We are less than a month away from the 2023 NFL Draft, so that means it’s time to overload Detroit Lions fans’ senses with mock drafts.
In this version of our mock draft, Ryan Mathews and I (Erik Schlitt) have joined forces to produce a joint mock draft. In this piece, we will discuss what we were thinking as we made through the draft, briefly break down the player we selected, and include any relevant alternatives that were considered when deciding on a selection.
For this experiment, we used PFF’s Mock Draft simulator and only allowed ourselves the option to trade once, with the qualifier that it must fall into the parameters of being realistic.
Alright, let’s get started. Here’s how the first five picks came off the board:
Pick No. 1: Bryce Young, QB, Alabama
No. 2: Anthony Richardson, QB, Florida
No. 3: Will Anderson, EDGE, Alabama
No. 4: C.J. Stroud, QB, Ohio State
No. 5: Jalen Carter, DT, Georgia
And with the No. 6 pick, the Detroit Lions...
TRADE with the Tennessee Titans
Lions acquire pick No. 11 in the 2023 draft and a 2024 1st-round pick
Titans acquire pick No. 6 in the 2023 draft and a 2024 3rd-round pick
Erik: Well, that didn’t take long. The Titans traded up to grab Will Levis (QB, Kentucky) and were willing to give up a first rounder in 2024, which was just too good to pass up. We probably could have gotten a 2023 Day 3 pick or two out of this deal as well but we didn’t want to manipulate the simulator.
Ryan: We did go back and forth about how far we could move back and still get a player we had our eye on at 6. Christian Gonzalez, Devon Witherspoon, and Tyree Wilson were all there for us at 6, but like Erik said, getting an extra first-round pick in next year’s draft keeps them in a great spot to maneuver around a year from now, and that was just too good to pass up.
Erik: Getting an extra first in 2024 has long been a preference of mine because it keeps general manager Brad Holmes’ options open next offseason. If the Lions are back in the quarterback market again, they now have more ammunition to move up in the draft if they have a top target.
As far as this year, I love who we landed on...
Pick No. 11: Devon Witherspoon, CB, Illinois
Ryan: It’s one of the most predictable selections, and it has been for quite some time among those putting together mock drafts, but for a team that overhauled their secondary in the first week of free agency, getting Witherspoon at 11 while also adding that ‘24 first-round pick feels like a huge win for the future of the Detroit Lions—and that’s really where this team could be focused on improving with this year’s draft class, right? The future?
Would Devon Witherspoon fit in Detroit?— Erik Schlitt (@erikschlitt) January 21, 2023
Exhibit A is at the bottom of the screen —> pic.twitter.com/XWBb4595d3
Erik: There may be no better marriage of player and coach fit than Witherspoon and Dan Campbell/Aaron Glenn. While the Lions seem loaded with defensive back depth after an offseason spent addressing the secondary, the starting job opposite Cam Sutton is open in 2023 and wide open in 2024. Witherspoon solves one, if not both of these problems.
Ryan: And that’s a great point: taking Witherspoon is an example of the Lions’ ability to draft the best player available even though they made improvements to their cornerback room for the upcoming season, but it doesn’t mean Witherspoon will be an afterthought in 2023. His path to the field wouldn’t be as immediate as it would have been before Detroit kicked off their free agency overhaul at cornerback, but his presence easily helps further transform what was a clear weakness last season—the cornerback play—into a strength.
No. 18: Darnell Wright, RT/RG, Tennessee
Erik: Man, does the PFF simulator hate this pick, but you know what, I don’t care one bit. This is a pick I believe in, even if PFF doesn’t.
Ryan: Full disclosure: this isn’t a pick I thought I’d be on board with at this point of the draft. After taking Witherspoon at 11, I thought we’d take a look at addressing more of an immediate need for this team here at 18, or at least a player that would see the field sooner depending on how the board fell to us. A defensive tackle to put next to Alim? An X-receiver to replace DJ Chark? Another tight end in the first round?
After seeing how things shook themselves out, 18 can really feel like a no man’s land for Detroit in this draft, especially if the Lions select a cornerback like we did with their earlier selection—that seems to be where much of the depth is at in this year’s first round.
Erik: Yeah, because of the way the board fell, the best player fit on the board may have been Deonte Banks (CB, Maryland) but with Witherspoon already in the fold, we had to go off-book a bit.
Darnell Wright vs Will Anderson Jr. pic.twitter.com/yDxz2PvB75— John Brennan (@jbrens20) March 26, 2023
Wright’s size, strength, and movement skills are a recipe for success in the NFL, and his game against Alabama where he basically shut down Will Anderson was an eye-opener. Wright has the athleticism to challenge inside at right guard in years one and two, then his right tackle range offers the Lions a fallback option when making a decision on Taylor Decker in the 2025 offseason.
Wright might not be a top offensive tackle on some analysts' boards but I think he is destined to come off the board in the first round come late April.
Ryan: Just because Wright isn’t someone you’d pencil in immediately, his versatility, as Erik mentions, could make him a starter in Year 2 at either guard spot depending on the future of Jonah Jackson and down the line potentially at RT. Erik’s mentioned all of that—but still, both of these picks are likely depth pieces in ‘23. To further underline and bold my point, I’ve never seen this roster in a position to afford itself this kind of luxury when it comes to the draft process. Every draft I’ve ever experienced has been about Detroit plugging holes to keep the boat from taking on too much water, relying on rookies to come in and be immediate contributors on Day 1. All I’m saying is it’s very reassuring to make these two picks with Erik, reflect on all I’ve just said, and still be comfortable with the approach we took with Witherspoon and Wright.
No. 48: Keeanu Benton, NT, Wisconsin
Ryan: Alright, so here is where we finally addressed a pressing issue for Detroit, and we definitely went back and forth on a couple of options. Both Baylor’s Siaki Ika and Wisconsin’s Keeanu Benton stood out as the clear-cut choices if we wanted to beef up the middle of Detroit’s defensive line. We also discussed some skill position players at this spot, like Iowa tight end Sam LaPorta, Tennessee wideout Cedric Tillman, and a couple of different running backs, but I think this is where we had the luxury of grabbing a player that helps now, and see who happens to be available when Detroit is back on the clock seven picks later.
For me, it was Benton’s juice as a pass-rusher—at 6-foot-3, 317 pounds—that sold me on him being the pick.
If your team needs a nose that can also hit quarterbacks a lot (cough cough Buffalo), may I interest you in one Keeanu Benton? pic.twitter.com/CrCJfXD5HU— Brett Kollmann (@BrettKollmann) March 7, 2023
Erik: I think Benton matches the style of interior defensive lineman the Lions have collected over the past two seasons. Versatile enough to slide between the 0/1- and 3-technique and has enough power in his hands to help win in the trenches. His skill set will allow the Lions to rotate their defensive tackles and reduce the wear and tear on Isaiah Buggs/Alim McNeill, and in turn, keep them fresher and more impactful.
Ryan: That might be my favorite part of this pick, Erik. Buggs was clearly a priority re-signing because of what he brought to the defense in the second half as both a player and a leader, but having a player like Benton to spell Buggs and keep him fresh throughout a game elevates the entire unit.
No. 55: Devon Achane, RB, Texas A&M
Erik: A top-three running back for me in a loaded class, Achane is undersized (5-foot-8 1/2, 188 pounds) but he is so intelligent, instinctual, and athletic that he avoids taking a beating. Some people will hate using a second-round pick on a running back, but his balance, vision, and home run ability make him the perfect complement to David Montgomery’s power game.
Ryan: For a team that made the financial commitment it did to Montgomery in free agency, and still has D’Andre Swift on the roster, you’re right, some people will hate using a second-round pick on a running back. But man, watching the way this guy can run, and the way he can be utilized in the passing game, the Lions could have their cake and eat it, too. Not only would Detroit have an embarrassment of riches in their backfield this year—Achane is a threat to find the end zone whenever he touches the ball—they’d have a year to get him acclimated to the league so he and Montgomery can hit the ground running in 2024.
Erik: Bottom line, he’s a special talent that I want on my team.
Texas A&M RB Devon Achane has special burst!— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) September 27, 2022
His ability to collect his feet, redirect his path and accelerate out of his cuts is just different. pic.twitter.com/N40WEyupDN
No. 81: Jayden Reed, WR, Michigan State
Ryan: Before anyone makes a claim that I brainwashed Erik into this pick because of the uniform he wore in college, let the record show that when we both decided we’d go wide receiver with this pick, Erik was quick to point out Reed as an option—and we know the Lions had a chance to meet with Reed at the NFL Combine earlier this month.
Erik: Fact check: True.
Ryan: What stands out to me about Reed—beyond his movability and versatility in how he can line up—is how the guy can really get moving in a hurry. He’s a bona fide downfield threat and his ability to track a ball in stride is something impressive.
Jayden Reed has grown on me as a Mid round pick pic.twitter.com/vj9MUiTFgn— DeeksView (@DeeksViewOG) March 23, 2023
Erik: Reed has the versatility to line up all over the field, making him a nice long-term complement to Amon-Ra St. Brown and Jameson Williams, and while—as Ryan accurately pointed out—Reed is a legitimate deep threat, he is also a terrific YAC (yards-after-catch) receiver and can contribute on special teams as a returner.
I’m here for adding speed to an already fast position group.
Ryan: Between him and Achane, Detroit adds some serious speed to their skill position groups, and if there’s anyone who can help turn that speed into points, it’s that Ben Johnson guy.
No. 152: Yasir Abdullah, Pass rushing LB, Louisville
Erik: As close to a James Houston clone as there is in this draft class, Abdullah is a perfect Day 3 role player because he will be able to do a variety of things on defense and special teams. He’s strictly a situational pass-rusher at this stage of his career, but he’s also really good at it.
Yasir Abdullah passes the 20-sack mark for his Louisville career. pic.twitter.com/k9mAd7zw5V— Tyler Greever (@Tyler_Greever) November 19, 2022
Last year the Lions kept three off-the-ball linebackers almost exclusively for special teams purposes. Wouldn’t it have been nice for one of them to have another skill that could get them on the field on defense—like pass rushing? Abdullah solves that problem.
Ryan: At this point in the draft, you’re looking for a certain type of player, a guy who can play special teams and maybe find his way onto the field to play a specific role, and I think you did a good job of explaining how Abdullah is just that kind of guy. It’s never a bad thing to add more pass rushers to your football team, and Abdullah can clearly do that—he tallied 9.5 sacks in his final year at Louisville.
No. 183: Davis Allen, TE, Clemson
Erik: This was PFF’s favorite pick of ours, and probably for good reason, as we got him about 50 spots lower than the simulator projected him to go. Allen (6-foot-6, 245 pounds) gets most of his recognition for his ability to swallow up passes over the middle but his run blocking is an underrated part of his game. There’s enough potential there that he would challenge to supplement Shane Zylstra in his rookie season and would give the Lions a competent tight end duo of the future between him and James Mitchell.
Clemson TE #84 Davis Allen posted Top-5 TE marks in VJ (38.5) & BJ (10-5) at Combine but reps like this @seniorbowl 9-on-7 drill are what get attention of NFL TE coaches.— Jim Nagy (@JimNagy_SB) March 7, 2023
One thing we learned over years in draft rooms is it’s hard to sell TE who can’t block.
Underrated player. pic.twitter.com/jnNzGKs5BI
Ryan: Lance Zierlein’s final line in his write-up about Allen lets me know he’d be just fine in Detroit: “Allen’s success will be determined by his ability to improve his routes or find a scheme that can free him to do his thing as a pass-catcher.”
Ben Johnson is masterful in his ability to scheme open pass-catchers, look no further than the way Detroit’s tight ends caught touchdown after touchdown down the stretch despite losing their most-talented tight end in T.J. Hockenson at last year’s trade deadline. I agree with Erik, there’s certainly some potential there with Allen, and he’d find himself in a great spot to compete for playing time in his rookie season amongst Detroit’s current group of tight ends.
No. 194: Atonio Mafi, G, UCLA
Erik: The only player on our list to not attend the Combine, Mafi was one of the first players the Lions brought in for a top-30 visit, so they could gather information on him. At 6-foot-3, 340 pounds, Mafi is a powerful people mover that would give the Lions depth on the interior offensive line. Mafi would likely battle Logan Stenberg and Kayode Awosika for a reserve role, but even if he isn’t ready to step into a reserve role, there’s enough potential there to draft and develop on the practice squad.
Antonio Mafi (@mafiatonio) is a 6'3" 340-pound Monster. I'm surprised the UCLA LG isn't being talked about more. He's super physical at the POA, has great Reach Ability, and can process well in Pass Pro. pic.twitter.com/xbtuTv0klH— Sanjit T. (@Sanjit__T) February 23, 2023
Ryan: What I loved to learn about Mafi was how he converted from nose tackle to offensive guard shortly after arriving at UCLA: the guy just needed to find his calling. He may not have the agility and lateral mobility of other guys on Detroit’s offensive line, but he undoubtedly has the skill to move people in front of him. Considering he is a player who flipped to the other side of the ball, there’s assuredly room for him to grow and develop, and as Erik mentioned, the practice squad could be a place for him to work on his game. But I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if the Lions draft an interior offensive lineman at some point in this draft, and I wouldn’t be shocked to see that player on Detroit’s 53-man roster come August.