Now that we’ve had a few days to digest the Detroit Lions 2023 NFL Draft class, it’s time for our staff to share our thoughts on the picks. This will be Part 1 of a three part series where our staff hands out superlatives for Detroit’s choices.
First up, our picks for:
- Favorite pick
- Least favorite pick
- Player you’re most excited to watch in training camp
Favorite Lions pick
Ryan Mathews: RB Jahmyr Gibbs
It took a few hours for the shock to wear off, but after being stunned by Detroit selecting Jahmyr Gibbs with the 12th overall pick, it turned into hard-to-contain excitement for what dimension Gibbs will bring to this Lions offense. He’s a certified home run threat whether he’s running the ball out of the backfield or lining up as a receiver, and it’s pretty clear to see Holmes’ vision of the running back position in Detroit come to fruition after signing David Montgomery in free agency and drafting Gibbs.
John Whiticar: DB Brian Branch
Morgan Cannon: RB Jahmyr Gibbs
I may end up being one of the few on staff who go this direction but my pick is Jahmyr Gibbs. I know, I know. Positional value and all of that. But you can’t tell me your mind hasn’t been doing somersaults at the possibilities with Gibbs in Ben Johnson’s offense. Find ways to get the young man into space, and watch him turn defenders into barbecue chicken in the open field.
Alex Reno: DB Brian Branch
Branch was one of my favorite players in the entire draft and I would have been completely okay taking him at 12 or 18. Holmes hit a home run by trading up and getting him midway through the second round. He might not start right away, but this is a pick for the future, and I see Branch being a major contributor and leader in the secondary.
Hamza Baccouche: QB Hendon Hooker
The more I think about it, the more I love the Hendon Hooker pick. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying he’s the best player, or will turn into one, but I love what this means as far as Brad Holmes’ philosophy. This team has one of the most well-rounded rosters in the league and with so much draft capital, Holmes recognized he was playing with house money. Why not use it on a lottery ticket with all the physical tools to develop into something? It doesn’t answer the question at quarterback beyond this season with Goff’s contract coming to an end, but it gives you an option to evaluate. Hooker is a big question mark, but he lands in the best situation in the entire league for his development.
Mike Payton: RB Jahmyr Gibbs
I know it shocked everyone and some were upset about it, but Gibbs unlocks a part of this offense that was previously not there. He is a position-less offensive weapon that will hit the home run ball. The Lions found a guy they can do anything under the sun with.
Chris Perfett: DB Brian Branch
I would have been happy with Branch at pick 12 or 18, but the Lions were still able to zero in on him on the second day of the NFL Draft. He’s the versatile, twitchy DB that could easily become the defensive player the Lions are really looking forward to.
Jerry Mallory: QB Hendon Hooker
That’s a tough one between my two draft crushes Brian Branch and Hendon Hooker. Especially where Detroit able to draft them. But based solely on my reaction to both, Hooker wins as I was joyfully screaming as soon as I heard “Hen…” uttered from the podium.
Jeremy Reisman: TE Sam LaPorta
One thing I admire about this draft is Brad Holmes’ fearlessness in strengthening a strength. You win in this league with your offense, and the Lions added two big receiving threats in Gibbs and LaPorta. I know Lions fans have a natural disgust to taking a tight end this early in the draft, but it took about five minutes of watching LaPorta’s tape to see that his athleticism is special and his potential as a receiving weapon is much higher than the other tight end who have come through this city.
Erik Schlitt: DB Brian Branch
I pretty much love everything about Brian Branch. It’s rare for freshman to see the field in a Nick Saban coached secondary, but Branch not only saw the field, he was inserted into the starting lineup. That doesn’t happen unless you possess rare football intelligence. His ability to match up with slot receivers, tight ends, and running backs is incredibly valuable, but he can also drop into deep coverage and blitz from all over the field. A high-character individual that can be a matchup weapon on the field, Branch is going to be a fan favorite very soon.
Least favorite Lions pick
Erik Schlitt: DT Brodric Martin
It’s almost unfair for Martin to be put in this group because I simply don’t know him as well as I know the other prospects the Lions drafted, but I had to pick someone. So far, I’ve really liked what I have seen, but this really comes down to the fact that the Lions gave up three draft picks to take a nose tackle that I’m unfamiliar with in the third round. Let’s hope he turns out a season similarly to James Houston, who I picked in this spot last season for similar reasons.
Mike Payton: QB Hendon Hooker
I too some flack online and I’ll take again here. I don’t get the Hendon Hooker pick. Especially with the reports that the Lions are looking to extend Jared Goff. If the plan was to have a high-end backup quarterback, I get it. Did the Lions need to use a third-round pick on that? Probably not. It just seemed more like a luxury pick than any other pick.
Jeremy Reisman: RB Jahmyr Gibbs
As the Barenaked Ladies once said, “I’m all about value.” Yes, Jahmyr Gibbs gives the Lions a home-run weapon, but the next best speedy, receiving type of back in this year’s class—Texas A&M’s Devon Achane—was taken 72 picks later. Is Gibbs really that much better than Achane to warrant a two-round pick difference? Time will tell. I also pray that Gibbs and his small frame are able to stay healthy.
Ryan Mathews: DT Brodric Martin
It’s the third round, so it’s hard to fault Holmes or call it a reach when he selected Brodric Martin, a massive nose tackle out of Western Kentucky, because it did fill a need for this roster. But the part about this pick I liked the least was all the draft capital it cost Holmes to move up and take a player who projects as a two-down player in the NFL. Maybe Holmes could have practiced some patience here instead of selling off a chunk of Detroit’s resources on Day 3.
John Whiticar: RB Jahmyr Gibbs
I get that Gibbs is an exciting player. I get that the New York Jets were interested in him at 15. But the Detroit Lions still chose a running back early in the first round, and I simply can’t justify that.
Morgan Cannon: TE Sam LaPorta
I get the idea behind having a big Y-type receiver like Sam LaPorta, but this pick is still my least favorite. I am sure offensive coordinator Ben Johnson will come up with inventive ways to get LaPorta the ball, but with all of the success with their tight end play last year after the T.J. Hockenson trade—I feel as though this resource could have been spent elsewhere.
Alex Reno: RB Jahmyr Gibbs
I’ve already expressed why I didn’t love the pick when it was made, and I’ve also expressed that I really love the player and love what he will bring to the Lions in my draft grades. Gibbs is going to have to play to his ceiling to warrant the pick spent on him and historically speaking, it is unlikely that he will be rewarded with a second deal in Detroit. With that being said, it appears based on multiple reports that Gibbs would have been selected shortly after the Lions’ pick if they didn’t select him, so if Holmes wanted to get his guy, he had to do it with the 12th overall pick. You could make the argument that you can let another team make that mistake, but at the end of the day, the Lions got better at the running back position, so at this point I’m completely fine with it and nitpicking.
Hamza Baccouche: RB Jahmyr Gibbs
The Jahmyr Gibbs pick just isn’t sitting right with me. A mandatory disclaimer when I say this is that this is no knock on Gibbs—I hope and think he will be an absolute stud, especially behind this Lions offensive line. However, the 12th overall pick was not a price I was happy paying, especially when you just forked over $6 million annually to David Montgomery. Of course we all saw the “a bunch of other teams right after the Lions were about to pick him!” coming, and even if that were true, it doesn’t justify the value in my eyes. The fact that Holmes doubled down in his press conference too and said they were comfortable selecting Gibbs at six was a deeply concerning statement, too, one that I don’t think is getting enough attention.
Chris Perfett: OL Colby Sorsdal
I need to be clear here on “least favorite.” I like Colby’s attitude, I like that some linemen analysts are really loving his game. It’s fascinating. I just think if you wanted a guard, you probably should have just taken someone who played guard for his college career.
Jerry Mallory: DT Brodric Martin
Gibbs was a bummer at 12 but not because of who he is as a player. That being said I will go with Brodric Martin. I’m no draft expert but I keep up decently with most of the prospects, especially at positions of need. I had no clue who he was to be honest and felt there were other defensive tackles there I’d rather have. I’m looking forward to being proven wrong.
Rookie most excited to see in training camp
Jerry Mallory: TE Sam LaPorta
The YAC monster himself could make same ooohs and ahhhs all during camp and I’m ready for it.
Chris Perfett: RB Jahmyr Gibbs
Show me the lightning and thunder, show me why you selected a tailback at No. 12. I want to see what you saw, Brad Holmes.
Hamza Baccouche: TE Sam LaPorta
Sam LaPorta is going to be an absolute tank. This offense is going to stretch the field so well at every level, especially when Jamo is back full time, and LaPorta is going to feast. He’s not the athletic specimen that previous Iowa tight ends have been, but his skillset is almost the polar opposite of what we’ve gotten used to seeing out of T.J. Hockenson the past four years. He’s going to be a bowling ball after the catch and he’ll get plenty of YAC opportunities with the attention everyone around him will draw.
Alex Reno: TE Sam LaPorta
I‘m fired up to see how Ben Johnson is going to incorporate LaPorta into the offense. I was expecting the Lions to take more of an inline TE that is more of a blocker than a passing game weapon, so I was pleasantly surprised to see them going the opposite route by selecting LaPorta. He’s on the smaller side, but he’s even quicker and faster than Hockenson, and will be a true mismatch creator. He’s too shifty and speedy for most linebackers and he’s got the size to bully safeties/corners. I don’t expect him to dominate touches right away, but at the very least he will be a nice safety valve for Jared Goff.
Mike Payton: RB Jahmyr Gibbs
I’m really interested to get a better grasp on what the Lions can do with Gibbs. At camp, we’ll get a sense of just how many different ways they’ll use him. I’m guessing it’ll be a lot. On top of that, I’m interested to see if there’s any world where both David Montgomery and Gibbs are on the field at the same time.
Morgan Cannon: LB Jack Campbell
Jack Campbell and my answer is simple—I want to see how quickly he picks up on what defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn needs out of him as the MIKE linebacker. Campbell has all the requisite physical traits to be an elite three-down linebacker in this league, and his football IQ is also supposed to be excellent. Put those two together and the former Iowa Hawkeye could begin turning heads as early as August.
John Whiticar: QB Hendon Hooker
This is obviously dependent on his recovery, but there are rumors that he could be ready for training camp. If so, all eyes will be on the rookie quarterback. For one, we’ll want to see his recovery. But most of all, it will be exciting to see a talented mobile quarterback under center (sorry, Jeff Driskel doesn’t count).
Ryan Mathews: OL Colby Sorsdal
Some of the best stuff we see in training camp is the one-on-one battles. Whether it’s wide receivers against cornerbacks, linebackers trying to cover running backs, or tight ends trying to block edge defenders, it’s always fun to see highly competitive and supremely talented players battle in a vacuum. I’m most excited to see how Colby Sorsdal fits with this offensive line unit. Is he strictly a guard? Does his athleticism allow him to make a push for the team’s sixth offensive lineman spot?
Erik Schlitt: RB Jahmyr Gibbs
Watching speed on film is one thing and seeing it in person is another. We’ve seen plenty of fast players come through Allen Park, but Gibbs’ speed is special. And when you combine that with his other skills, it’s going to be exciting to see him develop. We may not get a real taste of what Gibbs can fully do until pads come on (usually the second week of camp) but that is a day I am itching to see happen.
Jeremy Reisman: LB Jack Campbell
I’m a sucker for good linebacker play, and I remember just being wowed by Malcolm Rodriguez right out of the gate last year. The bar is obviously way higher for Campbell, so I’m eager to see how quickly he assumes a starting spot, maybe even the green dot.