The Detroit Lions will enter the 2023 campaign with higher expectations than the year prior. Winners in five of their final regular-season six contests, the 9-8 Lions finished above .500 for the first time since 2017 and nearly qualified for the postseason. A successful 2023 NFL Draft could catapult the Lions into the playoff picture
General manager Brad Holmes is armed with two first-round selections (No. 6 and No. 18 overall). The majority of Holmes’ attention will be centered around patching a defense that allowed a league-high 392.4 yards of offense per showing. EDGE rushers, cornerbacks, and linebackers are needed in Detroit.
With that being said and with plenty of moves still to come ahead of April’s draft, here’s what a seven-round draft for the Lions might look like if it happened now.
(Note: I completed this mock draft using the Beta version of our Mock Draft Machine 2.0, which you can access by becoming a TDN Premium member!)
Round 1 (No. 6 overall): Christian Gonzalez CB, Oregon
The Lions allowed a 30th-ranked 245.8 passing yards per contest in 2022. Jeff Okudah finally emerged as a legitimate No. 1 cornerback, but the Lions require more talent opposite Okudah, who will enter a contract year in 2023. Amani Oruwariye suffered through a nightmarish campaign, having allowed 39 receptions on 52 targets for an opposing passer rating of 130.6, per Pro Football Focus. Oruwariye is a free agent and may not return to Detroit. Cornerback should be Holmes’ No. 1 priority.
Oregon’s Christian Gonzalez is a big-and-long athletic cornerback that can dominate the boundary at the next level. Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn, a former cornerback himself, would welcome an opportunity to work with a corner as naturally talented as Gonzalez.
Round 1 (No. 18 overall): Bijan Robinson RB, Texas
The Lions have interesting decisions to make at running back. D’Andre Swift is entering a contract season and has been routinely held back by recurring injuries. Jamaal Williams is a free agent after enjoying a career-best campaign that saw him rush for a league-high 17 touchdowns. The Lions are underrated candidates to draft Bijan Robinson.
Robinson is a top-five player in the 2023 NFL Draft and has no business reaching 18th overall. Positional value could bring such a scenario to fruition, however. Holmes could justify using a first-round selection on a running back due to possessing two top-20 picks. Robinson would make an already dangerous Detroit offense even scarier.
Round 2 (No. 49 overall): Drew Sanders LB, Arkansas
The Lions found a day-three gem at linebacker in Malcolm Rodriguez last year. Rodriguez should enter the 2023 season as an unquestioned starter. Pairing Rodriguez with a long-term partner inside should appeal to Holmes.
Alex Anzalone was a one-year bridge solution that shouldn’t return to the Lions. Jarrad Davis is also set for free agency. Derrick Barnes provides quality depth at best. Arkansas’ Drew Sanders is a three-down linebacker who can deconstruct blocks and fit the run. In coverage, Sanders possesses the arm length necessary to compete at the catch point. Sanders would immediately serve as a starter in Detroit.
Round 2 (No. 56 overall): Dalton Kincaid TE, Utah
The Lions made a big move at the trade deadline when they traded away starting tight end T.J. Hockenson to the Minnesota Vikings. Brock Wright and James Mitchell have shown promise at the position, but neither is a difference-maker in the passing game. The Lions could add another weapon via Utah’s Dalton Kincaid.
Trading away Hockenson indicated the Lions don’t overly value the tight end position. But Holmes is armed with multiple first-and-second-round picks and would be silly to pass on someone of Kincaid’s talent after addressing other needs like cornerback and linebacker. Kincaid is a weapon up the seam that’s a coverage nightmare for opposing safeties and linebackers.
Round 3 (No. 82 overall): Calijah Kancey DT, Pittsburgh
The Lions released defensive tackle Michael Brockers earlier this week. Second-year interior lineman Levi Onwuzurike missed his entire sophomore campaign after undergoing season-ending back surgery. Alim McNeill has flashed some promise, but the Lions need more from this position group moving forward. It’s a massive need.
Pittsburgh’s Calijah Kancey could be a solution. Kancey is considered undersized by NFL threshold standards, but playing on a defensive line with Aidan Hutchinson and Josh Paschal could help Kancey gain favorable one-versus-one opportunities. Kancey’s initial quickness and urgency would mesh well with Campbell’s coaching style.
Round 5 (No. 155 overall): Mike Morris EDGE, Michigan
Better depth is needed on the edges. After drafting Hutchinson last year, Holmes keeps the Wolverine-to-Lions pipeline going strong by drafting Michigan’s Mike Morris. Morris is a versatile defensive lineman that sets hard edges and can reduce inside on occasion on third-and-obvious passing downs.
Round 6 (No. 184 overall): Keidron Smith CB, Kentucky
Detroit’s cornerback depth is questionable enough to consider doubling down at the position. Kentucky’s Keidron Smith earned a well-deserved last-minute invite to this year’s Senior Bowl. Smith recorded seven interceptions and 24 pass breakups while logging more than 3,000 career snaps for the Wildcats.Round 6 (No. 195 overall): Trey Dean III S, Florida
The Lions have several impending free-agent defensive backs, including DeShon Elliott and Will Harris. Trey Dean III has great size and athleticism. He has the overall profile of a future special teams ace that can also contribute defensively. Dean is a candidate to set the all-time record for the bench press among his position group at this year’s NFL Scouting Combine, per our own Ryan Fowler.
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