Since he’s arrived, general manager Brad Holmes has done a phenomenal job of laying down the foundation and adding talent through the draft. Last year’s Detroit Lions rookie class was littered with talent and with players that contributed immediately as rookies.
This year feels a little different, as the Lions are in a position where they’re coming off of a winning season and ready to make some actual noise. To take that next step, they are going to need another big year from their rookies, so let’s see how Holmes and company did with their third full draft class:
First round (12): RB Jahmyr Gibbs (Alabama)
In 2020, I was pretty harsh on the D’Andre Swift pick, giving it a ‘D’ grade at the time. I have similar feelings about this pick, but the good news is... Brad Holmes is not Bob Quinn and Jahmyr Gibbs is a much better prospect coming out of college than Swift was.
Speaking of Swift, the writing was on the wall for him after this pick, as the Lions found their new passing game weapon. On Day 3 of the draft, the Lions decided to send Swift to the Philadelphia Eagles in exchange for a pick swap in the seventh round and a 2025 fourth-round pick.
With the Gibbs selection, David Montgomery is likely to still bear the load as the Lions’ “workhorse” back, and the Lions might limit Gibbs’ carries due to him being on the smaller side, but I can still see him potentially turning into a bell cow in the future, if that’s what the Lions want.
Gibbs can also potentially add more value by lining up as a wide receiver for the Lions, which is hopefully the case since the Lions spent such a high pick on him. This pick will receive a low grade from me, because I really don’t love drafting a back this high, but don’t mistake that for me not liking the player. If the Lions actually plan to use Gibbs as a receiver, that would bump the grade up, but we’ve seen teams say this and not deliver before.
Role: Starter (will play his role as an offensive weapon and get starter-level touches split between the running and passing game)
First round (18): LB Jack Campbell (Iowa)
This pick was probably even more shocking to me than the Gibbs pick, not because of Campbell going 20 or so slots higher than most were projecting him, but because of the fact that the Lions even wanted to upgrade the linebacker position with an early-round pick in the first place.
All year, many (including myself) had been speculating that the Lions were fine with what they had at linebacker and that they didn’t value the position all that much. On Thursday, Brad Holmes basically said “screw what you think and screw your positional value” and found an opportunity to grab his top linebacker in the draft with a premium pick. His villain arc is in full swing.
Like the Gibbs pick, I don’t love the value here, but I still think this is an underrated pick for a couple of reasons. One, it improves both linebacker positions in just one move. With Campbell likely to take over the MIKE position, this would move Anzalone over to the WILL role, which I believe he is a better fit for anyway. And second, Campbell fits the identity of this team perfectly. He’s a smart player and a two-time captain, and we’ll likely see him become a leader on this defense sooner rather than later.
I think Campbell is a very good player. His instincts in zone coverage really stand out to me, and I’m amazed by how he consistently gets to his landmarks, always seemingly in perfect position in zone coverage. I do have questions about whether he is capable at all in man coverage, as he did not get many opportunities to showcase that ability. And while he tested as an elite athlete at the combine, that elite overall athleticism does not really stand out on film. He does not look as explosive or as fluid as someone who put up the numbers that he did.
Role: Starter (MIKE linebacker and eventual leader of the defense)
Second round (34): TE Sam LaPorta (Iowa)
To start Day 2, the Lions took another low-value position, but this was actually a good spot to do so and it was at a position of need. Immediately after the pick, there was a run on tight ends, so the Lions did a nice job of getting their guy, knowing that he wouldn’t be there by their next pick. A smart play by Brad Holmes.
LaPorta is a tad undersized as a tight end, but it is becoming more commonplace for teams to acquire guys like LaPorta to create mismatches. He will be able to win with his speed against linebackers while being too big for your average slot CB/safety to handle. Where LaPorta still could use some work is his blocking, especially in the run game. According to PFF, his run blocking grade in 2022 was 53.1.
Although he is more quick than fast as a route runner, LaPorta makes himself available mid-route because of his lower-body quickness and athletic fluidity. As a blocker, his functional strength and consistency must improve, but Iowa asks its tight ends to do everything (LaPorta even took three snaps out of the wildcat) and scouts rave about his competitive demeanor. Overall, LaPorta is an average point-of-attack blocker and his lack of length hurts his success rate in contested situations, but he plays with outstanding quickness and body rhythm with soft hands as a pass catcher. He is in the Austin Hooper mold and projects as a low-end TE1 or high-end TE2 on an NFL depth chart.
Role: Starter (Immediately becomes the Lions’ top TE target and can create mismatches in the passing game)
Second round (45): S Brian Branch (Alabama)
This is a pick I would have been happy with at 12th or 18th overall, so you can imagine my excitement when the Lions took him at 45. Branch was used mostly as a slot corner with the Tide and I think that will be his best position moving forward in the NFL, but he is a very versatile player that can line up all along the secondary and even up closer to the line of scrimmage.
The Lions are currently set at safety and at slot corner, but they could use Branch as an extra safety in dime packages and he will be nice insurance in case they run into injuries or decide not to bring C.J. Gardner-Johnson back after this season. This is a home run pick.
Role: Role player (As a rookie I don’t expect Branch to play a ton, unless injuries occur. Eventual starter at slot CB/safety)
Third Round (68): QB Hendon Hooker (Tennessee)
The Lions finally got their developmental QB behind Jared Goff. I like Hooker and I’m very glad that they got him at the top of the third round, instead of in the first round where some were projecting him to go. Once Hooker is fully healthy after recovering from his torn ACL injury, he will have a lot of work to do coming from a non-pro friendly offense with the Vols. This pick could mean that the Lions will elect not to bring in Teddy Bridgewater to be their backup, which was looking likely if they did not add to the position via the draft.
Hooker is already 25 years old, so that—as well as the injury and college system—played a part in his fall, but he has some great tools to work with like his impressive deep ball accuracy and ability as a runner.
Hooker is yet another high character guy to be selected by this regime. Just take a look at what Brad Holmes had to say about him:
“... And there were little things that kind of stood out to me in terms of, you know, he’d score a touchdown, and instead of him being on the bench with the headset on, or talking to the coach in the box, he’s standing on the sideline waiting to congratulate his extra-point team. So, it’s little things like that, that show what kind of person he (is). Regardless of background and all that, he’s just a good football player and if he wasn’t, then we wouldn’t have acquired him. He’s a good person. He’s smart. He’s very talented. He’s had a unique journey. He’s overcome. He just has to get healthy. I believe that we have the right situation for him, where he can just sit back, develop, get healthy. But we’re excited about his upside.”
Role: Developmental (Backup QB once he learns the system. Eventual starter?)
Third round (96): DT Brodric Martin (Western Kentucky)
The Lions packaged together picks 122, 139, and 168 to move back into the third round for Martin, a mammoth of a nose tackle. According to the man himself, Holmes was even looking to trade up as early as the 70s to get Martin. I have to hand it to him, Holmes’ determination to get “his guy” is something else. When I first saw that quote, I just laughed. This man is psychotic. I love it.
Martin will give the Lions some much needed size and length on the defensive line. After the Panthers loss last year that essentially kept them out of the playoffs, you just knew the Lions would spend some resources trying to shore up their run defense, and that’s what they did with this pick.
Role: Role player (reserve nose tackle)
Fifth round (152): OL Colby Sorsdal (William & Mary)
This was the one pick where I honestly had never even heard of the player selected. Couldn’t find him on PFF or The Beast, but I was quickly put at ease by OL guru Duke Manyweather on Twitter, whom I deeply trust when it comes to offensive line play.
After the pick, I went and watched a couple W&M full games on YouTube and Sorsdal definitely stood out and dominated the competition. The Lions needed some depth on the OL and while it took a little longer than expected, they got their guy.
Role: Developmental (likely a better guard than tackle, gives the Lions some insurance on the interior)
Seventh Round (219): WR Antoine Green (North Carolina)
The Lions finally found some extra competition for the X-receiver role. Once you get to the later rounds, it’s really tough to pick apart these selections because it’s a long shot for these players to make a large impact in the first place. If the pick doesn’t pan out, then no big deal, if it does then it’s a pleasant surprise. I like Green’s chances more than your typical seventh rounder because the Lions have a long-term need at receiver and he could potentially make the team as their sixth receiver.
Role: Developmental (has a good chance to make the roster as the Lions’ No. 6 WR and can play the X- and Z-receiver role for the Lions)
Overall Grade: B
Though the Lions did not use their premium picks to draft players at premium positions, when you look at the draft as a whole, it turned out to be a really nice class. They went out and drafted players who clearly fit their culture and addressed some big areas of need. The Brian Branch pick to me is the best of the bunch, and while I do not love selecting a running back as high as the Lions did, if they give Gibbs some time as a receiver, the pick makes a lot more sense in hindsight. My trust is in Brad Holmes.
What grade would you give the Lions’ 2023 NFL Draft class?
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