Back in 2021, Detroit Lions general manager Brad Holmes knew as early as the NFL owners meetings the handful of players he was comfortable taking with the seventh-overall pick. The following year, he had a pretty good idea what the team was going to do considering the Lions held the No. 2 overall pick.
But with just a week until the 2023 NFL Draft, where the Lions currently hold the sixth and 18th picks in the first round, Holmes is experiencing something he hadn’t in the previous two drafts: uncertainty. Their “cluster” of players hasn’t quite been settled yet.
“I still say that we’re still kind of allowing that to crystalize a little bit,” Holmes said on Thursday. “I will say that we’re closer now than at (the owners meetings), but there’s still work to be done. Every draft is different, and like I told you guys last year when picking at two, we pretty much knew what that cluster was at that time. It’s gotten closer, but it’s just a lot more film, a lot more research has been done.”
The unpredictability comes on several fronts. For one, it’s extremely unclear how the first five picks will play out. There are a lot of quarterback-needy teams, but a couple of tough evaluations (Will Levis, Anthony Richardson). There’s also a premier defensive talent with character questions (Jalen Carter), so it’s hard to know what the teams both in front of—and behind—the Lions will do.
“(It’s) just a little bit more unpredictable and it’s just having those two (first-round) picks,” Holmes said. “They’re kind of in unique spots just depending on what’s going to happen in front of you, what’s going to happen behind you.”
There’s also the fact that the Lions have done such a good job in free agency and previous drafts that Detroit doesn’t have to follow a strict philosophy in this year’s draft. With no pressing needs and the flexibility of five top 81 picks, the Lions are capable of moving up and down the draft at any moment.
“I do feel like we’re in a position where we can really do anything we want,” Holmes said. “I just don’t feel like we’re pressed. And when I say that, I’m not saying we have a perfect roster. Nothing like that. Actually, I’m in the mindset of—look, if you think you’re set and you think you’re done and you can go anywhere—I mean if you take your foot off the gas, you can have problems lurking down the road. So, we’re just being thorough. We’ll be prepared. But I do like the fact that we can pretty much go any direction we want, and we can feel pretty good about it, just get the right football player for us.”
With so many different unknowns and the numerous directions the Lions can go with their picks, it should make Thursday night a thrill to watch. And Holmes knows that, given the trajectory of this team, having this much draft capital is a unique opportunity he doesn’t plan on wasting.
“Those opportunities don’t come every year, so you want to take advantage as much as you can. But again, we’re just focused on our process in this Draft. Regardless of what we did in free agency, regardless of what we did at the end of the season, again we’ve just got to stay aggressive still, keep our foot on the gas and make sure we’re acquiring the best players.”