As we begin closing the gap between free agency and the 2023 NFL Draft, analysts are beginning to expand their projections. ESPN’s Todd McShay released his latest mock draft on Tuesday, a full two-rounder, and it focuses on the Detroit Lions adding front-7 depth on defense and offensive skill players.
The Lions have four picks in the first two rounds, so let’s jump right in.
Round 1, Pick No. 6: Tyree Wilson, EDGE, Texas Tech
Here’s McShay’s reasoning for the selection:
“This pick has to be defense. Detroit was miserable in that department last season, and it was the reason it came up short in the playoff hunt. The Lions were bottom-three in yards allowed per rush (5.2), yards allowed per pass attempt (7.9), opponent QBR (56.0) and third-down defense (45.1%). Adding Wilson to a young edge-rushing contingent that already includes Aidan Hutchinson and James Houston could create real conflict for opponent pass-protectors, though. He had seven sacks in 2022 for a second straight year, and his arm length and pure power jump out on tape.
“I also considered the secondary with a handful of top-tier cornerbacks on the board, but the Lions have been aggressive there by signing Cameron Sutton, Emmanuel Moseley and C.J. Gardner-Johnson in free agency. Detroit is back on the clock at No. 18 and has a pair of second-rounders.”
Nothing overly surprising about this selection. Most analysts, fans, and even Vegas seem to point to the Lions focusing on either Wilson, Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter (who was already off the board), Illinois corner Devon Witherspoon (who I selected in our POD community mock draft), and Oregon corner Christian Gonzalez.
Projections on Wilson all seem to point to him being a top-10 pick, but where he fits within that group is up in the air. Some analysts have reported that Wilson is ahead of Alabama edge rusher Will Anderson on some team's boards, while others project an inconsistent model of clay that is far from polished.
In The Athletic’s Bruce Feldman’s latest mock draft—where he obtains quotes from coaches around the league on players—he also pairs the Lions with Wilson at pick No. 6, but the quotes leave you wanting more. Here’s what one coach had to say about Wilson:
“He has the size and great length. I thought he played better a year ago. He affected games more then. I left that game, thinking, ‘Man, he’s a dude. He’s really good.’ But I didn’t think lottery pick. He’s just not as consistent, but talent-wise, it’s definitely there.”
The other two quotes from Feldman’s article follow along the same page, suggesting potential, but speculating if he is worth a high selection.
With the Lions, they may not be overly concerned with Wilson’s developmental stage because they have seven other edge rushers capable of contributing on a regular basis. Wilson’s positional flexibility will help his cause in year one, as he can be deployed in a variety of sets, but thinking he will come into Allen Park and start day one like Aidan Hutchinson did last season seems unrealistic.
Round 1, Pick No. 18: Bijan Robinson, RB, Texas
Here’s McShay’s thoughts on the projection:
“Fans will question just about any landing spot for Robinson because of his position, but consider how heavily the Lions lean on the run and what Robinson can do for an offense. We’re talking about a top-five talent in this class who can break free with burst through the hole, make defenders miss with his strength and haul in passes with his reliable hands. Jamaal Williams is gone to New Orleans, and D’Andre Swift has struggled to stay healthy and is entering the final year of his contract. Yes, Detroit signed David Montgomery, but he has rushed for 100-plus yards just three times over the past two seasons. Robinson only had three games under 100 rushing yards last year.
”According to ESPN Stats & Information, this would be the highest a running back has been drafted since the Giants took Saquon Barkley at No. 2 in 2018. But Robinson is special. Other options for Detroit include tight end or continuing down the defensive rebuild path, but with four picks in the first two rounds, it can afford to make this luxury selection and fill some other holes down the road.”
Positional value aside, Robinson is an elite talent and would take the Lions’ offense to another level. Adding him to a running back room that includes Montgomery and Swift may seem like overkill, but as McShay mentions above, Swift is oft-injured and in the final year of his contract.
The Lions are set up to add running back talent to the roster this draft, and if you can get past the “value” aspect of the selection, Robinson in Honolulu Blue would be a ton of fun.
Round 2, Pick No. 48: Jack Campbell, LB, Iowa
Once again, here’s McShay:
“Campbell posted more than 120 tackles in each of the past two seasons, and he’d compete for snaps with Alex Anzalone and Malcolm Rodriguez in the middle of this defense undergoing a big overhaul.”
Campbell is one of only a few—maybe three? four?—linebackers in this draft class who may be able to challenge to start at linebacker as a rookie. There’s a lot of upside to Campbell, but would the Lions be willing to use early draft capital at linebacker when their history shows they don’t value the position highly?
The Lions only deploy two linebackers on the field at a time, and they return their top three players from last year. This offseason, the Lions re-invested in Anzalone (a three-year deal with $9M in guarantees) and he appears locked into the MIKE role, while Malcolm Rodriguez is a solid WILL, and Derrick Barnes is in a reserve role backing up each of them. Adding Campbell would be a solid way to upgrade the unit overall, but it would also go against the Lions' recent history at the position.
Round 2, Pick No. 55: Sam LaPorta, TE, Iowa
Here’s McShay's final explanation:
“LaPorta makes it six (tight ends) in the first two rounds, which would tie the common draft era record set in 1974. But this class is that good. LaPorta was consistent at Iowa, catching 153 passes over four seasons for 1,786 yards and five scores. He has speed down the seam and tempos his routes effectively. LaPorta could step in for T.J. Hockenson, who was traded to Minnesota at the deadline last season.”
While Lions fans would likely need time recovering from the Lions drafting another tight end from Iowa, LaPorta would represent an upgrade at the position, and like the other McShay selections, would challenge for snaps in year one.
The Lions met with LaPorta and South Dakota State’s Tucker Kraft at the NFL Combine, as well as Luke Schoonmaker at Michigan’s pro day, suggesting Detroit could very well be in the market for a tight end in this range of draft picks.