The Lions and Jets are facing off in a matchup pitting two teams which had top-five picks in the most recent draft against one another. While reflecting on Detroit’s approach this past April, Lions coach Dan Campbell made it known that the Jets’ top pick was never on their radar.
When speaking about the possibility of selecting cornerback Ahmad Gardner second overall, Campbell admitted that he was not the subject of serious consideration. “We thought about a lot of different guys, but I never really felt it went there for [general manager] Brad [Holmes] and myself,” he said, via Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press. “We felt pretty comfortable with where we wanted to go with it.”
That, of course, is a reference to Detroit’s intention of adding to their pass rush with their top selection. Aidan Hutchinson allowed them to do just that, after a highly productive career at Michigan. The 22-year-old has been the subject of criticism after his inability to follow-up his Week 2 performance with more multi-sack games, but he leads all rookies with seven on the year. He has added 23 pressures, six tackles for loss and a pair of interceptions, making him a contender for Defensive Rookie of the Year and leading to expectations that he will be a franchise cornerstone for years to come.
The same also holds true of Gardner, though, considering the start he has had to his NFL career. The Jets selected the Bearcats alum fourth overall, after he established himself as arguably the top corner in the class. The 6-3, 200-pounder has been an immediate every-down starter in New York, and has racked up two interceptions and a league-leading 16 pass deflections during the campaign. He has been a standout in coverage as well, allowing a completion percentage of just over 52%.
Like Hutchinson, Gardner is a Michigan native, so Detroit choosing the latter would have carried a similar storyline to the one developed by taking the former. Birkett notes that the Lions had scheduled a visit with Gardner, but that never took place. Keeping their attention on Hutchinson allowed them to maintain a starting duo of Jeff Okudah and Amani Oruwariye at corner. The latter has struggled considerably compared to his breakout campaign last season, though, and the Lions’ defense has been among the league’s worst all year.
Nevertheless, both teams are likely satisfied with how the top of the draft board shook out, and they are each in contention for a postseason berth entering the final few weeks of the campaign.