The Detroit Lions' first round of the 2023 NFL Draft will go down as one of the most surprising in recent history. While the Lions taking a running back early wasn’t a complete shock, that selection being Jahmyr Gibbs with the 12th overall pick was something that literally no one in the general public had on their radar.
The Lions have drawn a lot of criticism for reaching on both the player and the position, but general manager Brad Holmes made it clear Thursday night, he’s not concerned with outside perception or mock draft.
“They do bring value, but that doesn’t really move me,” Holmes said of mock drafts. “I didn’t really look at, ‘Man, Jahmyr Gibbs, he’s been mocking in the 50s.’ Now that one I did laugh at because if you look at the talent of the player then you look at the totality of the draft, I didn’t think that was remotely close.”
So how did it all play out that way? How did we all miss the Lions’ intentions?
Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated provided some clarity on the Lions’ pursuit of Gibbs in his Monday morning column.
As many have speculated, it started with Devon Witherspoon going to the Seattle Seahawks with the fifth overall pick. Breer believes he was the Lions’ initial target, with the intention to then trade up and get Gibbs, but when Witherspoon was gone, they had to change plans—which they were prepared to do.
Breer says the Lions were prepared to “break the internet” and just take Gibbs with the sixth overall pick.
“We didn’t think we’d do this at six, Holmes said to Campbell, but who cares? He’s our favorite guy left.”
But then, as Breer put it, the Arizona Cardinals “threw them a life raft.”
The Lions were able to trade down six spots to the 12th overall pick, and a key member of the Cardinals' front office helped facilitate that trade. You may remember that back in January Detroit Lions director of college scouting Dave Sears was hired by the Cardinals to be their new assistant general manager. Sears’ relationship with Holmes helped orchestrate the trade.
“The Cardinals leaned on another relationship, between Lions GM Brad Holmes and their own assistant GM Dave Sears, who (Cardinals GM Monti) Ossenfort hired away from Detroit in February,” Breer wrote.
Arizona proved to be the perfect trade down candidate for Detroit because the Lions were concerned if they waited too long—say, until their 18th overall pick—Gibbs would be gone.
“The Cardinals gave Holmes the shot to pick up a high second, slide back six spots and, fingers crossed, still land Gibbs, by staying in front of two teams the Lions heard liked him, in the Patriots (at 14) and the Jets (at 15),” Breer wrote.
While all of this is a mix of Breer’s reporting and own speculation, it matches up with what Holmes said after Day 1 of the draft.
Were they really in on Witherspoon? Holmes didn’t say that outright, but he did mention that some of “their guys” were taken before their sixth overall pick.
“(There’s) like a handful of favorite players in the draft,” Holmes said. “Some of those guys were taken before we were able to pick, but Jahmyr was certainly one of those guys.”
As for the rumor that another team was interested in taking Gibbs before their 18th overall pick, Holmes said after they picked Gibbs he received multiple texts and calls from teams saying exactly that.
“That’s when all the texts started coming in of, ‘Oh, would’ve been gone by 15.’” Holmes said. “Just a lot of picks, a lot of people saying they wanted to trade up, they wanted to get him.”
Whether any of that is true remains to be seen. Maybe we’ll get a peek inside to these high-intensity moments when the Lions drop their “Inside the Den,” behind-the-scenes video on the draft. But for now, this seems like a reasonable series of events that led to Jahmyr Gibbs being a Detroit Lion.