With the 2023 NFL Draft just a handful of days away, mock drafts are all the rage as analysts attempt to project what they believe will happen at this year’s event. Many of the mock drafts can simply be discarded, but some analysts' opinions are very much worth paying attention to when it comes to seeing how the draft can shake itself out.
Dane Brugler, arguably the top NFL Draft analyst in the game, released his final mock draft prediction of the season—a monster 7-rounder—and with the Detroit Lions holding nine picks in this year’s draft, they came away with a tremendous haul of players.
Let’s set the table.
As has become a more common projection, Brugler pairs the Panthers with Alabama quarterback Bryce Young with the first pick in the draft. Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud comes off the board second, landing with the Houston Texans. Alabama edge rusher Will Anderson goes third to the Arizona Cardinals, while the Colts grab Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson. The Seahawks pick fifth and select Texas Tech edge rusher Tyree Wilson, leaving the Lions with three logical options: grab Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter or pick between cornerbacks Devon Witherspoon (Illinois) or Christian Gonzalez (Oregon).
And with the No. 6 pick in the 2023 NFL draft, Brugler projects the Lions to select...
No. 6: Christian Gonzalez, CB, Oregon
Here are Brugler’s reasonings for the selection:
“Most mock drafts have a cornerback pegged here for the Lions … which inevitably means Detroit will take a different position on draft day. That said, I’m sticking with Gonzalez because he is one of the top non-quarterbacks in the draft with the traits you bet on at a premium position.”
If Carter doesn’t pass the Lions' character tests, they’ll surely pass on him even if he is available. The debate between Gonzalez and Witherspoon (who went to the Raiders at No. 8) is a good one, with both corners being legitimate options for Detroit.
Gonzalez—who Brugler ranks as his No. 5 overall player on his draft board, “The Beast”—is one of the most athletic corners in this draft class and is a prototype, new-aged NFL corner, who will remind some fans of Darius Slay. He has legitimate track speed, is sticky in man coverage, and has a nose for the football. He has CB1 and Pro Bowl potential early in his career.
With the No. 18 pick, Brugler projects the Lions to select...
No. 18: Calijah Kancey, 3T, Pitt
Once again, here is Brugler:
“The Lions would love to come away from the draft’s first night with two impact defensive prospects. They do so in this scenario: Gonzalez and Kancey. The Pitt defensive tackle is undersized, but disruptive defensive linemen come in all shapes and sizes.”
Personally, I’m not as high on Kancey as several other draft analysts are—even Brugler lists him as prospect No. 26 in The Beast—but there is no denying his pass-rushing potential, which is something that the Lions’ clearly lacked last season. Kancey is a first-step nightmare for interior offensive linemen, but at his size (6-foot-1, 281 pounds), he can be displaced in the run game.
He may not find the field as a starter early in his rookie season, but a three-man rotation of Kancey, Alim McNeill, and Isaiah Buggs is an upgrade, for certain.
No. 48: Darnell Washington, TE, Georgia
Brugler shares his thoughts on pairing Washington with the Lions:
“In my opinion, the Lions were a big winner in this seven-round mock, and landing Washington with this pick is part of the reason why. Detroit needs to add to its tight end depth chart, ideally with a capable blocker whom the coaching staff can groom as a pass catcher. Washington is an ideal fit.”
Washington—Brugler’s No. 30 overall prospect—is a steal at this spot for the Lions. The 6-foot-7, 264-pound tight end is a monster blocker and underrated athlete with the ball in his hands. A rare player, Washington can immediately step into a TE1 role for the Lions and fill a variety of roles for offensive coordinator Ben Johnson.
No. 55: Jack Campbell, LB, Iowa
A growingly popular pick for the Lions, Campbell is a traditional MIKE linebacker with a highly athletic profile, though he does not always play up to his potential in this area. Campbell has a nose for where the football is going and is a highly productive player in the stat sheet, but I would like to see less hesitation in decision-making before slotting him in for starting snaps.
With Alex Anzalone signing a new three-year contract—with the first two years almost fully guaranteed—Campbell’s path to snaps would likely come at the expense of Malcolm Rodriguez or push the Lions into a linebacker rotation.
No. 81: Chandler Zavala, G, NC State
Zavala’s back surgery in 2021 should give teams some pause, but the Lions brought him in as a top 30 prospect, which allowed them to get a thorough medical evaluation on him, and if things indeed check out fine, this is a terrific spot to land the guard.
A mauler with movement skills, Zavala is a perfect fit in the Lions’ gap-power blocking scheme, and with long-term developmental potential, he can spend his rookie season battling for snaps, while also being a projected starter in 2024.
No. 152: Michael Wilson, WR, Stanford
Wilson is another prospect with an injury history that needs to be vetted. Over the last three seasons, he has only played in 14 games—while missing 16 due to injury—but when he is on the field, he is a highly productive player. At 6-foot-1, 213 pounds, Wilson offers size and athleticism (9.55 RAS), along with a unique ability to create separation in routes.
If medicals check out, Wilson’s production and intangibles will make him a very appealing option for the Lions. Wilson was a two-time team captain, is a terrific blocker downfield, and is an experienced special teams contributor, seeing snaps as a jammer and returner. Basically, he’s a Dan Campbell guy.
No. 159: Thomas Incoom, EDGE, Central Michigan
Incoom blossomed at CMU this past fall, winning with effort and a variety of pass rushing moves. Right now, he likely sees the field as a situational pass rusher, but he has the work ethic and base fundamentals (edge setting, understanding of how to win at point of attack, and run defense) to find himself in an edge rotation in the near future. With Charles Harris and Romeo Okwara in contract years, Incoom represents a solid investment into the edge position.
No. 183: Jerrod Clark, NT, Coastal Carolina
At 6-foot-4, 334 pounds, Clark is blessed with natural power and foot quickness. He’s more of a space eater at this point in his career, but his ability to contribute as a run stuffer—along with some pass rushing chops—makes him a playable rotational defensive lineman as a rookie.
Like other Lions selections in Brugler’s mock, medicals will be an important factor in his evaluation. Clark had a potentially career-ending spinal surgery in 2021, along with a handful of other injuries spread throughout his career (back, foot, and shoulder). The injuries are very concerning for Clark, but if he can stay healthy, he has the potential to be another unique talent that ends up being a steal on Day 3.
No. 194: John Ojukwu, OT, Boise State
A reserve swing tackle in the NFL, Ojukwu (6-foot-6, 309, 8.72 RAS) has loads of experience playing at both tackle spots. Over his career, he has 2207 snaps at left tackle and 1376 at right tackle. While he has only seen five snaps in five seasons at guard at Boise State, shifting inside at the next level remains an option. Ojukwu is a developmental project, but for the Lions, he would offer them a position flexible player that has the upside to develop into a solid reserve early in his career.