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Mailbag: Did Devon Witherspoon’s pro day boost his chances to be drafted by the Lions?

In this week’s written mailbag, we jump headfirst into a pile of 2023 NFL Draft questions.

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Chattanooga v Illinois Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Ahead of the 2023 season, Jeremy Reisman and I began a mid-week mailbag podcast in order to answer Detroit Lions-based questions from the fan base. The goal of the podcast was/is to be able to answer questions quickly in an ever-changing NFL landscape.

And while we have been happy with the success the podcast has achieved, podcasts are not always the preferred medium for content consumption. So this offseason, we have brought back the written mailbag and added some tweaks to help speed up the process of answering questions and increase the number of questions we can answer.

One of those alterations has been for Jeremy and I to alternate weeks where we individually answer questions in written form and this week it’s my turn in the captain's chair. So, in addition to our latest podcast episode where we answered a handful of this week’s questions, I have selected another group of questions to address.

Let’s get started.

Would you prefer to “stick and pick” at 6, or trade back (if possible of course) for a future #1 and a couple of additional Day 2 picks this year? Depending on how the board falls of course, but I could see that as possibly being a scenario that happens. — Panzer1943

Whenever a team has a chance to land an elite, blue-chip-level player they should always jump at the opportunity. That being said, if the Lions aren’t completely sold that they are getting value for pick No. 6, then trading back could go a long way in keeping them flexible in 2024.

If the Lions find themselves in a trade-back situation, I would prefer them to trade back to a point where they could land a first-round pick in 2024, as opposed to acquiring more draft picks in this class. With the future of the Lions’ quarterback position undetermined—at least until they extend Jared Goff or draft his replacement—it would be ideal for general manager Brad Holmes to be able to keep his options open in future drafts.

What trades do you foresee the Lions making in this year’s draft? — Gonzalezq

Holmes does two things very well during the draft: identifying talent that fits the Lions' culture/scheme and projecting when they will come off the board during the draft. Those two driving factors typically lead to Holmes looking for opportunities to land the exact guy he wants at the projected position they will come off the board.

So it’s nearly impossible to accurately project which trades Holmes will be interested in because everything is likely on the table.

I do think this is part of Holmes’ overarching plan to gain draft capital in order to stay flexible enough to make a big move when he needs to. Top 100 picks tend to be more sought after than Day 3 picks and that’s why you see Homes trying to turn a fourth-round pick into a third-round pick, instead of simply adding another Day 3 pick to his draft pick lot.

Basically: having two third-round picks and no fourth-round pick is better than having one third-round pick and two fourth-round picks.

Brad Holmes has built up a lot of draft credibility with the talent he has found in the past couple drafts. Is there a player that if Brad drafted them in the first round, would cause you to start doubting him? — BornInThe313

Short answer: No.

Longer answer: Every draft season, analysts tend to gravitate towards certain players and grow weary of others. My personal preferences in this draft class tend to lean more toward defensive linemen, players in the secondary, and offensive linemen while leaning away from wide receivers and linebackers in the first round.

So would I lose some trust in Holmes’ decision-making if he drafted TCU wide receiver Quentin Johnston at pick No. 6? No. Would I like it? Probably not. But Holmes has done enough that I would be willing to see how his plan plays out in training camp and the regular season before passing too much judgment.

Does Dre Bly’s (Lions CB coach) presence at Devon Witherspoon’s private workout, followed by reports of Spoon running low 4.4s in the 40, boost the young CBs chances of being drafted by the Lions with their first of 2 Day 1 picks? — Faleroz World

When you watch Witherspoon play, he looks like a player who runs in the 4.4s, so that was a box-checker for me. I also fully expected the Lions to send Bly to his pro day—also of note, defensive backs coach Brian Duker was also in attendance—because I believe Witherspoon is very much in play for the Lions at pick No. 6, and his workout warranted Bly’s attendance.

So while I won’t necessarily say that I think Witherspoon boosted his stock for the Lions, I will say that he probably checked a lot of their boxes and that may keep him near the top of their board.

Now, that being said, Witherspoon has been “sliding” on some analysts' draft boards this offseason, but I believe that to have been an “out of sight, out of mind” situation, as Witherspoon was nursing a hamstring injury and not working out before this week. As I projected in my mock draft roundup last week, I’m betting his stock does get a “boost” on a lot of media analysts' draft boards after this workout.

The first player that jumps out is North Carolina wide receiver Josh Downs, who not only terrorized Bly’s cornerbacks every day in practice, but Downs is also Bly’s nephew. Downs, a slot/vertical receiver with terrific yards-after-the-catch potential, is widely considered a top-50 prospect.

At corner, Bly’s top two players coached were Tony Grimes and Storm Duck, and both elected to transfer instead of declaring for the NFL, landing at Texas A&M and Penn State respectively.

On the defensive line, there are several NFL players that Scott helped take the next step in their football careers, but in 2023, there is really only one name to keep an eye on, nose tackle P.J. Mustipher. Checking in at 6-foot-4, 320 pounds, he is more of a run stuffer than a pass rusher, but as a two time-captain and high-character leader, Mustipher could be a late-round pick/undrafted free agent the Lions bring in to compete for depth.

Hey y’all. Second round CBs and WRs the Lions might be looking at? Also, what Erik thinks about how Tyjae Spears would fit into a Ben Johnson offense, love Spears’ game. — throwjimmy

A few corner names that think fit with the Lions and I anticipate coming off the board in the second round include Emmanuel Forbes (Mississippi State), DJ Turner (Michigan), and Cam Smith (South Carolina).

At receiver, Downs, Zay Flowers (Boston College), Tyler Scott (Cincinnati), and Cedric Tillman (Tennessee) top my second round list of talent.

Spears is a silky smooth running back and checks in as RB4 on my Lions-based draft board (after Bijan Robinson, Jahmyr Gibbs, and Devon Achane). Spears possess speed and explosion traits and is a problem for defenders in the open field. If the Lions are looking for a long-term D’Andre Swift replacement, Spears is surely near the top of that list.

Are there any players from last year's practice squad that have a legitimate chance of making the 53-man roster and being contributors for the 2023 Lions? — AceJF

Last year there were several players that were promoted from the practice squad to the active roster, including James Houston, Anthony Pittman, and Dan Skipper. But among those who finished the season on the practice squad, the players with the best path to a spot on the 53 are likely offensive tackle Obinna Eze, defensive lineman Demetrius Taylor, and running back Jermar Jefferson.

Now, each of those three will have a harder path if the Lions invest in drafting a player at their position, which seems very likely for Taylor and Jefferson. Eze seems to have the potentially easiest path because the Lions have two established starters—meaning it’s not a high draft priority—and they only brought back OT3 Matt Nelson, but he appears vulnerable to losing his spot. If Eze has taken the next step in his development, it’s possible he challenges for a role.

Hayes is one of the better athletes on the offensive line in this class, and he does appear to have the range to play inside and out, as well as on the left and right sides. His movement and technique make him highly suited for the Lions' gap scheme but he will need to add some more core strength if he wants to be a consistent contributor.

The question for me is: will he be on the board when the Lions have their picks on Day 3 (currently No. 152, 183, and 194) or will he come off the board sooner? Bleacher Reports’ Brandon Thorne is widely considered one of the best offensive line evaluators around and he grades Hayes out as a fourth rounder.

LB question: Detroit believes in the value of Alex Anzalone to lead our defense, and Rodrigo will definitely be given opportunities to improve. But neither are great vs. the pass. But we need LB depth. Instead of a backup MIKE (i.e. Jack Campbell), do you think the Lions would/should look at passing LBs such as (Daiyan) Henley, (DeMarvion) Overshown, (Trenton) Simpson? Is there enough difference in roles that Detroit would do this or would they just look for LB PBA regardless of type of LB? — BuddhaFrog

I do believe the Lions will consider adding a linebacker capable of dropping into coverage, similar to how they used Chris Board last season, and it is a role that has not been filled. What is unclear is how soon they would consider drafting that type of player.

All three players (Henley, Overshown, and Simpson) definitely fit the bill for filling the Board role, but all three of those players rank as top-five linebackers on my Lions-based draft board, and could all be selected on Day 2 of the draft. If the Lions were going to spend a top-100 pick on a linebacker, grabbing any of those three would be beneficial.

Any Division II prospects a fit for the Lions? (Tyson) Bagent QB, (Caleb) Murphy Edge Ferris, or (Cyntell) Williams DB Ferris? — nrs001

The Lions were one of the first teams to send a scout out to Shepherd to get a look at Bagent this season, who was fresh off winning the 2021 Harlon Hill Trophy (DII’s version of the Heisman). He has an NFL frame (6-foot-3, 213 pounds) and a powerful arm, but his accuracy is a work in progress. If the Lions were to add him, it would likely be late in the draft (or as a UDFA) and he would compete for a QB3 or practice squad role.

I also wonder if he would be open to another possible role...

Murphy is another DII award winner, taking home the Gene Upshaw Award in 2022 for best offensive or defensive lineman in DII. He also won the Ted Hendricks award, which recognizes the top defensive end in the country, regardless of division—Aidan Hutchinson won this award in 2021.

At 6-foot-3, 254 pounds, Murphy looks the part, and his stat line at Ferris State is eye-popping.

  • 2021: 63 tackles, 14.5 sacks, 21.5 tackles for loss, 5 forced fumbles, and an interception
  • 2022: 93 tackles, 25.5 sacks, 39 tackles for loss, 3 forced fumbles, and a pass break up

While Murphy has insane production, when he leveled up his competition at the East/West Shrine game, he was overpowered much too easily, exposing a need to gain more core strength. That likely makes him a late Day 3 project that fits onto the same developmental path as James Houston.

Two other local DII names to keep an eye on are offensive tackles Quinton Barrow (Grand Valley State) and Jake Witt (Northern Michigan). The Lions brought in Barrow for a top-30 visit and Witt had a feature written about him by Dane Brugler of The Athletic, pointing out why he expects the offensive tackle to be drafted ($).

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