A Look at the Lions’ 2023 Draft and what Positions are Necessary for Holmes and Co. to Address

The Lions team we saw months ago in the season finale is the team Lions fans wanted to see at the beginning of the season. The lack of top-end talent is going to cause some skill deficiency, but through grit and sheer force of will, they cannot – rather, they will not – be counted out of games. They don’t have to have the high-flying offense of the Chiefs or the Cowboys lockdown defense, but they are able to compete through a next-man-up, “any given Sunday” mentality. Suffice to say, I liked what I was seeing from the Lions right now.

So let’s talk about what we can do to make them better. Specifically, through the draft.

Here’s how this will work. I want to take each position group and evaluate the need for a draft pick there. My scale can be seen below. I’m going to throw in a name for each group as well. The names will probably all be probable first rounders or guys with a lot of separation from the rest of the college football pack right now, as the picture of the later rounds doesn’t usually round out until after the CFP. Then, at the end, I’ll rank all the groups by need.

1. Not A Position of Need
2. Come Back Next Year
3. Late Round Pick

4. Developmental Guy
5. Immediate Upgrade Needed

Rank: 4 – Developmental Guy

I think anybody can look at this year’s Lions teams and recognize this, but for those who can’t, let me state it in all caps – JARED GOFF IS NOT THE PROBLEM. He hasn’t been a world beater, but he’s worked well in OC Ben Johnson’s scheme and is playing the game manager role pretty well. However, we also have to see that he’s not the long term solution either. The turnovers are a problem, as is the fact that he’s a one-dimensional QB. He doesn’t hurt, but he doesn’t necessarily help either. I think the move here is a relatively high pick, who can benefit from sitting behind Goff and learning the nuances of QB. Here, we’re not looking for polished skill, we’re looking for intangibles and athletic ability.

Name to Watch: Will Levis – Kentucky

Brett Kollmann, creator of The Film Room and cohost of Bootleg Football (worth checking out, FYI) once tweeted that it seemed that all the elite young QBs weren’t coming into the draft technically polished, just physically talented. Will Levis is going to be the next guy to follow in this trend. He’s got what you can’t teach, but he’s lacking in managerial and technical aspects of his game. If he sits behind Goff for a while, he’ll be able to take his game to the next step, and maybe be the starter in 2024.

Running Back
Rank: 2 – Come back next year

I’m a little indecisive here. D’Andre Swift has certainly shown flashes of superstar talent, but the injuries are a problem. In addition, the Lions just signed former Chicago Bears running back David Montgomery. Montgomery’s arrival in Detroit likely means Swift will depart next year, meaning the Lions will eventually need to fill a hole at the RB2 position. Perhaps if a certain late round running back catches Holmes’ eye, it would be terrible to select a running back they like in this years draft.

Name to Watch: Blake Corum – Michigan

Due to the nature of the position, RBs suffer a lot of wear and tear, so we don’t want to waste a first rounder on one. Corum is the perfect intersection of skill, ability, and value, and he’ll probably go in the second round – after Bijan Robinson and Jahmyr Gibbs. I may be a little biased (Go Blue), but Corum is like a wrecking ball. He’ll take a couple small yardage plays to find the weakness, and then he’ll punch through the D-Line with righteous fury. He carries so much momentum running downhill that he looks like the next star pupil at the Derrick Henry School for Angry Runs. He’s a Dan Campbell guy if I’ve ever seen one.

Wide Receiver
Rank: 2 – Come Back Next Year

This is a talented WR group. The problem is injuries. The starting three (DJ Chark, Josh Reynolds, Amon-Ra St Brown) have barely played any games together, and first rounder Jameson Williams hasn’t even seen the field yet. I think that depending on health and free agency, this group is set if they can stay healthy. Maybe a fifth rounder or UDFA pushes for snaps unexpectedly, but I like what we have. Now just get them on the field please.

Name to Watch: Quentin Johnson – TCU

Everyone will be talking about Jordan Addison come April, but Johnson is an integral part of TCU’s surprise CFP push. He’s got size and consistently finds himself both where the ball is and where the defense is weakest. Once again, this is a pick of athleticism over technique, as he needs to develop polish on most of his routes. The raw product leaves room for lots of optimism, though.

Tight End
Rank: 4 – Developmental Guy

Let me run a few names by you. James Mitchell, Brock Wright, Shane Zylstra. Each player has some strengths, but since the loss of TJ Hockenson, there’s been a clear lack of a 1A tight end. There’s a void to be filled here. However, as each of these guys has contributed a touchdown or two since the loss of Hockenson, as far as primary needs go, this is lower than a few others.

Name to Watch: Dalton Kincaid – Utah

I was really trying not to pick Michael Meyer here, so Kincaid gets the spotlight. I also think the Utah TE is a more realistic get for the Lions in the draft, given their capital and various needs on the defensive side of the ball. Kincaid is a bruiser, who gets YAC out of not being afraid to lay the smackdown on his opponents. He doesn’t have the burst and agility of top end athletes, but that’s incredibly rare in the tight end position anyway. He’s got reliable hands and his blocking has improved tons this year.

Offensive Line
Rank: 1 – Not a Position of Need

Halapoulivaati Vaitai’s injury created a little chaos to start the season, but this is a line dotted with All-Pro nods and rising youngsters. There’s also sufficient depth with Evan Brown, Matt Nelson, and Dan Skipper highlighting the reserves. If something happens after the season, such as a departure or a retirement, I like the state of these five guys.

Name to Watch: Jaelyn Duncan – Maryland

Here’s another position where I was trying to shine a light on some up-and-coming guys without mentioning the top players. Duncan is the embodiment of steady, ready to throw down a block at any moment. He’s kept Taulia Tagovailoa clean for most of the year, and could provide some rejuvenation to an ailing line. It’s unlikely the Lions spend a pick on him, or any lineman, but you never know.

Defensive Line
Rank: 4 – Developmental Guy

Alim McNeill and Isaiah Buggs have been good for Detroit, but Michael Brockers has been a healthy scratch a few too many times this season for my liking. There’s definitely room for improvement here. Getting past the line to the QB just hasn’t been happening this season, putting unwarranted pressure on the EDGEs. If the line can become a little more disruptive, this defense can be much better for it.

Name to Watch: Jalen Carter – Georgia

It doesn’t come more disruptive than the former national champ. Carter can blow up opposing linemen and stuff the run at the point of contact when asked to. He can pivot on a dime and blow up just about anyone in his way. I’ve spoken a lot in this article about the difference between technique and athleticism, but at a position of need, why choose? Carter is high on my shopping list for this year, and I’d love to see the Lions use a high pick on him.

Edge Rusher
Rank: 4 – Developmental Guy

It may not show up on tape, but Aidan Hutchinson has been playing a lot better than you think he has. He’s making his presence felt, he leads rookies in pressures and sacks, and that WWE takedown of David Montgomery against the Bears showed he can detonate plays when he needs to. If only the other edge rushers on the team were as helpful. Since returning from injury, Charles Harris has been a non-factor in games, and Romeo Okwara is still rehabbing an Achilles tear. If the Lions want to keep themselves in games, taking down opposing quarterbacks is crucial, and Hutch can’t do it alone.

Name to Watch: Myles Murphy – Clemson

I’m highlighting the Clemson product here due to the fact that Will Anderson will probably be gone by the time the Lions pick. Murphy isn’t a bad EDGE2, though. He’s got speed and burst, as well as an instinct for where the linemen are weakest. The biggest knock on him is how he uses his hands, but that’s not a weakness so much as a developing trait.

Rank: 4 – Developmental Guy

In my opinion, this is toward the top of the Tier 4 needs. Malcolm Rodriguez has been a revelation in cowboy boots this year, and that’s all well and good, but it takes more than one good player to field a competent LB core. Alex Anzalone, to nobody’s excitement, is returning to Detroit, and Derrick Barnes is developing a little slower than most people would prefer. It’s under the radar, but this unit needs some life injected into it.

Name to Watch: Noah Sewell – Oregon

Younger brother of Penei Sewell, Noah Sewell has been having a down season so far. However, going off of what we saw last year, he has the ability to play like a first rounder. He’s long and rangy, which serves him well in pass coverage. If he falls in the draft due to a subpar season so far, all the better for the Lions, who may be able to grab him later than planned.

Rank: 5 – Immediate Upgrade Needed

This isn’t what we thought we’d see coming into the season. We thought Amani Oruwariye would build on last year’s breakout season while Jeff Okudah would struggle to come back from injury, maybe even finally be labeled a bust. But it’s been the exact opposite. Okudah has been excellent in coverage this season, while Oruwariye looks burnt every time the ball gets to his guarded receiver. The lack of talent in the secondary was part of the reason that the defense played horrendously early in the season, and I think it’s time we look for options other than Oruwariye.

Holmes made a splash, signing former Steelers Cornerback Cam Sutton to a three-year deal. Sutton is a lockdown cornerback, and pairing him with Okudah is certainly exciting. While this duo has the potential to be terrific, I don’t trust Okudah heading into a year where the Lions can be competing for an NFC championship. Drafting a cornerback in the first round would not only solidify the cornerback position, but gives the Lions the potential to have the best secondary in the NFL.

While cornerback being my only Tier 5 need at the moment may seem strange, having an elite secondary, possibly two elite cornerbacks, is absolutely necessary to compete with teams like the San Fransisco 49ers and Philadelphia Eagles.

Name to Watch: Clark Phillips III – Utah

Christian Gonzalez and Kelee Ringo will get a lot of love, but Phillips has had some understated excellence since Week One. Size is an issue, but he has phenomenal ball skills and instincts. He also has that characteristic Dan Campbell grit and competitiveness that this Detroit team is building on. I love him for this team, hopefully at the top of the second – but that may be too optimistic.

Rank: 4 – Developmental Guy

Tracy Walker was playing fantastic to start the season, but his injury really derailed things. Kerby Joseph has been a pleasant surprise, as he wasn’t expected to be this good this soon, but he’s been cold just as often as he’s been hot. Plus, DeShon Elliot may not be around next season, and the secondary is always in need of upgrades. So let’s get one.

Name to Watch: Brian Branch – Alabama

The best part about this? Branch can play practically any position in the secondary. He’s versatile enough to play nickel, and he has enormous special teams value. He has good vision and the ability to go up and get the ball, but he doesn’t always come down with it as much as he should. He’s better in man than zone, causing some to speculate that safety isn’t as good a fit as corner, but he’s talented enough to play either.

Rank: 3 – Late Round Pick

We’re likely not replacing our long snapper and our newly extended punter, so the only special teams position of value in April is the kicker. It’s hard to say what will happen, as Michael Badgely has been playing well. However, kicker turnover is high, and injuries are common. It’s worth looking into.

Name to Watch: Jake Moody – Michigan

This may be my Wolverines bias coming up once again, but if we’re drafting a kicker, I say it’s Moody or bust. He’s been playing the game like a man among boys for months now, and if you see him kick, he’s been accurate in rain or shine. He’s the best kicker in college football, and I think when drafting a kicker, you want a sure thing.

Position Groups, Ranked by Need:
Cornerback: 5
Linebacker: 4
Quarterback: 4
Safety: 4
Defensive Tackle: 4
Tight End: 4
Kicker: 3
Running Back: 2
Wide Receiver: 2
Offensive Line: 1

There’s hardly ever unanimous agreement on the internet, and that’s why there’s a comment section. Let me know where the problems are in my list. Remember, there are so many holes on this team that any forecast is hard before the end of the season. Once more college athletes differentiate themselves from their peers, and we know how the season will finish for the Lions, I’ll reevaluate. Drop a comment with players you want to put us on notice for, and maybe I’ll find time to watch some of their film. There are no wrong answers yet! When in doubt, ask yourself WWRD – what would the Raiders do – and make the opposite decision. 9/10 times, that’s the right call.
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