ESPN’s Mel Kiper: No. 2 too high for Malik Willis, but could see QB going in top 10

Detroit News

In a debate that only figures to gain steam as the NFL Draft approaches, Mel Kiper firmly believes the Detroit Lions shouldn’t consider quarterback Malik Willis with the No. 2 overall pick. That said, the ESPN analyst noted he wouldn’t be surprised if Willis comes off the board in the first 10 selections.

“I would say no on the quarterback, because the quarterbacks for me, you go by your rankings, are 18, 19, 21, 28,” Kiper said during a conference call with reporters on Wednesday. “If you’re picking in the top 10, that’s way too rich for me. I sought this from my friends in the league who don’t need quarterbacks, but they don’t have quarterbacks ranked in the top 10, either. But it only takes the teams, obviously, that need quarterbacks to believe that.”

Within that statement, Kiper acknowledges his personal opinions won’t necessarily line up with reality. And while he continued to dismiss the idea of Willis going to the Lions, he could see the Liberty passer being taken as early as No. 6 by the Carolina Panthers.

“Obviously, he interviews unbelievable,” Kiper said. “He’s got the rocket arm. I compared him yesterday to, he’s kind of a right-handed version of Michael Vick in a lot of ways. I could definitely see Carolina at six, Atlanta at eight, Seattle at nine taking Malik Willis. He would be the one because you’re rolling the dice on talent, you’re betting on the talent

“That’s what’s happened with Josh Allen, with Justin Herbert, talent has won out,” Kiper continued. “They weren’t the first quarterbacks taken. Allen was the third, Justin Herbert was the third and they’ve been better than the guys, a lot better than the guys that went ahead of them because of talent. They were a little raw, but they had great talent. Same thing with Malik, so I could see that happening.”

Those lofty comparisons seem incongruent with Kiper’s personal evaluation, but at least he was consistent in his recent mock draft, where he slotted Willis to the Steelers with the No. 20 pick.

Also in that mock, which posted earlier this week, he has the Lions using the No. 2 choice on safety Kyle Hamilton. It would be the earliest a safety has been drafted by any team in three decades, but Kiper believes Hamilton is a unique enough talent to justify the investment.

Kiper dismissed the comparisons to former Clemson linebacker Isaiah Simmons, who went No. 8 to the Arizona Cardinals in the 2020 draft. Like Hamilton, Simmons was viewed as a unicorn because of his unique combination of size and athleticism for his position, but Kiper said it was unclear the best way to use Simmons at the next level, while no such concerns exist with Hamilton.

“Kyle Hamilton can do anything you want a safety to do,” Kiper said. “He runs and plays a lot faster than the 4.59 (40-yard dash time). He’s got incredible length, athletic ability. He has really good instincts, he tackles well. He had the eight career interceptions and missed seven games this past year. He probably would have had 10 career interceptions or more. He’s a guy, for the way the game is played today, he’s a guy defensive coordinator are going to really like.”

The one player Kiper had no issue projecting to the Lions other than Hamilton was Aidan Hutchinson, but the draft guru no longer believes the Michigan edge rusher will get past the Jacksonville Jaguars, who hold the No. 1 pick. He predicted that pairing was now 90% likely.

As for another name frequently mentioned in the mix for the Lions at No. 2, Oregon edge rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux, Kiper notes some concerns that go beyond Thibodeaux’s frequently mentioned motor.

“When he’s at his best, he can be a real nightmare for an offensive tackle,” Kiper said. “I think the inside pressure he brings, that versatility is key, as well. (But) he really doesn’t have many pass rush moves all. He’s strong, has that great first-step quickness. That’s what he relies on. When you’re in the NFL, going against the 32 best left tackles in the world, the pass-rush moves have to be developed.”

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers

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