Armed with potential younger stars at premium positions and a better-than-you-realize offensive line, the Detroit Lions are nearer to rivalry than their report signifies. However all progress hinges on the staff discovering a franchise quarterback.
Spherical 1: QB Bryce Younger, Alabama (No. 2 within the newest Fanspeak-Jake Rigdon massive board)
Relying the place Detroit drafts, this decide will doubtless come all the way down to Younger or Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud.
Neither is an ideal prospect.
The 6-foot-3, 215-pound Stroud is a redshirt sophomore, so he technically nonetheless has a number of years’ value of eligibility remaining, however it’s onerous to think about him staying at school after guiding Ohio State to an ideal report and No. 3 rating by means of early November. Though he’s behind final 12 months’s tempo, Stroud stays within the Heisman dialog with 2,377 yards passing, 29 landing passes and solely 4 interceptions. Final season, Stroud had a line of 4,435-44-6.
He’s nonetheless a tricky analysis. Stroud is actually surrounded by NFL expertise on all ranges of the offense, together with a pair of potential first-round tackles (Paris Johnson, No. 9, and Dawand Jones, No. 27), the highest-ranked middle (Luke Wypler, No. 59) and a possible Day 2 guard (Matthew Jones, No. 132). And don’t neglect about receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba, who has not too long ago dipped within the rankings (now No. 37) on account of a lingering hamstring damage. In any other case, he is likely to be the highest receiver within the 2023 draft – regardless that he’s most likely not the perfect WR on his personal staff. That might be Marvin Jones II, a probable high decide in 2024.
Identical goes for the Ohio State floor recreation. Redshirt sophomore operating again Miyan Williams (No. 142) is an ascending prospect who averages near 7 yards per carry. He’s doubtless begin for many groups, however at Ohio State, he’s the backup to TreVeyon Henderson, a real sophomore and sure top-20 decide in 2024.
Due to all that expertise, there’s little tape of how Stroud fares beneath stress. Will he have the ability to learn defenses and make applicable pre-snap changes on the subsequent degree? Will he have the ability to undergo his progressions as soon as the cross rush is in his face?
That could be nitpicking for a prospect anticipated to fall no additional than No. 3 total, however it’s one thing different draft analysts have identified. From a current tweet by The Athletic’s Dane Brugler: “The final two weeks have actually highlighted a few of my issues w/ Stroud. Power him to play out of construction and issues collapse rapidly.”
Nevertheless, there’s loads of tape of 2021 Heisman winner Younger beneath duress, because the Alabama offensive line and receiver expertise hasn’t been as (ridiculously) robust because it has been in current seasons. Like Stroud, the true junior remains to be placing up superb numbers, with 1,906 yards, 18 TDs and three INTs up to now.
Nevertheless, Younger shares one thing else with Stroud: He’s behind final 12 months’s tempo when Younger had 4,872 yards passing with 47 TDs and seven INTs.
Nonetheless, Younger has managed to place Alabama within the title dialog but once more and is usually seen as a greater passer than Stroud.
As an alternative, Younger’s greatest points are his measurables. He’s generously listed by his college at 6-feet, 194-pounds. That didn’t cease Arizona from making former Oklahoma QB Kyler Murray the No. 1 total decide in 2019 regardless of his dimension at 5-foot-10, 207-pounds.
Younger, although, isn’t as stout as Murray – and like one other former undersized Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa, he’s additionally not a lot of a runner, neither is he close to as quick as Murray. The 6-foot, 210-pound Tagovailoa has missed time in each faculty and the professionals now on account of damage.
That’s why it’s necessary Younger goes to a staff that already has a strong line in place – and Detroit conceivably suits the invoice. Sort out Taylor Decker, a 2016 first-rounder out of Ohio State, is the lowest-graded common starter alongside the Lions’ line with a still-respectable 63.1, whereas Sewell and Johnson appear to be future Professional Bowlers.
You can also’t ignore the Younger-to-Jameson Williams connection. Detroit made him the No. 12 total decide this previous spring after Williams caught 79 passes for 1,572 yards and 15 TDs in his lone season in Tuscaloosa.
Spherical 1: RB Bijan Robinson (No. 6 total prospect)
Neglect the very fact the Lions have already got operating backs D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams.
Current historical past says taking a RB with a top-15 decide is a foul transfer.
Between 2012 to 2021, a span protecting 10 drafts, 10 operating backs have been drafted within the first spherical. Of these 10, seven have been taken with a top-15 decide – however none of these seven loved sustained success.
Saquon Barkley (No. 2 in 2018), Leonard Fournette (No. 4 in 2017), Ezekiel Elliott (No. 4 in 2016), and Trent Richardson (No. 3 in 2012) have been all top-5 picks. Christian McCaffrey (No. 8 in 2017), Todd Gurley (No. 10 in 2015) and Melvin Gordon (No. 15 in 2015) have been top-15 picks.
First, the nice: Of the ten RBs drafted within the first spherical throughout that stretch, seven have made not less than one Professional Bowl staff. So, if Detroit drafts a RB within the first spherical – nonetheless fairly uncommon lately – then the Lions stand an affordable probability of getting a Professional Bowl participant in return.
Nevertheless, these RBs’ proverbial flames burned out rapidly. Take into account the next:
Two of them are already out of the league (Gurley and Richardson).
Of the seven drafted within the high 15, six have or are coping with severe accidents.
Of the seven drafted within the high 15, 5 wound up taking part in for not less than one different staff. Barkley might be a part of that checklist due to his in depth damage historical past, regardless that he’s second within the league in speeding yards with 779 yards. Barkley can be an unrestricted free agent on the finish of the season. Elliott, in the meantime, will enter the offseason as a possible wage cap casualty on account of his excessive wage and diminishing returns on the sector.
So all of this screams, “Don’t draft a operating again within the first spherical, particularly within the high 10!”
Take into account taking a RB excessive within the draft like leasing out a pleasant automotive. With a slight price improve, you get a brand-new “automotive” each few years. And the brand new automotive is much less more likely to want repairs, not less than till you lease one other one.
While you have a look at it like that, then it is sensible for Detroit to take a RB with its second first-round decide, as there’s no assure that both Robinson or Alabama’s Jahmyr Gibbs (No. 26) will nonetheless be out there early within the second spherical. And, once more, current historical past says groups stand a few 70 p.c probability at drafting a future Professional Bowler if it takes a RB within the first spherical, so both participant would supply a right away jolt to the offense – presumably at a degree greater than a number of the second-tier RBs like Texas A&M’s Devon Achane (No. 46).
And that’s what the Dan Campbell-led teaching employees is probably going searching for: A “protected” prospect at a place that also contributes closely to the staff’s success. That’s why Robinson will get the nod over one of many high cornerbacks, like Penn State’s Joey Porter Jr. (No. 8), South Carolina’s Cam Smith (No. 11) or Georgia’s Kelee Ringo (No. 12), regardless that the Lions will doubtless tackle the secondary excessive within the draft.
And it’s why Robinson is a safer decide over one of many high remaining defensive linemen, like Georgia defensive deal with Jalen Carter (No. 4) or Clemson cross rusher Myles Murphy (No. 7).
All can be extremely tempting with Detroit’s second decide on Day 1.
Nevertheless, because the saying goes, a younger QB’s finest buddy is a strong operating assault.
Lastly, a good-to-great floor recreation helps the protection, too, because it eats break day the clock – one thing a younger protection like Detroit most likely covets.
Spherical 2: S Antonio Johnson, Texas A&M (No. 28 total prospect)
The very best a part of drafting excessive within the second spherical is that you’ve the prospect to draft a participant who was thought-about a first-round prospect however fell for no matter purpose. In different phrases, consider it like drafting a second first-rounder (or, in Detroit’s case, a 3rd first-rounder).
Johnson and Alabama’s Brian Department (No. 31) are broadly thought to be the highest safeties within the 2023 draft, and both one may go within the first spherical. Johnson (6-foot-3, 195-pounds) is seen as extra of a Jayron Kearse, in-the-box robust security/hybrid linebacker kind in Dallas, whereas Department (6-foot, 193-pounds) has been in comparison with do-everything All-Professional security Budda Baker of Arizona. Both means, each gamers are used everywhere in the subject.
And security may very well be comparatively excessive on the Lions’ offseason want checklist, with each Deshon Elliott and Will Harris set to turn into UFAs on the finish of the season. In the meantime, rookie Kerby Joseph, a third-round security out of Illinois, has greater than held his personal since starter Tracy Walker tore his Achilles in September. Joseph has a 74.4 PFF grade in restricted motion, so he seems part of the staff’s long-term future. Walker, in the meantime, may miss the beginning of the season, though studies say he’s aiming to return by OTAs.
Both means, the Lions may use a playmaker at security to pair with both Joseph or Walker, and Johnson and Department are comparatively “protected” picks who match the invoice as gamers who many ranked as first-round prospects.
Spherical 2: CB Mekhi Garner, LSU (No. 62 total prospect)
How dangerous is Detroit’s cornerback state of affairs?
Former Ohio State CB Jeff Okudah, the No. 3 decide of the 2020 draft, is lastly having fun with a “breakout” season – to the tune of a PFF grade of 66.1. It’s a good rating and would current by far his career-best rating if he can keep this degree of play, however it’s actually not what the Lions hoped it will get out of a top-5 decide. Plus, his finest place is likely to be at security, in response to The Athletic’s Colton Pouncy.
Then you have got Amani Oruwariye and Mike Hughes, who’re among the many lowest-scoring CBs within the league, per PFF. The aforementioned Harris has even seen time at cornerback.
So to say the place is amongst Detroit’s most-pressing wants can be an understatement.
Fortuitously, with as many as six top-100 picks within the 2023 draft, the Lions can wait a bit to handle the place and nonetheless come away with a Day 1 starter.
The 6-foot-2, 212-pound Garner has what groups are searching for out of the place: tall with lengthy arms and lengthy velocity with fluid helps and the power to trace the ball successfully.
Appears like a unicorn, proper?
However Garner additionally will get dinged for restoration velocity and elite velocity total, with NFLDraftBuzz including that Garner is presently solely able to taking part in in a path place, “and even then, he’d doubtless … draw lots of flags.” The scouting report goes on to say Garner isn’t overly bodily as a tackler, regardless of his dimension.
Nonetheless, he’s the final of the Tier 2-type gamers at his place, so if Detroit hasn’t drafted a cornerback by now, it virtually actually will no later than its first decide of the third spherical.
Spherical 3: TE Darnell Washington, Georgia (No. 42 total prospect)
Washington, at 6-foot-7, 272-pounds, seems to be like a chiseled Tremendous Hero on the sector. Georgia’s No. 2 TE behind 2024 hopeful Brock Bowers, Washington is surprisingly athletic for his dimension and is simply as fierce of a blocker as he seems to be.
Spherical 3: LB Tommy Eichenberg, Ohio State (No. 99 total prospect)
The 6-foot-2, 239-pound Eichenberg would mix with this 12 months’s sixth-round rookie Malcolm Rodriguez and 2021 fourth-rounder Derrick Barnes to present Detroit a strong, younger linebacker core to construct round.
Spherical 5: DL Colby Wood, Auburn: (No. 129 total prospect)
At 6-foot-5, 284-pounds, the junior is listed as a defensive lineman within the Rigdon massive board, however Wood is able to taking part in in an even- or odd-defensive entrance.
And that’s what would make him a lovely prospect for Detroit. The Lions have already got an intriguing trio of younger cross rushers, led by star rookie Aidan Hutchinson, rookie Josh Paschal and 2020 third rounder Julian Okwara. However none are as efficient at stopping the run as Wood, who may kick inside subsequent to 2021 third-round nostril deal with Alim McNeill on passing downs.
His dimension, athleticism and flexibility, although, is what makes it so shocking to see Wood nonetheless on the board on the high of the fifth spherical – therefore the number of a prospect who performs a place that isn’t essentially an enormous want for the Lions.
Spherical 6: DL Keeanu Benton, Wisconsin (No. 181 total prospect)
One other participant too good to cross up at a place that isn’t essentially a necessity.
To be truthful, McNeill is having a strong season up to now with a PFF grade of 60.6. And, as is often the case with nostril tackles, McNeill doesn’t supply a lot as a cross rusher 48 tackles, 5 tackles for loss and a pair of sacks over his first 24 video games. As an alternative, his principal job is to occupy not less than two offensive linemen and make it tougher for opposing groups to run the ball.
McNeill has a modest 60.6 PFF grade.
Nevertheless, Benton is usually seen as a higher-ranked prospect by different analysts, so that you virtually should take him if nonetheless out there this late within the draft. Between Benton, McNeill and Wood, Detroit ought to anticipate vital enchancment in its run protection, which presently ranks close to the underside of the league.
Spherical 6: G Micah Mazzccua, Baylor (No. 191 total prospect)
May the large, 6-foot-5, 331-pound redshirt sophomore be this 12 months’s Tyler Smith? Keep in mind, was a 6-foot-5, 324-pound redshirt sophomore who brought on draft analysts to scramble when he declared for the draft. Usually seen by the draft neighborhood as a Day 2 expertise, scouts – or, not less than the scouts in Dallas – didin’t see it that means and took the Tulsa product with the No. 24 total decide.
In fact, if Mazzccua enjoys an identical rise, then her actually received’t be out there within the sixth spherical. With a PFF grade of 86.5, Mazzccua is the sixth-highest rated guard within the nation. He additionally has a 87.1 run block grade from PFF.
Because it stands, left guard stays the weak spot alongside Detroit’s offensive line. New starter Logan Stenberg, a 2020 fourth-rounder out of Wisconsin, has a PFF rating of 34.6 after taking part in 5 snaps on offense final season and none as a rookie.
So anticipate the staff to handle the place in some unspecified time in the future within the offseason, both by means of the draft or free company. Mazzccua can be a coup if nonetheless out there this late within the draft, however a participant like Utah’s Braeden Daniels (No. 200) or North Carolina State’s Chandler Zavala (No. 242) is likely to be a extra lifelike decide this late within the draft.