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2023 NFL mock draft: Detroit Lions 7-round projections

A full seven-round Detroit Lions 2023 mock draft in which the team addresses several of their short and long-term needs.

Syndication: Arizona Republic Joe Rondone / USA TODAY NETWORK

With just over two weeks before the 2023 NFL Draft, it’s time to go into overdrive with mock drafts. The Detroit Lions are in one of the most exciting position in this year’s draft with a ton of capital and a ton of different possible directions they could go.

So here it goes. In order to do this seven-round mock draft, I used the Pro Football Network mock draft simulator. Since I talked about how the Lions should trade down in this years draft earlier this week, I decided that I would entertain draft day trades and go with them if the deal looked good enough. I was presented a great deal right away.

TRADE with the Tennessee Titans

Trade parameters:

  • Lions acquire picks No. 11 and NO. 41
  • Titans acquire picks No. 6 and NO. 152

Pick No. 11: Quentin Johnston, WR, TCU

I know right away that there are going to be Lions fans who are going to be upset about this pick. Maybe it’s some sort of flashback reminder of a bad time when the Lions were drafting a ton of receivers and missing on just about all of them. That was like 20 years ago, guys. Let’s move on.

There are a lot of draft experts out there that have Jaxon Smith-Njiba as the top receiver in the draft, but for me it’s Quentin Johnston all the way. The Lions have needs in other areas that are more pressing and I get that, but Detroit has plenty of resources to address those needs later.

When I look at the Lions’ receiving corps, I don’t see a finished product. I see a sure thing in Amon-Ra St. Brown and then I see a ton of other questions. We don’t know what Jameson Williams is yet. I believe that he will be very good, but I have to actually see that first. Beyond that I see a lot of utility players.

Drafting Johnston adds a big 6-foot-4 X receiver to the mix. But Johnston can do so much more than that. He has great YAC ability, he make the contested catch, and he has a knack for getting behind the secondary and making wide open catches. This isn’t just about this season. This pick is about the future and making sure you do your best to secure a red-hot offense that will stay red-hot.

Pick No. 18: Calijah Kancey, DT, Pittsburgh

The Lions need a defensive tackle who can bring athleticism to the position—the type of athleticism that allows them to not only be disruptive in the run game, but rush the passer from the interior of their defensive line. They’ve already missed out on Jalen Carter at this point, but Kancey represents the chance to get the next best thing for the Lions.

Kancey showed that he absolutely has the athleticism at the NFL Combine when he ran the fastest 40 that a defensive tackle has ran since 2000.

Kancey didn’t just run fast. He put big time athleticism everywhere else and scored a 9.60 RAS, good for the 64th best RAS ever recorded by a defensive tackle. That’s out of 1,585 defensive tackles since 1987.

There are obviously going to be comparisons to another somewhat undersized and athletic tackle from Pitt, but Kancey is not Aaron Donald. He doesn’t need to be in order to be a great player. Pairing him with Alim McNeill gives Detroit a potential young, lethal duo in the middle of an already strong defensive front.

No. 41: Darnell Washington, TE, Georgia

Speaking of athleticism, this guy is an athletic freak. Much like Kancey, Washington put on a show at the combine. He posted a 9.90 RAS and had everyone talking after he made this spectacular one handed catch.

The Lions tight end group seems wide open right now. I was a big James Mitchell fan before the draft last year and I think that he could definitely find himself getting a lot more action in year two since he’ll be fully recovered from the injury he suffered at Virginia Tech. After him, it’s anyone’s game.

Enter Washington. The Georgia tight end didn’t light up the stat sheet in college, but that’s okay. He has some playmaking ability and that’s nice. What Washington really brings to the table is very good blocking ability. The Lions have guys that can block on the roster, but not as well or consistently as Washington. This allows the Lions to do so much more when they technically have a sixth offensive lineman out there.

No. 48: Steve Avilla, G/C, TCU

Going back to the TCU well again. I have tons of questions about who will play right guard for this team in 2023. I have even more questions about who’s going to play it after that. Presumably Graham Glasgow and Halapoulivaati Vaitai will hold things down this year, but neither are signed beyond this season. In fact, the Lions don’t have a single guard signed for 2024 or beyond. The Lions should take this opportunity to shore that position up with a young talent.

The Lions seem to like a lineman who can play multiple positions. Avila can do that for the Lions since he played both guard and center at TCU—and even a little tackle.

No. 55: Daiyan Henley, LB, Washington State

I love a player who converts from one position to another and gets better. Henley fits that bill. The former wide receiver turned linebacker brings a lot to the table. The big thing he can bring to the Lions is his coverage ability. Those receiver hands and instincts really show up in his coverage tape. He’s so good that over the past two seasons, he’s tallied five interceptions and an outstanding 86.2 PFF coverage grade. Take a look at a little sample here:

Adding Henley to the Lions linebacking corps immediately makes them more dangerous with his coverage ability alone. I wouldn’t be shocked if Henley never makes it to the Lions and is the first linebacker taken. If he winds up here, the Lions need to sprint to the podium.

No. 81: Kyu Blu Kelly, CB, Stanford

The Lions have already seen a bit of Kelly when they had guys helping coach in the Senior Bowl. There have been a lot of players that have risen and fallen since the all-star game, but Kelly has consistently remained around the same area. Kelly is a consistent player, but hasn’t quite made the leap to being better than that just yet.

Every scouting report you read on the guy will tell you that Kelly has to ability to stick with his man and keep his leverage, but ball production has been elusive for him. He only has three interceptions, but did make 17 pass defenses in the past two years.

He struggles to turn his head to locate the ball and his recovery speed is average at best. The talent and athleticism are there, he just needs to be coached up. I think he would be a great project for defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn and cornerbacks coach Dre Bly and a great player to learn from peers like Cameron Sutton.

TRADE with the Tennessee Titans

Trade parameters:

  • Lions acquire picks No. 152
  • Titans acquire picks No. 183 and a 2024 5th round pick

No. 152: Dorian Thompson-Robinson, QB, UCLA

Yes, I called the Titans back up to ask for the 152nd pick back. I even gave them a future fifth rounder to get it done. I have no regrets. It was important to me that I land this year’s draft crush.

I did a full article on Robinson-Thompson last week. Give it a read and you’ll understand why I called the Titans back.

No. 194: Keaton Mitchell, HB, East Carolina

This guy is fast. He ran a 4.37 at the NFL Combine. That speed really showed in college when he led the nation in rushes of 10+ yards. While the Lions offense was explosive in the run game early last year, it was truly missing that home-run threat down the stretch.

Mitchell could be that big-play guy. The Lions seem to feel the same way. They had a pre-draft meeting with Mitchell already. The Lions have a solid duo at running back already with David Montgomery and D’Andre Swift, but they could really use a speedy option to come in every now and again—and potentially unseat Swift, whose contract expires after this season. Mitchell could theoretically also be a real asset in the return game if the Lions see fit to use him there.

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