Just one game stands between the end of the NFL season and the beginning of the 2022 draft.
With that in mind, ESPN draft expert Jordan Reid projected the first two rounds of the NFL draft. Reid, a former Football Championship Subdivision quarterback, mocked out the first round in November, back when the 0-8-1 Detroit Lions looked poised to pick No. 1 for the first time since 2009.
MORE MICIHGAN: Wolverines’ rocky offseason delivered another shakeup Sunday
So what’s changed? Who goes No. 1 overall? How does Reid see the Lions spending their three picks? And where do Michigan football’s several NFL prospects fall?
Let’s take a look:
Lions get pass-rush help at No. 2
In Reid’s last prediction, the winless Lions were trending toward the top pick. But thanks to a “hot” December (two wins!), Detroit avoided the worst record in the league and will pick No. 2.
Either way, the Lions have their choice of the top edge rusher because Reid projects the Jacksonville Jaguars to go with Alabama tackle Evan Neal at No. 1. And, like in November, Reid has the Lions taking Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux over Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson.
“They could bet on the raw talent of Thibodeaux, who has more upside than the polished Aidan Hutchinson,” Reid writes. “Detroit has to strengthen its defensive line, and it has the early picks to do so.”
The Thibodeaux vs. Hutchinson debate has been sussed out plenty. Thibodeaux, an agile 6-foot-5, 258-pound buzzsaw, had seven sacks among 14 tackles for a loss for Oregon. Hutchinson, a powerful 6-6 265-pound technician, finished as a Heisman finalist thanks to 14 sacks.
Thibodeaux is deemed to have a higher ceiling, though he may need more time to reach it, while Hutchinson is thought of as the more NFL-ready prospect, though he may not be an All Pro-level contributor.
For Reid’s money, Thibodeaux should be the first edge player taken.
Next, Lions land WR then get Michigan man in second round
With their second pick of the first round, projected at No. 32 overall, the Lions go for wide receiver help, Reid says. If that sounds familiar it’s because in the fall, he had the Lions taking Treylon Burks, a versatile wide receiver out of Arkansas, with their second pick of the first round.
But instead of Burks, Reid has Detroit looking at the Big Ten for its pass-catching help. Enter Penn State’s Jahan Dotson.
“Dotson is a ‘Z’ receiver who can handle outside duties while (2021 rookie Amon-Ra) St. Brown does his best work from the slot,” Reid writes. “Dotson, who had 91 catches for 1,182 yards and 12 touchdowns last season, is a consistent route-runner with a wide catch radius. He’d be a great fit for Detroit and quarterback Jared Goff.”
Dotson, listed at 5-11, 184 pounds, should be no stranger to college football fans in the area. His name was said plenty in games last season vs. Michigan (nine catches for 61) and Michigan State (eight catches for 137 yards and two touchdowns).
Reid may have dashed some Wolverines’ hopes when he projected the Lions to pass on Michigan’s Hutchinson in the first round, but the draft analyst has the Lions going to the Wolverines well in the second round.
Dax Hill, rated behind Kyle Hamilton among the best safety prospects, is predicted the Lions’ third pick of the draft.
“Tracy Walker, Dean Marlowe and C.J. Moore are all set to become free agents, and the Lions’ safety room is bare entering the offseason. Hill is a versatile safety with plenty of potential to unlock,” Reid said. “The Detroit secondary just needs more playmakers; hopefully it can get back healthy Jeff Okudah, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2020 draft who has played only 10 games in two seasons.
“And if you’re keeping track, the Lions end up with two starters on defense and a wideout with their three top-34 picks.”
Hill had 69 total tackles, two interceptions and eight passes defended in 2021.
Three Michigan players drafted in top 35
Besides Hutch at No. 3 and Hill at No. 34, Reid has one more Michigan player picked in the first two rounds.
David Ojabo, who probably didn’t crack any draft boards coming into the 2021 season, is projected to go No. 12 to the Minnesota Vikings.
Minnesota will have to revamp its aging defense, which may lose several contributors including defensive lineman Everson Griffen and outside linebackers Anthony Barr and Nick Vigil.
“Ojabo’s combination of potential and youth make him a clear target for the Vikings at a position of need,” Reid writes. “They haven’t selected an edge rusher in the first two rounds since Erasmus James in 2005.”
Penn State also had three projected picks in the first two rounds, though all of those came after pick No. 31. Ohio State had two wide receivers and an offensive tackle projected among the first 45 picks.
A Central Michigan prospect, offensive lineman Bernhard Raimann, was also among the top-64 picks, going No. 50 to the Miami Dolphins.
“Raimann is a hard-nosed blocker who has a physical presence as a run blocker and is more than reliable as a pass protector,” Reid writes about the converted tight end. “With Miami’s lack of depth at tackle, Raimann gives it another option to help keep Tua Tagovailoa upright.”
Georgia led the way with six players projected as picks in the top two rounds.
Your subscription makes work like this possible. Get exclusive subscriber content and more here.