Lions get their quarterback in McShay's first mock


It's back like it never left: mock draft season. And it will be bigger and better than ever with the Lions set to make two first-round picks next April, currently including No. 1 overall.

At the top of the board, you can expect to hear these two names the most: Michigan DE Aidan Hutchinson and Oregon DE Kayvon Thibodeaux. Barring a late-season surge or a trade down by the Lions, one of those pass-rushers is likely ticketed for Detroit.

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And with the Lions' second first-round pick, acquired from the Rams in the Matthew Stafford trade and slated to fall somewhere from Nos. 20 to 32, you can expect to hear about quarterbacks and wide receivers -- and pretty much every position outside offensive line, tight end and running back. The Lions are 1-11-1. They have holes everywhere.

With the NFL season winding to a close and bowl games around the corner in college football, ESPN draft expert Todd McShay released his first mock of the season on Tuesday.

And with the first overall pick, the Lions take Hutchinson. They really can't go wrong.

Instead of reaching for a quarterback to fill their biggest hole, McShay says the Lions "need to take the best player available, and right now, that's Hutchinson."

"The production speaks for itself: He has 14.0 sacks, 73 tackles, 19 tackles for loss and a pair of forced fumbles, and he tends to play at his best in the biggest spots," writes McShay. "Detroit is in the bottom five in yards allowed per play, points allowed per game and sacks, and while Romeo Okwara, Julian Okwara, Trey Flowers and a host of others can be impact players, Hutchinson could be the guy on the edge for the Lions."

The Lions have actually been in the bottom five in the aforementioned categories two years running. And consider us skeptical about Trey Flowers' chances of being an impact player, given his higher chances of being hurt. As for the "host of others" who fit that description, uhm, who? Again: the Lions can't go wrong with Hutchinson, who just finished second in Heisman voting and won the Lombardi Trophy as the best lineman or linebacker in the nation.

McShay has Thibodeaux going No. 2 to the Texans, noting that "Thibodeaux actually has the better skill set" among the draft's top two defensive players, but "Hutchinson is just a consistent force on Michigan's defense and plays with more fire." The top five is rounded out by Alabama OT Evan Neal, LSU CB Derek Stingley Jr. and Purdue DE George Karlaftis.

McShay doesn't have a quarterback going in the top 10 for the first time since 2013. But he has four coming off the board from Nos. 12 to 19 -- Kenny Pickett (Pitt), Matt Corral (Ole Miss), Malik Willis (Liberty) and Desmond Ritter (Cincinnati) -- and a fifth going to Detroit at No. 25: Sam Howell of UNC.

"While this class lacks a surefire franchise guy, it does have plenty of high-upside passers who could become just that," writes McShay. "I actually like Howell a little more than Desmond Ridder. The UNC product reads the field well and shows good touch and timing on his throws."

The 6'1 Howell threw 23 touchdowns to nine picks and averaged 260 yards per game this season. He also put up 825 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground. If you're so inclined, you can catch him in the Duke's Mayo Bowl against South Carolina on Dec. 30.

All told, Howell posted some seriously impressive numbers over his three-year college career, including 10,000-plus passing yards and 91 touchdowns to 23 picks. The Lions could groom him under veteran Jared Goff, whose contract ensures he'll be in Detroit for at least another year.

"Jared Goff's dead money would fall from $30.5 million in 2022 to $10 million in 2023 and $5 million in 2024, so I wouldn't be surprised if Detroit drafts someone like Howell at the end of the first round to secure the fifth-year option and lets him learn behind Goff for a year before handing over the keys," writes McShay.

So, Hutchinson and Howell to the Lions on Day 1? Let the debates begin.

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