Mel Kiper breaks down edge options for Detroit Lions at No. 2: ‘They’re all different’

Detroit Free Press

The Detroit Lions may be hoping Michigan football’s Aidan Hutchinson falls to them in this month’s NFL draft. But if Hutchinson goes No. 1 overall, as many suspect, the Lions still will have a trio of edge rush options available at No. 2.

Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux, Georgia’s Travon Walker and Florida State’s Jermaine Johnson II are widely regarded as potential top-10 picks, though ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said each comes with concerns.

“They’re all different,” Kiper said Thursday. “Travon Walker they moved around (at Georgia). He only had 9.5 career sacks and 13 career tackles for loss, so you say the production was not there. But the disruptive plays, the hurries. His hurries were off the charts. He was getting in the backfield, so that was the underrated part.”

Walker played primarily inside in Georgia’s defense and there is debate about how best he fits in the NFL.

He ran a blazing 4.51-second 40-yard dash at 6 feet 5 and 275 pounds and has some of the longest arms for a defensive lineman at 35 1/2 inches, but one scout for an NFC team told the Free Press earlier this spring Walker’s best NFL fit is as a five technique.

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

“The quick-twitch is debatable for outside,” Kiper said. “I thought he showed more twitch and quickness inside. So you got to move him around, you got to find the right spot, you got to coach him up and he’s got incredible length, he’s got incredible talent, but he’s the kind of guy that’s going to have to carve a nitch and which spot’s that going to be? How is the coaching? Do they get the most out of him? There’s a little bit of a risk-reward there.”

Thibodeaux, Kiper’s sixth-rated prospect and No. 2 defensive end (behind Hutchinson), has been similarly picked apart as a prospect, and the Lions have done extensive work trying to determine if he is a culture fit for their organization.

“People are talking about does he love the game? Is he a me-and-I or a we-and-us? That’s the debate with Kayvon,” Kiper said. “I think he’s going to be motivated coming in because people are criticizing him now a little bit. He never had to deal with that coming out of high school or during his career. He was always celebrated as the No. 1 player. Now he’s not, so I think he’ll come in a little bit motivated with something to prove.”

Thibodeaux had more sack production than Walker, with 19 in his three-year Oregon career, but his numbers dipped after a standout freshmen season during the 2020 COVID year and while battling through an ankle injury last season.

“He’s another guy, inside with his power, he’s tough to deal with,” Kiper said. “Outside, when you watch him, his get-off is as good as you’ll find at the defensive end/outside linebacker spot. He doesn’t have the pass rush moves. He doesn’t have the bend right now. A little stiff, doesn’t have great body — you talk about just overall, say a Myles Garrett type. Nobody’s going to be that way, but he’s not the (Jadeveon) Clowney, Myles Garrett type in terms of that bend, and that agility. But he’s power, he’s speed, he chases, he closes. He’s got, like I say, great get-off. So with Thibodeaux, he maybe can be as good as he wants to be and coaching will dictate that with the pass rush moves he has to develop.”

Johnson has the second-longest arms among the top edge rushers behind Walker at 34 inches, a faster 10-yard split in the 40-yard dash than Hutchinson (1.59 seconds to 1.61 seconds) and had 12 sacks and 70 tackles last season.

Kiper, though, said Johnson projects better in the 7-12 area of the first round and Thibodeaux or Walker is the more likely choice for the Lions.

“Jermaine Johnson II had that one great year and he’s got bend, he’s got quickness and strength,” Kiper said. “He plays hard. He was the second-leading tackler (on Florida State’s team) with 70 tackles, I like that. He is a one-year production guy. He did have some sacks at Georgia, but this was the one great year at Florida State.”

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Johnson played a rotational role at Georgia, similar to Walker, before transferring to Florida State last season. The Lions coached Johnson at the Senior Bowl and hosted him, Walker, Thibodeaux and Hutchinson on pre-draft visits this week.

Though Walker has generated buzz as the potential No. 1 overall pick in recent weeks, Kiper said he believes Hutchinson will be the first player off the board.

“We thought Hutchinson might be there for the Lions at two, but it worked out where they committed to the offensive line heavily, Phil Rauscher, the offensive line coach will do a great job there, and now they can get the pass rusher in Aidan Hutchinson to go opposite Josh Allen and get after all these great quarterbacks in the AFC,” Kiper said. “So I think the year he had, the attitude, the approach, the energy he plays with, how he makes everybody around him better is the reason why, once they solidified the offensive line, he was certainly the best defensive end, best pass rusher in this draft.”

Contact Dave Birkett at Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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