Lions take a 'no-brainer' and future QB in Kiper's first mock

97.1 The Ticket
97.1 The Ticket

The NFL Draft is still more than three months away, which leaves us plenty of time for debate. There's no debating this: the Lions can take an elite pass-rusher with the No. 2 pick.

Question is, Michigan's Aidan Hutchinson or Oregon's Kayvon Thibodeaux?

The popular opinion was originally Hutchinson, but that was when the Lions were still slated to pick first. Now that they're picking second, Thibodeaux feels like their guy.

That's how ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. sees it in his first mock of the year, released on Wednesday. After sending Hutchinson to Jacksonville, Kiper sends Thibodeaux to Detroit.

Pointing out that the Lions "could use talent upgrades at several positions," Kiper says it's a "no-brainer to take Thibodeaux or Hutchinson here, whoever is still on the board."

One of the top recruits in the country in 2019, the 6'5 Thibodeaux has "elite upside," according to Kiper, evidenced by the second best pressure rate in the country last season.

"His get-off at the snap is lightning-quick, and though he's still developing secondary pass-rush moves, he doesn't need them when he can blow by offensive tackles before they're out of their stance," Kiper writes.

Considering the Lions just finished third to last in the NFL in sacks and their sack leader, Charles Harris, is about to become a free agent, they can't go wrong with a pass rusher at No. 2.

Now here's where things get interesting.

Detroit's second first-round pick, courtesy of the Matthew Stafford trade, will fall somewhere from No. 25 to No. 32, depending where the Rams finish in the playoffs. A number of quarterbacks are expected to come off the board in the back half of the first round, most of whom the Lions will have coached at the Senior Bowl. Quarterback remains a long-term need for Detroit, even with Jared Goff under contract through 2024.

Kiper thinks the Lions pounce at No. 28, where they're projected to pick based on ESPN's Football Power Index.

With fellow QB's Malik Willis, Kenny Pickett and Matt Corral off the board, Kiper echoes his colleague Todd McShay and sends UNC's Sam Howell to the Lions.

Kiper says he's "not sold on Goff being Detroit's guy past 2022, so why not take a quarterback flier here with the pick it got from the trade with the Rams?"

"By taking Howell in Round 1, the Lions would get his fifth-year option, which means they could hand over the reins in 2023. Yes, they have a lot of needs, but if they think they can get their future starting signal-caller, they should pounce," Kiper writes.

Howell entered last season as a potential top-10 pick, but his stock took a bit of a hit after a less prolific year passing the ball. Still, he finished his college career with well over 10,000 passing yards and 92 touchdowns to 23 picks. He also rushed for over 800 yards and 11 touchdowns this season. Kiper admits that "Howell is a tricky evaluation, and he could definitely drop to Round 2" after he struggled at the start of 2021.

"He put a lot of bad tape out there while throwing to a completely new set of pass-catchers," Kiper writes. "He settled back in and improved down the stretch, finishing with 24 touchdown passes and nine picks, plus 11 rushing scores. He throws a beautiful deep ball and has tremendous touch on passes."

Goff has said he's open to the Lions drafting a quarterback this year, if that's what they feel is best for the team. Howell could spend a year under the wing of a two-time Pro Bowler who's been to the Super Bowl before ideally taking over in 2023, at which time the Lions could move on from Goff at a dead cap cost of just $10 million -- compared to $30.5 million in 2022.

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