The Detroit Lions certainly took an unexpected approach to the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft. After trading down, the Lions selected running back Jahmyr Gibbs with the 12th overall pick and followed it up with Iowa linebacker Jack Campbell six picks later. While each player certainly fills an immediate role, many believed there were better players at bigger positions of need available.
That was certainly the consensus among national analysts who handed out immediate grades following Thursday night. Predictably, the reviews weren’t glowing for Detroit.
Last week, Lions general manager Brad Holmes said last week that he was going to stick to his boards, and if that ran counter to what mock drafts were saying, he was prepared to face the music.
“You’ve just got to make the best pick that you can and be confident with it,” Holmes said. “Post-draft and immediate draft grades, when the pick didn’t line up with those mocks, you’ve got to be willing and comfortable to take the thrashing because they didn’t line up with the mock. It’s all good.”
It’s almost like he knew what was coming.
Here’s a look at some national grades given out for Day 1:
Pick 12 — Alabama RB Jahmyr Gibbs
Gibbs is the second-ranked running back on the PFF big board, but he is also just the 34th-ranked prospect. Viewed as a potential late first-round pick, this is a big reach with the 12th overall pick. He can make an impact in the passing game, though, as he hauled in 103 passes for 1,215 receiving yards over the past three seasons.
Yes, he’s an air back. Yes, he can do a lot of things. But, again, why take him here when there is a guy like corner Christian Gonzalez on the board? He’s good but he’s a back. At least it wasn’t a top-10 pick.
The Athletic (Scott Dochterman): F
For three years, Detroit general manager Brad Holmes could do no wrong. In this case, he reached on the draft’s second running back. The No. 22 player on Dane Brugler’s big board, Gibbs was likely to be there at No. 18 when the Lions picked again. Considering Detroit ranked last in total defense and yards per play, it was an odd move. Even if the Lions stood pat at No. 6, they could have had Bijan Robinson.
Well, this is certainly a surprise! Despite signing David Montgomery in free agency to pair with incumbent playmaker D’Andre Swift, the Lions add another running back. Gibbs brings rare juice as a runner and should help create explosive plays for Detroit, but I don’t love the value here—especially for an undersized runner who doesn’t project as a volume-heavy back. Gibbs will need to be a true difference-maker in the passing game to live up to this cost.
DraftKings Nation (Chet Gresham): C
I like this pick a little more than the Falcons taking Robinson with the No. 8 pick, but not by much. These teams need to look at how other teams win championships and it’s not by drafting running backs in the Top 12! But, Gibbs has tremendous talent and will be a walking fantasy pick.
Man...I like Gibbs as a back. His change of direction and speed is a very valuable addition to any offense. However, the Lions currently have De’Andre Swift and David Montgomery on the roster, and still have considerable holes on their defense, especially up front. This feels like a major reach.
Despite the mostly bad reviews for the Gibbs pick, there were some that liked the Campbell pick later in the draft.
Pick 18 — Iowa LB Jack Campbell
Campbell is the top linebacker on the PFF big board but ranks just 39th overall. It’s not a good value pick, but he produced a 91.9 PFF grade, which led all linebackers. At 6-foot-5 and 249 pounds, he has impressive size and NFL-caliber range.
I love this pick for the Lions. This kid will be special. He is big, can run and will improve as a cover player as he gets acclimated to the NFL game. He’s one of my favorite players in this draft.
The Athletic (Scott Dochterman): B
Campbell (6-4 ½, 249) has a long frame and is disruptive in zone pass coverage. He’s fast enough to play man, but he’s better in zone. His quickness is underrated, and he’s a fierce hitter. He won the William V. Campbell Trophy as college football’s top academic football player and the Butkus Award as the nation’s top linebacker. If a team wants a culture changer or enhancer, Campbell will become a team captain by year two.
Campbell fills a need, but this feels like a big reach for the Lions, who grab my 73rd-ranked player at no 18. The former Iowa standout racks up stats as a throw-back, downhill linebacker—but he’s stiff when moving in reverse and could be a liability in man-to-man coverage. Paired with the selection of running back Jahmyr Gibbs at no. 12, Detroit’s decision to draft two non-premium positions with their two first-round picks could come back to haunt them.
DraftKings Nation (Chet Gresham): D-
I don’t like giving out F’s because I surely can’t see the future, but man, the Lions are making some weird picks. Campbell is a good player, but he relies on being consistently good, not great. His athleticism is average and his upside in the NFL is about non-existent. He is what he is and that’s likely a solid player at a position that doesn’t deserve to go this high in the draft.
This is another instance of loving the player, but not liking the value as much. Jack Campbell is my top linebacker in this draft. His ability to play within the box as a run defender combined with his added value in pass coverage is great in the modern NFL. But with still so many needs along that defensive front, drafting an off ball linebacker feels like a reach.