In Todd McShay’s world, (and for most of the Detroit Lions’ existence) it’s always draft season.
McShay, ESPN’s longtime draft analyst, unveiled his top-32 prospects for the 2022 NFL draft Wednesday. Fans of the Lions — the NFL’s only winless team two months into the season — if you’re rooting for that No. 1 pick rejoice. (There are four one-win teams in the NFL, so the Lions could well end up tying for the worst record in the league —but they seem destined for a top-five 2022 pick at the moment.)
Do the Lions stick with general manager Brad Holmes’ trend of building through the trenches? Their three first picks in 2021 were defensive or offensive linemen. Or do they spend the capital on some skill positions?
McShay has four quarterbacks in his top 32. Neither North Carolina QB Sam Howell nor Oklahoma QB Spencer Rattler — the two passers long expected to be near the top of the 2022 draft — made the list, though.
Michigan football fans can head into the weekend with one extra bragging right: The lone first-round prospect on the field Saturday when No. 6 U-M meets No. 7 Michigan State will be Wolverines DE Aidan Hutchinson (No. 5 overall) according to McShay.
The full list can be found behind ESPN’s paywall, but here are some highlights:
Where have all the good quarterbacks gone?
There is no slam-dunk bona fide No. 1 QB pick, a la Trevor Lawrence or Matthew Stafford, in the 2022 class, it appears. Howell and Rattler have had their preseason shine dimmed. Rattler seems to have lost his starting job in Norman, while Howell has put up pedestrian numbers after starting the season with three straight 300-yard performances.
Liberty’s Malik Willis is McShay’s top quarterback, ranked the No. 6 prospect overall. The 6-foot-1, 215-pound junior has thrown for 1,679 yards this season, with 17 passing touchdowns and six interceptions. Don’t forget, Willis has SEC pedigree, transferring from Auburn. While he has a couple of three-interception games under his belt, scouts drool over his arm strength, mobility and improvisation skills. If he lights up No. 10 Ole Miss and dominates a bowl game later this season, he just might get some looks at No. 1 overall.
Other first-round passers include Ole Miss junior Matt Corral (15 touchdowns, one interception and 1,931 yards in five games) ranked No. 21; Pittsburgh senior Kenny Pickett (23 touchdowns, one interception and 2,236 yards in five games) ranked No. 27; and four-year Cincinnati starter Desmond Ridder (15 touchdowns, three interceptions and 1,620 yards in five games) ranked No. 32.
Pass rusher, shut-down corner named top prospects
Lions fans likely don’t have fond opinions of picking a DB near the top of the draft, but McShay really likes LSU’s Derick Stingley Jr., ranking him second. His scout grade, 94, is tied with pass-rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux for the highest in the class.
“He is long, fast and physical, but his versatility is key. Stingley can play press-man, off-coverage, free safety and the overhang position,” McShay writes. (Stingley is out with a foot injury.)
If you prefer to improve the front seven, Thibodeaux is McShay’s No. 1 prospect overall, and has drawn praise from our Dave Birkett. Thibodeaux, 6-5 and 258 pounds, has prototypical size for an edge rusher as well as impressive speed and agility.
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“Thibodeaux is effective dipping-and-ripping, but he also displays a strong inside move,” McShay writes. “Against the run, he locates the ball and then stacks and sheds blockers, often making plays in the backfield.”
There are technical improvements he can make, McShay writes, but his one-fumble-forced, two-sack performance vs. UCLA shows he’s one of the very best in the country.
Defensive players make up four of McShay’s top five, with Alabama offensive lineman Evan Neal joining Thibodeaux, Stingley, Hutchinson and Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton.
Using that second pick for help outside?
The most popular position among the prospects was wide receiver; could the Lions use their second first-round pick there? McShay charted seven pass catchers in the top 32, but none seem quite as highly touted as DeVonta Smith or Ja’Marr Chase (though, it may be a while before we see another rookie receiver like Chase). But there’s plenty of talent.
Ohio State’s Garrett Wilson (No. 8) and Chris Olave (No. 10) are the top-rated wideouts; they could join a couple of other teammates to go in the first round: Smith and Jaylen Waddle (Alabama, 2020) and Henry Ruggs and Jerry Jeudy (Alabama, 2019). John Metchie III (No. 26) and Jameson Williams (No. 28) continue the tradition of Crimson Tide duos making the list.
Penn State’s 5-11 Jahan Doston (No. 12) is a bit undersized but is savvy, elusive and quick with incredible ball skills. Arkansas’ Treylon Burks, at 6-3 and 225, is a larger wide receiver, ranking in the top 12 in the country in yards and touchdowns thanks to his route-running, hands and ability to win contested catches.
If the Lions want an even bigger target — and another USC Trojan to join 2021 draft pick Amon-Ra St. Brown — they might be able to use the Rams’ pick (which seems likely to land late in the round) on 6-5, 210-pound Drake London (No. 24).
A 6-5 guy in the slot? McShay says London can do it.
“He has great contact balance, terrific body control and solid hands. London has the speed to threaten vertically, will make plays in traffic over the middle and is smooth in and out of his breaks,” McShay writes. “I really like his ability to find the soft spots in zone looks. His 79 catches and 1,003 receiving yards are both No. 2 in the country, and he has found the end zone five times.”
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