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Detroit Lions Mock Draft 1.0: Defensive upgrades across the board for Detroit

On the eve of the NFL Combine, here’s an early look at how Detroit could address their needs on defense and more.

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For a team currently situated with the No. 2 overall pick, the NFL Draft is an important moment for the Detroit Lions and their efforts to rebuild this football team.

And they certainly aren’t short on chances: the Lions have the fifth-most draft capital in the 2022 NFL Draft, and Brad Holmes will look to use those resources to this rebuild’s benefit after having one of the most successful draft classes in the league in 2021.

This year, I’m using Pro Football Network’s “Mock Draft Machine” to put together my drafts which is completely free to use, allows you to make trades, and maybe most importantly, is routinely updated with new player rankings to reflect how prospects are being valued.

Round 1, Pick 2: S Kyle Hamilton

It’s not a secret, the Lions desperately need to address the safety position after largely ignoring it last offseason—and Tracy Walker’s impending free agency only exacerbates that need.

Enter Kyle Hamilton.

Recently, NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah stoked the flames for Hamilton being a top pick in this draft despite the position he plays. Hamilton’s speed and frame make him a perfect counter for opposing tight ends in modern NFL offenses. He’s earning the moniker of being a “unicorn” of sorts as draftniks rave about his unique combination of size and skill. The Lions could opt to take a player like Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson or Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux, but as we’ll see with this mock draft, Detroit should have options to upgrade the EDGE position with one of their other top selections.

(Other options at this spot: EDGE Aidan Hutchinson, EDGE Kayvon Thibodeaux)

Round 1, Pick 32: EDGE Jermaine Johnson

After passing over both Hutchinson and Thibodeaux, the depth of EDGE defenders in this class shows up when the Lions pick at No. 32 and Florida State’s Jermaine Johnson is available.

Johnson’s dominating performance at the Senior Bowl rocketed him up big boards and mock drafts alike. A Georgia transfer, Johnson finally had a breakout season his senior season with the Seminoles when he racked up 14 sacks and provided stout run defense as an excellent edge-setter. Johnson would immediately be able to come in and contribute in a variety of ways for Detroit.

(Other options at this spot: EDGE Myjai Sanders, DT Perrion Winfrey)

Round 2, Pick 34: S Jalen Pitre

Speaking of immediate impact, the Lions find another player who has a knack for making plays all over the field in Baylor’s Jalen Pitre.

Pitre led all Power 5 defenders in tackles for no gain/loss on runs during the 2021 season, a testament to both his instincts and physical traits. Taking another player at safety with a top pick seems like a double-dip on the surface, but Pitre lined up in the slot on over 66 percent of snaps last season per Pro Football Focus. He has the short-area quickness and agility to play tight in coverage at that spot, and the Lions could certainly use a nickel corner.

(Other options at this spot: WR David Bell, CB Roger McCreary)

Round 3, Pick 66: LB Chad Muma

Muma is becoming a very popular name here for the Lions and for good reason: Detroit’s need at linebacker is only superseded by their need at safety. With that addressed, need and value align perfectly for a player the Lions could really use at the second level.

The Wyoming product is a three-down linebacker, plays downhill, and tackles everything in sight. Last year, both Alex Anzalone and Jalen Reeves-Maybin finished first (21.2%) and sixth (16.1%) respectively in missed tackle percentage among qualifying linebackers. Muma’s missed tackle rate for his career is just 8 percent per PFF.

(Other options at this spot: LB Christian Harris, WR Christian Watson)

Round 3, Pick 97: WR Skyy Moore

Moore and his game are built for the slot at the NFL level, but I think, like current Lions wideout Amon-Ra St. Brown, Moore has some versatility to where he can line up. He’s a yards-after-catch threat waiting to happen due to his play strength and agility—Moore forced 26 missed tackles in 2021, tops in the country for a wide receiver.

It took until the Lions’ fifth selection, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see Holmes play things patiently when finding a wide receiver in this draft. Or he could try and trade up for a player he has an eye on like when he reported tried to move up to No. 4 last year to select Ja’Marr Chase.

(Other options at this spot: TE Jeremy Ruckert, WR Calvin Austin III)

Round 5, Pick 177: IOL Dylan Parham

When on the sideline during the Senior Bowl game, Dan Campbell mentioned the Lions would like to add a little depth at offensive line and Parham fits the bill. Parham played all over the offensive line at Memphis, spending time at left guard his first two seasons, right tackle his junior season, and finishing things up at right guard in 2021.

While he did play a couple seasons at tackle, Parham’s best work at Memphis was on the interior where he best projects as a guard or a center, but without any experience playing the latter, he’d need some time to work on developing those skills. A former tight end in high school, which is evident from his athleticism on tape, Parham is slim for a guard at less than 300 pounds, but with NFL weight training, he could bulk up to help reach the potential in his game.

Round 6, Pick 180: LB JoJo Domann

After grabbing Muma earlier, the Lions add another player to the second level of their defense with a linebacker equipped with some different traits and abilities.

A safety converted to linebacker, Domann will be an interesting name to follow through the draft process. Out of the box, Domann projects to be a subpackage linebacker who can be called upon for his athleticism to handle extra tight ends in man coverage and his instincts in zone coverage, but he has limitations as a run defender. He would also bring plenty to the table as a special teams contributor.

Round 6, Pick 218: WR Danny Gray

Coming from SMU and the system the Mustangs use on offense, there isn’t a ton of tape where Gray can demonstrate how he can win at the next level. However, Gray helped make a name for himself by having some impressive reps before having to pull out of practices due to injury.

During the Tuesday practice at the Senior Bowl, Gray was captured travelling at 22.01 MPH, the fastest speed for a wide receiver on the American team. We are seeing more and more teams put a premium on numbers like these compared to what’s captured at the NFL Combine or at Pro Days—like Holmes former employer.

Round 7, Pick 232: TE Connor Heyward

A local product out of Michigan State University, Heyward exudes the kind of attitude and playstyle Campbell covets from his players: tough, resilient types committed to doing their role at 100 percent effort to make the team better. Some forget that Heyward, once the lead running back for the Spartans, willingly took a step back from the spotlight to lead block for Kenneth Walker III.

Heyward had the opportunity to play for the Lions coaching staff down in Mobile for the Senior Bowl, and while the team has re-signed Superback Jason Cabinda, Heyward’s versatility as a tight end/h-back/fullback, as well as his special teams acumen, makes him totally worth this late-pick investment.