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The Grit Index: Identifying which NFL Draft prospects are ‘Dan Campbell guys’

Dan Campbell and the Detroit Lions highly value “football character.” Here’s a look at all the 2023 NFL Draft prospects who may fit that classification.

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In the opening scene of HBO’s Hard Knocks, Detroit Lions coach Dan Campbell attempted to set the tone for the season by asking the question: “What are we?”

His answer was literally written on the wall of the team meeting room: Grit.

“It’s our core foundation, men. Grit,” Campbell went on to explain. “And what does it mean? Really, in a nutshell, I think it means this: we’re going to go a little bit longer, we’ll push a little harder, and we’ll think a little deeper, and a little sharper. To me, it means, we’ll play you anywhere. We’ll play you on grass, we’ll play you on turf, we’ll go to an (explicative) landfill. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if you have one ass cheek and three toes, I’ll beat your ass.”

Despite Campbell’s eloquent definition, “grit” is a difficult thing to define as a draft analyst. But with the help of a few draft season tools—and based heavily on an idea from friend of Pride of Detroit, Anthony (@Btwn_TheNumbers on Twitter)—we have attempted to identify the prospects in the 2023 draft class who likely qualify as having “grit.”

One of the best resources for individuals looking for information on draft prospects is The Athletic’s Dane Brugler’s draft guide, affectionately called: The Beast. For this exercise, we (mainly Anthony) searched The Beast for some specific key terms that would qualify prospects as having grit intangibles, including:

  • Grit
  • Intangibles
  • Football character
  • Work ethic
  • Dominant
  • Warrior
  • Nasty
  • Effort
  • Unsung hero
  • Elite (as an intangible)
  • Locker room guy
  • Competitor

Note: It’s important to point out that each of these words needed to be met with context and used in a positive manner when describing the prospect.

Brugler’s Beast has an immense amount of prospects to sort through, so for the context of this piece, we limited the search parameter to the 500 or so prospects who are deemed as draftable or priority undrafted free agents.

For ease of reading, we have sorted the prospects by position and ranked them in the order determined by my Lions-based draft board (available via Patreon). Additionally, we aren’t including all the terms that are associated with the prospects by Brugler, as The Beast is subscription based, but we will elaborate on a specific player in each section (note: they will be bolded).


  • Will Levis, Kentucky
  • Hendon Hooker, Tennessee
  • Aidan O’Connell, Purdue
  • Jake Haener, Fresno St
  • Tanner McKee, Stanford
  • Clayton Tune, Houston
  • Max Duggan, TCU

For those looking for a Day 3 grit option at quarterback that has a chance to be this year’s version of Brock Purdy, get to know Jake Haener. A three-time team-voted captain at Fresno State, he plays with a chip on his shoulder constantly looking to prove his doubters wrong.

Here is an excerpt from Brugler:

Haener is a “resilient, fearless competitor and his toughness set the standard in the program. (NFL scout: ‘His guys gladly go to war with him because he puts his ass on the line every play.’)”

Running back

  • Bijan Robinson, Texas
  • Devon Achane, Texas A&M
  • Zach Charbonnet, UCLA
  • Roschon Johnson, Texas
  • Eric Gray, Oklahoma
  • Evan Hull, Northwestern
  • Deuce Vaughn, Kansas State
  • Travis Dye, USC

A team-first prospect that always puts the team above his personal needs, Roschon Johnson, is a rotational power running back that is ideally suited for a gap-power scheme like the Lions utilize. He possesses an “unbelievable work ethic” that will contribute on offense and special teams from the jump.

Here is an excerpt from Brugler:

“vocal leader and beloved in the Texas program (NFL scout: ‘He was Mr. Accountability for that entire offense … and our special teams staff is going to love him.’).”

Wide receiver

  • Josh Downs, North Carolina
  • Zay Flowers, Boston College
  • Michael Wilson, Stanford
  • Parker Washington, Penn St
  • Ronnie Bell, Michigan

A two-time captain that can play WR-X or WR-Z, Michael Wilson is a hard-working potential starter that may be available on Day 3 due to his injury history. If he checks out medically, he could be a multi-phase player and contributor early in his career.

Here is an excerpt from Brugler:

“consummate teammate and team captain with elite football character … embraces blocking responsibilities … experienced on punt return coverages as a jammer and returner.”

Tight end

  • Michael Mayer, Notre Dame
  • Darnell Washington, Georgia
  • Sam LaPorta, Iowa
  • Brayden Willis, Oklahoma
  • Blake Whiteheart, Wake Forest

Michael Mayer is arguably the top tight end prospect in a deep class that is competitive at the top. A dominating blocker and pro-style receiver, Mayer has the potential to be what the previous regime believed T.J. Hockenson would become.

Here is an excerpt from Brugler:

“voted a 2022 team captain … has a low-key personality but is hyper-competitive and the on-field killer instinct comes natural to him.”

Offensive tackle

  • Darnell Wright, Tennessee
  • Broderick Jones, Georgia
  • Matthew Bergeron, Syracuse

I’ve spent most of the off-season pounding the table for Darnell Wright, but if he is off-the-board when the Lions are on the clock, Matthew Bergeron offers a lot of the same guard/tackle intangibles at a lesser price.

Here is an excerpt from Brugler:

“finishes with grit and won’t take his foot off the pedal once engaged … named a team captain as a senior and seen as a team leader in the locker room”

Interior offensive line

  • Peter Skoronski, OL, Northwestern
  • Steve Avila, IOL, TCU
  • O’Cyrus Torrence, G, Florida
  • Cody Mauch, G/T, North Dakota St
  • Joe Tippmann, C, Wisconsin
  • Chandler Zavala, G, NC State
  • Luke Wypler, C, OSU
  • Andrew Vorhees, G, USC
  • Alex Forsyth, C, Oregon
  • Nick Broeker, G, Ole Miss
  • Jon Gaines, G, UCLA
  • McClendon Curtis, G, Chattanooga

A tight end turned three-year starter at left tackle in North Dakota State’s gap-power blocking scheme, Cody Mauch is expected to push inside to guard at the next level.

Here is an excerpt from Brugler:

“plays with an attacking mindset and won’t wait on second-level blocks … has never played a passive snap and consistently finishes opponents to the ground … has the dogged work ethic expected of a player who grew up on a farm (added 85 pounds since high school) … voted a senior captain in 2022.”

Interior defensive line

  • Jalen Carter, Georgia
  • Bryan Bresee, Clemson
  • Adetomiwa Adebawore, Northwestern
  • Zacch Pickens, South Carolina
  • Kobie Turner, Wake Forest
  • DJ Dale, Alabama

A 5/6T at Northwestern, Adebawore projects as a hybrid defensive lineman, capable of playing from the 3T to the 7T in the NFL. At 282 pounds, he ran a blistering 4.49 40-yard-dash at the NFL Combine, illustrating what happens when you combine freaky athleticism and tireless work ethic.

Here is an excerpt from Brugler:

“freaky strength room numbers, which translates to the field … voted a senior captain … intrinsically motivated and was credited with “rebuilding” the culture of the team, according to Northwestern director of football performance Jay Hooten … plays through pain and didn’t miss a start the last three seasons.”

EDGE rushers

  • Will Anderson, Alabama
  • Lukas Van Ness, Iowa
  • Nolan Smith, Georgia
  • Keion White, Georgia Tech
  • Felix Anudike-Uzomah, Kansas State
  • BJ Ojulari, LSU
  • Nick Herbig, Wisconsin
  • Colby Wooden, Auburn
  • DJ Johnson, Oregon
  • Thomas Incoom, Central Michigan

There would have to be some schematic adjustments to the defense if the Lions drafted Nolan Smith, but his combination of athleticism and mindset, make him a very intriguing player at pick No. 18 in the first round—if he’s there.

Here is an excerpt from Brugler:

“relentless play motor and has unlimited energy on and off the field … a joyful extrovert by nature but also holds everyone accountable (Channing Tindall: “Nolan is the most vocal person in our locker room. … He’s the energy of the defense.”) … has the type of work ethic and team-first mentality that are catnip for coaches (Smith: “It’s not about playing for NIL deals or to go viral. … It’s about playing for the guy next to you and being able to push with him through tough situations.”) … was a regular on kick return and punt return coverages.”

Off-the-ball linebacker

  • Jack Campbell, Iowa
  • Cam Jones, Indiana
  • Noah Sewell, Oregon
  • Dorian Williams, Tulane
  • Ivan Pace Jr, Cincinnati
  • Isaiah Moore, NC State
  • Sir Vocea Dennis, Pittsburgh

A three (!) time captain, Cam Jones is one of my favorite players in this draft cycle. Not only is he a stylistic fit for the Lions' defensive scheme, but his intangibles line up perfectly with what coaches look for in a player.

Here is an excerpt from Brugler:

“Determined run defender … low, violent striker and explodes through his target as a tackler … unmatched fight mid-tackle to finish his prey … shows pouncing patience, which helps limit in-the-box missed tackles … intense competitor and flips a switch on the field, pushing himself to play through injuries … vocal leader and knows how to motivate his teammates in-game (head coach Tom Allen: “I have so much respect for him as a person, as a player.”) … played on kick and punt coverages all five seasons.”


  • Devon Witherspoon, Illinois
  • Deonte Banks, Maryland
  • Emmanuel Forbes, Mississippi St
  • DJ Turner, Michigan
  • Cory Trice Jr, Purdue
  • Tre Tomlinson, TCU
  • Riley Moss, Iowa
  • Kei’trel Clark, Louisville

CB1 in this draft class, Devon Witherspoon should very much be in play for the Lions in the first round (including at pick No. 6) and maybe the most “Dan Campbell player” in this draft cycle.

Here is an excerpt from Brugler:

“competes with the tenacity of a junkyard dog (former HC Lovie Smith: “Probably the toughest guy on the team pound for pound. … No one competes harder than him.”) ... hungry, physical tackler who consistently gets his man on the ground … accelerates through his target as a tackler … scrappy demeanor and not afraid to coach up his teammates”


  • Brian Branch, Alabama
  • Jartavius “Quan” Martin, Illinois
  • Jammie Robinson, Florida St
  • Sydney Brown, Illinois
  • Christopher Smith, Georgia
  • Marte Mapu, Sacramento St
  • Ji’Ayir Brown, Penn St
  • Jordan Battle, Alabama
  • Daniel Scott, Cal
  • Jay Ward, LSU

When Campbell mentioned at the NFL Combine that of the 35+ prospects they had conducted interviews with, four of them stood out as having the “it-factor” when it comes to football character. When scanning the list of players who met with the Lions in Indianapolis, Robinson’s name stood out as surely being one of those four players.

Here is an excerpt from Brugler:

“has the grit and balance to work through congestion near the line of scrimmage … shot out of a cannon downhill but settles his feet and stays balanced to make open-field stops … plays a physical brand of football … brings the same high energy every day and described as “extremely passionate” by FSU defensive coordinator Adam Fuller … body held up in college, playing in every game the past four seasons.”

Bonus player:

If the Lions are looking for a player in this draft class to replace C.J. Moore, look no further than Daniel Scott—a rotational safety with an impressive special teams resume.

Here is an excerpt from Brugler:

Scott had a “quick trigger once he sinks to spring-and-sting ball carriers … above-average blitzing skills because of his speed and timing (see 2022 UNLV tape) … has a ton of special teams experience (11 tackles and 661 snaps) and earned the team’s special teams MVP award in 2019 … voted a team captain … intangibles give him an edge.”

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