For weeks, Michigan football star Aidan Hutchinson has been pegged to go to Jacksonville as the draft’s No. 1 pick but after that, a few different names have been floated to the Lions with the No. 2 overall pick.
Most of those have been defensive linemen — and in this mock that doesn’t change — but the quarterback McShay has the Lions grabbing at the end of the first round has not frequently been linked to the team.
Lions pass on up-side for safer pick
The top three picks in McShay’s mock draft go as follows: Hutchinson No. 1 to the Jacksonville Jaguars, Georgia defensive end Travon Walker No. 2 to the Lions and Oregon pass-rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux No. 3 to the Houston Texans.
McShay noted how all three teams need pass-rushing help, but he has the Lions going with the all-around end in Walker instead of the elite pass-rusher in Thibodeaux, who has had a few questions about motor come up in his final weeks at Oregon and then sat out a number of events at the combine.
“Detroit struggled with its pass rush even more than Jacksonville last season, recording just 30 sacks and getting pressure on 25.9% of opponent dropbacks,” McShay said. “Both numbers ranked in the bottom four. Walker might not have the career sack production (9.5 across 36 career games), but he has the versatility and explosion to anchor the Lions’ defensive line.”
Walker would join Charles Harris, who led the Lions with 7.5 sacks, and Romeo Okwara who tore his ACL in 2021 but led the team with 10 sacks in 2020, which could be a formidable front seven.
One of winningest college QBs slated to go to Detroit
In two of the latest ESPN mock drafts, fellow draft analyst Mel Kiper had the Lions taking North Carolina signal-caller Sam Howell before switching to Ole Miss gun-slinger Matt Corral.
McShay has Detroit taking a potential replacement for Jared Goff as well, who has just two years left on his contract, but this time it’s Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder.
Ridder is seen as a winner — and with good reason — going 44-5 in his collegiate career while leading the Bearcats to the school’s first College Football Playoff appearance. However, as far as NFL talent, there are questions that remain.
“Ridder isn’t a sure thing, and he has too many ball-location misses, but his strong arm, good mobility and high-end ability to read the field make him an intriguing pick to cap off Day 1,” McShay said.
Ridder was one of six quarterbacks at the senior bowl, where the Lions coaching staff led one of the teams, however he worked with the New York Jets.
Five players with Michigan-ties go round two
If McShay is correct — or even close to it — about his second round projections, expect a number of familiar names to come off the board early on Friday night.
That starts with the Lions picking former five-star recruit and former U-M defensive back Dax Hill. The Lions struggled in a number of area’s last season, particularly on defense, which is one reason McShay implies this could be one of the better picks of the second round.
“Hill probably belongs in the first round, but the Lions get lucky with the smooth, speedy safety on Day 2,” he said. “He reminds me a bit of Budda Baker and would be an upgrade on the back end of the Lions’ defense. Detroit allowed 70 plays for 20-plus yards last season (sixth most), but Hill has the range to limit those big plays.”
Just four picks later, McShay has Western Michigan’s Skyy Moore coming off the board as the No. 8 WR in the class at pick No. 36 to the New York Giants. Moore caught 95 balls for 1,292 yards and 10 touchdowns in his final season at Western and McShay likes what he can do as far as yards-after-catch.
“Moore’s combine performance was impressive, and there might not be a more elusive pass-catcher in the class once the ball is in his hands,” he said.
Once considered a potential top-10 pick, perhaps no storyline has been tougher to watch than David Ojabo’s fall in the draft after tearing his Achilles during his pro day last month. Still, the upside is undoubtedly there.
Ojabo and Hutchinson formed perhaps the country’s most dominant 1-2 pass rush last year and now the only question is if Ojabo was successful because of the attention Hutchinson drew, or if he can create that kind of havoc on his own. McShay sees this as a long-term, and potentially lucrative play.
“The Eagles traded one of their three first-rounders, but they ended up with a first-round talent in Round 2 anyway,” McShay said. “Philadelphia can’t expect to see him much, if at all, this season. But he has a lot of upside, and his speed and suddenness cause offensive tackles a lot of issues. If the Eagles can wait out his recovery, this could end up a huge win.”
At No. 56, Central Michigan’s offensive tackle Bernhard Raimann is slotted to come off the board to the Dallas Cowboys. Once one of the premier offensive lines in the NFL, the Cowboys have fallen off slightly in that department and while this may be a bit of a development project, there is an hole for him if he can steal it.
“There’s an opening at right tackle after the Cowboys cut La’el Collins, and while Raimann will require patience as he develops, there’s no denying his power and quickness,” McShay said. “He has allowed only four sacks on 752 career pass-block snaps.”
The last player with Michigan ties to come off the board in round No. 2 may have perhaps been the most dominant in college last season — Walter Camp Award winner and former Michigan State running back Kenneth Walker III. McShay has him going one pick later, No. 57 overall, to the Buffalo Bills.
Walker rushed for 1,636 yards and 18 touchdowns a season ago, just one year after MSU didn’t have a running back who ran for a single score. The Bills were one of the NFL’s top offenses in 2021, despite struggling to move the ball on the ground. McShay sees this as a clear fit for Walker as the No. 2 running back off the board.
“Devin Singletary had a few solid games at the end of the 2021 season, but Buffalo hasn’t had a pure runner like Walker in a while,” McShay said. “He has good speed, suddenness and contact balance. Buffalo’s 2,209 rushing yards were No. 6 in the NFL last season, but only 1,343 of those came from running backs (25th).”
This year’s NFL draft will be in Las Vegas, Nevada from April 28-30.