Now that the NFL Combine is over, the perspective on the 2023 draft class has shifted slightly. And with 32 teams mingling with each other and the media over the past week, NFL Draft experts have treated us with a brand-new batch of mock drafts, filled with supposed insider information and a clearer picture of this year’s prospects.
We’ll have a full recap of this week’s slew of mock drafts later this week, but for now, let’s focus on two of the major forces in draft media: The Athletic’s Dane Brugler and ESPN’s Todd McShay.
Perhaps not-so-coincidentally, both analysts had very similar approaches to the Detroit Lions’ picks in their respective one-round mocks. Let’s take a closer look:
If you want to see each author’s full mock drafts, you can view them here:
Round 1, Pick 6
Brugler’s mock: Oregon CB Christian Gonzalez
McShay’s mock: Oregon CB Christian Gonzalez
Not only did both analysts pair the Lions with Gonzalez, but the board fell nearly identically for Detroit. Three quarterbacks went before the Lions (Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud, and Anthony Richardson), as did Alabama edge defender Will Anderson Jr. The only difference is that Brugler had Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter go to the Seahawks at five—despite his legal trouble—while McShay had Texas Tech defensive end Tyree Wilson go before the Lions’ pick.
As for Gonzalez, he certainly made his case as the top cornerback in this class at the NFL Combine.
He’s big, he’s fast and he capped off his college career with a great year at Oregon, tallying 50 tackles. seven pass breakups, four interceptions, and an 81.4 PFF coverage grade—good for 23rd-best in the country.
Devon Witherspoon had been the more common pairing with the Lions here, but the Illinois cornerback did not participate in on-field drills at the Combine due to a hamstring issue. Witherspoon’s pro day is later this week, so if he’s medically cleared, he could make his mark, as he’s expected to test well athletically, too.
Round 1, Pick 18
Brugler’s mock: Pittsburgh DT Calijah Kancey
McShay’s mock: Iowa DE Lukas Van Ness
Both analysts addressed the Lions defensive line with two of the biggest winners from NFL Combine week.
Calijah Kancey did just about everything he needed to do to draw Aaron Donald comparisons, showing up to Indianapolis as an undersized interior defender with absolutely elite athletic traits, including a blazing 4.67 40-yard dash. Here’s Brugler on Kancey:
“In his previous role, Lions general manager Brad Holmes was a driving force in the Rams drafting Aaron Donald. Fast-forward 10 years to the present and Pitt has produced another undersized defensive lineman that checks a lot of the same boxes. There is only one Donald, but Kancey has the quickness, play violence, and work ethic that will appeal to Holmes and head coach Dan Campbell.
Calijah Kancey's size and athletic profile is comparable to fellow @Pitt_FB defensive tackle Aaron Donald.— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) March 2, 2023
Calijah Kancey ('23)
6'1", 281 lbs, 4.67 40
92 Athleticism Score
Aaron Donald ('14)
6'0 3/4", 285 lbs, 4.68 40
98 Athleticism Score pic.twitter.com/TC6orxKEXF
These comparisons feel a little surface-level to me, though. For one, Donald was wildly more productive on the field. Kancey had 34.5 tackles for loss in three years at Pittsburgh. Aaron Donald had 28.5 just in his senior year alone (66.0 total). Additionally, Donald’s arms are two inches longer, which can’t be completely overlooked given how important reach is on the defensive line.
That said, the league will likely be far less hesitant to pull the trigger on an undersized interior defender after Donald’s success, and Detroit could certainly use a twitchy, pass rushing interior presence. Kancey posted a 92.4 PFF pass rushing grade along with a ridiculous 22% pass rush win rate. Aaron Donald or not, Kancey could be a serious weapon at the next level.
As for McShay’s pick, Lukas Van Ness certainly saw his stock rise last week.
Some have argued that the Lions’ defensive end room is too crowded to spend high resources on another young pass rusher. With Aidan Hutchinson, James Houston, Josh Paschal, Charles Harris, Julian Okwara, and Romeo Okwara already on board, that’s certainly an understandable take. However, the Lions seem likely to let one of Harris and Romeo Okwara go to save cap space, and the other isn’t likely to be around for much longer than that.
The one quirk to Van Ness is that he never started at Iowa. He was always coming off the bench, but that seems to be more of a condemnation of the coaching staff rather than a concern of Van Ness. He still managed to play more defensive snaps than anyone on Iowa’s defensive line, and he led the team in sacks in each of the past two seasons. His 43 pressures in 2022 were nearly double any other Hawkeye and ranked 24th in the country.
At the NFL Combine, Lions general manager Brad Holmes was asked about picking a player with no career starts in the first round—a question likely about Van Ness without bringing him up directly. Holmes didn’t rule out that possibility but said it would give him some pause.
“I’d probably (be) a little hesitant because you always wanna forecast and you want to get more of a sure thing, especially when you’re picking that high,” Holmes said. “I’m not saying that it can’t happen. I think everything is case-by-case. You just don’t know what the circumstance or the situation is, why that player didn’t start. So if it’s not credited as a stat line of, ‘He did not start this game, but he played X amount of snaps,’ then we just gotta do the research and get the information of why the kid wasn’t starting. I wouldn’t say I’d rule ‘em out, but it’d just require a lot more research.”
Which mock do you like better?
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