The SB Nation 2023 mock draft is underway and after landing Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter at pick No. 6 overall, the Detroit Lions are back on the clock with pick No. 18.
If you want to get caught up with all the selections leading up to this point, make sure you check out SB Nation NFL community mock draft tracker for a quick summary of each pick and links to each team website’s written reports on why they made the choice they did.
Based on how the board played out, the Lions have a handful of strong options to consider. But with Lions general manager Brad Holmes adopting the philosophy of taking the best player available in the draft, we are projecting him to target one of the draft's fastest-rising prospects.
With that being said, with pick No. 18 in the SB Nation 2023 mock draft, the Lions select...
Darnell Wright, OL, Tennessee
The folks over at DraftKings Sportsbook have an offensive line prop bet that suggests how the linemen will come off the board, with Paris Johnson Jr. (Ohio State) leading the way, followed by Peter Skoronski (Northwestern), Broderick Jones (Georgia), and Darnell Wright—which is exactly the projection pattern followed in this community mock draft. But for Detroit specifically, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Wright at the top of their offensive line board.
At 6’5, 333 pounds, Wright’s skills are highlighted by his power, balance, and athleticism. Wright’s power is undeniable. He generates energy from his base and distributes it in a variety of ways. When in pass pro, he patiently waits for the rusher to get close then strikes with power into their chest. In the run game, he seeks and destroys, looking to overwhelm defenders with his frame. Wright’s running game skill set is ideally suited for the Lions' gap/power offensive blocking scheme which should unlock elements of his game that were not featured at Tennessee.
Wright’s balance is an underrated part of his game, but it’s a completely vital trait. He kick slides easily and can get to his spot ahead of even some of the quickest edge defenders. When on the move, his balance allows him to harness his momentum without losing speed. If Wright does get off balance and overextends, his ability to recover is at an NFL-starter level already.
If there is a consistent area where Wright does get knocked, it’s his perceived lack of athleticism. It’s hard to ascertain exactly where this stems from, but Wright’s lack of consistent footwork over his first three seasons could be the culprit. He cleaned up a lot of those errors as a senior, and it’s worth noting that Wright’s relative athletic score (RAS) is 9.67 as an OT and 9.98 as an OG, indicating there is a firm athletic foundation to build from. While NFL Combine/pro day testing and on-field performance don’t always line up for some players, a move inside to the guard position would also mitigate some of the identified complaints.
The majority of Wright’s college experience is at right tackle (27 starts), he also has spent time at left tackle (13 starts) and right guard (two starts). With two established offensive tackles in Penei Sewell and Taylor Decker, the Lions would certainly look to push Wright inside to guard where they appear destined to have a competition for their starting right guard spot.
In the battle for right guard, incumbent starter Halapoulivaati Vaitai is coming off a back injury that forced him to miss the entirety of the 2022 season, and he will be working to hold off former Lions starting guard/center Graham Glasgow, who is returning home after a stint with the Denver Broncos. If the Lions added Wright, he would immediately jump into a three-way competition with the aforementioned Vaitai and Glasgow, and would have a legitimate chance of winning the job outright.
Wright also offers the Lions stability for the future as Vaitai, Glasgow, and Pro Bowl left guard Jonah Jackson are all in the final year of their contracts. Having Wright on the roster in 2024 would allow the Lions to not feel forced to make drastic decisions to fill vacant roles on the interior offensive line. Wright’s rookie contract would also help provide necessary cap space that could increase the chances of the Lions re-signing Jackson to a long-term extension.
Additionally, Decker’s contract expires in 2025, and the team will be forced to make a potentially tough decision on the left tackle’s future. If the Lions opt to move on from the then-32-year-old Decker, Wright’s positional flexibility would allow the Lions to once again, not be forced into a decision.
Overall, Wright is a prospect with tremendous upside and is an ideal fit in the Lions’ offensive blocking scheme. His ability to play both guard and tackle offers the Lions a potential upgrade in 2023, insurance in 2024 and 2025, and the ability to keep the strength of the team (the offensive line) a power fixture for the organization for the next half-decade.