I see Detroit Lions having 4 options with No. 2 pick in 2022 NFL draft. Here they are

Detroit Free Press

This is not a great year to have the No. 2 pick in the NFL draft, let alone try and figure out what the Detroit Lions are going to do with it.

From the time my first mock dropped in February, I’ve held firm to the belief the Lions would take Michigan pass rusher Aidan Hutchinson if he makes it to No. 2.

That’s still possible, but ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. put the chances of Hutchinson falling to the Lions at 10-20%, and that’s about what the tea leaves I’m reading are telling me, too.

I ran into an NFL coach I’ve known for years at Michigan pro day last week. He asked what I was doing there, and when I told him I came to see Hutchinson, he said: “He’s not going to make it to” the Lions.

The draft is still a month away, but that’s the premise I’ve been operating under since leaving the NFL combine in early March. Hutchinson is the best player in the draft, the Jacksonville Jaguars will take him at No. 1 and leave the Lions with … a number of interesting options but no clear-cut pick that will be roundly applauded by the fan base.

BIRKETT: NFL mock draft 3.0: Lions go with a new pass rusher at No. 2, then get WR help

The Lions will have four options if Hutchinson is gone:

Option 1: Take Malik Willis

If the Lions believe Willis is a future star, there’s no debating what they should do. They need a long-term answer at quarterback and are not in a spot to pass on Willis if they are convinced that’s his most likely outcome as an NFL player.

The Lions should have a good read on Willis and how far away he is from being NFL-ready, after spending a week with him at the Senior Bowl. Willis has a phenomenal arm and elite athleticism, and by all accounts checks off every box from a leadership standpoint.

Where he falls short in scouts’ eyes is his NFL-readiness and decision making. He committed too many turnovers, took too many sacks and was too inconsistent in his two seasons starting at Liberty while playing in an offense that did not have many full-field reads.

I wouldn’t rule out a quarterback for the Lions, but I have not heard anything that makes me think they will take one at No. 2.

BIRKETT: How Liberty QB Malik Willis has helped his draft stock at Senior Bowl

BIRKETT: QB craziness could push Lions to consider options in Round 1

Option 2: Take an offensive lineman

NFL teams have a clear preference for quarterbacks, pass rushers and offensive tackles at the top of the draft. In the past 10 drafts, only one player at a non-premium position — running back Saquon Barkley — has gone in the top two.

There are two good offensive tackles in this draft, North Carolina State’s Ikem Ekwonu and Alabama’s Evan Neal, both of whom are potential top-five picks. The Lions are in good shape on the offensive line, however, and specifically at tackle, where Taylor Decker has three years left on his contract and Penei Sewell is 21 years old and coming off an impressive rookie season.

From a talent and value perspective, taking Neal or Ekwonu makes sense for the Lions at two. From a roster construction standpoint, I can’t quite bring myself to think the Lions will draft a tackle high for the second straight year and either play him at guard as a rookie or trade away one of their more veteran lineman.

Option 3: Take Kyle Hamilton

I had Hamilton penciled in at No. 2 when I started my mock Tuesday, and he seems to be the most popular non-Hutchinson choice. Hamilton has rare skills for a safety at 6 feet 4 and 220 pounds. He did not run great at the combine (a 4.59-second 40), but he is a premium playmaker whose length and versatility makes him a scheme fit in a Lions defense in need of an upgrade.

Hamilton projects as an immediate impact starter, but even in a changing NFL, the value of the safety position is a tough sell with the No. 2 pick. Eric Turner in 1991 was the last safety to go that high, and Lions general manager Brad Holmes has a history of finding capable safeties on Days 2 and 3 of the draft. With Holmes as their college scouting director, the Los Angeles Rams hit on safeties Jordan Fuller (in Round 6), Taylor Rapp (Round 2) and John Johnson (Round 3).

DANIEL JEREMIAH: Lions should consider Kyle Hamilton at No. 2

This year’s safety class is deep enough that the Lions should be able to find a starter at Pick 32, 34 or in Round 3. Michigan’s Dax Hill, Georgia’s Lewis Cine, Penn State’s Jaquan Brisker and Maryland’s Nick Cross all could go somewhere in that mix.

Hamilton makes a ton of sense for the Lions, and unless I hear information that leads me to believe otherwise, I will continue to consider him at No. 2 in future mocks. It’s possible he has a high enough grade that the Lions find him too good to pass up. But in a draft where the top 10 or so prospects all seem about even, positional value matters.

Option 4: Take a pass rusher

Even with Hutchinson off the board, there are a handful of defensive linemen who could make sense for the Lions. Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux is considered the most talented of the group, and I gave him to the Lions in my second mock. But the more I hear about Thibodeaux, the more convinced I am he’s not quite the right fit for the Lions.

Thibodeaux appears to be a clean prospect off the field, but some scouts question his every-down effort and whether football will ever be his top priority. One personnel executive who was in his team’s formal combine meeting with Thibodeaux told me he was turned off by how Thibodeaux has an answer for everything (not always in a good way) and wondered how his brashness will play in an NFL locker room.

From a talent and ceiling standpoint, Thibodeaux makes sense for the Lions at two, but I gave the team Florida State edge rusher Jermaine Johnson in my mock draft, and I also considered Georgia’s Travon Walker ahead of Thibodeaux.

Walker had an impressive showing at the combine, but one scout I trust told me his best fit is as a five technique. He should provide good pass rush as an interior lineman or 3-4 defensive end, and it has not gone unnoticed the effort the Lions have put in to scouting Georgia (Chris Spielman and Kelvin Sheppard attended pro day, and Holmes took in a game last fall). But I think Johnson is a better fit.

Johnson has not generated much buzz to the Lions at No. 2 — OK, outside of my mock, I haven’t seen anyone make that projection. But that doesn’t mean it won’t happen.

He posted 12 sacks and won ACC Defensive Player of the Year last season. He started his college career at Independence (Kan.) Community College and played two seasons as a backup at Georgia, so it’s fair to question if he is a one-year wonder (incidentally, Walker also was a backup at Georgia in 2019-20).

But Johnson was dominant while playing for the Lions-coached American team at the Senior Bowl, and earns high marks as both a pass rusher and run defender.

A couple readers mentioned on Twitter or via email they’d feel more comfortable with Johnson if the Lions were to take him after trading down a few spots, and in a perfect world, that’s what they’d do.

If a trade doesn’t materialize — I wouldn’t hold my breath on one happening, and there might even a better chance the Lions could trade up for Hutchinson — Johnson to the Lions at two isn’t a reach. He’s a good player, who the organization already has a comfort level with. He would fill a need, and he might be the right match.

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

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