August 16, 2022

NFL Combine
Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

With their first selection in the 2022 NFL Draft, Detroit can jumpstart their rebuild with the most tantalizing—and divisive—prospect available this year.

It was only a matter of time.

The discussion surrounding the Detroit Lions and their second-overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft has shifted dramatically. Positioned as the overwhelming favorite to be the first player selected, Aidan Hutchinson no longer seems like an option for Detroit. According to DraftKings Sportsbook, Hutchinson’s odds to be the number one draft pick at the time of this article posting was -280.

Without the crutch of a local player going to their hometown organization, mock drafts have started to entertain the idea of other players headed to Detroit. Kayvon Thibodeaux, Kyle Hamilton, and Travon Walker seem to be the most popular names getting mocked to the Lions when Hutchinson is that first player off the board to Jacksonville.

Speaking of mock drafts, let’s get into it. This year, I’m using Pro Football Network’s “Mock Draft Machine” to put together my drafts which is completely free to use, allows you to make trades, and maybe most importantly, is routinely updated with new player rankings to reflect how prospects are being valued.

Round 1, Pick 2: QB Malik Willis

Back in February, I outlined why it would be wise for the Lions to draft a quarterback with their second-overall pick. Many believe Jared Goff to be a bridge quarterback, the means to bigger and better things, but without having a succession plan in place, Detroit isn’t taking full advantage of this opportunity. Should the Lions draft Malik Willis, they’d put that plan in motion and set themselves up to hit the ground running in 2023.

It’s not a secret that Willis needs some time to acclimate to a pro-style offense. He also needs some time to break the bad habits he developed playing behind a porous offensive line at Liberty. But as Chris Burke of The Athletic highlighted in a piece last week, the strengths of Willis’ game—explosive arm strength, a strong runner who can extend plays and move the ball down the field with his arm or his legs—mesh well with the offensive identity Dan Campbell and new offensive coordinator Ben Johnson are trying to establish in Detroit.

Round 1, Pick 32: EDGE Boye Mafe

Since the Lions passed on upgrading this position with their first pick, it just so happens a few EDGE players are still available at 32. Drake Jackson from USC and Arnold Ebiketie from Penn State are also up for consideration here as well, but after showing out at the Senior BowlI mean really showing out—and following that up by crushing the Combine, Mafe’s upside is just too much to pass up.

The common thing you hear from draftniks is how he’s a developmental prospect who will take some seasoning before he develops into a three-down player, but Detroit has both the patience and the staff to help bring him along.

Round 2, Pick 34: S Lewis Cine

Arguably the biggest need for the Lions heading into the draft, safety is a spot where Detroit really could use an upgrade—even after re-signing Tracy Walker to a three-year deal.

Versatile is the buzzword everyone loves to use for a prospect, but Cine’s ability to play deep and in the box is one and the same. His football IQ is as high as any safety prospect in this class, as evidenced from the clip above, and Detroit would be thrilled to add a player of his caliber at 34.

Round 3, Pick 66: LB Brandon Smith

The news of Damone Clark needing spinal fusion surgery to repair a herniated disk takes one of the mid-round options off the table for a Lions team that needs immediate contributors at the position. Luckily, this draft has a couple of other options, but at this point, they won’t come without some work to do.

Penn State’s Brandon Smith is the new breed of linebacker that we’ve seen over the past few drafts. His size, 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds, and athletic profile at linebacker are incredibly unique and allow him to do things like line up for over 200 snaps in the slot as he did in 2020. Last season, the Nittany Lions put him at the MIKE and there was a learning curve Smith still needs to get the hang of before he becomes a three-down linebacker. But in the meantime, Smith’s athletic traits make him a potential special teams dynamo and a nickel-package piece for the team that drafts him.

Round 3, Pick 97: WR Wan’Dale Robinson

The Lions have some interest in Robinson, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see Holmes play things patiently when it comes to the wide receiver position. After re-signing both Josh Reynolds and Kalif Raymond, and bringing in DJ Chark, the Lions have a respectable group of pass-catchers, albeit a group that could still benefit from an upgrade.

Robinson was a pick in a previous mock of mine, but I think he makes even more sense now that Detroit has their ‘X’ receivers in Chark and Reynolds for the time being.

Round 5, Pick 177: TE Daniel Bellinger

Detroit’s addition of Garrett Griffin was the addition of a familiar body at a position of need. However, it doesn’t do much to alter their short-term or long-term plans to improve at the position.

Bellinger’s athleticism checks off a lot of boxes, but at San Diego State, he didn’t prove to be much of a threat as a pass-catcher. His mentality and aptitude as a blocker, however, is something he did display with the Aztecs. Pairing him with T.J. Hockenson might be the perfect landing spot for Bellinger as Dan Campbell and Ben Johnson look to utilize more two tight ends looks on offense.

Round 6, Pick 181: CB Marcus Jones

It’s unclear exactly how Detroit’s cornerback room will look come August with players like Jeff Okudah and Jerry Jacobs both recovering from injuries that cost them their 2021 season. Detroit did add Mike Hughes as a quasi-veteran to bolster the Lions’ depth at outside corner in case Okudah and Jacobs aren’t quite ready by the start of the season.

Houston’s Marcus Jones has some limitations to overcome in regards to his size, but clips like the one above show how his athleticism allows him to play bigger than his size. Jones also brings value in the return game, a spot currently held by Kalif Raymond, but definitely open for competition.

Round 6, Pick 217: OG Chris Paul

A developmental piece for offensive line coach Hank Fraley, Paul has the athleticism and build to be a guard at the next level, but he needs some more time to work on his technique.

The Lions did re-sign Evan Brown, and the team will return both Logan Stenberg and Tommy Kraemer, but Paul could impress in camp and make the team—or get aboard the developmental track on the team’s practice squad.

Round 7, Pick 234: WR Isaiah Weston

This late in the draft, you’re taking chances on players who your staff feels they can develop, but for many late-round draftees, being a contributor on special teams is the clearest route to making the roster.

Despite playing in the FCS, Weston’s size and speed leaves you wondering if, in the right situation, maybe he can become the next small-school success story. At this point in the draft, it’s worth the risk.

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