Decisions, decisions: Will Detroit skip QB in Round 1?
Do you take the player who’s clearly better, or do you take a lesser talent at the most important position?
That’s the problem facing Detroit in the 2022 NFL draft.
This problem has recently come up – with very mixed results.
In the 2020 draft, LSU’s Jeff Burrow went No. 1 overall and has thus far looked like a potential Pro Bowl quarterback for Cincinnati.
Washington had the second pick – and desperately needed a QB after the failed Dwayne Haskins pick the year before. The remaining QBs – Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa, Oregon’s Justin Herbert and Utah State’s Jordan Love – all came with some questions. On the other hand, Ohio State’s Chase Young was considered a generational talent at defensive end.
Ultimately, Young was the pick – but the results have been underwhelming. Young had 57 tackles, 7.5 sacks and 10 tackles for loss last year as a rookie, but he had just 26 tackles, 1.5 sacks and 3 TFLs in nine games this season before suffering a season-ending torn ACL.
Meanwhile, Herbert has looked like a future star, but Tagovailoa has been average and Love has underwhelmed during his rare playing time. (Detroit, meanwhile, took Ohio State cornerback Jeff Okudah, whose career has been hampered by injuries and inconsistency.)
With that said, it looks like Young will be a centerpiece for years to come in Washington if he can fully recover. But the Tagovailoa and Love picks haven’t stopped either team from considering taking another QB in the upcoming draft.
It’s looking like Detroit will take the Washington route and select the best player with the first overall pick – and may skip QB altogether with its second first-round pick.
Instead, look for the Lions to focus on the defense, which ranks 28th in the league. Detroit has allowed the fifth-most yards (4,571), the 12th-most passing yards (2,993), fifth-most passing TDs (20, tie), the fifth-most rushing yards (1,573) and the seventh-most rushing TDs (12, tie). Their 14 turnovers tie them for 22nd-fewest in the league.
So, while starters Nick Williams at defensive end, inside linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin, outside linebacker Charles Harris and safety Tracy Walker III will all be unrestricted free agents at the end of the season, all are replaceable.
That’s why Detroit will go heavy on defense in the 2022 draft.
Outside of QB and receiver, things aren’t quite so bleak on offense. Sure, the offense ranks 27th in the league at 310.9 yards per game, and the passing (ranked No. 29 with 2,413 yards) and rushing (20th with 1,318 yards) are among the league’s worst.
But, when healthy, the Lions have several building blocks on offense, particularly at offensive line. Tackles Taylor Decker and Penei Sewell should provide protection for the next half-dozen years, and Pro Bowl center Frank Ragnow should return next season after missing most of the year with a turf toe injury that required surgery. The guards have been average at best, but right guard Halapoulivaati Vaitai signed a five-year, $50 million contract last season, while left guard Jonah Jackson is a former third-rounder now in his second season – so neither player is going anywhere any time soon.
Another bright spot is tight end T.J. Hockenson, who was a Pro Bowler last season. His 61 receptions rank him third in the league among TEs and his 583 yards receiving rank him eighth. Running back D’Andre Swift has had his moments but is currently battling a shoulder injury.
The offense needs some work after that.
Quarterback Jared Goff continues to disappoint. Although he finally picked up his first win without Rams coach Sean McVay as his head coach, Goff still ranks No. 31 overall in ESPN’s latest QB rankings, with only eight QBs ranked lower. Goff’s play has almost certainly impacted the play of receivers Amon-Ra St. Brown, Josh Reynolds and Kalif Raymond (the last two will be UFAs at the end of the season). A fourth-round rookie out of USC, St. Brown’s 438 yards receiving rank second on the team and his 49 receptions are third.
So, aside from the QB position, Detroit needs to add a receiver and maybe some pieces along its offensive line – all easily achievable in the upcoming draft.
While Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux was – and still is, by many publications – considered the top prospect, the 6-foot-6, 265-pound Hutchinson has vaulted up to the No. 1 spot by many notable draft evaluators. Hutchinson finished the regular season with a school-record 13.5 sacks, along with 58 tackles and 15.5 TFLs, and is now a Heisman Trophy finalist.
The Fanspeak-Jake Rigdon big board and The Athletic’s Dane Brugler were among the first to list Hutchinson as the No. 1 overall pick. Here’s what Brugler said about him: “His competitive makeup is rare and raises the level of his teammates. … (H)e embodies a lot of the traits that head coach Dan Campbell craves and it wouldn’t be a surprise if a team like Detroit settles on Hutchinson at the top of its board.”
Incidentally, Brugler had Detroit taking Hutchinson with the first overall pick in his latest mock draft.
Remember when Aidan Hutchinson almost sacked Spencer Petras with his own 300-pound offensive lineman? pic.twitter.com/pAWMYiCGVl
— Scott Bell (@sbell021) December 6, 2021
It would be a major win for Detroit if Wilson falls to the Lions with their second first-round pick, as the 6-foot, 186-pound junior is considered the top wide receiver by many evaluators – and therefore could go earlier. Wilson finished the regular season with 70 receptions for 1,058 yards and 12 TDs.
Brugler listed Wilson as the draft’s top pass catcher in his latest top-15 rankings. Here’s what Brugler had to say about Wilson in his mock draft: “The first wide receiver off the board in this mock, Wilson has only average size (6-0, 186), but his body control is special, and his athletic instincts help him separate before and after the catch.”
— Austin Gayle (@austingayle_) December 9, 2021
The thing about owning the first pick of any round is that your team is going to get a player who unexpectedly fell. In other words, your team can potentially get great value at those picks.
And the 6-foot-4, 290-pound Leal certainly fits that description, as he’s been widely viewed as a first-rounder throughout the season. Leal finished with 58 tackles, 12.5 TFLs and 8.5 sacks during the regular season but is seen as a bit of a tweener – he split time at both tackle and end this season.
But he could be a perfect fit in Detroit, which operates out of a 3-4 defense. Leal has ideal size in the 3-4, where he would likely start at defensive end – or the 5-tech position – with Hutchinson either starting opposite of him or at outside linebacker.
— Mikey McNuggets (@MikeLucasTV) December 1, 2021
As mentioned previously, the 6-foot-4, 215-pound Strong might be one of the top-three QBs in this draft had it not been for his injury history – and that’s why he could slide to the top of Round 3. Yahoo Sports’ Eric Edholm previously went into Strong’s injury history, which dates back to high school.
Strong has passed for 4,186 yards and 36 TDs with only 8 INTs. He’s also a junior, but with his injury history, going back to school may be seen as too great of a risk. Pro Football Focus’ Tony Pauline said back in early November that Strong was likely entering the draft.
Could Strong overtake Goff as the starting QB if he stays healthy? It’s possible, but at the very least, he gives the Lions a young option to develop.
Carson Strong among Mountain West QBs:
Round 5: CB Tariq Woolen, UTSA
The 6-foot-4, 205-pound Woolen is an ascending prospect who might not make it to the top of Round 5, especially if he tests well at the Combine. Woolen made the Bruce Feldman’s Freaks List and was called “one of the most exciting sleepers” in the upcoming draft by PFN’s Ian Cummings. From Cummings: “It’s not often you find a 6’4″, 205-pound cornerback who runs a 4.34 with a 137-inch broad jump. But Woolen has all that. He’s extremely long and looming but also fast, explosive, and surprisingly fluid.”
Still, Woolen would have some ground to make up in Detroit, where the hope is that Okudah finally lives up to his potential. Undrafted rookie free agent Jerry Jacobs has played well this season, and the team drafted rookie Ifeatu Melifonwu in the third round, so both should figure heavily in next season’s plans.
Woolen has 25 tackles, 2.5 TFLs, 1 INT and 5 PDs this season.
Having Tariq Woolen back is a game changer pic.twitter.com/w79vAGEej4
— Chase Shannon (@chase_shannon) December 4, 2021
Round 6: S Leon O’Neal, Texas A&M
At 6-foot-1, 210-pounds, O’Neal has good size for the position and had a solid season for Texas A&M with 58 tackles, 3 TFLs, 1 sack and 2 INTs, including one returned for a TD. He also had 5 PDs and 1 FR during the regular season.
The @seniorbowl is looking live at @AggieFootball vs. @AlabamaFTBL. Texas A&M SS Leon O’Neal Jr. (@WakeEmUp9) is a fun player to watch when he’s flying around. Aggies need him to be a consistently physical downhill presence tonight.#TheDraftStartsInMOBILE™️#BestoftheBest pic.twitter.com/o9nxLGIfOl
— Jim Nagy (@JimNagy_SB) October 10, 2021
Round 6: OT Matt Waletzko, North Dakota
The 6-foot-7, 300-pound Waletzko is another rising prospect who might not be available this late in the draft. Waletzko is currently ranked as Brugler’s No. 13 OT. He is said to have 36-inch arms, which is great length for the position.
What happens to a defensive back when it gets hit by a 6'7" 305 pound Tackle at full speed?
The same thing that happens to everything else.
@matt_waletzko and the Fighting Hawks rally to defeat Youngstown state 24-21 pic.twitter.com/dHdAZMq1th
— Devin Fry (@FryTheSportsGuy) November 6, 2021
Round 7: RB Abram Smith, Baylor
A former LB, the 5-foot-11, 221-pound Smith is a banger who rushed for 1,429 yards and 12 TDs this season. However, he’s not the pass-catcher that Swift is with just 12 receptions for 69 yards during the regular season.
Abram Smith lifts with the football team. https://t.co/Vi2PjKkV5m
— Colt Barber (@Colt_Barber) December 5, 2021