When good luck falls in your lap, let it. Even if it weighs 260 pounds.
The Detroit Lions need a pass rusher? Aidan Hutchinson is a pass rusher.
The Lions needed a guy who can play right away? Hutchinson is considered the most NFL-ready player in the draft. The Lions needed a guy who can change a game’s direction, as in quarterback sacks and pressures? That’s what Hutchinson gives you: quarterback sacks and pressures.
Honestly, all the Lions had to do with their No. 2 pick was fly a paper airplane up to the podium and let Roger Goodell read two words: “Yes, please.”
And good for that. Because, let’s be honest, the Lions have a history of fumbling drafts when they get too complicated. And an hour later, they got complicated.
But Thursday night, Detroit’s first pick was a no-brainer. Hutchinson, the player many long believed would be the No. 1 overall selection, was available at No. 2 because the Jacksonville Jaguars went with Travon Walker from Georgia instead.
Walker, also a defensive end, had become a rising stock. He wasn’t a top-10 whisper two months ago, but a good combine and good chatter nudged him higher and higher. This happens at drafts. And the Jags went for it.
Maybe he turns out to be more explosive than Hutchinson. Maybe he doesn’t. But in certain ways, the Jags did the Lions a favor by taking him. Had they plucked Hutchinson instead, Detroit’s brass would be relying on instinct, prediction and upside talk in choosing Walker or one of the other potential choices, including Kayvon Thibodeaux from Oregon and a couple of starry cornerbacks, Sauce Gardner from Cincinnati or Derek Stingley Jr. from LSU. And can you imagine the second guessing and head banging those picks might have caused?
Instead, need met pick, pick met need, and this was about as difficult as letting water go down the drain.
Hutch in, son.
Williams worth the risk?
But then things changed. Eleven picks into the night, a trade was announced. And the Lions had made it! They had shipped their second, third and fourth picks in the draft (Nos. 32, 34 and 66) to Minnesota for the No. 12 pick and a middle second-round pick. Detroit fans held their breath. The Lions don’t do this. What the heck? A trade? No. 12?
Some thought quarterback. That’s what aggressive moves like this are for, right? A quarterback? Except what quarterback? There wasn’t a single passer rated this high. Why give away three picks for two if you’re not trying to steal a quarterback?
The answer, it turned it, was to steal a receiver. Yep. Alabama’s Jameson Williams, arguably the fastest and likely the top receiver in the draft had he not torn his ACL in the national championship game, was suddenly coming to Detroit.
And everything we thought we knew about the Lions’ intentions went out the window.
Don’t get me wrong. Williams is a potential star. His breakaway speed is incredible. He was having a massive game against Georgia on that national title game, they honestly couldn’t cover him, and some believe Alabama would have won the night had Williams not gotten hurt.
But he did. And one ACL on a receiver’s chart is cause for concern, because it can happen again. As it is, Williams won’t likely be ready to start the season while he recovers. Whether he’s the same blazing talent when he does is anyone’s guess. But that’s all it is. A guess.
The Lions are betting that they’re guessing right. We hope they are.
But are they guessing smart?
A talent like Williams is a luxury on a team with so many holes. Sure, the Lions need a receiver. They need a ton of things. But one of the reasons they traded Matthew Stafford was to stock up on high picks, to strengthen the roster everywhere. They now won’t have another pick until the middle of the second round, 12 picks behind where they would have, and no third-round pick. That’s not too bad. But if they’re going to shoot for a No. 12 pick, does Williams justify the move?
Reason for concern? There were three other receivers taken ahead of him (Drake London from USC at No. 8, Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave from Ohio State at No 10 and No. 11). All three of those teams, who clearly wanted wide receivers, passed on Williams. The Lions jumped 20 picks to get him. Do they know something the other teams don’t?
Or is it the other way around?
And then there’s the question of quarterback. Jared Goff is talented, but not considered a long term answer for Detroit. Yes, you could claim that giving him Williams, along with Amon-Ra St. Brown and T.J. Hockenson, might make him a great quarterback. But he had Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp and Tyler Higbee in LA. The Rams still traded him.
Stafford arrived and won a Super Bowl with that same crew in his first year.
Maybe the Lions are figuring Williams will be here after Goff is not. Maybe they’re hoping to pair him with a quarterback they draft next year. Maybe. Maybe. But the Lions have some screaming needs right now that they skipped over with this move. It’s sexy. But is it sensible?
The easy part is over
So, true to form, the Lions left us scratching our heads, unsure if we should be elated or worried. Hutchinson and Williams are at the opposite ends of predictability and need. The Lions need Hutchinson. Their defense is awful, their pass rush anemic. The Lions could use Williams, the way any team could use a blazing wide receiver. But Detroit ranked middle of the pack in passing yards and receptions. It’s a need. It’s not a bleeding wound.
Either way, the Lions got two star players and two names that will get people excited for next season. It doesn’t hurt that Hutchinson enjoyed a sterling career at Michigan football, where he was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. It doesn’t hurt that his father, Chris, was a star there under Bo Schembechler.
It doesn’t hurt that Hutchinson wanted to stay in Michigan, pulled on the Lions hat with authority after hearing his name called, and all but danced onto the stage before pointing enthusiastically at the camera.
If this was a guy sorry to be going to one of the worst defenses in the NFL, he sure didn’t look like it.
Sure, there will be people thinking Walker or Thibodeaux might have more “upside” (and has there ever been a more overused or frequently wrong word than that one?) But when you are 3-13-1, when you rank at the bottom defense and points allowed, when your coach and GM are on their second year in what has become a three-year-win-or-get-out league, upside is good, but steady good is better.
And Hutchinson, at 6 feet 7 and 260 pounds, is steady good. Endlessly working. If you watched him play at Michigan, you saw a guy who didn’t give up on plays, didn’t stop when he was initially blocked, kept his hands and legs going and frequently wound up making the play. He didn’t do this against questionable talent in a minor conference. He did it against the beef of the Big Ten, a conference known for its size and strength if not for its speed.
“He has a motor that doesn’t stop,” Lomas Brown, the former Lions star and current radio analyst told me earlier in the day. And that’s critical in the NFL. A motor in the Motor City is kind of what the Lions doctor ordered.
Jameson Williams? Well. Maybe not what the doctor ordered. But nobody is going to refuse the medicine. It’s a passing league. And if Williams can get back to form, the Lions will have lighting in a bottle.
But remember, picking Hutchinson and Williams is only the first stage. Coaching them, grooming them, and guiding them are what follows. The jury is still out on Dan Campbell, no matter how many fiery sound bites he provides. And GM Brad Holmes will be judged significantly by what he does in this draft and the later rounds of it.
What he’s done so far is both obvious and not at all obvious, predictable and also surprising, safe and also bold. I’ve witnessed a lot of NFL drafts with the Lions. I can’t remember one with two first-round picks, 11 picks apart, that left me so dizzy.
That’s the fun of watching teams pick items off the menu. We’ll see when the dishes arrive just how much of a meal is served.
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