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Updated 2021 NFL draft order: Detroit Lions could still pick as high as 3

Looking at the best and worst case scenarios for the Lions.

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Detroit Lions Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

The one good thing to come from a 47-7 drubbing in Week 16 of a lost season is that it helps out your draft position. The Detroit Lions entered the week just outside the top 10 in draft order, but they’ll leave Week 16 holding onto the seventh overall pick.

At the moment, there are just six teams with a worse record than the Lions, and four of those teams are within a single game of Detroit. That means, even factoring in tiebreakers, Detroit could jump all four of those teams with a bit of good luck in Week 17. Yes, it’s entirely possible—albeit not that probable—for the Lions to be picking third overall in back-to-back seasons.

Here’s a look at the updated 2021 NFL Draft order through all of Week 16 outside of the “Monday Night Football” game between the 6-8 New England Patriots and the 11-3 Buffalo Bills.

(Note: Strength of schedule is listed in parentheses, and is provided by Tankathon, which uses the entire 17-week schedule to calculate strength of schedule, not just games played thus far.)

  1. Jaguars: 1-14
  2. Jets: 2-13
  3. Texans*: 4-11 (.542)
  4. Falcons: 4-11 (.550)
  5. Bengals: 4-10-1 (.527)
  6. Eagles: 4-10-1 (.531)
  7. Lions: 5-10 (.504)
  8. Giants: 5-10 (.506)
  9. Panthers: 5-10 (.529)
  10. Broncos: 5-10 (.567)
  11. Cowboys: 6-9 (.465)
  12. Chargers: 6-9 (.490)
  13. Vikings: 6-9 (.508)
  14. 49ers: 6-9 (.544)
  15. Patriots: 6-8 (.529)

*The Texans’ first-round pick is owned by the Dolphins

As you can see, the Lions are picking higher than any other 5-10 team due to their easy schedule. What’s even more notable is that the Lions’ strength of schedule is far easier than any of the four, 4-win teams ahead of Detroit in draft order. So, theoretically, if all four of those teams win in Week 17 and the Lions lose in Week 17, they will jump all the way up to three.

Let’s take a look at the schedule to see how plausible that is.

  • Texans over Titans
  • Falcons over Buccaneers
  • Bengals over Ravens
  • Eagles over Washington

Unfortunately, all four of those teams face off against a team currently in a playoff spot. Even worse, of those four “playoff” teams, only one—the Buccaneers—have clinched a spot in the postseason. The Ravens, Titans, and Washington all have work to do to, meaning they’ll be pretty motivated on Sunday to avoid an upset.

Another thing to keep an eye on is the New York Giants. Their strength of schedule is close enough to the Lions that they could jump Detroit in draft order with the perfect storm of results that change strength of schedule. That being said, the Giants have a very winnable game against the Cowboys, and—believe it or not—New York could still win that division with a win and a Washington loss.

But how far could the Lions fall?

With the Vikings out of the playoff race, we should probably prepare for the worse: The Lions pulling off a meaningless Week 17 win. If the Lions suddenly feel the need to pull off an “inspirational” win in the finale, they could fall considerably far in the draft order. A lot of the current 6-9 teams have brutally easy strength of schedules, meaning the Lions would fall below them if both teams finished 6-10. That includes Washington (.464), who is not listed above because they’re currently the division leader.

The Lions could fall to 13th in the draft order. Here’s what would have to happen:

  1. Lions beat Vikings
  2. Giants beat Cowboys (plus NYG gets the edge in SOS)
  3. Saints beat or tie Panthers
  4. Raiders beat or tie Broncos
  5. Chiefs beat Chargers
  6. Vikings get edge in SOS

The SOS stuff is complicated, and I won’t bother getting into here.

Here’s the basic line. If the Lions lose to the Vikings, realistically, the lowest they’ll pick is eight, the highest they’ll pick is three. The most likely spot is probably six or seven.

If the Lions beat the Vikings, it’s hard to say how far they’ll fall, but there’s a very, very good chance it would be out of the top 10.

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