What if the Lions did the unthinkable?
The 2019 NFL Scouting Combine has concluded and the Pro Day circuit is in full swing already. With that comes the beginning of free agency and the period of time where we all talk about who our favorite teams have met with in the draft and what it all means.
The Detroit Lions have drafted two quarterbacks in the past eight drafts and both in the sixth round. They have thrown their full support behind starting Quarterback Matthew Stafford. The team would take a massive cap penalty if they were to try to move on from him, and the 2019 draft class is considered pretty weak at the position.
Still, some fans have simply had enough and want not-Matthew Stafford to quarterback the team in 2019 and beyond, so I decided to take a look at what it would look like if the Lions did decide to move on a year earlier than makes sense. So to kick off my first full mock draft of the 2019 season, I’m taking that hypothetical to its full, logical conclusion. Starting with...
Round 1, 8th overall
Dwayne Haskins, QB, Ohio State
Kyler Murray gets all the headlines, good or bad, but the most deserving quarterback to be selected first in this class is Dwayne Haskins. He doesn’t have the athletic ability that Murray has, but he is leaps and bounds ahead in terms of pre-game preparation and reading the field. Haskins only has one full season as a starter, but he completed 70 percent of his pass attempts for over 4,800 yards and 50 touchdowns with only eight interceptions.
Part of why this QB class is considered weak is the lack of experience and true, certain upside, and Haskins is a good example of both. Only a single season of experience makes it tough to gauge whether his tape truly warrants the selection and questions exist about whether he can work the deep and intermediate part of the field since his offensive scheme was predicated around the short passing game. If the Lions make the decision to move on from Matthew Stafford, and that begins with a new QB to groom for a year, Haskins is the best choice to take up that mantle. In this particular mock, Kyler Murray was taken before the eighth pick, but even if he were there, Haskins would be the selection if they go quarterback.
Round 2, 43rd Overall
Amani Oruwariye, CB, Penn State
Drafting a weapon to help Dwayne Haskins acclimate to the NFL is a priority, as is trying to find someone to take over T.J. Lang’s eventually vacated spot at right guard. But staring at my No. 1 ranked cornerback at 43rd overall was too good to pass up.
Oruwariye is similar in size, athletic ability, and style to current Lions starter and Pro Bowl corner Darius Slay, so just imagine lining up two of them. Oruwariye is likely to face the same kind of NFL introduction as Slay, which means the growing pains will sting while he gets up to pro speed. Once he’s caught up, I see the Lions secondary as a possible strength for a long time to come.
Round 3, 88th Overall
Kahale Warring, TE, San Diego State
The proverbial cat is out of the bag with Kahale Warring after a very strong showing at the NFL Combine, and he won’t be easy to keep out of Round 2 consideration. Today, however, he was still available in Round 3 so the Lions pick up one of the most athletic receiving options in a class chock full of them. Warring would have the advantage of working with a pro like Matthew Stafford before Haskins takes over the reigns, so he can develop his timing before taking on the full-time starting role in 2020.
Round 4, 111th Overall
Damien Harris, RB, Alabama
Round 4 and no edge rusher, no guard, and no receiver. I suspect that after the Combine, the running backs who didn’t crap the bed completely during drills and measurements will see their stock rise, so it’s just as likely that Harris will be long gone by this point. If he isn’t, I would expect the Lions to take advantage of a steady presence who knows how to follow his blocks like Damien Harris. Harris may not have the same upside as... well, nobody in this class, but the team is just going to need someone to share a backfield with Kerryon Johnson and help keep the big dog healthy.
Round 5, 146th Overall
Darius Slayton, WR, Auburn
The pick here was going to be Keelan Doss, a receiver out of UC-Davis who the Lions have already shown interest in, fits the team’s offensive philosophy, and is just the type of guy to take the role they expected TJ Jones to take. He was taken a pick before, so I decided to go a different route and take Darius Slayton out of Auburn.
I made the pick not just because his name would make it a funny addition to the squad, but I’d be lying if I didn’t chuckle as I took the pick. A deep threat who averaged more than 20 yards per catch, Slayton would be the perfect utility piece to Darrell Bevell’s offense and would provide Dwayne Haskins with a long-term option down the field.
Round 6, 184th Overall
Anthony Nelson, DE, Iowa
I was stunned that Nelson showed up while I was making my selection in the sixth round, having expected him to go several rounds before. Before the Combine, if you were looking for a perfect prototype to play defensive end in a Matt Patricia and Paul Pasqualoni defense, Anthony Nelson would have to be at or pretty close to what you were imagining. After the Combine? Nelson was one of the only pass rushers there who managed to run a sub 7.00 3-Cone. That benchmark is the most predictive single metric we have for finding out who can hit quarterbacks the hardest, the fastest, and this dude still sits in the sixth round? Easy call. Nelson likely fits right into the rotation with recently re-signed Romeo Okwara.
Round 6, 204th Overall
Miles Boykin, WR, Notre Dame
Boykin was one of the stars of the Combine, though his performance got a bit overshadowed by D.K. Metcalf’s. Still, getting a premier athlete in the later rounds is rare, and it’s not an opportunity to be thrown to the wayside when it’s there. Adding a player like Boykin, in addition to Slayton and Warring before, would allow the Lions to completely retool their offensive weaponry while giving them all time to grow together as a unit when the new quarterback takes over.
Round 7, 224th Overall
Sione Takitaki, LB, Brigham Young
Takitaki showed out in the East-West Shrine game after a strong week of practice and did well enough to be called up to the Senior Bowl. He was one of the 18 linebackers who measured out as an elite athlete at the Combine, so the question of ability isn’t really a problem. Takitaki has a bit of a troubled past, with multiple issues early in his college career, but once he got married in 2016 his whole life changed, and he turned it all around to finish his career as a team captain at BYU. In any event, he would provide some depth in a linebacking corps that lacked both quality depth and any sort of developmental youth.
Round 7, 229th Overall
Hjalte Froholdt, OG, Arkansas
The Lions have seemed like they want to develop offensive linemen, but have not been able to. That doesn’t mean they stop trying, and this draft gives them the a ‘ball of clay’ type of player that they can build into either a starter or a rotational player just as Joe Dahl may be departing. Froholdt is a superb athlete, but he lacks the mean streak that you usually see out of Arkansas linemen. Being able to develop behind a former teammate like Frank Ragnow could do wonders for him, however, and having someone to take over either an eventual starting role or a depth spot long term provides great value this late in the draft.
So there you have it. The Lions grab a quarterback to take over for Matthew Stafford in 2020 and beyond. After looking at the Arizona Cardinals current situation, I was in a bit of a pickle. It’s one thing to get a new quarterback, but if you don’t surround them with the talent to be successful, you end up looking at another possible top-10 quarterback the next year. As much as we, the fans, want to see the Lions finally fix their defense, it doesn’t make any sense to pick up a new quarterback and have him face the same weakened offense the team put on the field with Stafford in 2018.
In this draft, we got a new signal caller, multiple new weapons and depth, and the change to reload the defense with 2020. This isn’t something I expect to happen. In all seriousness, if the Lions are moving on from Stafford, it’s going to start with the 2020 class. If they don’t, however, you’d better be prepared for an offensive heavy 2019 draft.