Dan Campbell and the Detroit Lions coaching staff got a close and personal look at many draft prospects during the Senior Bowl and throughout the practice week in Mobile, Ala. The Lions have plenty of needs and two first-round picks to further build toward the future. However, one trade-down option could prove to be the most efficient solution for Detroit.
The Lions have the No. 2-overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, and they also own the pick of the Los Angeles Rams via the Matthew Stafford trade. Sending Stafford away meant a changing of the guard for Detroit as they continue to look for their next franchise quarterback.
Jared Goff was the starter in 2021, but he isn’t the long-term answer. Unlike drafts in recent years, there isn’t a quarterback prospect in this class that is the clear top prospect — or even second or third in line. You may have to go back to Goff’s draft class in 2016 for the last time a couple of teams “reached” to snag quarterbacks at the top just to get a quarterback instead of going with who most experts deemed to be the top overall prospects of that class. It’s a similar scenario in 2022, and it could see a path to where Detroit looks to move back.
Detroit needs the franchise quarterback, but they also need a lot more. Of course, it won’t matter in the long run unless they hit it right at the quarterback position.
Malik Willis raised plenty of eyebrows during the week in Mobile, including Campbell’s. He seemed to really like what he saw from the quarterback out of Liberty. However, he wouldn’t reveal too much to Tom Pelissero of NFL Network when Pelissero asked him directly how badly he wanted to draft the prospect from Liberty.
“I’m not answering that. I’m not answering that with anybody. I’m not giving up intel,” Campbell said. “I like a lot of players here and I do like him. He’s a good player.”
Earlier in the week, Campbell had nothing but good things to say about Willis.
“I think he throws a nice ball,” Campbell said. “I think he’s pretty athletic, he’s built better than — from afar you don’t know. That’s why, to see these guys up close, he’s a good-looking player. He’s built right, looks like he’s built to last. Shoot, he handled our playbook pretty dang good yesterday.”
If the stars are to align, the Lions could get their cake and eat it too.
Most agree that Kayvon Thibodeaux and Aidan Hutchinson will go one-two in the draft, in one order or the other. Maybe Evan Neal from Alabama sneaks into the frame, but either way, you’d be hard-pressed to find a mock draft that has a quarterback going anywhere in the top five. Mock drafts aren’t the be-all-end-all, but it would raise some eyebrows to see a quarterback go in the top three this year. A potential path could see the Lions trade back and out of the No. 2 spot, collect more draft capital, and then bank on Willis falling to them later in Round 1.
There’s some risk involved in hoping Willis is still available wherever they trade back to, but that’s all part of the draft experience.
Regardless of who’s playing quarterback in 2022 for the Lions, they’ll need more weapons at receiver. When Campbell was asked in that same bite from Pelissero what they will look for in the draft, Campbell mentioned a few positions but started with the wide receiver spot.
“I’m going to be as very generic as I can,” said Campbell. “Just upgrading in all areas, that’s where we need some help. Certainly, you’d like to add a receiver. You’d like to add a linebacker. You’d like to add a little depth at O-line and DB. So we’re just looking for help a little bit of everywhere.”
So how does this become a reality for Detroit, and where could the trade spot be at?
Perhaps either of the New York teams wants to slide up a bit. The Jets have picks No. 4 and No. 10 overall, while the Giants have No. 5 and 7. They could give the Lions the higher of their two picks, throw in a second- and a fourth-rounder, and call it a day. One team to watch is the Carolina Panthers, sitting at No. 6 and desperately needing a quarterback with Matt Rhule on the hot seat. Let’s say they snuck ahead of Detroit and took Willis. Kenny Pickett wouldn’t be a bad consolation prize.
In theory, Detroit could slide down from two, get Willis or Pickett, and then take a wide receiver like Drake London, David Bell, or Jameson Williams in the back end of the first round. The Lions get their guy at quarterback and get him a weapon all in the same round. They do all of it while also collecting a couple of valuable picks later in the same draft.
It may sound like fantasyland to some, but it’s not far-fetched when factoring in this draft class and the top overall prospects compared to the top quarterback prospects. Nobody in Detroit would be upset if the Lions could slide down and still snag their top option at quarterback and pair him with a wide receiver in the first round.