Lions Take Oregon DE Kayvon Thibodeaux, North Carolina QB Sam Howell In Mel Kiper%EF%BF%BD%EF%BF%BD%EF%BF%BDs First Mock Draft


It’s officially NFL mock draft season. Mel Kiper dropped his first go-round of the year by sending Michigan star Aidan Hutchinson to the Jacksonville Jaguars at Pick 1.

Kiper, the longtime ESPN draft analyst, had Oregon pass rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux at Pick 2 and North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell to the Detroit Lions at Pick 28. His ESPN cohort Todd McShay also had the Lions getting Howell through their second first-round pick in his first mock draft of the season.

Detroit’s defense certainly could use the type of athleticism and game-breaking talent that Thibodeaux projects to possess off the edge. The Lions allowed the second-most points per game (27.5) while winning three times. They allowed 4.4 yards per rush attempt while quarterbacks carved them for a league-high 7.2 net passing yards per attempt. Charles Harris led the team with 7.5 sacks and 52 pressures. Those pressures were 31 more than anyone else on the roster. Trey Flowers was limited to seven games and could be a cap causality this offseason. Romeo Okwara played just four games after suffering a season-ending Achilles injury. Harris is scheduled to be a free agent. With that said, edge defender is an obvious need heading into Year 2 of this rebuild.

“That’s why it’s a no-brainer to take Thibodeaux or Hutchinson here, whoever is still on the board,” Kiper writes. “Thibodeaux, who was a No. 1 overall high school recruit, has elite upside. His get-off at the snap is lightning-quick, and though he’s still developing secondary pass-rush moves, he doesn’t need them when he can blow by offensive tackles before they’re out of their stance. Thibodeaux had half as many sacks (seven) as Hutchinson this season, but he had the second-best pressure rate in the country (17.8%).”

Related: NFL mock draft roundup: Aidan Hutchinson vs. Kayvon Thibodeaux at Pick 2; QBs popular with second selection


Aidan Hutchinson tops Mel Kiper’s first NFL mock draft; David Ojabo cracks top 10

No matter your feelings toward Hutchinson, the hometown hero for some, nothing about Thibodeaux screams consolation prize. He’s a 6-foot-5, 250-pound athletically-gifted pass rusher that has room to grow when it comes to technique and actual moves. Thibodeaux still posted seven sacks while working through an ankle injury this past season. He notched 19 sacks across three seasons at Oregon. The junior remained among Pro Football Focus’ top-graded edge rushers in the country while posting 46 pressures.

Thibodeaux is regularly ranked behind Hutchinson in overall prospect rankings, with Alabama offensive tackle Evan Neal working his way into the top of the discussion in recent weeks.

“Oh, he’s very athletic. He gave me a run for my money, come practice days. It was a battle,” Lions right tackle and former Oregon standout Penei Sewell said last year. “Shoot, off paper, you could argue he has it all. I think the message out on him is the same as I kind of went through, which was technique. He’s got to lock into those things, and that will make you better as a player. Make you successful.”

Kiper’s move to send Howell to Detroit is interesting after Jared Goff’s strong finish. Goff was ultra-sharp through his final five games of the season. Lions coach Dan Campbell and general manager Brad Holmes gave Goff serious props for his finish to the year as well.

Goff completed nearly 70% of his passes while throwing 11 touchdowns to only two interceptions in that span. With that strong finish and the fact Detroit would be on the hook for about $30.5 million in dead money if it moved on from Goff this offseason. It’s more than easy to envision No. 16 back under center in 2022. Goff’s dead money falls to $10 million in 2023 and $5 million in 2024, making him more expendable down the road.

Howell slumped in 2021. He went from the top of the board to in the mix with four other quarterbacks for Round 1. It’s worth noting Howell is on Detroit’s roster for the week down at the Senior Bowl in Mobile.

Kiper had Liberty quarterback Malik Willis off the board first to Washington at Pick 11. He then sent Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett to New Orleans at Pick 18 and Ole Miss’ Matt Corrall to the Steelers at Pick 20. Howell was next in line, with Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder falling to Day 2 in this mock.

“Howell is a tricky evaluation, and he could definitely drop to Round 2,” Kiper said. “He looked like a potential top-10 pick after his sophomore season in 2020. At the beginning of the 2021 season, though, he really struggled, and he put a lot of bad tape out there while throwing to a completely new set of pass-catchers. He settled back in and improved down the stretch, finishing with 24 touchdown passes and nine picks, plus 11 rushing scores. He throws a beautiful deep ball and has tremendous touch on passes.”

Javonte Williams and Michael Carter were gone from North Carolina’s backfield in 2021. Receivers Dazz Newsome and Dyami Brown were gone too. The junior threw for 3,056 yards with 24 touchdowns and nine interceptions without those weapons. His touchdowns, yards and completion percentage (62.5%) were down from his impressive 2020. He upped his rushing game and then some, though. Howell ran for 828 yards and 11 touchdowns this past campaign after coming into the year with only 181 rushing yards through his previous 25 games.

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