Even an evaluator as good as Detroit Lions general manager Brad Holmes misses once in a while. While his track record his been quite good through two years, it’s easy to overlook a couple of mistakes he made along the way. Through two years, he still hasn’t gotten much of any contributions from a pair of Day 2 picks: defensive tackle Levi Onwuzurike and defensive back Ifeatu Melifonwu.
So with the 2023 NFL Draft now in the books, we’re going to look back at the decisions Holmes and the Lions made last week, and point out a pick that we would’ve made instead of the one they did.
This is Part 2 of our 2023 Lions draft roundtable (Part 1 is here). In this installment, we’ll discuss:
- Picks we would’ve made instead
- Best “value” pick
What pick should the Lions have made instead of the one they did?
Ryan Mathews: TE Darnell Washington over TE Sam LaPorta
While I’m coming around on Sam LaPorta, I thought Darnell Washington was the perfect fit for what this team wants to accomplish on offense. LaPorta clearly signals the Lions are thinking a bit differently when it comes to the tight end position, and LaPorta has some room to develop into an effective move blocker. After learning about how some teams were concerned about Washington’s medicals during the draft, it’s understandable if this was why Detroit passed on him, but during the entire pre-draft process, Washington seemed to make so much sense.
Erik Schlitt: CB Deonte Banks at 18 over LB Jack Campbell
I still have some minor reservations about the Lions long-term stability at the cornerback position and grabbing Banks at pick No. 18 would have helped ease those concerns. For me, Banks represented solid value at that spot and would have been a terrific fit in the Lions’ secondary.
Jerry Mallory: DT Jalen Carter at 6
Ultimately, I love the return Detroit got trading down, but Carter at 6 would’ve meant the organization trusted him. And the Lions would have just landed the best defensive player in the this draft.
Chris Perfett: TE Michael Mayer over TE Sam LaPorta
If they were going to go with anything for tight end, Mayer would have been my pick. He went a split second after the LaPorta selection to the Raiders. I like his blocking skills and his physicality, and I would have been happy to see him as a second-round pick. Also I have my dad texting me now saying the Lions will regret passing out Mayer because he’s “the next Gronkowski.” My dad is a huge golden domer and I don’t know if he’ll let this go. Send help.
Mike Payton: QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson over Hendon Hooker
I loved Dorian Thompson-Robinson and felt that if the Lions were going with a backup, a younger one with a lot of tools and lower draft expectations would have been the way to go. The Lions could have helped Thompson-Robinson progress through some of his coachable issues. I guess we’ll all just have to sit back and watch him succeed in Cleveland once he becomes the starter there.
Hamza Baccouche: CB Christian Gonzalez at 12 over RB Jahmyr Gibbs
Christian Gonzalez is going to absolutely excel as a New England Patriot, and his inevitable success is going to eat me alive knowing full well the Lions could have gotten him at 12. It bothered me at 12, it bothers me now, and it will bother me for the next five years of his rookie contract.
Jeremy Reisman: WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba at 18 over LB Jack Campbell
Though it wasn’t a stellar receiver class, getting the No. 1 in this class at 18 would have been a steal. Not only is wide receiver a better value here, but Smith-Njigba is an extremely versatile piece that would create one of the best pass-catching trios in the league in Detroit, while given the Lions more opportunity—and better value—to address their defense on Day 2.
Alex Reno: WR Cedric Tillman at 68 over QB Hendon Hooker
I’m happy that the Lions got their backup quarterback, I really am. Hendon Hooker is also good value at 68, but Tillman was the pick I desperately wanted here because he is too perfect of a fit for the offense as an X-receiver. He would have been an upgrade over Josh Reynolds and would have given Jared Goff a much-needed deep threat/intermediate target with a large catch radius that can also beat press at the line of scrimmage. Amon-Ra St. Brown, Jameson Williams, LaPorta, David Montgomery, Gibbs, and Tillman? I don’t see how anyone would be able to stop that offense.
Morgan Cannon: DT Calijah Kancey at 18 over LB Jack Campbell
Calijah Kancey at 18 would have been fun. Pairing him with third-year defensive tackle Alim McNeill would have given the Lions quite the young pair to move forward with.
John Whiticar: CB Christian Gonzalez at 12 over RB Jahmyr Gibbs
After missing out on Devon Witherspoon, the Lions clearly weren’t high on the remaining corners. Perhaps they were turned off by Gonzalez’s lack of physicality, but he checks almost all other boxes: great size, great speed, and great tape. The Lions need long-term help at cornerback, and one of the best prospects in the draft was sitting right there at 12.
Best value pick
John Whiticar: DB Brian Branch
I have no clue why Branch wasn’t a first-round pick. Sure, his athletic testing didn’t blow up, but his game is far more than drills in workout clothes. Branch is one of the smartest defenders in the draft, a legitimate tackler, and a run stopping ace. That’s great value.
Morgan Cannon: DB Brian Branch
No real debate here. The answer is Brian Branch at 45. Like anyone else who watches college football, I have seen quite a bit of Branch flying around and making plays for the Crimson Tide. Seeing him soak up everything this talented secondary has to offer is going to be fun to watch.
Alex Reno: DB Brian Branch
Again, this is a pretty easy choice as I would have been celebrating if he was selected in the first round for the Lions. Branch has phenomenal tape and might become one of the best players on defense for the Lions in a couple of years, and Holmes was able to get him in the middle of the second round. Just great value.
Hamza Baccouche: DB Brian Branch
I’m guessing everyone else explained quite well why Brian Branch was the answer, so I’ll leave it at that.
Chris Perfett: DB Brian Branch
It’s Brian Branch for sure. This is the best safety in the draft and a guy that was supposed to go in the teens if the first round. The Lions scoring him with their second second-round pick is just a massive steal. Branch will be a major contributor for this team immediately.
Jerry Mallory: DB Brian Branch
Hooker sliding to the third was great value, but it also made sense. I'm going with Brian Branch as that came out of nowhere. If he was drafted in the Top 12 (see what I just did there), I wouldn’t have been overly surprised.
Erik Schlitt: DB Brian Branch
The No. 13 player on my Lions-based draft board, the Lions could have taken Branch at any of their draft pick spots, and I would have been on board. Landing Branch at No. 45 is not only the best value pick of the Lions draft, but it is arguably the best value pick of the entire NFL draft.
Ryan Mathews: DB Brian Branch
Brian Branch was labeled the steal of the Lions draft by virtually everyone with a pulse on the draft. Arif Hasan’s 2023 Consensus Big Board had Branch ranked as the 16th best prospect in the draft, but his drift into the second round finally came to an end when the Lions moved up to take Branch 45th overall. And what better situation could you imagine for a young defensive back, now surrounded by intelligent defenders like Cam Sutton and C.J. Gardner-Johnson without the pressure to immediately contribute on defense? Not only was this the best value for Detroit from a selection standpoint, but Branch’s fit as a football player with Detroit makes this one of the best values for any team in this year’s draft.
Jeremy Reisman: QB Hendon Hooker
While Branch is probably the “correct” answer, I’d like to give Hooker an honorable mention here. With outstanding leadership skills, great physical traits, excellent mechanics, and enough good decision making on tape to be hopeful for development, Hooker is absolutely worth the lottery ticket in the third round. At worst, I believe he’s going to be an excellent backup. At best, we may look back on this pick as a franchise-defining one. Throw in the fact that the Lions were able to trade down twice and still acquire him only adds to the value of this pick.