Stand back from the centrifuge.
The NFL’s new year is yet to get underway, but that hasn’t prevented the proverbial you-know-what from hitting the fan over the past 72 hours. After almost two months of nothing to report—and too many appearances on The Pat McAfee Show—Aaron Rodgers is staying put in Green Bay. The Denver Broncos emptied their pockets for the services of Mr. Unlimited himself, Russell Wilson, and the Seattle Seahawks officially closed the book on the Legion of Boom when they released future Hall of Fame linebacker Bobby Wagner.
And that’s just the beginning of what figures to be a busy offseason as teams around the league get back to business as usual with a salary cap on the rise. That includes the Detroit Lions and general manager Brad Holmes who figure to be bigger players in all aspects of the NFL offseason than they were a year ago.
The Lions made their first substantial move ahead of free agency and the draft by re-signing Josh Reynolds to a two-year extension worth up to $12 million on Tuesday. In news seemingly unrelated to the Lions, but actually, something to keep an eye on, the Jacksonville Jaguars placed the franchise tag on left tackle Cam Robinson, leaving the door open for them to thumb their nose at every mock draft you’ve seen for the past two months that had them choosing Alabama’s Evan Neal or North Carolina State’s Ikem Ekwonu.
Speaking of mock drafts, let’s get into it. 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.
- Seattle Seahawks trade No. 9, No. 40, No. 72, and Denver’s second-round pick in 2023.
- Detroit trades No. 2 and No. 218
For Seattle, it’s pretty simple: they can jumpstart their rebuild with a rookie quarterback who would certainly push Drew Lock for the starting job. If that quarterback doesn’t win the job, that’s fine, too. They would have the year to get things figured out in a loaded NFC West and can hit the ground running in 2023 with multiple picks in the first round. In this draft, they moved up and selected Ole Miss product, Matt Corral.
For Detroit, it’s an opportunity to slide back slightly, add more resources, and thus, have more maneuverability in both this draft and the next.
Round 1, Pick 9: EDGE Travon Walker
Drafting an EDGE with the Lions' top pick in this draft has long been the norm, but instead of it being Aidan Hutchinson (who went first overall to Jacksonville in this draft) or Kayvon Thibodeaux (selected by Houston with the third pick), it’s Georgia’s Travon Walker.
Everyone has seen Travon Walker blasting U-M’s Joe Moore Award through the stratosphere on this pull but here watch it again. So much torque. pic.twitter.com/aO3adaSoc4— Al Karsten (@bigalfredosauce) March 9, 2022
Walker’s draft stock has rocketed up big boards and mock drafts alike after he put on a show at the NFL Combine last week leaving some wondering if he belongs in the discussion for the No. 2 overall pick. His performance in Indy placed him in the athletic company of players like Myles Garrett and Ezekiel Ansah, but it’s his versatility and ability to play both inside and out along the defensive line that makes him such a tantalizing prospect for a Lions team looking to mix in different defensive fronts.
Round 1, Pick 32: DT Devonte Wyatt
Georgia defenders stole the show at the NFL Combine, and even though it was Jordan Davis who earned all the headlines and buzz, Devonte Wyatt had himself a day in Indy to the tune of a 9.63 RAS.
Highest graded SEC DIs over the last two seasons:— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) March 5, 2022
1. Christian Barmore (2020) - 90.0
2. Devonte Wyatt (2021) - 89.8 pic.twitter.com/nQPs0fsD5l
Detroit took to the draft last year to bolster their defensive line when they selected Levi Onwuzurike and Alim McNeill with their second and third-round picks respectively. A combination of picks like this for the second straight year might raise eyebrows, but with Trey Flowers likely to be a cap casualty and Nick Williams an unrestricted free agent, Detroit can reload with young upgrades.
Wyatt has room for growth as a pass rusher, but he has the quickness to develop those skills at the next level. Much like Walker, Wyatt has the versatility to play anywhere between the tackles, from a 3-tech to a 1-tech.
Round 2, Pick 34: S Jaquan Brisker
Detroit’s need for safety help is well-documented. Will Harris, Brady Breeze, and JuJu Hughes are the only safeties under contract for the Lions with Tracy Walker’s impending free agency looming. It’s such a need that the talk of Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton being the pick at No. 2 for Detroit is gaining steam. But there’s quite a bit of depth to this safety class, and Detroit should be able to grab an immediate contributor at the position.
Jaquan Brisker has only allowed 1 TD in his Penn State career (962 coverage snaps) pic.twitter.com/LhjbOCbedp— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) March 7, 2022
Daxton Hill and Lewis Cine were both selected at the tail end of the first round, but Penn State’s Jaquan Brisker was the easy pick here. He’s an athletic, long safety who played all over the place—in the box, single-high, two-high, and in the slot—for the Nittany Lions. In other words, a perfect fit for Detroit’s need for a split-zone safety.
Round 2, Pick 40: WR Christian Watson
Lions brass has been talking about adding wide receivers all offseason, and it got even more specific at the Combine when new offensive coordinator Ben Johnson said he’d like for the team to get a receiver who can do damage outside the numbers and deep down the field.
#NDSU WR Christian Watson is a player I'd love in the 2nd round for the #Texans. At 6'4, 211, I see a lot of Tee Higgins and Mike Williams in his game.— Jordan (@Texans_Thoughts) March 1, 2022
There's a slight connection between him and Lovie Smith too, as Watson's brother, Tre, played at Illinois with Lovie for 2 yrs. pic.twitter.com/dZblhC9gVk
North Dakota State’s Christian Watson is the kind of dynamic receiver who makes a difference in all phases of the game. He’s a receiving threat downfield as a big-time playmaker, and a committed blocker in the run game. The concerns of him playing at the FCS level should be put to rest after he made quite the impression at the Senior Bowl—check out Brett Whitefield’s comprehensive breakdown of his tape—and he put up historic numbers during the NFL Combine.
Round 3, Pick 66: LB Damone Clark
A need at least on par with safety for Detroit this offseason is the linebacker position. It’s been years, quite nearly a decade, since the Lions had playmakers patrolling the second level like DeAndre Levy and Stephen Tulloch. In the here and now, Detroit’s starting linebackers for the majority of the season in 2021, Alex Anzalone and Jalen Reeves-Maybin, are both set to be unrestricted free agents in less than a week.
LB 18 Damone Clark with a good read, attacks and makes a good tackle for loss. Clark checked into the Combine at 6-2 239 lbs while running a 4.57 and jumping 36.5 inches. Feels like he got better as the season went on for LSU. pic.twitter.com/QB7QEsqOl0— Russell Brown (@RussNFLDraft) March 9, 2022
Damone Clark is a player who is finally starting to get some attention after having an impressive Combine. After struggling in 2020, Clark bounced back in a big way during his senior season. His tape last year shows an instinctual linebacker who, when you consider measurables like 33-inch arms and a RAS of 9.74, can make a lot of plays from sideline to sideline in pursuit.
Round 3, Pick 72: TE Jeremy Ruckert
Taking a tight end this early might feel like a luxury pick because of the position and the Lions already having T.J. Hockenson, but Ruckert is just the kind of player Detroit needs to fill their need at TE2.
Some of hardest guys to sell in a draft room when coaches become part of evaluation process are finesse pass-catching F-only tight ends. TE coaches generally want nothing to do with those guys. Scouts won’t have that issue with @OhioStateFB Jeremy Ruckert (@Jeremy_Ruckert1). pic.twitter.com/mEsBv8tIkm— Jim Nagy (@JimNagy_SB) September 9, 2021
Ruckert’s blocking is his calling card, but he could be a useful tight end in the underneath game running curls and flats. Paired with Hockenson, the Lions would have a guy they could rely on in-line with Ruckert and free up the coaching staff to utilize Hockenson in a variety of ways. To that point, Detroit’s offense, especially its run game, would become more diverse and improve dramatically with an addition like Ruckert.
Round 3, Pick 97: WR Wan’Dale Robinson
*Pay attention to the situation in the game*. Wildcats score game winning TD two plays later— Kendall Mirsky (@MirskyKendall) March 2, 2022
Wan’Dale Robinson does a good job slow playing his route. Good concept and good execution with the post and corner routes on a condensed set to beat cover 3
A transfer from Nebraska where he logged 134 rushing attempts in two seasons, Robinson’s twitchy traits make him a player who can be used in a number of different ways, including special teams. As a receiver, Robinson’s 104 receptions last season are evidence of his reliable hands. At 5-foot-8 and 178 pounds, Robinson’s size might make you think he could have some trouble adjusting, but after playing in the SEC for a season, he proved he can keep up.
Round 5, Pick 177: IOL Dylan Parham
Dylan Parham, the swiss-army knife along the Memphis Tigers’ offensive line, was a selection of mine in the last mock draft I published at this very spot. At this point, there’s not much of a reason to switch things up. The Lions could always use a guy who can play multiple spots, including center, and it doesn’t seem like Logan Stenberg, who can’t play center, has done much to stick around.
Round 6, Pick 180: RB Hassan Haskins
From the looks of things, Detroit is set at running back with D’Andre Swift, Jamaal Williams, Craig Reynolds, Jermar Jefferson, and Godwin Igwebuike all under contract. However, finding a power back who has the acumen and bad intentions as a pass blocker like Haskins at this stage in the draft would definitely be worth the price of admission. Between his abilities on offense, Haskins’ ability on special teams would have him arriving at camp as an early favorite to earn a spot as RB3.
Round 7, Pick 232: CB Jaylen Watson
In the NFL, you can never have enough cornerbacks. It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if the Lions were to take one earlier in the draft, but Watson represents a developmental player who might stick around based on his instincts and an opportunity to make it with special teams.
Gonna be some feistyyyyyy CBs down in Mobile at @seniorbowl— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) January 8, 2022
Alontae Taylor, Cam Taylor-Britt, Damarri Mathis and I just finished some Jaylen Watson film - these guys will come up and hit! Watson has really good size/speed...
Could be a shift to safety for some - we'll see! pic.twitter.com/sJLJNfm2WY