What Detroit Lions’ win over Arizona Cardinals means for 2022 NFL draft positioning

Detroit Free Press

The Detroit Lions went from potentially having their pick of pass rushers at the top of the 2022 NFL draft to getting lucky with leftovers. And if they win one of their final three games this season, they might miss out on the draft’s top two prospects altogether.

The Lions no longer have control of next year’s No. 1 overall pick by virtue of their 30-12 win over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday.

At 2-11-1, the Lions are a half-game ahead of the Jacksonville Jaguars in the NFL standings.

The Jaguars lost Sunday to the Houston Texans, 30-16, in their first game without Urban Meyer and are an NFL-worst 2-12.

The Texans and New York Jets are 3-11.

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Both the Lions and Jaguars play winnable road games next week, with the Lions facing the Atlanta Falcons (6-8) and the Jaguars visiting the Jets.

Jacksonville has a slightly more favorable end-of-season schedule with an opponent win percentage of .476 in its final three games. The Jaguars close the season at the New England Patriots (9-5) and Indianapolis Colts (8-6).

The Lions’ final three opponents — they close at the Seattle Seahawks (5-8) and home against the Green Bay Packers — have a .537 win percentage.

The Lions have a stronger overall strength of schedule than the Jaguars, Texans and Jets, and would pick behind any of those teams in the first round should they finish with the same record.

Lions coach Dan Campbell seemed unconcerned about draft positioning after Sunday’s game, saying he was excited for his players and program to win in convincing fashion against the Cardinals (10-3).

“We have the right guys,” Campbell said. “We really do, as far as guys that you want character-wise and what they’re made of. Because we don’t have guys that are worried about themselves, or complaining about this or it’s somebody else’s fault or we don’t have those guys. We have guys that are like, they just want results and, ‘How can I help?’ That always gives you a chance.”

Pass rushers Kayvon Thibodeau of Oregon and Aidan Hutchinson of Michigan are considered potential No. 1 picks in April, with Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton and Alabama offensive tackle Evan Neal also in the top-five mix.

Next year’s draft is considered short on top-tier quarterback talent.

Cornering the market

Will Harris considers himself a defensive back, and that mindset came in handy Sunday.

With the Lions shorthanded at cornerback because of injuries and COVID-19 cases, they played Harris, a natural safety, at outside cornerback.

Harris was called for one pass interference penalty, but played well overall, making five tackles and breaking up one pass.

“I’m just comfortable playing defensive back,” he said. “I kind of put it in my mind a long time ago that when I first got drafted here, that was one of the first things I said that whatever they needed, wherever they needed me, whatever they needed me to do, defense, special teams wise, I’m all for it. I’m up to the task.”

Harris played cornerback in high school and early in his college career, but had played exclusively safety in the NFL until taking over at slot cornerback in the Lions’ nickel package for the injured A.J. Parker last month.

Parker returned from an ankle injury Sunday, but the Lions were without cornerbacks Mark Gilbert, Nickell Robey-Coleman and Corey Ballentine because of COVID. Bobby Price and Ifeatu Melifonwu were activated off the reserve/COVID list Saturday, but both played sparingly against the Cardinals after not practicing all week.

The Lions lost starting cornerback Jeff Okudah to a ruptured Achilles tendon in Week 1, and his replacement, Jerry Jacobs, was lost to a torn ACL last week.

“There are obviously definitely a couple of different intricacies from playing safety to playing nickel to playing corner,” Harris said. “But at the same time, I’m up for the task. All it is, is a lot of film study and just taking off the safety hat and putting on the nickel hat, taking off the nickel hat and putting on the corner hat. Anyway I can help this team, I’m ready to do that.”

Briefly

Linebacker Alex Anzalone left Sunday’s game with a shoulder injury. … Receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown caught eight passes for 90 yards Sunday to set a new Lions rookie record with 65 catches on the season.

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

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