The Detroit Lions had the capital to take control of the NFC North — will their 2023 NFL Draft grades hold up against heightened scrutiny? This was a big opportunity for Brad Holmes and Dan Campbell to continue the Lions’ upward trajectory.
Detroit Lions NFL Draft Grades
Round 1, Pick 12: Jahmyr Gibbs, RB, Alabama
The value of the Bijan Robinson pick at No. 8 overall was a bit easier to stomach. We knew Jahmyr Gibbs was also going to go in Round 1, and the Lions add a phenomenal playmaker in Gibbs. But one has to wonder if this should have been the pick, with a potential blue-chip boundary CB still on the board in Christian Gonzalez.
That said, as we’ve seen before, the Lions aren’t afraid to pick players they like high. They were aggressive in trading up for Jameson Williams last cycle, and Gibbs provides a similar kind of dynamism from the backfield. He’s a hyper-elite explosive threat with absurd lateral twitch and foot speed, and he’s also incredibly quick to react in tight spaces.
Beyond Gibbs’ electric running ability, he’s also a special receiving threat at RB. He can split out wide, run routes and separate independently, make plays at the catch point, and rack up RAC production. At this point, the Lions still have the 18th, 34th, 48th, and 55th picks. They have the capital to warrant this move, but now it’s up to Ben Johnson to make it right.
Round 1, Pick 18: Jack Campbell, LB, Iowa
The Lions are rebelling against positional value in the 2023 NFL Draft. At 12th overall, they took a running back. And now, at 18th overall, they take a linebacker in Iowa’s Jack Campbell. Passing on a high-upside press cornerback in Deonte Banks isn’t ideal, and there was also a case to make for Will Levis at this value. But Campbell does at least upgrade the LB corps.
This is a slight reach for Campbell, but he’s one of the safest prospects in the draft. And for a Lions defense that’s been hurting for quality LB play for the better part of a decade, this pick is understandable. At 6’5”, 250 pounds, Campbell has great range and searing closing burst. He’s strong enough to stack and shed at the line, and he also has superb instincts in coverage.
Campbell will be the green-dot player, a tremendous locker-room leader, and he could sustain a decade-long career as a quality starter. Having that kind of stability is valuable, but one has to think the Lions could have scored better positional value here. Luckily, they still have the Round 2 capital to pick up a talented CB on Day 2, but there’s still work to do to compensate for this pick.
Round 2, Pick 34: Sam LaPorta, TE, Iowa
The Detroit Lions head back to the Iowa Hawkeyes well at the top of Round 2. After adding Jack Campbell in Round 1, the Lions acquire tight end Sam LaPorta at 34th overall.
LaPorta is one of the more well-rounded TE prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft, and there’s reason to believe an insertion into the more explosive Lions offense will bode very well for him. The Hawkeyes’ anemic attack diluted his profile at times, but he showed off smooth separation ability and athleticism, rolling RAC ability, and sure hands.
This is a safe pick, but a reach nonetheless when you consider the other TE talent left on the board. Michael Mayer is the obviously superior prospect with his route nuance, toughness, and reliability as a catcher, and Tucker Kraft also has a superior profile to LaPorta with his size, athleticism, and contact balance.
It makes sense for the Lions to target a quality receiving threat at TE, and they did add one here. But there were better options available, and considering the volume of options left, they might have been able to wait until 48 and add a cornerback here instead.
Round 2, Pick 45: Brian Branch, DB, Alabama
The Lions have fielded early criticism for their lack of value in the first few rounds of the 2023 NFL Draft, but they make up for any reaches ten-fold with this pick. Midway through the second round, the Lions aggressively traded up and landed Alabama DB Brian Branch.
Branch is a top-10 prospect on my board. Needless to say, this is a home-run value pick, for a team that needed exactly that. The Lions signed Cameron Sutton, C.J. Gardner-Johnson, and Emmanuel Moseley in free agency, and those additions gave them security in the secondary. But the opportunity to add another versatile, physical DB like Branch can’t be passed up.
Branch’s niche skill set, combined with his non-elite deep speed, might have contributed to his fall. But at the end of the day, he’s one of the most physical DBs in the class, both in coverage and in support. He’s an amped-up short-area athlete with great fluidity, off-man technique, and explosiveness, with the vision and instincts to smother receivers and make plays on the ball. The Lions get another dynamic, versatile piece in their ascending secondary.
Round 3, Pick 68: Hendon Hooker, QB, Tennessee
At last, Hendon Hooker is off the board. There was buzz leading up to the NFL Draft that he might be a Round 1 pick. Then Round 1 and Round 2 passed, and Hooker remained on the board. The Lions stop his fall at 68th overall and present an intriguing fit for the Tennessee passer.
Hooker is a lot easier to stomach in Round 3 than in Round 1, and the Lions have addressed enough needs to this point to make room for the selection. With Jared Goff due for an extension soon, it makes sense to get Hooker in the QB room as a quality backup with some physical upside.
The ultimate question for Detroit is whether Hooker amounts to enough in the future to warrant using this pick on a QB when it could’ve been used to further strengthen the roster. Hooker has enough in his toolbox to eventually become a starter, and he was a very prolific producer at Tennessee. That said, it’ll be a big adjustment for him transitioning from the Tennessee offense, and at 25 years old, it’s fair to wonder how much growth potential he has left in the tank.
At the very least, Hooker gives the Lions security, potential long-term flexibility, and allows them to trek forward at cruising speed with Goff. Time will tell if he can provide value beyond that.
Round 3, Pick 96: Brodric Martin, DT, Western Kentucky
The Lions had a clear focus on personnel flexibility when they traded back up to the 96th pick in the third round. They gave up three Day 3 selections to get in position here, and the player they deemed worth the move was Western Kentucky DT Brodric Martin.
Martin projects as a pure nose tackle at the next level. At around 6’5”, 330 pounds, he’s a massive space-eater with elite length and reach (35” arms, 83 5/8” wingspan). With his sheer strength and width, Martin can occupy double-teams, clog gaps, and hold the line in run defense.
The size and strength present appeal with Martin, but this is a considerable reach — perhaps larger than any of the gambles Detroit made in Round 1. Martin graded as a late-Day 3 prospect at best for me.
Round 5, Pick 152: Colby Sorsdal, OL, William & Mary
On Day 3, shoring up the offensive line with versatile, high-upside players isn’t a bad mode of operation. Colby Sorsdal has great functional athleticism at 6’5”, 304 pounds, with 33” arms. He has the foot speed and knee bend to stay at tackle, but his range as a blocker also translates well at guard, where he can torque opponents on contact.
Round 7, Pick 219: Antoine Green, WR, North Carolina
It made sense for the Lions to draft at least one wide receiver in the 2023 NFL Draft. They settled on North Carolina WR Antoine Green in Round 7.
Green specializes as a vertical threat. He’s 6’2”, 200 pounds, with over 32” arms, and ran a 4.47 at the Combine. Green’s long-strider explosiveness is valuable, but at the Shrine Bowl, he flashed an even more complete skill set. He has the twitch to separate and off-set DBs, and he’s a very instinctive finisher.
What Were the Lions’ Biggest Needs Entering the Draft?
- CB, TE, LB, QB, EDGE
With two picks in Round 2, adding a tight end should be one of the Lions’ priorities, especially in a really talented class. Trading away Jeff Okudah makes CB their chief need, but that doesn’t mean they’re locked into one with the sixth pick in the draft.
Linebacker is always at least a secondary need for the Lions. It’s akin to claiming humans need oxygen to survive or fish need water. But the real wild card is quarterback.
Jared Goff was very good a season ago, but he has a very hard ceiling, and if the Lions want to contend not just in the immediacy but for the next decade-plus, a QB could also be an option with the sixth or 18th pick.
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