While no consensus has emerged on who the Detroit Lions should draft if Aidan Hutchinson is off the board, ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said in a video conference Wednesday the second pick is too high for the Lions to consider taking a quarterback.
“I would say no on the quarterback, because the quarterbacks for me, you go by your rankings are 18, 19, 21, 28, so if you’re picking in the top 10 it’s way too rich for me,” Kiper said.
Kiper, who gave Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton to the Lions in his latest mock draft, ranks Liberty’s Malik Willis as his No. 1 quarterback prospect, followed by Pitt’s Kenny Pickett, Ole Miss’ Matt Corral and Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder.
He projects Willis, Pickett and Corral to go in Round 1, with the New Orleans Saints taking the first quarterback (Pickett) at No. 18.
“I just talked to some of my friends in the league who don’t need quarterbacks, but they don’t have quarterbacks ranked in the top 10, either,” Kiper said. “But it only takes, obviously, the teams that need quarterbacks to believe that.”
Willis, who the Lions coached at the Senior Bowl, is the only quarterback potentially worthy of a top-10 pick, Kiper said, because of his upside.
An Auburn transfer, Willis threw for 2,857 yards and 27 touchdowns and had another 878 yards rushing with 13 TDs last season.
He had nearly 3,200 total yards in 10 games and accounted for 34 touchdowns as a junior, but was a 62% passer in his Liberty career and threw 12 interceptions last season while playing mostly against low-level FBS competition.
Willis earns high marks from scouts for his leadership traits and personality and he played well for the Lions at the Senior Bowl, but is considered a year away from starting.
“Is eight (to the Atlanta Falcons) too high for Malik Willis after (his pro day) and after the way he — obviously he interviews unbelievable,” Kiper said. “He’s got the rocket arm. I compared him (on Tuesday) to, he’s kind of a right-handed version of Michael Vick in a lot of ways, so I could see that. I could definitely see Carolina at six, Atlanta at eight, Seattle at nine taking Malik Willis.
“He would be the one because you’re rolling the dice on talent, you’re betting on the talent and that’s what’s happened with Josh Allen, with Justin Herbert, talent has won out. They weren’t the first quarterbacks taken. Allen was the third (in the 2018 draft), Justin Herbert was the third (in 2020) and they’ve been better than the guys, a lot better than the guys that went ahead of them because of talent. They were a little raw, but they had great talent. Same thing with Malik, so I could see that happening.”
The Lions, coming off a 3-13-1 season, have three of the draft’s first 34 picks and remain in need of a long-term solution at the quarterback position.
Jared Goff, who finished strong after a change in offensive play callers midway through the year, should be the team’s starter this fall, but the Lions have an out in his contract after the season and no other signal callers under contract beyond 2022.
Kiper, who projected Corral to the Lions with the 32nd pick in his last mock, said there’s an 80% to 90% chance Hutchinson goes No. 1 overall to the Jacksonville Jaguars, which would leave the Lions picking between Hamilton, cornerback Ahmad Gardner, pass rushers Kayvon Thibodeaux, Travon Walker and Jermaine Johnson, and the draft’s best offensive tackles.
No safety has been gone in the top five since Eric Berry went fifth overall to the Kansas City Chiefs in 2010, or the top two since the Cleveland Browns took Eric Turner second overall 31 years ago.
But Kiper said Hamilton is “a unique, rare talent” who could break that mold.
“Kyle Hamilton can do anything you want a safety to do,” Kiper said. “He runs, he plays a lot faster than that 4.59(-second 40-yard dash speed he showed at the NFL combine). He’s got incredible length, athletic ability. He has really good instincts. He tackles well. Eight career interceptions and he missed seven games this past year or he would have probably had 10 career interceptions or more. So I think he is a guy, I think for the way the game’s played today, he’s a guy defensive coordinators are going to really like.”