For the past several weeks, it’s become increasingly popular for draft analysts to project Michigan edge rusher Aidan Hutchinson to the Detroit Lions with the No. 2 pick after the Jacksonville Jaguars use the No. 1 choice on an offensive tackle.
But what if the Jaguars draft Hutchinson? ESPN’s Todd McShay explores that possibility in his post-combine mock draft posted Wednesday.
“I thought hard about NC State offensive tackle Ikem Ekwonu here even after the Jaguars put the franchise tag on Cam Robinson on Tuesday, but that move means Jacksonville will be paying Robinson $16.6 million in 2022,” McShay wrote. “Would the Jags commit that kind of money to the position and then still draft a tackle when they have the chance to instead bring in the best prospect in the class? Hutchinson can be a franchise cornerstone on defense.”
The debate on investment is going to be an interesting one leading up to the draft for the Jaguars. The team has poured resources into the offensive tackle position extending beyond the franchise tag decision, using three second-round picks on tackles since 2017, starting with Robinson. On the other hand, the team spent first-round choices on edge rushers in both 2019 and 2020.
Regardless, the focus with this hypothetical scenario is what the Lions would do at No. 2 if Hutchinson is off the board. The way McShay sees it, Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton would be the choice.
Heading into free agency, the Lions have a clear need at the position, and Hamilton has otherworldly size, measuring 6-foot-4, 221 pounds at the combine last week. Plus, he’s a proven playmaker with eight interceptions in 31 games across three seasons. Still, despite showing elite explosion at the combine, some concern was raised by an average 40-yard dash time.
Shouldn’t a safety check all the boxes beyond a reasonable doubt if a team is going to select one inside the top three for the first time since 1991?
“No, the 4.59-second 40-yard dash doesn’t bother me,” McShay wrote. “Hamilton plays fast on tape, and you don’t come across 6-foot-4, 220-pound safeties with his range, explosion (38-inch vertical jump) and ball skills (three interceptions and four passes defensed in seven 2021 games) very often. … Hamilton closes like a heat-seeking missile, and his playmaking would be welcomed in Detroit.”
Missing out on Hutchinson, and bypassing the opportunity to take another one of the top edge rushers at the top of the board such as Georgia’s Travon Walker or Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux, left McShay to slot a high-ceiling option to the Lions with the final pick of his first-round projection, Minnesota’s Boye Mafe.
“We expected a big-time workout from Mafe, and he didn’t disappoint,” McShay wrote. “He ran a 4.53 in the 40 and sprung 10-foot-5 in the broad jump at 261 pounds. Mafe’s game is raw and needs development, but he has one of the fastest takeoffs I’ve seen on tape in this class. The arrow is pointing way up on him, and the Lions are searching for a consistent pass-rush presence, especially now that Charles Harris is off to free agency. Detroit’s 30 sacks were No. 30 in the NFL last season. Penn State’s Arnold Ebiketie could be in play here, too.”
Mafe is undoubtedly an elite athlete, but he’s still a developmental project as a football player. Coming off his best season, he recorded 34 tackles, seven sacks and one forced fumble.
“Mafe’s evaluation requires the evaluator to focus more closely on the flashes than just the play-to-play action,” NFL Network analyst Lance Zierlein wrote in his recent scouting report on Mafe. “His combination of rare explosive measurables with average fundamentals could make for a perfect storm of rapid development once he gets focused skill work at the pro level. His footwork is average and he lacks desired instincts as a rusher, but pairing efficient hand work with twitchy upper-body power could turn him into a productive rush bully. He has the traits and toughness to develop into an above-average starter as a 4-3 base end.”