If Aidan Hutchinson makes it to No. 2, the Detroit Lions have a seemingly easy decision to make in next week’s NFL draft. If he doesn’t, opinions are all over the map on what the Lions should do with their first of two first-round picks.
While most speculation has centered around the top pass rushers, one ex-NFL general manager offered two unique suggestions Tuesday, saying the Lions should consider LSU cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. and North Carolina State offensive lineman Ikem Ekwonu if Hutchinson is off the board.
“I think those are the two guys that I’d bet you that are on their mock if Aidan’s not there,” SiriusXM NFL host and former Tampa Bay Buccaneers GM Mark Dominik said.
Stingley emerged as one of the top 2022 draft prospects during his standout freshman season at LSU in 2019, but his star has fallen in recent seasons as he’s battled injuries.
Since intercepting six passes in 15 games while helping the Tigers win the national championship, Stingley has no interceptions and five pass breakups in 10 games the past two seasons.
He missed most of last season with a Lisfranc injury, but had an impressive pro day workout earlier this month in which he ran a sub-4.4-second 40-yard dash and jumped 38.5 inches.
“There’s so much talent in that young man and it’s so good, and so when you watch the early tape you’re blown away, and to me he tested out still that same way,” Dominik said. “You’re holding your breath in terms of injury, his arc, but that’s where you have your orthopedic doctors really play a huge role for organizations and sit there and say, ‘Is there anything you see here?'”
If Stingley checks out medically, Dominik said he is worthy of the No. 2 pick, a spot tyically reserved for quarterbacks, edge rushers and offensive tackles.
When the Lions took Ohio State cornerback Jeff Okudah with the No. 3 pick in the 2020 draft, he became the first cornerback drafted that high since Shawn Springs went third overall in 1997.
“I think that that would make a lot of sense to me if Aidan’s off the board, that they would go with a Stingley because I think he is that elite,” Dominik said. “I mean, he’s big but fast and athletic with ball skills. I don’t dislike Jeff Okudah, but they’re different dudes, completely.”
The Lions return nearly their entire starting secondary from last season and added cornerback Mike Hughes in free agency, but Okudah is coming off a ruptured Achilles tendon and has struggled in limited action the past two years.
Dominik said he prefers Stingley, who took a top-30 pre-draft visit to Detroit, to Cincinnati cornerback Ahmad Gardner, a Detroit native.
“I like Gardner a lot. I like Stingley better,” Dominik said. “So the best way to say this, Ahmad has probably got a better floor. Stingley has a better ceiling, so that’s the risk-reward that you have to decide what you want to take.
“Since salaries at cornerback now are over the $20 million mark — anybody that’s over $20 million a year now in terms of NFL talent, it’s not hard to take them that high and, look, those two guys are going to go in the top 10. I’ll be shocked if they don’t, and you’re not going to get another chance to get one. So if you like them, you’re going to have to go take them and in this day and age. Like we just talked about wide receivers and getting paid and trying to slow stuff down. You got to add somebody that can calm down some of these big boys and I think Stingley can do that.”
Should medical concerns persist with Stingley, Dominik said Ekwonu makes sense for the Lions if Hutchinson is off the board.
A three-year starter who played both guard and tackle at N.C. State, Ekwonu likely would slot at guard as a rookie for the Lions.
The Lions return Taylor Decker at left tackle and spent the No. 7 overall pick on right tackle Penei Sewell last spring.
“Dan Campbell wants to continue to kind of set the tempo of what he wants on his football team,” Dominik said. “To me, you could put him at guard and he could have a gold jacket. You could put him at tackle, and he’s still going to play 10 years.”