We are less than a month away from the 2023 NFL Draft and we are pushing dangerously close to jumping the shark.
On Tuesday, former New York Jets general manager turned ESPN analyst, Mike Tannenbaum, released his first mock draft of the 2023 season and it is full of twists, turns, and bold projections—including for the Detroit Lions.
But before we get to the Lions' selections, let’s set the table with Tannenbaum’s first five picks.
Quarterbacks Bryce Young (Alabama) and C.J. Stroud (Ohio State) are off the board with the first two picks, landing with the Panthers and Texans, respectively. No surprise there, as most analysts are projecting the top two signal-callers to come off the board early. Edge rusher Will Anderson (Alabama) is third off the board to the Cardinals and, so far, this looks pretty standard.
At pick No. 4, the QB-needy Colts take Kentucky’s Will Levis, which is a bit of a surprise to see him selected over Florida’s Anthony Richardson, but quarterback preferences vary, so again, another understandable projection.
Then at pick No. 5, things take a turn.
Seattle just gave quarterback Geno Smith a contract extension, but they have reportedly been doing their homework on quarterbacks, either as a smokescreen or as a possible long-term solution at the position.
So would the Seahawks select Richardson?
Well, the answer for Tannenbaum is no... they’d select Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker instead.
Hooker has been getting a lot of hype recently due to his upside, and despite his obvious obstacles (age, current ACL injury, and QB-friendly scheme), he has been landing in the first round of some recent mock drafts—but never this high. Never. Not once. Ever.
So with Richardson still on the board, would the Lions seize the opportunity and grab the high-upside prospect? Well, no, they pass as well—spoiler: he ends up projected to the Titans at pick No. 11.
So if the Lions pass on a quarterback, they would surely consider taking Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter, who was widely considered the top player in this draft class before his recent off-the-field issues? Again, nope.
Tannenbaum instead picks a different defensive lineman to pair with the Lions...
No. 6: Tyree Wilson, EDGE, Texas Tech
Here’s Tannenbaum’s rationale for the projection:
“The Lions allowed the second-most yards per pass (7.9) last season and ranked 20th in sacks per dropback (6.1%). They added Cam Sutton, C.J. Gardner-Johnson and Emmanuel Moseley through free agency, and I thought about another defensive back here. But Wilson had an outstanding career at Texas Tech after transferring from Texas A&M and logged 14 sacks over the past two seasons. He’s long and plays with heavy hands. Wilson paired with Aidan Hutchinson provides Detroit an outstanding duo of pass-rushers for the next decade.”
Wilson is a realistic option for the Lions at pick No. 6, regardless of who goes off the board ahead of him, so overall, not a bad selection for the Lions.
The Raiders take a corner at No. 7, Falcons go edge rusher at No. 8, the Bears grab an offensive lineman at No. 9, as do the Eagles at No. 10, followed by the aforementioned selection of Richardson at No. 11 by the Titans.
With the second of their first-round picks, the Texans grab a receiver (No. 12) and the Jets take an offensive lineman (No. 13), followed by the Patriots and Packers also taking... you guessed it... offensive linemen. That’s five offensive linemen taken in the last seven picks. Talk about a run at the position.
Washington grabbed a tight end at No. 16, followed by Pittsburgh grabbing a defensive back at No. 17 to replace Cam Sutton—who is now with the Lions—leaving the Lions with another interesting decision at pick No. 18. And per Tannenbaum, they select...
No. 18: Jalen Carter, DT, Georgia
Once again, here’s Tannenbaum:
“Detroit performed poorly in a number of defensive categories last year, including bottom-three figures in passing yards against per attempt, rushing yards against per attempt and opponent third-down conversion rate. I got the Lions an edge rusher earlier, but I’m not done building up this defensive line. A team with multiple first-round picks can take a calculated risk. Carter is just that. He pleaded no contest to misdemeanor charges of reckless driving and racing after an arrest during combine week, and he appeared out of shape at his pro day in mid-March. But despite just six sacks over the past two seasons, his talent is on another level, and this could end up a great pick at No. 18.”
So the Lions end up getting Carter, just not where most are projecting them to. Could Carter fall? Absolutely. Would he fall all the way to No. 18? This is the furthest I have seen him fall in the mock drafts I have perused.
But this projection begs the question. If Carter’s character was questionable enough to pass at pick No. 6, do you think the Lions general manager Brad Holmes would compromise his standards at No. 18?
In my mind, Carter will either be on or off the Lion's draft board based on the information they gather during their scheduled pre-draft visit. And if he’s on their board, he would probably be picked No. 6 based on his on-field talent. To me, Holmes doesn’t seem to be the type of decision-maker to classify character in tiers.
Regardless of how, if the Lions were able to walk away from this draft with Wilson and Carter, that would surely be considered another feather in Holmes’ GM cap.
Maybe I’m being too harsh on Tannenbaum’s projections. As a former GM, it’s very possible he is still connected with NFL team's inner circles and there is more merit here than I am giving credit. Maybe this is a natural next step in a return to the GM ranks, a way of putting his evaluation techniques on display for NFL owners to see. Or maybe this is why he was fired in the first place?