I had an early flight back from Denver on Monday, so after I wished the kids a good morning over the phone on their way to school, I spent my car ride to the airport fiddling with the Pro Football Network mock draft simulator.
The Detroit Lions, of course, are a couple losses away from securing the No. 1 pick in April’s 2022 NFL draft, where the choice between Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson and Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux awaits.
I alternated between the two on the simulator, as I think it’s a toss up right now who will go No. 1. But if my mid-December results were any indication, the Lions should come away with a pretty nice haul to expedite their rebuild.
After taking a pass rusher up top, I found myself leaning receiver with the extra first-round pick the Lions have from the Rams, and occasionally stumbled into a quarterback — Kenny Pickett or Malik Willis — at the top of Round 2.
It’s early still, and the rankings used to populate the simulator will no doubt change in the coming months. I’m not sure either of those quarterbacks will be on the board at 33, and several of the players I was drawn to in the mid-20s, Chris Olave, Drake London, Devin Lloyd and Ahmad Gardner, seemed too good to be true.
I did pull off one trade at the top, just to change things up, acquiring first-, second- and third-round picks in 2023 from the Atlanta Falcons — there were no options for drafts beyond that — and taking Purdue’s George Karlaftis at No. 9. If I’m being honest, though, this doesn’t feel like a draft where teams will be clamoring to move up to No. 1.
You can check the simulator out here, and let me know how your draft goes. Now, onto your questions.
I’ve been a Lions fan for 11 years. In my humble opinion, Trey Flowers is their biggest free agent flop during that time. Agree/disagree? — @FriedrichsJk
I understand why you feel that way about Flowers. The Lions made him one of the highest-paid defensive players in the NFL in the spring of 2019, and three seasons later he has played in 29 games and contributed 10.5 sacks.
That type of production wasn’t worth the nearly $55 million the Lions will have paid Flowers by the end of this season, but Flowers had a nice first year in Detroit, was a top-flight run defender when healthy and has been a good soldier in the locker room.
The Lions way overpaid Rick Wagner in 2017 when they made him the highest-paid right tackle in the game. Wagner was relatively healthy during his three seasons in Detroit, but I don’t think he played at as high a level when he was on the field. Jesse James didn’t make the type of money Wagner or Flowers did, but his signing (and the 30 catches he made in two seasons) stands out as money not well spent, too.
The Lions have gone some years in the past decade where they’ve barely dabbled in free agency. They’ve hit some winners like Marvin Jones and Golden Tate. And they’ve had their share of low-priced busts with guys like Breshad Perriman and Tyrell Williams this year.
Free agency is fool’s gold. The reality is, the more you play in it, the more likely you are to get burned.
Most people are pegging one of the two top DE’s to be drafted by the Lions. Is there a realistic possibility they go another way like QB or even another OT (trade Decker)? — @azsharkey
It’s far too early to rule out the Lions taking a quarterback with their first pick, especially given the huge need they have at the position. But there are enough questions about the top QB prospects that the smart money is on the Lions taking a pass rusher with their first pick.
Things could change. The Lions should be coaching the Senior Bowl in February, where they might fall in love with Pickett or Willis. And they could get on a win streak to close the season, which could take them out of the mix for Hutchinson and Thibodeaux.
If that happens, top prospects at other positions — safety Kyle Hamilton, cornerback Derek Stingley Jr., perhaps offensive tackle Evan Neal — come into play. But if the Lions end up where we all suspect they will at the end of the season, it’s a fair bet to assume a pass rusher goes No. 1.
How many players are on one year contracts and if most bail at the end of the season, will next year be another massive rebuild? — @screenit
The Lions have 16 unrestricted free agents on their 53-man roster and injured reserve, and most won’t be back in 2022. There is plenty of turnover coming, but the organization is in a totally different spot than it was last offseason.
Think of it like a fixer-upper. Brad Holmes and Dan Campbell came in last winter and did major renovations. They got rid of the old décor, but kept the foundation — players like Frank Ragnow, Taylor Decker and Romeo Okwara, And now that the place is gutted, they can start adding more of the furnishings they need to spruce things up.
Most of those additions will come via the draft, but they can be selectively aggressive in free agency. They still need a piece of art to bring the place together — a quarterback — but by this time next year, they should feel good about living in their house.
LIONS MAILBAG: Assessing Brad Holmes’ first draft as general manager
Is Josh Reynolds doing enough to be around next year? He seems to be getting better each week. — @nbrucer12
Reynolds is one of the unrestricted free agents who has a chance to stick in 2022. He has caught 10 passes for 191 yards in four games as a Lion, which isn’t a lot. But he and Jared Goff have a noticeable connection and his size is useful.
Receiver will be one of the Lions’ biggest needs this offseason, and re-signing Reynolds won’t eliminate that. Amon-Ra St. Brown looks like a keeper at slot receiver, and Quintez Cephus will compete for time on the outside. But the Lions still need a No. 1-type and should be able to land one in free agency or the draft.
Do the Lions get compensation picks for losing so many free agents? — @mike2830
The folks at OverTheCap.com do a good job keeping track of compensatory picks, and they have the Lions netting three 2022 draft choices for their free agent losses last spring. As of now, those picks project to come in Round 3 (for Kenny Golladay), Round 5 (for Marvin Jones) and Round 6 (for Jarrad Davis).
Golladay, incidentally, ranks as the top compensatory departure, which means the Lions should get the 97th pick or so for letting him walk in free agency.
Here comes the part where I eat crow. I wrote in the spring I thought the Lions should use the franchise tag on Golladay with the intent of trading him. Golladay has been a major disappointment with the New York Giants, catching 28 passes for 424 yards and no touchdowns, and missing three games with injury.
We talked earlier about free agent signings the Lions regret, well, letting Golladay go is one move they don’t. Holmes made the right move there.