Should The Detroit Lions Consider Drafting NC State OL Ikem Ekwonu?

2022 NFL Mock Draft, Ikem Ekwonu, 2022 NFL Draft. Mandatory Credit: Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports
2022 NFL Mock Draft, Ikem Ekwonu, 2022 NFL Draft. Mandatory Credit: Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports /

Should The Detroit Lions Consider Drafting NC State Offensive Lineman Ikem Ekwonu?

The Detroit Lions have become one of the most exciting teams to follow this offseason because of the new culture brought in by head coach Dan Campbell and all the assets they had coming into the offseason to improve this roster. Detroit ended their year going 3-3 in their final six games after starting the season 0-10-1.

They have already signed notable free agents D.J. Chark, Mike Hughes, and Jarrad Davis to one-year deals to address their needs at the wide receiver, cornerback, and linebacker positions. The Lions also locked up a couple of their free agents in pass rusher Charles Harris to a two-year $13 million deal and safety Tracy Walker to a three-year $25 million deal.

Detroit already has one of the leagues’ best offensive lines featuring Pro Bowlers Frank Ragnow and Jonah Jackson. Their offense also has young stars like Penei Sewell, D’Andre Swift, T.J. Hockenson, and Amon-Ra St. Brown who have a bright future in Detroit. This could be why Detroit could target a defensive player with the second pick of the 2022 NFL Draft.

The Lions should target the best player available when they are on the clock for their first selection on April 28th. A couple of players the Lions could target include quarterback Malik Willis, safety Kyle Hamilton, pass rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux, or defensive lineman Travon Walker. But the Detroit Lions should target an offensive tackle like Ikem Ekwonu with the second overall pick of the 2022 NFL Draft.

Ikem Ekwonu was a redshirt sophomore offensive tackle at N.C. State this past season. He became the first true freshman to start at tackle for N.C. State since 2010. Ekwonu started the last seven games of the 2019 season at left tackle. The next season, Ekwonu started the season at left guard before playing the final six games back at left tackle. He was named AP second-team All-ACC at both tackle and guard in 2020.

This past season Ekwonu started the entire season at left tackle for N.C. State. He was named first-team AP All-ACC at tackle for his play in 2021. PFF gave Ekwonu their highest run-blocking grade for an offensive tackle since 2019. Ekwonu was given a 95.4 run-blocking grade this past season.

Why Ikem Ekwonu would be a great (and realistic) selection for the Detroit Lions

The one constant that has been said about this draft class is that it isn’t as talented as other draft classes. When scouts say that they are relaying that there are not as many great players at the top as in previous years. This is why the teams picking near the top of the draft, like the Detroit Lions, should take the best players on their board regardless of position.

Detroit Lions general manager Brad Holmes believes in taking the best football player that could help his football team. Last year they took former Oregon offensive tackle Penei Sewell over Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith with the seventh overall pick despite having a need at wide receiver. He sticks to his board and takes the player he feels has the most talent. These are the thoughts that could be running through Holmes’ head when making this selection:

  • Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton is a popular fit here with the Lions. But Detroit could address their need for a safety with their pick at #32 or #34 and get a player of a higher valued position here.
  • Oregon pass rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux is seen by many as the second-best edge rusher in this class. However, reports are that many teams aren’t high on Thibodeaux at the top of the draft. It is very likely that Detroit is in that group of teams that don’t value him enough to take him with one of their high selections.
  • Georgia defensive lineman Travon Walker is expected to be the second defensive player off the board after Hutchinson. But Detroit is in need of a legitimate pass rusher that can contribute right away in that department. Walker is more of an athletic project player who needs to figure out what he will be at the next level.
  • Liberty quarterback Malik Willis has gained steam to go second overall to Detroit in recent weeks. However, it would make more sense to build the roster now while they are still in a rebuild and draft the quarterback later while Jared Goff is in place.

The reasoning for people not projecting one of the top tackle prospects to the Lions is that Detroit has one of the better offensive lines in the league. They have Taylor Decker, Jonah Jackson, Frank Ragnow, Halapoulivaata Vaitai, and 2021 first-round pick Penei Sewell as their projected starters. Both Ragnow and Jackson have been to Pro Bowls within the past two seasons, while Sewell is projected to due so relatively soon. Many think that if the Lions were to select Ekwonu it would be to replace Vaitai. However, they may actually select him to replace Decker.

Detroit drafted Decker with the 16th overall pick of the 2016 NFL Draft. Decker has been a solid left tackle during his time with the Lions. They signed him to a five-year $70.35 million deal in 2020. He has however never been considered an elite or Pro Bowl-caliber tackle during his six seasons. At age 28 it is likely that Decker has already reached his ceiling as a pro.

Even though the Detroit Lions had Decker at left tackle they decided to take Penei Sewell in the first round of last year’s draft. However since Decker was locked in at left tackle, Sewell had to transition to the right side. Sewell played well at right tackle last season but would be better off playing at left tackle long-term.

By selecting Ikem Ekwonu with the second overall pick the Lions would be getting a starting offensive tackle with a much higher upside than what they currently have with Decker. It would also allow Sewell to transition to left tackle while Ekwonu slides in on the right side. This makes sense from the standpoint that Sewell is a better fit as the dominant pass protector that should be protecting the quarterback’s blindside. Ekwonu would be a great fit at right tackle because he has work to do in pass protection but is a dominant run blocker. He could be a multiple-time Pro Bowler and possibly be named All-Pro during his career which would give Detroit bookend tackles with outstanding upside along their dominant offensive line.

If the Lions were to select Ikem Ekwonu Decker wouldn’t be moved to the bench. Instead, the Lions would likely start fielding phone calls from teams looking to make a last-minute upgrade at the left tackle position during or following the 2022 draft. Decker could net the Lions a nice package of draft picks from a team with a major hole at the left tackle position like the Pittsburgh Steelers, Seattle Seahawks, Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints, and Indianapolis Colts.

Detroit could use the draft picks acquired in a deal involving Decker to expedite their rebuild or possibly move up to draft a quarterback in the first round of 2023. Trading Decker before June 1st would free up $4.8 million in cap space this offseason and $17.9 million in cap space in 2023. If Detroit traded Decker after June 1st it would open up $15 million in cap space this offseason and $7.65 million in cap space in 2023.

It might be a wild option all things considered, but it’s something the Detroit Lions should still think about in the 2022 NFL Draft.