It might seem like I am just piggybacking onto a trend by writing this. In a recent episode of the PFF Tailgate podcast (Ep. 279), the hosts briefly discuss this idea. On January 21st, Erik Schlitt released an article on Pride of Detroit discussing his views on this topic (though from a different angle than the one I’ll be coming from below). But to me, Kyle Hamilton is the best pick the Lions could make in the 2022 NFL Draft, and this is something I have thought about for a while now. This will likely be unpopular, as many Lions fans have already pencilled in one of the top edge rushers with our pick; be it the hometown hero Aiden Hutchinson, or Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux. To be clear, I want to preface this by saying that if the Lions do draft either one of the top edge rushers instead of Hamilton, I will be happy as we have needed an alpha edge since the peak of Ziggy Ansah’s career. However, to me, Hamilton would have the biggest impact for the Lions in Year One, and over the course of his rookie deal and beyond. We saw the part that Jessie Bates played in the Bengals knocking off the number one seed Titans in the Divisional Round and the Chiefs in the AFC Conference Championship what a great safety can do for a defence. We also saw in the Bills win over the Patriots in the Wildcard what a great safety duo can do for a team, and in my eyes, Walker and Hamilton could be that.
Therefore, I have chosen to write this to explain my thoughts. As a person who has a Master of Arts (in Classics, for the few of you who care), I find it easiest to express my thoughts in long-form, where I can reference things to back myself up. This applies equally to discussing the political structure of Athens in the fifth century BC, the reception of Greek myth in Young Adult fiction, or my thoughts on who the team I support from across a big blue ocean should draft. In this article, I will solely be focussing on safety and edge as it is highly unlikely that we go in any other direction with our first pick barring a major trade-down/injury. So get comfortable, get a nice hot drink and maybe some biscuits (cookies for any American readers who might chance upon this), and let me take you on a trip through my thought process. I hope you won’t hate me by the end.
In most schemes, if not all, the defensive line is rotated where possible. Looking at the defensive snap counts for our top three edge rushers in the games they were active and didn’t leave with an injury (to my recollection), this appears to be something that also happens in Aaron Glenn’s scheme here in Detroit:
Romeo Okwara (3 games): 97.8% of snaps
Trey Flowers (6): 70%
Charles Harris (17): 76.4%
In comparison, here are the defensive snap counts for some of the league’s best edge rushers:
TJ Watt (11): 84.4%
Rashan Gary (I know what you’re thinking but Gary was 2nd in the league in pressures , 4th in PFF grade [89.3], and 1st in pressure rate for pure edge rushers [17.5%] [Micah Parsons led the league overall with 21.8%]) (16): 67.4%
Nick Bosa (17): 77.5%
Myles Garrett (17): 77.2%
Firstly, Romeo played an absurdly high number of snaps due to the perceived lack of depth at that point. Even TJ Watt, who plays on a team where he is easily the best edge rusher and the rest of the team’s pressures mostly come from the IDL (e.g. Cam Heyward), only played 85% of snaps. You have to remember that at the start of the season, we did not know what monster we had on our hands in Charles Harris. Some of us even thought his one-year contract was a waste of money and a roster spot. Secondly, I have discounted Julian Okwara, Austin Bryant, Jesse Lemonier, and Rashod Berry as, even when they were on the field due to the IR’ing of Romeo and Flowers, their snap counts were so low it would skew the numbers. For context, Julian played 39.1% of snaps in the 13 games I counted. The other listed players play 70-80% of snaps. Therefore, given the above numbers, a drafted edge would only play roughly 75% snaps at most, an estimate which obviously could be brought lower if Flowers is not cut/traded and Charles Harris is resigned in free agency. Is a player who will enter the season at EDGE3, and therefore not be getting the snaps of a starter, worth the second overall pick?
In comparison, the defensive snap counts for our top three safeties, and some of the league’s top safeties, in similar circumstances are as follows:
Tracy Walker (15): 88.7%
Dean Marlowe (16): 64.3%