NFL Draft: Mel Kiper Jr. Predicts Historically Stupid Move By Detroit Lions

Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton might be the best football player in the 2022 NFL Draft.

But if the Detroit Lions take him No. 2 overall, as ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. predicts, it would be an incredibly stupid move, and there are 20-plus years of history to back that up.

Kyle Hamilton is one of the top prospects in the 2022 NFL Draft

There is no debating that Notre Dame’s Kyle Hamilton is a fantastic football player.

The safety from Atlanta, Georgia, played in 31 games over three years in South Bend, per UND.com. He racked up 138 tackles, 7.5 for a loss, defended 24 passes, and intercepted eight balls. Hamilton even took one back for a touchdown his freshman season.

He was a Freshman All-American in 2019, and the Football Writers Association of America named him a first-team All-American in 2020 and 2021. During his senior season, he was also a captain of the Fighting Irish.

At 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, Hamilton ran a 4.59-second 40-yard dash at the combine and, versus the smaller players at his position, ranked third among safeties in the vertical jump (38.0 inches), second in the broad jump (10 feet, 11 inches), and fifth in the 3-cone drill and 20-yard shuttle (6.9 seconds, 4.32 seconds).

In his most recent mock draft, ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. wrote of Hamilton, who he slotted at No. 2 to the Detroit Lions:

Hamilton is a playmaking safety in a 6-foot-4 frame who would immediately raise the ceiling of a defense that has struggled for years. He can play in the box, out of the slot and as a center fielder. Normally I’d say this is too high for a safety, but Hamilton is a unique and special defender. 

Mel Kiper Jr. on NFL draft prospect Kyle Hamilton

This is all true.

His production, measurables, and versatility are off the charts. And Hamilton is indeed “a unique and special defender.”

However, as Kiper himself admitted, the No. 2 overall pick is simply “too high for a safety.”

The history of taking safeties in the top 10 isn’t great

Since 2000, NFL teams have drafted eight safeties in the top 10, and none as high as even No. 4 overall:

  • Jamal Adams, No. 6, New York Jets, 2017
  • Mark Barron, No. 7, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 2012
  • Eric Berry, No. 5, Kansas City Chiefs, 2010
  • LaRon Landry, No. 5, Washington, 2007
  • Michael Huff, No. 7, Oakland Raiders, 2006
  • Donte Whitner, No. 8, Buffalo Bills, 2006
  • Sean Taylor, No. 5, Washington, 2004
  • Roy Williams, No 8, Dallas Cowboys, 2002

While there were no massive busts in this group, there are no Hall of Famers either. The accolades of these highly-drafted safeties include Berry (five Pro Bowls, three All-Pros), Williams (five Pro Bowls, one All-Pro), Adams (three Pro Bowls, one All-Pro), Whitner (two Pro Bowls), and Landry (one Pro Bowl).

Neither Huff nor Barron made a Pro Bowl, but each played eight seasons.

Taylor might have been the best of his group. The former Miami Hurricane made two Pro Bowls in his first four seasons. However, his career was cut short by his tragic murder in 2007.

In addition to their lofty NFL draft status, the other thing these players have in common is that they mostly played on bad teams. These eight players played in a total of 30 playoff games in their careers, and none won a Super Bowl.

As good as some of them were, that is at least partially their fault.

Highly-drafted safeties command big rookie deals, and big rookie deals lead to big extensions. Paying a safety that kind of money, unless they are Hall of Fame-caliber, hurts a team. That’s because of the relatively limited impact the position makes on the game and the ability good offenses have to scheme away from all but the absolute best players at the position.

Drafting a safety in the top 10 hasn’t worked out well at all for teams in the last two-plus decades, and no team has drafted one as high as No. 2. That’s why history says the Detroit Lions taking Kyle Hamilton at that spot, as Mel Kiper Jr. predicts, would be stupid.

Where do great safeties come from? 

Notre Dame Fighting Irish safety Kyle Hamilton, who ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. projects to go No. 2 overall in the 2022 NFL Draft to the Detroit Lions, looks on during a game.
Kyle Hamilton | Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire

While drafting a safety in the top 10 is dumb and can cripple a team financially for years to come, picking an elite player at the position in the first round of the NFL draft isn’t always a bad idea.

Looking at the best of the best at the position in the same two-decade period, it seems like the sweet spot for selecting a safety is in the mid to late first round. Here are some of the players who went in that range:

  • Ed Reed, No. 24, Baltimore Ravens, 2002
  • Troy Polamalu, No. 16, Pittsburgh Steelers, 2003
  • Earl Thomas, No. 14, Seattle Seahawks, 2010
  • Derwin James, No. 17, Los Angeles Chargers, 2018

These four mid to late first-round safeties alone have 26 Pro Bowls, 13 All-Pro nods, 45 playoff games, four Super Bowl titles, and (so far) two Hall of Fame busts.

There are also plenty of Pro Bowl and All-Pro safeties from the last 20-plus years who came into the league from the second round of the NFL draft and later.

All this should illustrate why — with all due respect to Mel Kiper Jr. — the Detroit Lions picking Kyle Hamilton No. 2 overall would be historically stupid.

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