Late-December football is a tough grind for teams out of the playoff hunt. It’s even more difficult for teams that have been out of that hunt since the midseason mark. In some ways, losses in the final month of the season offer a silver lining by way of a higher draft pick, but that’s not always the case. The Detroit Lions are a good example of this, especially after their Week 15 victory over the Arizona Cardinals that knocked them out of the driver’s seat for the No. 1 overall pick.
In most years, losing ground for the top pick would be like tossing painful salt in the wound of a torturous season. But the 2022 NFL Draft won’t offer a team like the Lions with a savior quarterback. There are some quality quarterback prospects in this year’s draft, but even if one or two of them end with first-round grades, they’ll barely make that cut. And none of them will be valued highly enough to go first overall. That may seem like bad news for the Lions, but it actually allows them to accomplish a critical goal over the next three games: build a winning culture.
The current 2022 NFL Draft order shifted following Week 15’s results. The Jacksonville Jaguars are now at the top, with the Lions sliding to No. 2 overall. Lions fans shouldn’t be too concerned with this, however. According to the latest mock draft from The Draft Network’s Drae Harris, dropping one spot in the 2022 draft doesn’t hurt Detroit one bit. And when coupled with a huge morale-boosting victory over the 10-win Cardinals? It's a win-win.
Harris has the Lions landing Oregon pass-rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux with that second overall pick, making it back-to-back years Detroit secures a stud prospect from the Ducks.
“Kayvon Thibodeaux has been the presumed No. 1 pick for a good amount of this mock season,” Harris wrote. “Although, in the eyes of some evaluators, Hutchinson is the better prospect. Thibodeaux is still a player with a proven history of getting home to the QB. Detroit's defense lacks star power, but Thibodeaux brings that. Detroit's investments in the secondary will gladly welcome Thibodeaux to their defense.”
Last week, when the Lions held the first overall pick, TDN’s Kyle Crabbs sent them Hutchinson in his mock draft. Now, with a signature win for coach Dan Campbell and quarterback Jared Goff, Detroit ends up with an equally impressive edge rusher regardless of their draft slotting.
Even if the Lions play spoiler and win another game or two, those wins will do more for the team in 2022 than better draft position would. Harris’ mock draft has Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton going third overall, and LSU cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. going fourth. Either one of those players would be home run selections for Detroit’s defense, too. So whether the Lions have the first pick or the fourth, it’s more than likely they’ll choose a player on the defensive side of the ball, and the gap between a player like Hutchinson at No. 1 and a player like Stingley Jr. at No. 4 isn’t sizeable enough to sacrifice culture-building wins.
Let’s not forget about the Lions’ second first-rounder, too. Harris has Detroit landing Ohio State wide receiver Chris Olave at No. 24 overall, which would be a fantastic selection for a team that has a few nice building blocks on offense already. Running back D’Andre Swift has special potential, tight end T.J. Hockenson is one of the best at his position in the NFC, and rookie wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown has lived up to the steal he was predicted he’d be after sliding to the fourth round of the 2021 draft. Add Olave to that mix and the Lions are suddenly cooking with gas.
Talent alone isn’t enough to win games in the NFL, though. Culture—a winning culture—matters, and the Lions’ future will be much brighter if they maintain building one as the primary goal for the next few games. Regardless of where they end up picking in the first round, Detroit is going to land a very talented player. And when you add talent to a winning culture, good things happen.