2022 NFL Draft: Here’s the perfect Lions draft plan, and it’s all about upside

With their loss to the Bears on Thanksgiving, their fifth one-score defeat of the season, the Lions became the first team to be mathematically eliminated from playoff contention in this amazingly parity-filled NFL season, so let’s talk draft for Dan Campbell’s squad. 

And, by the way, how can you not root for Campbell? He oozes passion for his Lions. And five one-score losses along with a tie in one season is a lot for any first-time full-time head coach, let alone one who wears his emotions on his sleeve. 

So what do the Lions have to do to turn those narrow defeats into victories in the future? Draft well, of course. They have two first-round picks in April and should get an extra third as a compensatory pick for the free-agent loss of Kenny Golladay

Let’s outline the absolute perfect plan on Day 1 and Day 2 of the draft for the Lions. 

Round 1 – Michigan EDGE Aidan Hutchinson

No joke, I had a write-up done on Oregon edge rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux. And he’d be one hell of a get for Detroit. But perfect? Not exactly. As someone firmly believing the Lions should aim for upside above all else in this draft, he’d be sensible. But Thibodeaux isn’t the only top-end prospect with massive upside. 

Hutchinson was famously No. 2 on Bruce Feldman’s “Freaks” list this summer. Athleticism. Check. He’s listed at 6-foot-6 and 265 pounds. NFL size. Check. He’s clearly powerful on film. Check. And the Michigan star has been tremendously productive. Check.

Hutchinson legitimately feels like the unicorn type of prospect who is both high ceiling and high floor. Even if he happens to never reach his max potential, the Lions will have a quality, three-down defensive end who occasionally moves the needle as a pass rusher.

Round 1 – Liberty QB Malik Willis

Willis is the precise type of quarterback prospect the Lions should prioritize in the draft. Hear me out on this. When a team is in position to draft a quarterback in Round 1, the goal should be to select someone who, in time, can become an All-Pro, MVP-caliber passer. Think — high ceiling > high floor. Now, you can easily find a draft analyst who feels differently. My thought — eventually, a quarterback will have to mask roster flaws, which is precisely when those high-ceiling traits come in handy. 

And, of course, high-ceiling quarterbacks often carry concerning low-floor distinctions. The built-in luxury of the latter? — yes, there is one — if low-floor quarterback prospect never develops, everyone will clearly know it, and moving on will be a cinch. The high-floor (and usually low ceiling) quarterbacks can keep you in no man’s land for years. Good enough to make the playoffs, but not quite good enough to win a Super Bowl

Willis epitomizes high ceiling, low floor. And two weeks ago, he had a rough outing against Louisiana, in which he completed 41.2% of his throws with two interceptions (and a pair of touchdowns). To many, that game derailed his chances to be a top half of the first round selection and/or indicated he’ll have a steeper learning curve once he’s in the NFL. 

And maybe there’s credence to those thoughts. Neither should bother the Lions. They’re at the ground floor of their rebuilding process. They’ve got nothing but time. And Jared Goff is probably Detroit’s starter next season — due to his contract. 

I wouldn’t even care if the Lions picked Willis with their first selection in Round 1. Because if you like/want a quarterback, don’t hope he falls to you. Go and get him. But we’re talking “perfect” draft scenario here for Detroit, and Willis being available when the Lions are ready to make their second pick in Round 1 would be the most ideal. Draft him, stay dedicated to the long game with Willis as he matures as a quarterback, and hopefully, he becomes a high-caliber franchise player.  

Round 2 – Nevada WR Romeo Doubs

My word the Lions need receiver help. Majorly. I know it, you know it, everyone knew it going into the season. In Round 2, Doubs would be a fun option to add a dynamic downfield element to Detroit’s offense. The Lions are currently last in the NFL with only 11 receptions of 25 or more yards this season. 

Doubs averaged 17.3 yards per reception in 2020. While his yards-per-catch average has dipped to 13.9 this year, Doubs has four outings with a long reception of 50 or more yards. Dude is a vertical master. Because he doesn’t have an imposing frame and didn’t run a variety of routes in Nevada’s wide open offense, it’s distinctly possible he’s available at the outset of Round 2. 

He’s exactly what the Lions need offensively. 

Round 3 – Virginia Tech CB Jermaine Waller 

The Lions secondary is nearly as much of a project as the receiver group, and Waller’s skill set is intriguing to play well on the perimeter in the NFL. At 6-1 and around 180 pounds he has an impressive frame — which has room for growth — to deal with slippery separation-based receivers. His suddenness pops on film.

In 2019, Waller had three picks and was super sticky in coverage. His 2020 campaign was marred by injuries. This season, the Virginia Tech star has hauled in four more interceptions and broken up five more. 

With Jeffrey Okudah experiencing a brutal rookie season that was followed by an injury-shortened 2021, Detroit must add more athletic outside cornerbacks to their defense, and Waller might be available in Round 3 because of the injuries in 2020 and the fact that he hasn’t been as dominant in man coverage this season.

Round 3* – Wyoming LB Chad Muma 

Muma is primed to ascend boards over the next few months as everyone gets to Wyoming’s film. He’s everywhere. Flying to outside runs, navigating through traffic to halt inside run plays, and most importantly, generating impact plays in coverage. 

The 6-3, 240-ish pound Muma has 129 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, three picks, and two pass breakups to date. Adding strength will be a must to defeat blocks on a regular basis in the NFL, but his coverage instincts and ball skills are exciting. And the Lions linebacker groups needs more excitement. 

He’s the ideal type of rangy, tough coverage-based linebacker who outproduces his draft position in today’s NFL.

*projected compensatory pick

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