In this edition—our third of the offseason—Ryan Mathews and I (Erik Schlitt) have joined forces to produce a joint mock draft. If you missed our first or second installments, and you have the time, go back and check those out, as we discuss several other players that we believe would fit in with the Lions.
For this experiment, we used PFF’s Mock Draft simulator and only allowed ourselves the option to trade once, with the qualifier that it must fall into the parameters of being realistic.
Alright, let’s get started. Here’s how the first five picks came off the board:
No. 1: Bryce Young, QB, Alabama
No. 2: C.J. Stroud, QB, Ohio State
No. 3: Will Anderson, EDGE, Alabama
No. 4: Will Levis, QB, Kentucky
No. 5: Jalen Carter, DL, Georgia
And with the No. 6 pick, the Detroit Lions...
Pick No. 6: Devon Witherspoon, CB, Illinois
Erik: The board fell very similarly to our first mock draft, and just like in that situation, we took Witherspoon, the player we considered the best player available. I have talked about the value I see in Witherspoon for months now, and this was an easy decision for me.
Was this as easy for you Ryan? Or did you have another option pulling at your heartstrings?
Ryan: I’d be lying if I didn’t at least acknowledge some of the dread still lingering from Jeff Okudah’s time in Detroit, but that shouldn’t influence this regime’s process and decision-making. Witherspoon is a damn good prospect and his style of play is a perfect fit for this football team. He doesn’t fill an immediate need, but that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be the pick. The draft is about building long-term contingency plans, and Witherspoon gets the luxury of not being thrown into the deep end of the pool early on—unlike the recently traded Okudah.
Trade with Los Angeles Chargers
- Lions acquire picks No. 21 and 85
- Chargers acquire picks No. 18 and 159
Ryan: Slide back just three picks in the first round to turn pick No. 159 into No. 85. I think that’s a no-brainer in a vacuum, but it’s important to note who was still on the board here at 18.
Darnell Wright is a pick we’ve made twice before at this spot, and I would have been just as comfortable making it again. Calijah Kancey, Brian Branch, and Quentin Johnston were some of the other names still available, but for me, Branch is the only one of that bunch I would like to take at 18. But since we took Witherspoon at 6, double-dipping in the secondary on Day 1, just 12 picks apart, feels a little too aggressive to me. Upgrading 159 into what would be Detroit’s sixth top-100 pick in this draft feels like a good use of pick 18.
Erik: We made this decision before the recent rumors of the Lions making phone calls to potentially trade out of the No. 18 pick started, but let’s be honest, the smoke has been there for a while, so we determined this was realistic.
Trying to stay realistic with this trade was important to us, and in an effort to fully disclose our options, the Rams offered literally their entire 2023 draft class for pick No. 6—yes, they went full Mike Ditka trading for Ricky Williams. But we turned that down because we cared more about presenting something of merit, rather than just us just showing off how we gamed the system.
No. 21: Darnell Washington, TE, Georgia
Ryan: Between Martin Mayhew, Bob Quinn, and Brad Holmes, make that three Lions general managers in a row to draft a tight end in the first round—and Mayhew did it twice going back to his selection of Brandon Pettigrew in 2009!
Dalton Kincaid was the only tight end who had been selected at this point of the first round, but Washington is the ideal fit for this Detroit Lions team. At 6-foot-6 and 265 pounds, he’s essentially a sixth offensive lineman. Not only physically imposing and dominant as a run blocker, but has the mentality and intentions to match. As a pass-catcher, his usage was limited with Georgia sophomore tight end Brock Bowers’ skillset on display the past two seasons, but Washington welcomed his role as a secondary option and people mover at the position. His hands improved each year at Georgia, he can rack up yards after the catch with his long speed, and while his route tree was limited in college, his short shuttle time (4.08, third-best among tight ends at the Combine) suggests he has room to develop it in the NFL.
I know this may be too early to pick a tight end for most people, but Washington is the kind of player that unlocks so much of this football team offensively. He’s the “front door” Sean Payton was talking about when the New Orleans Saints lost Josh Hill to injury which resulted in them having to shelf over 50 plays on their call sheet. Moving back slightly—and improving that fifth-round pick by 74 spots—and getting Washington is a net win in my eyes.
Erik: People will hate the perceived value of this pick but it’s not as big of a reach as most will try and tell you. NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah listed Washington as the No. 25 player in his top 50 rankings, and The Athletic Dane Brugler slotted him in as the No. 30 best player. At the end of the day, the Lions end up with a rare player who is a perfect stylistic fit and can make an immediate impact in several areas.
No. 48: Steve Avila, IOL, TCU
Erik: With us electing not to take Darnell Wright for the third mock draft in a row, we considered ourselves lucky to have Avila sitting there for us at pick No. 48.
Avila took snaps at all five offensive line positions in college, but projects as a player capable of starting at all three interior offensive line positions in the NFL. Avila is another people mover in the run-blocking game and he marries his hands and footwork when pulling and locating victims at the second level. Tailor-made for a gap-power scheme with plenty of zone-blocking experience, he would compete for snaps the moment he steps on the field in Allen Park.
Ryan: Avila has been one of the more popular names among Lions fans this draft season, and with good reason: he’s an NFL-ready lineman on Day 1. Although he primarily played center during his career at TCU, his senior season saw him become a consensus All-American at left guard, and as Erik mentioned, his ability to play all three interior offensive line spots makes him an extremely valuable prospect.
And to Erik’s point about us being lucky to have Avila sitting here at 48, some notable draftniks have Avila rated higher than this spot we’re getting him. Dane Brugler has Avila ranked 40th on his big board, and Daniel Jeremiah put him 37th in his top 150, so it might take some maneuvering by Holmes to get Avila on Friday.
No. 55: Keeanu Benton, IDL, Wisconsin
Ryan: We’ve done it before, and we did it again by selecting Wisconsin’s Keeanu Benton in the second round. Adding to the interior of Detroit’s defensive line feels like it needs to be a priority early in this draft, and Benton represents one of the few remaining prospects from that last plug-and-play tier of defensive linemen in the 2023 class. It seems like there’s a drop-off after the tier Benton belongs to.
Is that fair to say, Erik?
Erik: Yeah, I think that is fair. Benton was probably the last of the balanced defensive tackles—successful both in run defense and as a pass rusher—left on the board, with the rest of the prospects being more specialty players at this junction of their careers. Benton immediately steps into the Lions' top-3 defensive tackle rotation with a chance to win a starting role as the season progresses.
No. 81: Tyjae Spears, RB, Tulane
Erik: If the Lions don’t take a running back in the top 55 picks, this represents their last real opportunity to land a complete back capable of stepping into a long-term rotation. Spears is silky smooth as a runner and has a way of Houdini-ing his way out of trouble with his change of direction and powerful burst/explosion.
Ryan: Am I bummed out that we didn’t have a shot at Jahmyr Gibbs at 48? Absolutely. Am I happy we got a player in Spears who can make an immediate impact on all three downs? You bet.
D’Andre Swift’s inability to stay on the field makes the running back position another priority for the Lions, and even though it’s a deep class at running back, I’d really like to see Detroit grab a player like Spears who can be insurance should Swift struggle with injuries for another season.
No. 85: Tyler Scott, WR, Cincinnati
Ryan: So I’m fashionably late to the Tyler Scott party, but all that matters is that I’m here in time for the draft.
Tyler Scott has the vertical speed to stretch defenses and the dynamism after the catch to be a threat. pic.twitter.com/wRBOPl3xkX— Billy M (@BillyM_91) April 20, 2023
Scott is a track athlete still learning the wide receiver position but played the X receiver in Cincinnati’s offense despite being on the smaller side of 5-foot-10. His speed can stretch a defense vertically in an instant, and you can see how it could be weaponized on special teams as a gunner. If he can catch on quickly, Scott could be used early on to provide Detroit with the speed and sudden separation it will be missing with Jameson Williams suspended for the first six games of the regular season.
Erik: Yeah, Scott can give the Lions both immediate and long-term contributions as soon as he arrives in Allen Park. I like him best as a WR-Z option, but he has the range to play all three spots because he has the skill set to operate at all three levels. The Tyler Lockett/T.Y. Hilton comparisons are legit. He is undersized for an outside receiver but has the speed, explosion, and homerun hitter range to make him a weapon.
No. 152: Daniel Scott, S, California
Erik: I fully expect Scott to come off the board in the fourth or fifth round, so being able to land him at pick No. 152 is phenomenal. An immediate C.J. Moore replacement, Scott is a rangy single-high free safety on defense and a highly versatile chess piece on special teams. He also found himself featured on our Grit Index, where we identified players who fit the profile of a “Dan Campbell guy.”
Cal’s Daniel Scott is no longer a “sleeper” after impressive @seniorbowl and elite Combine testing (RAS 9 out 882).— Jim Nagy (@JimNagy_SB) March 15, 2023
NFL teams looking for FS help know Scott isn’t flying under radars anymore.
Checkout range from oppo hash here: #TheDraftStartsInMOBILE™️ https://t.co/1akQNPtsuy pic.twitter.com/N3SCoCNTnQ
Ryan: If you’re counting Darnell Washington as an offensive lineman (I am), we’ve double-dipped twice now—once on the offensive line, and again here with the defensive backfield.
As Erik mentioned, this is a great value pick, and it helps the Lions sweep up the pieces left by C.J. Moore’s departure. In the short-term, he’s a special teams player from the jump, but his athletic profile and versatile skill set could see him earn time on defense down the road.
No. 183: Jose Ramirez, edge, Eastern Michigan
Ryan: What’s better than having one James Houston-type football player on your team? Two of them!
EMU EDGE Jose Ramirez was disruptive during Shrine week. Executes a dip/rip to pressure to strip sack the QB pic.twitter.com/iOECQyoaec— Billy M (@BillyM_91) February 3, 2023
You should never be in the business of passing on talent for need in the draft, especially when it’s a pass-rusher. If the Lions want to pursue edge rusher Nolan Smith in the first round, he would rotate with other hybrid SAM linebackers like Houston and Julian Okwara, and I’d be sure they could figure out to make it work defensively. Aaron Glenn has no problem putting pass-rushers on the field.
However, if the draft goes some way like this instead, Detroit could take a chance on another SAM-type in Eastern Michigan’s Jose Ramirez. After 31.5 tackles for loss and 18.5 sacks over his final two seasons, and posting a 6.95-second three-cone and 4.30 short shuttle—both which were first among edge rushers at the NFL Combine. Ramirez is the kind of prospect worth taking a shot on.
Erik: The Lions have done a lot of homework on pass rushing linebackers this offseason, having official meetings with at least seven—that we know of—including Ramirez, who they met with at his pro day and at the Lions local pro day in Allen Park.
Last year, the Lions rostered six off-the-ball linebackers, using three of them almost exclusively on special teams. I’m reading the tea leaves a bit here, but it would make sense to reduce the OTB linebacker numbers, while adding linebackers with pass rushing skills, that can also play on special teams, and Ramirez fits the bill to a tee.
No. 194: Cam Jones, LB, Indiana
Erik: Another Grit Index featured player, Jones is one of my favorite players in this draft cycle. A three-time captain at Indiana, Jones plays with intelligence and a downhill mindset on defense, resulting in one of the best run-defending off-the-ball linebackers in this draft class. A plug-and-play special teamer who attacks with purpose and violence, Jones has future special teams captain written all over him.
Ryan: Does it feel weird that we spent Detroit’s final three picks on players with special teams in mind? It isn’t an issue with me at all, especially when you are getting some high-character, former team captains. Culture and effort players matter with these kind of picks, more so than developmental quarterbacks—Teddy Bridgewater is a perfectly fine answer to the backup position.