledging that Sewell’s addition will help the organization get a proper evaluation on its new quarterback after he was run out of town in L.A. two years after taking the Rams to the Super Bowl.

“I know that Dan and Anthony Lynn will have the right system in place and they know Jared and they know what he does well,” Holmes said. “I think that is a big part of it. And there’s a lot of things that people say, ‘Well, can Jared get back to what he used to be?’ That’s like, oh, I mean the guy, the past four years, he’s been in postseason three of the past four years and one was a Super Bowl appearance. And the last time you saw the guy play a game was in a divisional playoff game where he completed over 70% of his passes with a broken hand. So it’s like, I mean, I don’t get that part of it. But again, it is what it is.”

Paired with a new head coach and new offensive play caller who will put less of the burden on their quarterback, Goff may recapture some of the magic he had in his early years with the Rams.

BEHIND THE SCENES: Inside the Penei Sewell pick and Brad Holmes’ tone-setting first draft

The hard truth, though, is that the Lions probably will be a below-average team in 2021, and if that’s the case it will be tough for anyone to come out of the year 100% convinced they have the right quarterback.

Goff is doing his part as a quarterback and leader. He gathered some of his new Lions receivers in California to learn the playbook last month, and tight end T.J. Hockenson told me Friday that he and Goff likely will get together again outside of minicamp before the season.

The Lions will have two first-round picks next year (and two more in 2023), which will put them in a unique position to go big-game hunting at the quarterback position if they so desire.

The early forecast for next year’s quarterback draft class is that neither the depth nor high-end talent at the position is on par with what it was in this year’s draft when quarterbacks Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson and Trey Lance went 1-2-3, and Fields and Jones were top-15 picks.

WHO ARE THESE GUYS: Meet the Lions’ 2021 NFL draft class: Here’s what the rookies will bring

Still, players could emerge at the position (like Wilson did in 2020, and Joe Burrow, the first overall pick in 2019, did the year before) and there are a handful of already-known commodities Lions fans — and Holmes and his staff — should keep tabs on throughout the year.

Here are six players to watch at the position:

Spencer Rattler, Oklahoma

The way-too-early favorite to be the first quarterback drafted next spring, Rattler is the beneficiary of his Oklahoma pedigree as Sooners coach Lincoln Riley tutored two of the past four No. 1 overall picks in Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray. Rattler is not the athlete that Murray is, but he rebounded from a tough start last season, when he threw four interceptions in early losses to Kansas State and Iowa State, to complete 67.5% of his passes and throw for 3,031 yards.

Kedon Slovis, USC

In the very, very minimal work I’ve done on the 2022 quarterback class, I did have one scout tell me early this spring Slovis he was the guy to keep an eye on. Slovis started as a true freshman in 2019 then threw for 1,921 yards in six games last year. Campbell said his ideal quarterback is “a little more of a mobile quarterback because in today’s game, it’s hard when you’re a guy who can’t move around in the pocket,” and Slovis is more the drop-back variety.

Sam Howell, North Carolina

Like Slovis, Howell started as a true freshman at North Carolina so NFL teams will have plenty of data for their evaluation. Howell improved his completion percentage (68.1%) and yards per attempt (11.1) in 2020. He is listed at 6 feet 1, so size may be an issue depending on his actual measurements. But he’s known for his deep passing stroke.

Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati

While inexperience was an issue for several members of the 2021 quarterback class, that shouldn’t be the case next spring. Ridder is a 30-5 as a starter, the winningest quarterback in Cincinnati history. He told Yahoo that NFL teams projected him as a fourth- to sixth-round pick had he left school after last season. At 6-4 and 215 pounds, he has a projectable NFL frame.

Malik Willis, Liberty

Willis will face some of the same questions Lance did this year given his relative inexperience and level of competition. He transferred from Auburn, where he played sparingly in the 2017-18 seasons, but will be one of the best dual-threat prospects in next year’s draft. In his first year starting at Liberty, he threw for 2,260 yards and 20 touchdowns and ran for a team-leading 944 yards and 14 TDs.

JT Daniels, Georgia

Daniels started as a true freshman at USC in 2018, then suffered a season-ending knee injury in 2019 that opened the door for Slovis and prompted him to transfer to Georgia. He played just four games for the Bulldogs last season, throwing 10 touchdowns and two interceptions, and will have plenty of eyes on him in the SEC next fall.

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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