ESPN gives Lions a quarterback in early NFL mock draft

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

The Detroit Lions are technically in the playoff hunt, a game out of the final spot in the NFC, but as the season enters its final quarter, national analysis is predictably ready to shift to mock draft season. 

With the Lions facing a brutal stretch of opponents the final four weeks, the team is far more likely to be drafting inside the top-10 than sneaking into the postseason. With that reality in mind, ESPN included the Lions in their mini-mock draft published Wednesday morning

ESPN's NFL draft analysts have the Lions selecting BYU quarterback Zach Wilson in an early mock draft.

And with the No. 9 selection in that projection, analysts Mel Kiper and Todd McShay have the Lions drafting BYU quarterback Zach Wilson. 

"Zach Wilson makes a lot of sense," McShay writes. "He's the most underrated quarterback in the entire class, and I think he will continue to rise as we get closer to April. (Matthew) Stafford has been playing well, but he turns 33 in the offseason, and this is an opportunity for the Lions to get their next QB."

Wilson, much like Joe Burrow a year earlier, has gone from a fringe prospect to one of the top players of the draft over the course of a single season. The dual-threat passer has completed 73% of his throws this season with 27 touchdowns to three interceptions, while rushing for eight additional scores. 

Once the Lions settle on a general manager and coach come January, the spotlight will quickly focus on Stafford's future with the franchise. Even he has said he's in wait-and-see mode

Drafted No. 1 overall in 2009, Stafford has posted prolific passing numbers during his 12 seasons with the franchise, setting nearly every meaningful franchise record for quarterback play. 

But, as McShay notes, Stafford turns 33 this offseason and will carry a $33 million cap hit in 2021. The Lions obviously could stick with the status quo, or even keep him on as a mentor to an heir apparent like Kansas City Chiefs and Baltimore Ravens did in recent seasons. 

If the Lions were to part with Stafford, they'd still be on the hook for nearly $20 million in dead cap space (but more than $13 million in savings overall). 

jdrogers@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers