We’re less than a month away from the 2023 NFL Draft now, and the forecast doesn’t seem to be getting any clearer in regards to what Detroit Lions general manager Brad Holmes is looking to do with the sixth overall pick. Heading into free agency, most mocks were slotting a cornerback to the Lions with the sixth pick (and sometimes the 18th pick, too), but after attacking the CB need with full force in free agency, who knows what the heck Holmes and co. are going to do on Day 1? What we do know is that the Lions are in a position to simply take the best player available rather than drafting for immediate needs.
With that being said, let’s take a look at the top players in the draft that the Lions should consider taking with their first pick.
Tier 1 — Worth trading up for
EDGE Will Anderson Jr. (Alabama), 6-foot-3, 253 pounds
Had he declared for the NFL Draft last year, Will Anderson likely would have been the first pick in the draft. He might be the best player in this year’s draft, too, and unless we see some scenario where four quarterbacks and some other player (Jalen Carter?) gets taken ahead of Detroit, they’re likely going to have to trade up to get him.
Will Anderson Jr's ranks over the past three seasons:— PFF College (@PFF_College) March 23, 2023
2022: 65 Pressures (2nd)
2021: 82 Pressures (1st)
2020: 60 Pressures (1st) pic.twitter.com/auMfS8bbqc
Anderson is the total package. He is one of the most productive pass rushers in college football history, plus he has elite athleticism and traits. And yet, the scary thing is... he still has some room to grow. As a pass rusher, Anderson does a lot of hand fighting that gets him nowhere and could benefit from learning some counter moves, yet he still tallied over 200 pressures in his three-year tenure at Alabama. As a run defender, he does a phenomenal job of setting the tone and deconstructing blocks. He had 48 tackles for a loss in just the past two years combined.
Alabama’s defense had Anderson standing up in a two-point stance for a little over 50 percent of his reps last year, and his best position might be a 3-4 OLB, but to me, Anderson is scheme transcendent and can play wherever you want him to play on the line. He’s that special.
How he fits: He can fit any role the Lions ask, whether it’s as a SAM linebacker, closed or open end. Just tell him to get after the QB.
QB Anthony Richardson (Florida), 6-foot-4, 244 pounds
At this point in time, I’m expecting Bryce Young and C.J. Stroud to be off the board with the first two picks, and it feels unlikely that the Panthers or the Texans would want to pass up on a QB. So if the Richardson hype train takes off and he goes even higher than expected, add Young and Stroud to this tier (my top-two QBs).
Behind those two, Richardson is the next-best thing should the Lions address their need for an immediate backup QB and long-term answer at the position.
Anthony Richardson is a QB prospect in the 2023 draft class. He scored a 10.00 RAS out of a possible 10.00. This ranked 1 out of 890 QB from 1987 to 2023.— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) March 30, 2023
Just putting this out there early.https://t.co/g6dAq3ALm4 #RAS pic.twitter.com/hjB54xb3o2
Richardson is a work in progress and his college production leaves a lot to be desired, but his upside is through the roof, and he has tools that you simply cannot teach. He seemed to get better and better as the 2022 season went on, which is very promising for his development. The Lions are in a great spot right now where they wouldn’t have to force him to play right away. If it works out, then you have a franchise QB on a cheap deal. If not, then the Lions still have the resources to soften the blow. Now would be the time to take a swing.
How he fits: Let him sit and develop for as long as necessary. Future starting QB with unlimited potential.
Tier 2 — Elite talent, but questionable fit?
DT Jalen Carter (Georgia), 6-foot-3, 314 pounds
I already shared some thoughts on Carter’s draft profile here, but essentially, Carter is a top-five talent in this draft at the Lions’ biggest immediate need. If there were no character concerns surrounding him, this would feel like a no brainer if the Lions decide to stay at No. 6 overall. The Lions will be bringing in Carter on one of their pre-draft visits, so you can expect that they’ll have done their homework on him, whether or not they decide to pick him.
How he fits: Immediately becomes the best interior defensive lineman on the roster.
Tier 3 — Best of the other realistic options
CB Devon Witherspoon (Illinois) 5-foot-11 1⁄2, 181 pounds
The hype surrounding Witherspoon has died down quite considerably, but he is still one of my favorite fits for Detroit at this spot. You can read more about my thoughts on Witherspoon and the other top CBs in this class here.
The Lions may have spent a lot of resources on CBs in free agency, but they still don’t have very many under contract beyond 2023, so I expect them to simply just take the best player to fit their system. That could still be Witherspoon.
How he fits: Versatile CB that can fill in anywhere once injuries start to take place and could challenge for a starting role this year. All-Pro potential.
CB Christian Gonzalez (Oregon), 6-foot-1, 197 pounds
Despite having Witherspoon higher, I still maintain my belief that Gonzalez is the best CB prospect in the draft. It’s truly a 1a and 1b situation and all about preference. Witherspoon has that “dog” mentality that the Lions will love, but they will also love Gonzalez’s silky smooth cover skills. From my 2023 NFL Draft cornerback rankings:
Gonzalez has elite size and length and is as fluid as they come as a defensive back. He displays the ability to flip his hips and carry upfield without losing any speed and has impressive foot quickness and flexibility. He is extremely explosive out of his stance and when making a break on the ball, so it was no surprise to see him test well on the vertical and broad jump.
Though he is at his best as a man-coverage corner, Gonzalez is scheme-transcendent. With his skillset, athleticism, and knowledge of the game. There is no team that wouldn’t welcome him in with open arms.
How he fits: Could challenge for a starting job on the outside Day 1, but the Lions have the luxury of bringing on a rookie CB slowly. Eventual CB1 with All-Pro potential.
EDGE Tyree Wilson (Texas Tech), 6-foot-6, 271 pounds
Wilson is billed as this lengthy, raw player that has a long way to go and has drawn some comparisons to Travon Walker from last year’s draft. While some of that is true, Wilson is already a much better pass rusher than many of his comps and comes with actual college production to his name.
i dont need to see anymore of tyree wilson pic.twitter.com/67OUajizvn— charles (“you look good” - andy reid) mcdonald (@FourVerts) November 25, 2022
In 2022, Pro Football Focus gave Wilson an 88.6 “true pass set” pass rush grade, plus a pass rush win rate of 22.3 percent. He does not have an elite first step, but his explosiveness and closing speed is being severely underrated if you ask me.
Wilson will have some growing pains early on, but he has the potential to dominate in this league for many years.
How he fits: Versatile pass rusher that can play with his hand in the dirt or as a standup pass rusher.
OT/OG Peter Skoronski (Northwestern), 6-foot-4, 313 pounds
Picking a player that—barring injuries—would hardly see the field at all as a rookie at sixth overall seems a bit crazy. And maybe that’s true, but Skoronski does offer the Lions insurance if any of their tackles or guards go down. He was dominant in college as a left tackle, but his lack of length has some projecting him to be a better fit on the inside.
Skoronski’s film is a thing of beauty. I did not expect to be here talking about a potential tackle/guard at this pick, and while I am still not really sold on the idea, he is one of my favorite players to watch in this draft. Brad Holmes has said time and time again that they will not be drafting for immediate need, so you can’t rule anything out at this point. It just might be a little tough to justify this one.
How he fits: Swing tackle/guard that can fill in anywhere on the line once injuries happen. One of the best and most complete prospects in this draft.
Tier 4 — Outside the box picks
DT Calijah Kancey (Pittsburgh), 6-foot-1, 281 pounds
Here is what I had to say about Kancey in my 2023 NFL Draft DT rankings:
Kancey is a tough prospect to project into the NFL due to his lack of size and length. He is in the second and fourth percentile in height and weight, respectively. His 30 5⁄8 inch arms also put him in the one percentile. He is comparable in size to Demetrius Taylor, who the Lions brought in as a UDFA in 2022, so it wouldn’t be unheard of for this regime to look at someone this size—though Kancey’s arms are nearly two full inches shorter. But quite frankly, it’s a bit too early to know exactly what they want in a DT. Holmes has selected just two defensive tackles in the draft in his tenure here so far, and they have two entirely different body types, so it’s unfair to rule Kancey out.
If you look past the size concerns you will find one of the most disruptive pass rushers we’ve seen in the past several years. His 92.4 pass-rushing grade via Pro Football Focus led all interior defenders in 2022. In a way, Kancey’s lack of height is a big reason why he is such a successful pass rusher. It allows him to consistently be the low man and win leverage battles.
No. 6 overall feels a bit rich for Kancey, but I wouldn’t completely rule it out due to the Lions desperately needing a defensive tackle that can rush the passer. This doesn’t seem like the type of pick Holmes would make if he’s going with the best player available, though.
How he fits: 3/5-tech; pass-rushing specialist and part-time run defender.
EDGE Myles Murphy (Clemson), 6-foot-5, 268 pounds
Over the past few months Murphy’s draft stock has taken a hit. Once thought of as a top-six pick, he is now getting mocked in the late-teens/early 20s range. That tracks with what you see on tape, but his elite athleticism and upside could result in him earning a top-10 selection in this draft.
Murphy is more comfortable with his hand in the dirt than he is standing up, but he does offer some positional flexibility and could potentially move inside to the 3-tech on occasion, too. Though he did not test at the combine, it was expected that he would have posted high scores across the board and is considered to be one of the best athletes in this class. If he’s paired with a team that can develop his pass rushing skills, he can be a star in this league.
How he fits: Versatile EDGE rusher that can move up and down the line.
RB Bijan Robinson (Texas), 5-foot-11, 215 pounds
Robinson is a polarizing pick in this draft, not because of his talent or ability, but because of the exhausting discourse of whether selecting a running back this high is a good use of resources.
College Football star Texas RB Bijan Robinson is going to be special in the NFL. Just watch this run. My goodness.— JWP Sports / CFBAlerts (@JWPSports) February 25, 2023
“Looking like Reggie Bush” pic.twitter.com/0VMaTOrNzb
In 2022, Robinson forced 104 missed tackles according to PFF, which broke a previous record held by current Lions running back, David Montgomery. Robinson is arguably the most talented offensive player in this draft and will fit like a glove in any offense.
How he fits: Dynamic running back that absolutely should dominate touches considering his talent and the pick spent to get him.
QB Will Levis (Kentucky), 6-foot-4, 229 pounds
After a promising 2021 campaign, Levis had a very disappointing 2022 year after losing his offensive coordinator and a lot of pieces on offense. PFF had him in the bottom 25th percentile in overall passing, intermediate passing, deep passing, and passing with no pressure grades. Levis is a project to take on, but there may be no better fit for him than going to a team like the Lions that won’t have to throw him into the fire right away. He has the elite tools and ceiling to turn into a very good quarterback in the NFL, but a lot is going to have to go right for him to reach that level.
How he fits: Backup QB for at least one or two years. Pray that he’s ready to take over after that.