Detroit Lions GM Brad Holmes has had success finding talent outside the first round of the NFL Draft.
In 2022, he found Kerby Joseph, Malcolm Rodriguez and James Houston in the third and sixth rounds. In 2021, Holmes drafted Alim McNeill and Amon-Ra St. Brown in the third and fourth rounds.
All five players have made significant impacts early in their respective careers. St. Brown stands out among the group having grown into a Pro Bowl talent.
In a little less than a week, Holmes will have the opportunity to repeat his draft success. The Lions own nine picks in the upcoming 2023 draft, including two first-rounders and two second-rounders. After an aggressive free agency period, Holmes can pursue the best player available with practically all nine of his selections. The only glaring need remaining for Detroit is the interior defensive line.
Good teams are able to consistently hit on their first-round selections. The great teams are able to consistently hit on picks outside the first round. There are sleepers and steals in every draft, and Holmes and the Detroit Lions’ front office have shown an ability to find them. Here are three potential sleepers in the upcoming draft.
Tyrique Stevenson, Cornerback, Miami
Is a second-round pick really considered a sleeper? Probably not, but if the Lions can land Tyrique Stevenson with either the 48th or 55th pick in the second round, they will land one of the biggest steals of the draft.
In any other year, Stevenson would be considered a surefire first-round selection. However, this year’s cornerback class is exceptionally deep, and that could push Stevenson down the draft board a bit.
The 22-year-old corner has good size at 6-0, 200 pounds, and he offers good length to jam wideouts releasing off the line of scrimmage. Stevenson ranks among the best of the class as a press-man cornerback. He plays with good footwork and has solid athletic tools that help him stick with receivers.
Stevenson enters the NFL with the skillset and experience to be a day-one starter. The Lions have the luxury of not forcing that role upon him. Cam Sutton, Emmanuel Moseley and Jerry Jacobs have the makings of a reliable trio, allowing Stevenson to gain experience in sub-packages without needing him to play a major role early on. That gives him the opportunity to round out the rest of his game.
Stevenson is not amazing in zone coverage, and he is an average to below-average run defender. Detroit’s improved depth at the position would allow him to develop these areas.
The Miami product does not ultimately have the upside of the top four cornerbacks in this year’s class. However, he offers a pretty high floor. The Detroit Lions made it a priority to upgrade their secondary this offseason. Stealing Stevenson in the second round would help take their defense to the next level.
Tucker Kraft, Tight End, South Dakota State
Many Lions fans are comfortable with the team’s tight end room as it stands. After dealing away T.J. Hockenson midway through the 2022 season, the remaining tight end group played well. However, a tight end room of Brock Wright, Shane Zylstra and James Mitchell lacks experience and upside.
There were flashes of potential in 2022, from Wright especially, but all three tight ends are unproven. Wright is currently slated as the projected starter for 2023. It would be beneficial for the team to bring in competition for that spot. In the third or fourth round, South Dakota State tight end Tucker Kraft could be the perfect fit.
Kraft does not possess elite athletic traits. He is not the fastest tight end in this class, and he is not the best route runner either. Where Kraft shines is his high-effort plays, toughness and grit.
He is one of the best blocking tight ends in this class. Kraft seals the edge and offers a combination of strength and sound technique to win as a blocker. As a receiver, he does not create a lot of separation in man coverage, but he reliably finds the soft spots in zone. He beats solo tacklers by throwing them in the turf.
Kraft is not at the level of Darnell Washington, Michael Mayer or the other top tight ends in this class, but he can enter the NFL as a starter right away. The Detroit Lions have been adding weapons for Pro Bowl quarterback Jared Goff to work with. Introducing Kraft to the tight end room would give Goff a reliable safety blanket.
Matt Landers, Wide Receiver, Arkansas
If NFL teams were going to build a receiver from scratch, it would look a lot like Matt Landers. The Arkansas product has a 6-4, 200-pound frame. He offers a combination of size and athletic tools that stand out among the crowd of late rounds receivers. If Landers were a more refined receiver, he would likely land in the early rounds. However, he has a lot of room for growth before he is ready to be an NFL starter.
Landers does not have a diverse route tree. He struggles to separate on breaking routes and his slant routes are sloppy. He needs to play with more physicality to beat press coverage. If he were thrust into a major offensive role right away, Landers would struggle.
However, Landers has the tools to become a solid starting receiver with the right development. His long strides help him build speed and create separation on go-routes. He tracks the deep ball well and his size and length make him perfect for grabbing jump balls over the top of defenders’ heads.
The Lions signed Marvin Jones Jr. to be the team’s third receiver. However, Jones is on just a one-year deal. The team is still looking for its long-term third receiver to pair with St. Brown and Jameson Williams. With proper development, Landers could be that guy.
If there is ever a time to take a swing on a raw athletic freak, it is the later rounds. With two fifth-round picks and two sixth-round picks, the Detroit Lions could find a potential gem in Landers late in the draft.
For more from the author, Thomas Chavez, check him out on Twitter here: @tlchavez43
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