Detroit Lions head coach Matt Patricia is firmly on the hot seat. In two seasons as head coach, Patrica has led the team to just nine wins combined. The Lions have finished dead last in the division both times.
It’s been even longer since the team won the division, with their last championship coming all the way back in 1993. To say Lions fans are starved for a winner would be an understatement, which makes the 2020 NFL Draft a pivotal one for the team.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford is entering his 12th season in the NFL and is coming off a season marred by injury. He’s not getting any younger, and to the Lions’ credit, they’ve surrounded him with some talent in the last few years. The time is now for the Lions to take the next step. If they don’t, big changes could be on the horizon.
How can the Lions use the 2020 NFL Draft class to change their recent misfortunes? This updated 7-round mock draft would go a long way towards filling some glaring holes and making that leap possible.
Defense, defense, defense. The Lions had one of the worst defensive units in the league last season. The pass defense was nothing short of abysmal. To make matters worse, in the offseason, the Lions traded away their best defensive player, Darius Slay, to the Eagles in exchange for third and fifth-round picks in this year’s draft.
The team made several signings on that side of the ball in free agency to help mitigate the need. Desmond Trufant, Jayron Kearse, and Tony McRae were signed to bolster the secondary, and linebacker Jamie Collins was added to the linebacker corps. Still, much work is to be done on that side of the ball.
This is not to say they should turn all of their attention to the defense and neglect needs on offense. The team could stand to draft an offensive lineman or two to fill holes along the interior of the line.
They could also stand to draft a running back to complement Kerryon Johnson and step up should he succumb to injury again. Most of all, the Lions need to start thinking about what life after Stafford looks like.
They do all that and more in the latest version of our Lions 7-round mock draft.
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Round 1, Pick 6 (projected trade): Jeffrey Okudah, CB, Ohio State
The Lions could go in several different directions right out of the gate with the third pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. We’re almost certain the team is going to draft one of the top defensive talents available, but which one?
They could take the top interior defensive lineman in Auburn defensive tackle Derrick Brown. They could take the ultimate defensive chess piece in Clemson’s Isaiah Simmons, a player they could play at linebacker, safety, or cornerback.
Both of those options would help the Lions fill needs, but neither fills the most pressing need on the team: cornerback. I believe the Lions are going to target Jeffrey Okudah with their first pick. If that’s the case, the Lions would be wise to shop the third overall selection to a quarterback-needy team (in this case, the Chargers) looking to jump the Miami Dolphins.
In exchange for moving down to the 6th pick, the Lions pick up an additional third and fifth-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, along with an extra second-round pick in 2021. Better yet, they still get the guy they ultimately would be content to take at pick 3, making this trade the ultimate win-win.
Round 2, Pick 35: Marlon Davidson, DE/DT, Auburn
The Lions passed on the chance to improve the interior of their defensive line in the first round, opting against Auburn’s Derrick Brown or South Carolina’s Javon Kinlaw. Here in the second round, they get arguably more value in Brown’s Auburn teammate Marlon Davidson.
Davidson isn’t quite the overall prospect that Brown is, but at 35th overall, he provides the Lions with excellent value. Davidson is a versatile defender who should be able to play both inside and outside. He’s a more accomplished and consistent pass rusher than his former Auburn counterpart, and when you add in the value of the trade down with Los Angeles, it’s a great move.
Round 3, Pick 67: Kyle Dugger, S, Lenoir-Rhyne
When you come from a small school like safety Kyle Dugger of Lenior-Rhyne, it takes a next-level type of success to really stand out. Dugger absolutely dominated his competition in college and was one of the biggest standouts at the Senior Bowl in January.
The Lions made moves in the offseason to shore up the safety position, so it’s not a position of major need. However, the value here is too much to pass up on. Dugger would provide the Lions with a punishing presence in the middle of the field. He’ll be a player who can provide solid coverage in the middle of the field on slot receivers and tight ends.
He’ll also give the Lions some much-needed run support from the back-end of the defense. Dugger is a player I could see going as high as the middle of the second round. Grabbing him at the top of the third is excellent.
Round 3, Pick 71 (projected trade): Jacob Eason, QB, Washington
Stafford has been a staple for the Lions for more than a decade. He’s entering his 12th season with the team and is coming off a season where he played only six games after suffering a back injury. It’s only a matter of time before the Lions are forced to face life without their long-time quarterback.
What better place to find a potential replacement than with a pick you didn’t initially have?
In former Washington Huskies quarterback Jacob Eason, the Lions are getting a prototypical pocket passer. Eason has great size for the position, and arguably has the strongest arm of any quarterback in this draft.
However, his arm does also get him in a lot of trouble. Eason tends to trust his arm too much and make questionable decisions, which is why he’s available in the third round. With proper coaching, Eason can develop into a solid starter in the league.
Round 3, Pick 85: Brandon Aiyuk, WR, Arizona State
If there’s an area the Lions don’t necessarily need to address early, it’s the wide receiver position. Kenny Golladay has developed into a true number 1 receiver during his time in Detroit. Marvin Jones and Danny Amendola are still more than serviceable to round out the core starters. But with three picks in the third round, and Brandon Aiyuk sitting on the board, why not upgrade?
Aiyuk will draw comparisons to his Arizona State predecessor N’Keal Harry — perhaps unfairly. They both have similar body types, but Aiyuk has more in the toolbox than Harry did. Aiyuk is considerably more shifty than Harry was coming out of college.
He’s also a more polished route runner and creates more separation than Harry. Aiyuk would provide a nice 1-2 punch with Golladay and help open up the middle of the field for guys like Amendola and tight end T.J. Hockenson.
Round 4, Pick 109: Joshua Kelley, RB, UCLA
Running back is a position that has been a thorn in the Lions’ paw since the retirement of Barry Sanders. For most of the past decade, the Lions were one of the worst rushing teams in the league. Things have improved in recent years, thanks in large part to the emergence of current starter Kerryon Johnson. However, Johnson’s health has been an issue, and that’s why the Lions spend a mid-round pick at RB here.
Johnson has only started 14 games in his two seasons in Detroit and missed the middle of the 2019 season with a knee injury.
The Lions could be content to roll with Bo Scarbrough and Ty Johnson as the team’s backup running backs again this season, but I don’t think they will be. The smart money is on them taking a running back at some point in this draft. Former Bruins running back Joshua Kelley may not fit the Bob Quinn mold at the position but would provide a nice complement to Johnson. Kelley’s explosiveness and pass-catcher ability should outweigh not quite fitting the Lions’ ideal mold.
Round 5, Picks 149, 151 (projected trade), and 166: Alton Robinson, DE, Syracuse; Azur Kamara, LB, Kansas; Ben Bredeson, OG, Michigan
The biggest disappointment of this mock is waiting until the 5th round to address two of the Lions’ biggest needs: EDGE rusher and interior offensive line. It’s unfortunate, but that’s just how the board fell this time. We were able to pick up some great value at other positions along the way, and I think we’ve got some good value despite the circumstances here as well.
Alton Robinson addresses the need for a pass rusher on the outside. Robinson had a tremendous junior season for Syracuse two years ago but fell flat in his senior season last year. Still, he can provide the Lions with an athletic rusher who has a lot of upside to his game. That’s as much as you can ask for from a fifth-round pick.
The need along the interior of the offensive line gets addressed with home-state product Ben Bredeson of Michigan. In Bredeson, the Lions are getting a strong, powerful presence on the inside. Bredeson will help tremendously in the power run game, moving guys at will to open up lanes for Johnson. If you’re asking Bredeson to pull, however, you’re in for an adventure given his questionable footwork and overall slowness.
At pick 151, the Lions pick up an underrated linebacker in former Kansas Jayhawks’ product Azur Kamara. Kamara is very raw, but there’s a lot to like about his game and profile. He’s got speed for days at the position and posted the longest arms of any linebacker measured at the NFL Combine. If the coaches can work with him to refine his technique, Kamara could be a bonafide starter in a couple of years’ time.
Round 6, Pick 182: Trajan Bandy, CB, Miami
Okudah goes a long way towards fixing the Lions’ passing game woes. He should be able to come in immediately and admirably fill the shoes left by former Lions great Darius Slay. But Okudah alone does not solve the issue. The Lions also severely lack depth at the cornerback position.
In free agency, they signed Desmond Trufant, who will likely be penciled in as the starter opposite Okudah, but beyond that, the cupboard is pretty bare.
With that in mind, the Lions dip back into the cornerback well in the 6th round for former Miami Hurricane Trajan Bandy. Bandy lacks the size and some of the physicality you’d like to see from a boundary corner, but he has the agility and coverage skills to be reliable in the slot. His selection is more about depth than anything.
Round 7, Pick 235: Bravvion Roy, DT, Baylor
With our 11th and final pick in our Lions 7-round mock draft, the Lions pick up another defensive tackle to pair with second-round pick Davidson and free-agent acquisition Danny Shelton. Bravvion Roy is a true nose tackle and space eater, best suited for a 3-4 front.
Roy provides some depth at the position the Lions sorely need, and with some refinement, can become a good rotational piece. He’s a mountain of a man and will provide immediate production in run defense. He’s not explosive and hasn’t developed much as a pass rusher, which limits his upside, but with a pick this late in the draft, you’re looking for guys who can fill a specific role. Roy’s role is to be a quality run stuffer on the depth chart.