ESPN Draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. released his mock draft 2.0 this week. He has the Lions selecting Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa with the No. 3 overall pick. Kiper, in his explanation of the pick, said that trades are not factored into his selection. He admitted that's a possibility with Tagovailoa and the Lions at No. 3.
"The Lions say they're not shopping quarterback Matthew Stafford, but there is some buzz that they like Tagovailoa, who might not work out for teams before April's draft because of his hip injury. Is that just a smoke screen? We're still two months away from the draft, of course. Stafford's contract is extremely tough to trade in 2020 – the team could have up to a $32 million dead-cap hit – but what if Detroit likes Tagovailoa so much that it keeps Stafford on the roster for another year?
"This pick also seems like the perfect spot for a team to trade up to get a quarterback, whether that's Tagovailoa, Justin Herbert or someone else. Could the Chargers or Raiders or Jaguars move up to jump the Dolphins at No. 5 and get their guy? Everything is in play here, and since I'm not going to project trades, I'll stick with Tagovailoa at No. 3."
Tagovailoa has been one of the best quarterbacks in college football the last two seasons, but durability has been a bit of an issue. He suffered two severe ankle injuries and was knocked out of the 2019 season prematurely with a serious hip injury that required surgery he's still rehabbing from.
Stafford was playing at a Pro Bowl level before a back injury ended his 2019 season. At the time of his injury Week 9 in Oakland, Stafford was second in the NFL in touchdowns (19), fourth in yards (2,499), fifth in passer rating (106.0) and first in 20-plus-yard completions (41). Stafford played in 136 consecutive games before missing the Chicago game Week 10. Stafford is signed through the 2022 season.
Some have suggested the Lions select Tagovailoa and have him learn under Stafford for a season. Others think the Lions will be better served by boosting the roster around Stafford.
What the Lions decide to do will be the subject of much speculation over the next couple months.
As expected, Kiper said the medicals surrounding Tagovailoa are going to be critical to where he ultimately ends up, whether that's top five, top 10 or falling into the teens somewhere if medical personnel don't fully sign off.
Kiper took part in a national conference call Wednesday to coincide with the release of his second mock draft. Here are some of the highlights from that call:
- Kiper is really high on Ohio State cornerback Jeff Okudah, who he said will have a similar grade to Patrick Peterson when he was coming out of LSU in 2011. Okudah will probably end up having the second-highest grade among defenders from Kiper in this draft behind Ohio State teammate and edge rusher Chase Young. Okudah makes sense for the Lions at No. 3, and Kiper doesn't see him getting past the New York Giants at No. 4.
- This could be one of the deeper and most talented wide receiver classes in draft history. Kiper thinks five receivers could be taken in the first round, another eight in the second round and potentially 18-20 pass catchers in the first three rounds altogether.
- Kiper thinks the Lions at No. 3 and Giants at No. 4 are sitting on gold mine picks for teams that want to move up ahead of Miami (at No. 5) for a quarterback.
- Asked about a couple local University of Michigan players, Kiper thinks center/guard Cesar Ruiz is a solid first-round pick, pass rusher Joshua Uche is a second-round pick with the potential to climb into the late part of the first round because pass rushers are so coveted. He thinks Ben Bredeson is potentially the best pure guard in the draft and a solid third-round selection.