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ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. mocks quarterback to Lions with team's second first-round pick

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

Holding the No. 2 pick in the upcoming draft, don't expect much variety with the projections regarding who the Detroit Lions will be taking at that spot.

The overwhelming consensus opinion is the team will be taking one of the top two edge rushers in the class, either Michigan's Aidan Hutchinson or Oregon's Kayvon Thibodeaux. 

In his first mock draft of the year, ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. has the Lions snagging a Duck in the first round for the second consecutive year. 

"Thibodeaux, who was a No. 1 overall high school recruit, has elite upside," Kiper writes. "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. Thibodeaux had half as many sacks (seven) as Hutchinson this season, but he had the second-best pressure rate in the country (17.8%). Charles Harris, who led Detroit with 7.5 sacks this season, is a free agent, which makes this even more of a problem position."

While the direction of that early pick already feels like a formality, there's going to be plenty of debate about what the Lions should do with their second first-rounder, acquired from the Los Angeles Rams as part of last year's swap of starting quarterbacks

Heck, it won't even be known where the Lions are picking until the Rams are eliminated from the postseason (or go on to win the Super Bowl). For this projection, Kiper has the Lions selecting at No. 28, where he sees them taking North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell. 

ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. has the Lions selecting North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell with their second first-round draft pick.

"Howell is a tricky evaluation, and he could definitely drop to Round 2," Kiper writes. "He looked like a potential top-10 pick after his sophomore season in 2020. At the beginning of the 2021 season, though, he really struggled, and he put a lot of bad tape out there while throwing to a completely new set of pass-catchers. 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."

The quarterback conversation continues to be a layered one for Detroit. Jared Goff is under contract for three more seasons, with cap hits north of $30 million each of those years. There's no flexibility this upcoming season, but the team could get out from underneath the deal next offseason while only being responsible for $10 million in dead money. 

From a production standpoint, Goff was below-average during his first season with the Lions, finishing in the bottom half among starters in yards, touchdowns and passer rating. But coach Dan Campbell said the quarterback wasn't fully to blame for his early-season struggles, while unquestionably Goff finished on a high note, posting a passer rating of 107.1 with 11 touchdowns to just two interceptions his final five starts. 

With Howell, the Lions will get an up-close look at the former top prospect at next month's Senior Bowl, where he'll be working directly under the guidance of the team's coaching staff at the event. 

In the mock, Howell is the fourth quarterback drafted, behind Liberty's Malik Willis (No. 11), Pitt's Kenny Pickett (No. 18) and Mississippi's Matt Corral (No. 20). Also off the board before the Lions' selection are five wide receivers and the top two inside linebackers, Nakobe Dean and Devin Lloyd. 

As for Michigan products, not only does Kiper have Hutchinson going No. 1 overall to the Jacksonville Jaguars, the analyst also sees David Ojabo working his way into the top 10, going to the Giants at No. 7. 

"Ojabo can help the pass rush immediately," Kiper writes. "He had an incredibly impressive season, racking up 11 sacks and five forced fumbles while playing opposite my projected No. 1 pick, Aidan Hutchinson. He doesn't have Hutchinson's all-around game — he has to get better against the run — but as a pure pass-rusher, he has a very high ceiling."

Cincinnati cornerback Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner, a Detroit King product, is slotted to the Vikings at No. 12.


Twitter: @Justin_Rogers