The Detroit Lions are hoping this will be the last top 10 pick they have in the NFL Draft in some time after selecting in the draft's first 10 picks the last four seasons straight, including this year's No. 2 overall pick.
When a team is selecting in the first round of the draft, there's always a group of players that provide the best value for the pick, both at No. 2 and No. 32, which the Lions also own via the Los Angeles Rams.
"I would say that the cluster of players that we're looking at are very, very evenly rated and graded," Lions general manager Brad Holmes said of the No. 2 pick in particular last week. "Like I said, it's just what fits your team the best and what fulfills, who's the best football player, who may fill a need there or who's the best fit for the future and how you can be set up for success going forward."
This is a little bit of an odd draft year because there aren't the elite quarterbacks driving the top of the draft. In fact, it wouldn't be all that surprising if a quarterback isn't even selected in the top 10. It's a very deep draft, but it lacks a little star power at the top.
Looking at the Lions' pick at No. 2, there are probably four pass rushers, one cornerback and one safety prospect who would make the most sense for Detroit there.
Things open up considerably when talking about the Lions' selection at the end of the first round at No. 32. Continuing to add talent to the defense certainly makes sense, but adding a wide receiver could fit there too. Or maybe this is where Holmes likes one of the quarterback prospects?
Here's a look at 10 prospects that fit the Lions in the first round:
Pick No. 2:
1. Edge rusher Aidan Hutchinson, Michigan
Detroit needs to add some spark to a pass rush that finished near the bottom in the league in most pass-rush categories. Hutchinson is an extremely productive pass rusher. He enters the NFL with an advanced tool box of pass-rush moves and a motor that never quits. He set the Wolverines' single-season sack record (14.0) and also notched 16.5 tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery last season.
He's got terrific size and strength, which should allow him to move up and down the line in the NFL, playing a variety of different techniques, which should make things easier for defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn as he transitions from a 3-4 base defense to a 4-3 base in 2022.
Hutchinson is arguably the best pass rusher in this class. He grew up in Plymouth and went to Michigan. He's a homegrown player at a position of need. It makes all the sense in the world to be in the discussion for the Lions at No. 2 if he gets by the Jaguars at No. 1.
2. Edge rusher Jermaine Johnson II, Florida State
There hasn't been a player that's thoroughly dominated the Senior Bowl the way Johnson did this year since Aaron Donald did it in 2014.
Johnson had a solid Combine, reaffirming what he put on tape this past year – that he's one of the best edge rushers in this class.
Johnson is big, long, fast, and is coming off a junior season at Florida State where he notched 11.5 sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss to go along with 70 tackles. He plays the run just as well as he rushes the passer. He had five sacks in six games playing at Georgia in 2020 before transferring this past season. His size and strength will allow him to play in both odd and even fronts. When it's all said and done, he could end up being the best edge rusher in this class.
3. Edge rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux, Oregon
Thibodeaux has terrific athletic traits coming off the edge that made him a terrific pass rusher at Oregon, but also a player who could set the edge well in the run game. He might have the quickest first step of any the pass rushers in this year's class. He doesn't have as many pro-ready pass-rush moves as Hutchinson or Johnson at this point, but those will come with NFL coaching. Thibodeaux has a really high ceiling.
Holmes was at Thibodeaux's game against UCLA this past season where Thibodeaux had nine tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, two sacks and a forced fumble. The Lions have since done a lot of homework on Thibodeaux. He recorded 19.0 career sacks in 31 games and his 34.5 tackles for loss are the fifth most among active Power 5 players since the start of 2019.
4. Edge rusher Travon Walker, Georgia
After an eye-opening NFL Combine that saw Walker run the 40-yard dash in 4.51 seconds at 6-foot-5, 272 pounds, he put on another show at Georgia's pro day a few weeks later. Walker not only worked with his fellow defensive linemen, but he also showed off his versatility by taking part in linebacker drills. He made it look pretty easy.
The size, athletic traits and versatility should play well at the next level. He has the kind of size and athleticism that could allow him to line up anywhere from the three technique to the nine technique.
Walker only had six sacks playing on the stellar Georgia defense last year – but he's an above-average run defender and he has position versatility. His athletic traits might lead to more production at the pro level if a team puts him on the edge and lets him just get after the quarterback.
5. Safety Kyle Hamilton, Notre Dame
The Lions re-signed veteran Tracy Walker to a contract extension through the 2024 season, but he still needs someone to start next to him. That could be veteran DeShon Elliott, who was signed in free agency, but I'm sure the Lions would like to make that competition as tough as they can, while also improving their overall depth at safety.
Hamilton has a unique blend of size, instincts and ball skills that make him one of the best safety prospects we've seen in some time. Some worry about his straight-line speed (high 4.5 range), but speed isn't an issue when watching Hamilton on tape. He's got the size to be an enforcer over the middle like Kam Chancellor, but the range and ball skills to play a free safety role as well. He can come down and cover athletic tight ends and play in the box as an extra linebacker or safety. He has so much position versatility for a creative defensive coordinator.
Hamilton accumulated eight interceptions, 7.5 tackles for loss, and broke up 16 passes in 31 college games.
6. Cornerback Sauce Gardner, Cincinnati
Gardner is the consensus top cornerback in this year's NFL Draft with a terrific blend of size (6-3, 190), length and speed (4.41 40-yard dash). He didn't allow a touchdown in more than 1,000 career coverage snaps in college.
He's terrific at the line of scrimmage when using his long arms to jam receivers, but he can also accelerate and run with anyone. He's got terrific ball skills, recording nine interceptions (two for scores) over the last three seasons. He also recorded 4.5 tackles for loss and three sacks to go along with three interceptions and seven passes defended this past season for the Bearcats.
The Lions have good depth at cornerback, but like pass rushers, teams can never have too many good ones.
Pick No. 32:
7. Wide receiver Christian Watson, North Dakota State
Watson has an intriguing combination of size (6-4, 208) and speed (4.36 40-yard dash). He was one of the most explosive receivers in FCS football the past four seasons. He got an invite the Senior Bowl this offseason to play against better competition, and he was arguably the top receiver down in Mobile for the week.
Watson caught 43 passes for 801 yards (18.6 average) with seven touchdowns in 12 games this past season in a run-heavy offense. Between receptions, runs and kick returns, 32 percent of Watson's career touches gained 20-plus yards. He scored four touchdowns of 65-plus yards as a senior in 2021. Watson's height ranks in the 90th percentile for wide receivers in the NFL, while his 40-yard dash finished in the 92nd percentile and his broad jump in the 98th percentile.
8. Linebacker Nakobe Dean, Georgia
The 2021 Dick Butkus Award winner tallied 72 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss and was second on the team in sacks with six. He also recorded 31 QB hurries, six pass breakups and two interceptions. Talk about a player who can do it all. He was the heart and centerpiece for the record-setting Georgia defense this past season.
Dean is an instinctive and rangy linebacker with three-down ability at the pro level. He was a volume tackler at Georgia thanks to his speed and sure tackling ability. Even at his size, he was a big hitter in college, running through ball carriers. The Lions have depth at LB, but they're missing a little star power.
9. Safety Daxton Hill, Michigan
Hill was a jack-of-all-trades for the Wolverines' defense the last three years, but particularly this past season. Michigan listed Hill as a defensive back and not a safety for good reason. He played the slot, deep safety and came down and played in the box for the Wolverines. On top of all that position versatility, Hill is terrific in run support, which makes him one the best all-around defensive backs in this class. Some teams might view him as a safety, while others could see him playing cornerback.
He recorded 69 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and led Michigan in both passes defended (11) and interceptions (2) this past season. His ability to play a split safety role – which Detroit runs on defense – or come down and play in the slot will make him an attractive prospect for a lot of teams.
10. Safety Lewis Cine, Georgia
Cine is an aggressive and physical safety who likes to play downhill. He plays bigger than his size would indicate, and he earned a reputation as a big hitter and enforcer for Georgia's national championship defense last season. He has terrific athletic traits, running the 40 in 4.37 seconds with a 36.5-inch vertical and 133-inch broad jump at 6-foot-2 and 199 pounds. He led Georgia with nine pass breakups and 73 tackles and added an interception in 15 starts.
He can play the single-high safety spot or fit nicely in a split safety look. He's a versatile safety with a nice skillset to play all over the field early in his career.