The Detroit Lions’ 2023 NFL Draft was full of surprises. The overall goal of the draft may have come into focus now that we’ve had a week to digest it, but that doesn’t change the fact that several picks made over last weekend were downright shocking at the moment.
To close out our 2023 Detroit Lions draft roundtable, our staff makes their picks for these two final categories:
- UDFA most likely to make an impact
- Biggest draft day surprise
Catch up on the previous two roundtables here:
Which UDFA is most likely to make an impact?
Note: The Lions have yet to make any UDFA signings official. Our selections are based on reports listed in our UDFA tracker, which could prove to be inaccurate. Players often change their mind and recommit to another team.
Jerry Mallory: RB Mohamed Ibrahim
Follow the money. He got a huge signing bonus and RB3 or 4 on the team is not set in stone. He’s most likely to grab one of these spots.
Erik Schlitt: RB Mohamed Ibrahim
Ibrahim looked like a back on a mission in the 2021 season opener, carving up Ohio State before suffering a devastating Achilles injury that prematurely ended what looked like the start to a promising season. He bounced back in 2022, rushing for a solid 1,665 yards and 20 touchdowns. He may not be fully back to his old self just yet, and if he continues to develop as expected, he’ll have a chance to compete for the RB3 role.
Ryan Mathews: RB Mohamed Ibrahim
Mohamed Ibrahim bounced back from an Achilles injury he suffered in 2021, rushing for 1,665 yards in 2022. According to PFF, 1,106 of those rushing yards came after contact. He could challenge Craig Reynolds for the RB3 spot.
John Whiticar: S Brandon Joseph
The Lions technically drafted Brian Branch and signed C.J. Gardner-Johnson, but both are better fits at nickel. Outside of starters Tracy Walker and Kerby Joseph, the Lions don’t have much in terms of safety depth. The other safeties are Ifeatu Melifonwu, Saivion Smith, and Brady Breeze, none of whom have achieved much. With a good camp, Brandon Joseph—who was a draftable prospect—could sneak onto the roster.
Morgan Cannon: RB Mohamed Ibrahim
With UDFAs, the easiest thing to do is to follow the money. And with $100K guaranteed, University of Minnesota running back Mohamed Ibrahim is the logical choice. He will have an uphill battle to making the final roster, but so will all of the UDFAs. That’s what happens when a team’s roster improves like the Lions have.
Alex Reno: LB Trevor Nowaske
I haven’t done a deep dive into the UDFA additions yet, so I’ll just go with Nowaske, because he is an elite athlete at linebacker that could make a push for the final roster if he can add enough value on special teams. The Lions tend to keep three linebackers on their roster for special teams, and they have an open spot there currently. Nowaske could potentially be that guy.
Hamza Baccouche: RB Mohamed Ibrahim
Mohamed Ibrahim is such a gem and I still can’t believe he went undrafted. I hope the money doled out to him is a sign of his likelihood to make the roster, because he should be on it. Before Ibrahim’s nasty knee injury a couple years ago, he was one of the best up-and-coming backs in the country and a consensus projected early round draft pick. He’s not the same unit he used to be, but he’s still a damn good running back and a surefire upgrade in my eyes over anyone not named David Montgomery or Jahmyr Gibbs.
Mike Payton: RB Mohamed Ibrahim
Mo Ibrahim from Minnesota is a super fun to watch guy. He’s power running back that just bowls guys over and refuses to go down. I look forward to seeing him in the preseason. He’s a guy that could possibly take Craig Reynolds roster spot and even see the field in 2023. He’s at least a guy you make sure you keep.
Chris Perfett: RB Mohamed Ibrahim
I don’t think Craig Reynolds is necessarily a lock above him on this roster. Ibrahim flashed excellent talent in college and was undone by a horrible Achilles injury, but still returned a year later and rushed for 1,665 yards. If he can show he’s still capable and promising, he’s got an outside chance to the make the roster.
Jeremy Reisman: S Brandon Joseph
I don’t think this team is in love with Ifeatu Melifonwu, and with the loss of C.J. Moore due to his suspension, I think safety depth is a sneaky need despite the versatility of C.J. Gardner-Johnson and Brian Branch. Joseph is widely considered one of Detroit’s best UDFA additions, and he checks all the boxes to be a training camp darling: former captain, smart player, returner skills.
What was the biggest surprise from the Lions’ draft?
Jeremy Reisman: LB Jack Campbell
At the start of the 2022 season, Lions general manager was asked about his process in finding late-round studs like Malcolm Rodriguez, after the sixth-round pick had essentially won a starting job out of training camp. Here’s what he said:
“You can always look at past success at certain positions that you may be able to hit on in the later rounds. I think that that’s been evident.”
That quote always stuck with me, thinking that Holmes had basically told us they don’t plan on drafting linebacker early maybe ever. While the linebacker room definitely had room to improve, I thought they were in a decent spot with a player they trust (Alex Anzalone) and young, promising talent behind him.
Chris Perfett: Drafting QB Hendon Hooker
I’m sure he’ll be the talk of the town for a while, and the surprise of the draft. A darling to a lot of people for his attitude and his career at Tennessee, but I never pegged the Lions for taking a quarterback in the third round. I figured they were out of it after the top three prospects went off the board. He’s here in Detroit now though. Buckle up.
Mike Payton: The entire draft
The entire thing was a surprise. Going into it felt like we all had an understanding of what might happen and pretty much none of it did. The Lions had other ideas and they went with them. Each pick was more shocking than the last.
Hamza Baccouche: Drafting QB Hendon Hooker
As much as we joked about it happening on the Twitch live stream, the Hendon Hooker pick was way out of left field for me. Once Will Levis went atop the second round, I thought the Lions would sit tight and pick a very underdeveloped guy in rounds four or five at earliest.
My favorite part of this is we knew Brad Holmes was there, and we assumed it was to get eyes on Richardson. Surely that was part of it, but interesting how this story came to unfold. https://t.co/jorgoPDdQH— Hamza Baccouche, Bengals Fan (@HamzaPOD) April 29, 2023
Alex Reno: Selecting LB Jack Campbell
I’ll be honest, I wasn’t expecting the Lions to address the linebacker position this early in the draft. Re-signing Alex Anzalone to a three-year deal had me thinking they were content with Anzalone and Malcolm Rodriguez as their starting two. But adding Campbell at 18 means they are expecting him to start, which should likely push Rodrigo to the bench and Anzalone over to the WILL spot, while Campbell likely takes over as their MIKE. At the time, this felt pretty early for Campbell, but like the Gibbs pick, multiple reports have come out since then that the Lions weren’t the only team targeting Campbell in this range.
Morgan Cannon: Selecting LB Jack Campbell
I figured the Lions’ brass would like him, but still—Jack Campbell at 18 caught me off guard. At least initially. If Campbell can be the quarterback of this defense for the next decade, completely worth it.
John Whiticar: Selecting RB Jahmyr Gibbs
Few people expected the Detroit Lions to draft a running back in the first round, and a majority of those people expected it to be Bijan Robinson. Gibbs was a completely unexpected selection.
Ryan Mathews: Selecting LB Jack Campbell
It could be any number of players, but I don’t think any selection surprised me as much as Jack Campbell being selected 18th overall. For two years, this regime has invested relatively little into off-ball linebackers. When they gave Alex Anzalone a considerable pay raise this offseason, that seemed to signal Detroit was taking care of their own, rewarding Anzalone’s improved play in 2022, and Detroit had their MIKE linebacker.
Erik Schlitt: Brad Holmes’ taking increased aggressiveness to new heights
“We don’t draft scared. We don’t play scared.”
During his first two seasons as Lions GM, Brad Holmes has slowly been increasing his aggressive approach to drafting. But in this draft, Holmes went to a whole new level. Trading back in the first round to acquire more capital and still landing “his guy” in Jahmyr Gibbs. Trading up three spots in the second round to jump the Patriots and land Brian Branch. Trading back again, and again, and then landing Hendon Hooker in the third. Trading back into the third for Brodric Martin. And finally dealing D’Andre Swift for a future fourth-round pick, while also upgrading a seventh-round pick.
Initial reactions to Holmes maneuvers have varied wildly. Some “don’t understand his approach,” others complain about positional value, while others have taken a step back, looked at the totality of what he acquired and have been impressed—warning the other teams in the NFC to be on notice that the Lions are going to be “more threatening than last season.”
Jerry Mallory: Selecting RB Jahmyr Gibbs
Again, I love the player and he’s going to be a major weapon for us. But I had no clue Detroit (or apparently several other teams) were quite that high on him.