Which potential Detroit Lions first-round draft picks would make fans happy (or angry)?

Nobody knows what to expect from Lions at No. 2 overall

Malik Willis #QB16 of the Liberty Flames throws during the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on March 03, 2022 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Justin Casterline, 2022 Justin Casterline)

DETROIT – The NFL draft is a bit of a cruel tease for Detroit Lions fans.

They start looking forward to draft day a few weeks into the regular season, but by the time the pick is announced, they usually end up just as frustrated as they were during the season.

From Joey Harrington to Jarrad Davis to Jahlani Tavai to Eric Ebron to Jeff Okudah to Teez Tabor to -- OK, you get the point. The Lions have a history of whiffing on high draft picks, and even when they do make the right selection, it rarely translates to playoff success.

But Lions fans have remained loyal, and after Brad Holmes put together a strong first draft class in 2021, this town is excited to see what he does as an encore.

His first and most important decision will be who to take with the No. 2 overall selection. The Jacksonville Jaguars are expected to take Michigan star Aidan Hutchinson with the first pick, and that leaves the Lions in a bit of a strange spot.

Who in this class is worthy of pick No. 2?

It feels like after Hutchinson, there’s a deep pool of players who either belong in the 10-20 range of the first round or don’t fit the Lions’ needs. Holmes would love to trade down and acquire more picks, but it’s hard to see any other general managers paying to move into that spot.

So the question this year is: Which first-round picks would satisfy Lions fans, and which would make them angry?

Kyle Hamilton

  • College: Notre Dame
  • Position: Safety

Hamilton is widely considered one of the most talented players in the draft class, but there’s been a lot of, “You can’t take a safety in the top two” chatter around Metro Detroit.

Hamilton is a big, versatile defensive player who fits a position of need for the Lions, and he was one of the most productive players in college football before going down with a knee injury midway through the season.

So why does it feel like nobody wants to see him in the Honolulu Blue?

Kayvon Thibodeaux

  • College: Oregon
  • Position: Edge rusher

When the Lions were battling for the No. 1 overall pick during the 2021 season, Thibodeaux was the name most often mentioned as the reward. So how could anyone be angry about the Lions ending up with that player?

Well, Thibodeaux’s stock has taken a small hit since then, mostly because of his size and questions about motor and personality. There were even reports that head coach Dan Campbell is completely against having Thibodeaux in his locker room.

But Jarrad Davis and Teez Tabor were supposed to be part of the “high-character rebuild,” and that sure didn’t work out. Fans would have to be satisfied with getting the most physically gifted edge rusher in the draft, right? Right!?

Sauce Gardner

  • College: Cincinnati
  • Position: Cornerback

The Local 4 newsroom was riled up when a recent mock draft had the Lions taking a Group of Five cornerback at No. 2 overall.

As a four-year starter at Cincinnati, Gardner never allowed a touchdown catch. That’s insane. He’s big enough, fast enough and talented enough to be a difference-maker at cornerback.

But like with Hamilton, there’s some question about whether the No. 2 pick should be used in the secondary, especially since the Lions whiffed on Okudah just two years ago at third overall.

George Karlaftis

  • College: Purdue
  • Position: Edge rusher

Why isn’t anyone talking about Karlaftis and the Lions? He’s an elite edge rusher expected to go in the first half of round one, so it seems like there should be some chatter here.

Karlaftis was a five-star prospect who went to a Big Ten school and provided top-notch production. He doesn’t have great size, but he also doesn’t have effort or personality concerns. Would fans be angry just because Karlaftis isn’t a popular name atop mock drafts, or would they trust Holmes to pick out the best edge rusher beyond Hutchinson?

Travon Walker

  • College: Georgia
  • Position: Edge rusher

Maybe Walker will be a superstar in the league, but even so, it would be the most Lions move ever to find the one guy without elite production on the Georgia defense and make him the No. 2 pick.

Walker has an enticing combination of size and athleticism, but that only translated to 9.5 sacks throughout his college career. Is this a Rashan Gary-type situation, where the stats don’t match the on-field impact? Maybe, and that would explain why he’s considered a possibility for Detroit.

Malik Willis

  • College: Liberty
  • Position: Quarterback

Many people -- myself included -- believe the Lions would be better off selling out for a quarterback in the 2023 draft. But others think quarterback is in play this year at No. 2.

Willis has been the most common passer linked to Detroit. The problem, obviously, is that the Lions have so many needs, and if Willis isn’t a franchise quarterback, that’s another wasted pick to prolong the rebuild.

Then again, if Willis ends up as the prized quarterback of this draft class, the Lions don’t want to miss out on him. It would certainly be a polarizing decision.

Wide receiver

  • Options: Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson, Drake London, Jameson Williams, Treylon Burks, Jahan Dotson

I think fans would grab their torches and pitchforks if the Lions selected a wide receiver at No. 2, but I’m surprised it isn’t at least being discussed.

Hear me out: Wide receiver is one of the team’s greatest needs, especially beyond next year. Other than Amon-Ra St. Brown, there aren’t any decent options for whoever ends up quarterbacking this team in 2023.

This draft is the perfect opportunity to address that weakness. Here’s the problem: Six or seven receivers could realistically come off the board between No. 2 and when the Lions make their next pick at No. 32.

So how far is the team willing to reach to make sure it doesn’t get left out of this elite wide receiver group? I don’t think there’s any chance the Lions take any of those players at No. 2 overall, but should that be a foregone conclusion?

Lack of pre-draft clarity

We didn’t cover every possible Lions target, but these are the names most commonly linked to the No. 2 pick.

Detroit should probably focus on the defensive side of the ball -- specifically the defensive line. Pass rushers might be the second-most important position in the NFL behind quarterback, and the Lions desperately need to address that weakness.

It seems like fans usually have a pretty good idea what the Lions are going to do before a draft. At the very least, they can narrow the first round options down to a handful of players.

But that’s not the case this season. The Lions have so many needs that match up with this year’s top prospects -- nobody really knows what to expect.

No matter who the Lions pick, some fans will be angry and others will blindly defend them. Those debates will carry everyone through the summer, until September unites them all in sadness.

Then we can talk Bryce Young vs. C.J. Stroud ahead of next year’s draft.


About the Author:

Derick is the Lead Digital Editor for ClickOnDetroit and has been with Local 4 News since April 2013. Derick specializes in breaking news, crime and local sports.