The NFL offseason has quieted down after a free agent frenzy, so the next few weeks will be full of waiting and anticipating for the Detroit Lions ahead of the big moments of the 2022 draft.
After the Lions have enjoyed a modest period of spending in free agency, it sets the draft up to be of utmost importance for the team heading into 2022, given it’s how the team is going to build up their roster for the future to sustain success.
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With help of The Draft Network’s simulator, our third mock of the 2022 offseason was put together, and it features the team doing some heavy lifting on one side of the ball that is seen as particularly needy heading into the draft.
Here’s a look at the latest mock of the offseason just after free agency has slowed down to a crawl in the quiet before the storm of draft week.
Round One, Pick Number Two – Aidan Hutchinson, Edge, Michigan
The Lions need big time help rushing the quarterback, and who better than a local prospect to help them in delivering it? In this mock, the Lions had their choice of either Hutchinson or Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux given Jacksonville went offensive line. Georgia’s travon Walker was still on the board as well. All are solid and Thibodeaux has major upside. Hutchinson, however, offers immediate production and nastiness to Detroit and is a local player.
This past year in college, his work has been even better than it was in the past. Hutchinson has put together a stellar regular season with 14 sacks, 58 tackles and 2 forced fumbles. He looked like one of the best defenders in college football throughout the second half of the season and has been a problem for whatever teams have lined up against him thus far.
Hutchinson hit the podium in New York as a Heisman Trophy finalist, and with the Lions, he could be expected to become the face of a new-look defense. He would perfectly embody the team’s spirit and Dan Campbell’s toughness on defense.
Round One, Pick 32 – Treylon Burks, Wide Receiver, Arkansas
While Burks may have lost a bit of his luster in the last few months with a lackluster combine performance, that doesn’t change his strong career playing for Arkansas, nor does it diminish what he managed to accomplish in 2021. Burks has been a player who has been able to put up numbers before, as evidence from his 2,399 yards and 18 touchdowns in college. Burks also rushed for 222 yards and 1 touchdown on 18 attempts.
Here’s a look at Burks’ highlights while in college:
A big-bodied wideout who can still move, Burks could end up being a value in a loaded wideout class if he falls at all like in this mock thanks to his production. With the Lions needing help in plenty of ways, it would not be shocking to see the Lions take a closer look at him in this scenario. At that point of the draft, Burks could represent a huge value for Detroit’s big-play starved offense. That’s why he’s the pick.
Round Two, Pick 34 – Nakobe Dean, Linebacker, Georgia
If the board fell like this for the Lions, they’d likely do cartwheels up to the podium to grab Dean, one of the top linebackers in the draft. Many expect Dean to be gone perhaps much earlier earlier, but in this simulation, he plummeted into the second-round where the Lions snap him up. It might make sense if this played out, too, given Dean visited Detroit pre-draft as well.
Dean had a solid career with the Bulldogs putting up 168 tackles, 7.5 sacks, 2 interceptions and 7 passes defended to go with 3 forced fumbles. The tape shows what an explosive athlete he is:
By drafting Dean, the Lions would have effectively shored up one of their biggest holes from the 2021 season at linebacker. Pairing him with Derrick Barnes could make for a very formidable duo in a few years as the pair learns the league together. It still feels like Detroit would be lucky if Dean fell, but that situation is playing out within many mocks and simulations now, making it a bit more likely than it first seemed in February or March.
Round Three, Pick 66 – Brian Asamoah, Linebacker, Oklahoma
The linebacker is one of the most explosive players in the class given his combination of speed and athleticism, and whatever team picks Asamoah will have to find a way to harness his talent. Statistically, Asamoah is a guy who has the ability to put up numbers as his career has shown. With Oklahoma, Asamoah put up 168 stats and 5 sacks to go with 12 tackles for loss. He also visited the Lions pre-draft, so there is interest there.
Here’s a look at some of his highlights while playing for the Sooners:
The Lions have to like this kind of playmaker for their defense, and watching the clips, it’s easy to see why he might make plenty of sense for the team. If Detroit loads up at linebacker, nobody could blame them given their deficiencies at the position recently.
Round Three, Pick 97 – Coby Bryant, Cornerback, Cincinnati
Perhaps the best name in the class, Bryant would come to Detroit with a little “Mamba Mentality” of his own off a solid career with the Bearcats. He might not be Sauce Gardner, but he is not shabby, either. During the Senior Bowl, the Lions got an up-close look at Bryant, and had to come away impressed with what the gritty corner was able to do. In his career with Cincinnati, Bryant put up 170 tackles and 9 interceptions. Here’s a look at his tape:
Detroit needs some cornerback help and Bryant will add to the depth of a young group that could be on the verge of breaking out in the years ahead. Spending another third-round pick on the position could prove to be a smart investment in time.
Round Five, Pick 177 – Leon O’Neal Jr., Safety, Texas A&M
The Lions have lacked some nasty for quite a while on defense, and O’Neal is perhaps the one player best suited to help in that revival in this draft class at safety. Detroit needs some thump and a player who is capable of covering ground, which is just what O’Neal did in his time with the Aggies, to go with some big hits. Statistically, he put up 161 tackles and 6 interceptions in his career along with 12 passes defended. More important than that was the edge and mentality he plays with.
O’Neal probably goes higher than the fifth-round, but the Lions could nab him with a middle-round pick and shore up plenty of their issues over the middle of the field. He’d be a great developmental prospect for Aaron Glenn and Aubrey Pleasant. Detroit has added nothing at safety in free agency, making it a virtual-must that the team pick up someone in the draft. In this case, O’Neal could be the perfect someone for the team.
Round Five, Pick 181 – Thomas Booker, Defensive Line, Stanford
Booker may be surging a bit on draft boards, so this could represent a stroke of luck if the Lions were able to end up with the gritty prospect who is a solid athlete for the middle of their defensive line. The Lions are likely expecting Levi Onwuzurike and Alim McNeill to continue in their development, but why not add a running mate? Booker, when healthy, has looked like an elite player for the Cardinal statistically in college, putting up 159 tackles, 9.5 sacks, 20.5 tackles for loss and 1 interception in his college career.
Booker along with Hutchinson and other young Lions up front would give the team something to build around for the future. Detroit would be lucky to nab him this low, but if it happens, it would represent a huge value for Detroit in the future.
Round Seven, Pick 217 – Connor Heyward, Tight End, Michigan State
After signing Garrett Griffin, the Lions might need one more addition to the position. The team needs depth badly and another local prospect provides it late. The son of former Pittsburgh legend Craig “Ironhead” Heyward and current Steelers star Cameron Heyward has good NFL bloodlines and would fit the mold of what the Lions are trying to build from a toughness standpoint. He also has great stats, with 825 rushing yards and 5 touchdowns to go with 711 receiving yards and 6 touchdowns. Here’s a look at one of his best plays of the 2021 season:
Heyward could be a sneaky good addition to the Lions, and could help improve the team’s depth at tight end as well as offer a potential dual role for the offense. He seems to fit what Campbell and the staff is about already, which could put him firmly on the team’s radar for the draft.
Round Seven, Pick 239 – Luke Wattenberg, IOL, Washington
Detroit’s offensive line has been rejuvenated in recent seasons, and looks to be strong. Why not add one more piece late that could end up making it even stronger for the future? Wattenberg is solid against the pass, but could show as a road-grading run blocker. This fits what Hank Fraley, Dan Campbell and company want to see from their offensive lineman. Most players taken late in the seventh-round become projects, and Wattenberg would have a long road to make the team and stick it out given what is on the roster ahead of him, but has plenty of upside. Here’s a look at some highlights:
Wattenberg has position versatility up front which is significant for Detroit. As late gambles go for the offensive interior, this could be a good one for Detroit.