Detroit Lions general manager Brad Holmes made some intriguing picks in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft. The GM made what many analysts and fans view as reaches with the team’s two day-one picks. He selected running back Jahmyr Gibbs and linebacker Jack Campbell at 12th and 18th respectively.
The Lions entered day two with three second-round picks. Pick No. 34 came as part of the team’s trade with the Arizona Cardinals on day one. The team selected Iowa tight end Sam LaPorta with that pick. Detroit traded with the Green Packers up to pick 45. The team selected Alabama Safety Brian Branch with the pick. After trading down twice to land Tennessee’s Hendon Hooker with the 68th pick. A final trade up landed the team Western Kentucky’s Brodric Martin with the 96th pick
Day two was a step in the right direction after a pair of underwhelming picks in the first round. Holmes and the Detroit Lions front office found good value with their second-round selections.
The Detroit Lions active swapping picks throughout the draft
The Lions saw a player they wanted in Branch, and they went up to get him. Trading with a division rival in the Packers, the Lions could have been forced into overpaying for the 45th selection.
The cost came to pick Nos. 48 and 159. A fifth-round pick to move up three picks is a good value, especially with a talent like Branch available on the board.
Holmes’ wheeling and dealing was not finished with trading up for Branch. Detroit traded down with the Kansas City Chiefs. Detroit sent the Chiefs picks 55 and 194 in exchange for 63, 122 and 249. Holmes moved down again after trading the 63rd and 183rd picks for the 68th and 139th picks. With how the board developed for Detroit, moving back and acquiring more capital is a good move.
Using picks 122, 138 and 168, the Lions moved up to draft Brodric Martin. There is reason to believe Martin would have been available at pick No. 122, but the Lions were not going to risk that chance. It is a bit much for just one pick, but three late-round picks are not the worst exchange in the world for a third-rounder.
Sam LaPorta adds talent to the Detroit Lions’ tight end room
Tight end was one of Detroit’s needs entering the draft. Brock Wright had his moments in 2022, but there was a need for more talent to be added to the group. The remaining group of tight ends entering day two were a selection of pick-your-flavor guys. Holmes’ preference was for Iowa’s LaPorta.
While many viewed Michael Mayer as the best remaining tight end on the board, LaPorta is far from a reach. The tight end offers great run-after-the-catch ability. He has the speed to create separation from defenders and boasted 58 broken tackles in 2022.
The Lions can utilize LaPorta as a dynamic receiving tight end. He finds the soft spots in zone coverage, and his route running is arguably the most refined of anyone in the class. As a replacement for T.J. Hockenson, the Lions could have done much worse than LaPorta.
He is not a perfect receiver. LaPorta struggles to extend outside his frame to reel in catches. He does not excel at making catches through traffic or contact either. Per Pro Football Focus, LaPorta caught only 18 of 44 contested catch opportunities. He is not an amazing blocker, and his size will limit his effectiveness as an inline tight end. However, he is serviceable in the right role.
The Iowa product will steal the starting job right away in Detroit. Mayer may provide a more well-rounded tight end, but he cannot equal what LaPorta brings as a pass catcher and run-after-the-catch threat. After reaching on their first two picks, the Detroit Lions got good value in LaPorta at pick No. 34.
The Detroit Lions get a steal in Brian Branch
Branch is the first major steal of the second round. The Alabama product offers the versatility to play the hybrid safety and slot role. He plays his role with natural instincts and intelligent play.
The Lions are stacked at safety for the 2023 season. Tracy Walker, Kerby Joseph and C.J. Gardner-Johnson were already a strong trio for Detroit. Adding Branch to the mix takes this group to another level.
The Lions’ secondary is full of versatile playmakers. Corners Emmanuel Moseley and Cam Sutton can play on the perimeter or in the slot. Branch can play up top, in the box or flexed into a slot role. He was in the playmaker role for the Crimson Tide this past season, and he will fill that same role for the Lions in 2023. He will get thrown all over the field, but finding his general home as the starting slot corner.
Branch has room to add muscle to his frame. He weighs in at 190 pounds. With NFL training, he can get that weight up to the more prototypical safety size. As he stands now, bigger and stronger tight ends or receivers may be able to muscle him around in coverage and in the run game.
Size is the only semi-reasonable concern for Branch. He is a well-rounded football player who the Detroit Lions can throw in multiple roles. He is going to make plays with this defense. After a pair of underwhelming first-round picks, landing a steal in Branch at pick No. 45 is a slam dunk selection.
The Detroit Lions land a quarterback in Hendon Hooker
The Lions have been looking to add talent to their quarterback room all offseason. After trading down twice, they got that talent in Hendon Hooker.
Hooker suffered an ACL tear near the end of the 2022 season. It put a somber ending to a season performance that was giving him first-round speculation. Post-injury, he slips into the third round for the Lions to scoop him up.
Hooker has an NFL-caliber arm and, assuming he recovers properly from his injury, high-end mobility. The 25-year-old turned some analysts away because of his draft age. However, he offers good NFL traits and a high floor as a prospect.
Hooker played in a simplistic offense at Tennessee. There will be a learning curve to adjusting to an NFL playbook. However, there is no reason to believe Hooker cannot pick the playbook up. His upside does not project as high as the likes of Anthony Richardson or the other quarterbacks that went in the first round, but he projects to be NFL starter quality pretty early in his career.
Incumbent starter Jared Goff has two years left on his contract. If Hooker flashes during his time as a rookie, there is a possibility he could supplant Goff in 2024. If Goff continues to play at a Pro Bowl level, Hooker provides a significant upgrade at backup quarterback than what Nate Sudfeld does.
The third round is a fine place for Hooker. There is reason to question his upside, but at the very least, the Lions needed a new backup. They have that now.
The Detroit Lions finding an interior defensive lineman at 96 is better late than never
The Lions needed to add another interior defensive lineman. They found that in Martin. The 6-5, 330-pound nose tackle is compared to a poor man’s Jordan Davis by PFF. He has upside as a bull rusher, but settling for a late third-round talent when defensive tackle was such a pressing need makes the selection underwhelming.
Martin could develop into a solid defensive tackle, but he will be competing with Isaiah Buggs and Benito Jones to start next to Alim McNeill. If the team took a swing on Jalen Carter, Calijah Kancey or Bryan Bresee in the first round, they would have a surefire starter to pair with McNeill instead.
Purely as he is, Martin is a fine prospect. He is a big run stuffer, and he has some pass-rush potential. It is hard to praise the pick when the position was a pressing need and there were better options available with earlier selections.
For more from the author, Thomas Chavez, check him out on Twitter here: @tlchavez43
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