ESPN's Mel Kiper explains why the Lions don't need to draft a quarterback
In his most recent mock draft, posted last week, ESPN analyst Mel Kiper has five quarterbacks coming off the board in the first nine picks. Even acknowledging the annual trend of teams desperate to fill that need above all others, this projection is more aggressive than nearly any other out there.
Yet among those franchises Kiper sees addressing quarterback, the Detroit Lions are not among them. He elaborated on why he doesn't foresee that possibility during a Monday conference call.
"Yeah, I would not consider a quarterback if I were the Lions," Kiper said. "I mean Jared Goff is a 26-year-old quarterback who has been to a Super Bowl, was off to the races, was (performing like) a great No. 1 pick overall and all that. Now, you've got people that are familiar with him, he's familiar with, in terms of the front office. To me, you build around the quarterback.
"That's been the issue with Matthew Stafford," Kiper continued. "He didn't have enough talent around him. Defensively, they always had issues, you know? They've been trying to fix the offensive line, get the right running back, have the receivers stay healthy, they added the tight end. They never had everything working together.
"They always would strengthen this group or that group, but because of injuries, players not living up to their potential, or whatever went awry, they were never able to put it all together for Matthew Stafford. So hopefully, with the new organization, they're able to do that for Jared Goff."
Earlier this offseason, the Lions agreed to send Stafford, the franchise's starter the past 12 seasons, to the Los Angeles Rams for Goff and a trio of draft picks. That move will become official March 17, the start of the new league year.
Goff, a two-time Pro Bowler, helped lead the Rams to the Super Bowl in 2018, but has struggled to maintain that standard the past two seasons. In 2019 and 2020, his yards per pass attempt decreased while his turnovers increased, forcing the Rams to look for an upgrade in Stafford.
With Goff, the Lions inherit a $28.2-million, fully guaranteed salary in 2021. And in 2022, at minimum, the team is responsible for $15.5 million of his $26.2-million cap hit — more if they end up restructuring his deal once the trade becomes official.
Kiper, who ranked Goff as his No. 1 quarterback and No. 5 overall prospect ahead of the 2016 draft, believes confidence is the key to righting the ship in Detroit.
"I think Jared Goff can be a good quarterback in this league," Kiper said. "Can he be super elite? Well, there was a time when he was considered one of the bright, young quarterbacks and a really good quarterback who had a chance to be great when he was leading that team to the Super Bowl. I think if he can kinda recapture those moments and get back the confidence that he had back then, that I think was maybe lost a little bit this year, then I think Jared Goff is the right man for the job."
In Kiper's mock draft, he actually has the Lions bailing out of the top-10, trading the No. 7 pick to San Francisco, moving down five spots and snagging Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons at No. 12.
During the conference call, Kiper seemed equally open to the idea of Detroit taking a different linebacker at that spot.
"(Parsons) is not necessarily going to be a 3-4 outside backer," Kiper said. "He could possibly do that, but I think his range against the run, tracking down quarterbacks that are mobile and fast, he can do all that. Is he better than Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah from Notre Dame in that area? As an open-field tackler Koramoah is the best I've seen in a long, long time. As a cover linebacker, he's one of the best I've seen in a long time. So that's a debate there, which one do you like better. They're both pretty close."
Of course, everyone knows predicting what will happen in the draft is difficult, and there's an added layer of absurdity when trying to then incorporate hypothetical trades, even if moving back appears to be an ideal scenario for Detroit.
So, what happens if the Lions can't find a taker and hang tight at No. 7? If it's not quarterback, do they just grab the linebacker at that spot? Kiper says no, that would be a poor use of that selection.
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"It's a little high for them at seven, so if you stay at seven, you wouldn't look at the linebacker, you'd look at a wide receiver," he said. "That would be the position where I think you'd get great value. Jaylen Waddle would be the pick, assuming Ja'Marr Chase and DeVonta Smith are gone. ... If one of those two were there, I'd take one of those two over Waddle. My ratings board, it's Smith, Chase, Waddle. You're pretty much, I don't want to say guaranteed, but it would look pretty good you'd get one of those three at seven, more than likely it would be Waddle."
Waddle, listed at 5-foot 10, 183 pounds, missed most of the 2020 season with a foot injury. During his college career, the speedster averaged 18.9 yards per catch on 106 receptions, scoring 17 times.