The Detroit Lions are the worst team in the NFL through 12 weeks of the 2021 regular season. At least, that’s what their record suggests as coach Dan Campbell and quarterback Jared Goff are still in search of their first win in the Motor City.
As a result, the Lions will most likely end the year with the first overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. A quick read through the many mock drafts published by the team of scouts at The Draft Network suggests Detroit won’t land a quarterback with that top pick. Instead, this year’s draft is shaping up to be a great one to need an edge defender, with Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux and Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson the popular picks to go first overall as the calendar flips to December.
The good news for Lions fans who hoped the 2022 NFL Draft would produce a new starting quarterback is that they still could get one with the second of their two first-round picks, especially with how the Los Angeles Rams’ season is trending as of late. Remember: Detroit has Los Angeles’ first-rounder from the Matthew Stafford trade. If the draft was held today, it’d be the 23rd overall pick—a perfect range to tap into one of this year’s quarterback prospects.
The names of potential quarterbacks who will be available for the Lions with that pick are pretty well known by now: Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett, UNC’s Sam Howell, Liberty’s Malik Willis, Ole Miss’ Matt Corral, Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder, and Nevada’s Carson Strong. There’s a chance one or two of them could sneak into the top 10 with a strong post-season showing in the run-up to draft weekend, but it’s more likely that this year’s cluster of passers will end up as mid-to-late first-rounders, at best.
Regardless, the Lions are well-positioned to take a swing on the highest-graded quarterback who’s still on the board when their second pick comes around. Think about it: Detroit will have already landed the best prospect in the class. The elite of the elite. Any player they pick in the first round after that is, essentially, a bonus. So why not shoot their shot at the game’s most important position?
The best-case scenario for the Lions would be if Pickett slides to their second pick. It’s not because he’s the most physically talented quarterback in the draft, but he’s probably the most pro-ready and capable of starting sooner than his 2022 classmates. And for a Detroit team that’s clearly looking to move on from Goff as soon as possible, selecting a first-round quarterback who’s experienced and mature enough to be an NFL starter right away is a big win, even if his ceiling isn’t as high as a player like Willis.
But therein lies the beauty—and danger—of the NFL draft. Oftentimes, it is about the lure of the high-ceiling player that overtakes the rest of a scouting report, and if that’s how the Lions plan on zeroing in on their second first-rounder, a player like Willis (who will get his chance to impress at the 2022 Senior Bowl) could be the choice.
And don’t rule out Ridder, either, who TDN’s own Joe Marino has coming off the board at No. 8 overall to the Washington Football Team in his most recent mock draft. It’s a lofty slotting for Ridder (who’s also competing at the Senior Bowl), but mock drafts can change quickly over the next few months. Ridder sliding into the 20s is within a reasonable range of outcomes.
What’s the big takeaway here? Detroit, believe it or not, is going to be just fine. If they want a quarterback in this year’s draft, they’re going to find one. He just won’t be a prospect with as much fanfare as we’re used to over the last few years.
Landing the first overall pick will be a big win for a Lions team that hasn’t had any on the field. But it’s probably that second first-rounder, the one that should produce a quarterback, that could have the biggest impact on the future of the franchise. It’ll be up to general manager Brad Holmes to make sure he picks the right one, and in 2022, that’ll be the ultimate challenge.