Draft Week 2022 is just one week away now, and the draft cycle rumor mill is hotter than ever. Things change quickly this close to the draft, and there are no more hotly debated topics this year than who will be the first overall pick and who will be the first team to draft a quarterback.
As recently as one month ago, early momentum indicated the Jacksonville Jaguars would be drafting one of the top offensive tackles—either Ikem Ekwonu or Evan Neal—with the first overall pick. But then Jacksonville began the free agency period by placing a second consecutive franchise tag on tackle Cam Robinson. Many believed that pushed them out of the market to draft a tackle with the first pick, putting Michigan edge rusher Aidan Hutchinson back in the conversation to be the first overall selection.
But this is draft season, and things never stay the same for very long.
In recent weeks, Georgia edge rusher Travon Walker has skyrocketed up draft boards, and now it’s looking very possible he ends up as the Jaguars’ selection at No. 1 overall. If he is, that would really affect the Detroit Lions’ draft strategy with the second pick.
For a while, the outlook on the Lions’ ability to keep Hutchinson home in Michigan didn’t seem great. It seemed a foregone conclusion that he’d end up in Duval County after the Jaguars shifted their focus away from offensive tackle.
That, in turn, initiated the conversation that Detroit may have been considering taking QB1 off the board by drafting Malik Willis with the second pick. However, Walker’s rise may now be enough to give the Lions their shot at drafting Hutchinson.
If the Michigan star “falls” to that second overall pick, Detroit shouldn’t hesitate by considering taking a quarterback. They should be running to give their card to the commissioner with Hutchinson’s name on it.
There are several reasons for this, but one of the main ones is that the Lions simply don’t need a quarterback as badly as they need help elsewhere. Jared Goff is a former first overall pick himself, and while he struggled with his new team in 2021, he’s a serviceable option that could benefit from additional weapons around him. Even with his struggles, he finished as a middle-of-the-pack quarterback in 2021 with his production and passer rating.
Detroit’s pass rush, on the other hand, wasn’t even mediocre, it was just bad. The Lions finished second-to-last in the NFL in pass rush win rate in 2021 according to ESPN. Unsurprisingly, they also had the third-fewest sacks in the league last season. Adding a sack monster and pass-rush star like Hutchinson in the draft would be a huge help there.
For another thing, the Lions have three picks in the top 34 of this year’s draft thanks to the Rams’ first-rounder they got in the Matt Stafford trade. They shouldn’t feel pressured to take a quarterback with the second overall pick when none of the signal-callers in this class feel worthy of even a top-10 selection. Willis could be special, but he’s still a raw talent who will need to play much closer to his potential ceiling than his floor to feel worth a pick that high.
If Detroit really wants to take a quarterback in the early rounds, they have the draft capital to wait until the end of day one or the very beginning of day two. Guys like Desmond Ridder, Sam Howell, and Matt Corral will likely be available by the Lions’ second pick at 32 and even their third pick at 34. Drafting any of those guys late in the first or early in the second round provides much better pick value than taking Willis as high as the second pick.
It all comes down to the fact that Hutchinson will immediately give the Lions a franchise cornerstone to build around on the defensive side of the ball. Not only does he have a high floor, but he’s also got an even higher ceiling. Considering he plays a premium position, there’s not much more you can ask for in a draft prospect. Keeping him in Michigan is just the icing on the cake.