Outside of the first overall pick, the 2023 NFL Draft was expected to be one of the least predictable drafts in recent memory. Within the first few selections that belief was proven right. The Detroit Lions were among the teams that took a significantly different path than many expected from them.
It is no surprise the expected first pick, quarterback Bryce Young, landed with the Carolina Panthers. The Houston Texans unnecessary smoke screen cleared after the team selected quarterback C.J. Stroud at two. The Texans then pulled off the first trade of the draft. They moved up to third overall for edge rusher Will Anderson Jr.
Quarterback Anthony Richardson and cornerback Devon Witherspoon rounded out the top five going to the Indianapolis Colts and Seattle Seahawks respectively.
Speculation indicated the Detroit Lions were high on Witherspoon. Many analysts expected the Lions to select the Illinois product if he were available to the team at six. With Witherspoon gone, Lions’ GM Brad Holmes decided to move down the draft board and accumulate more draft capital.
The Detroit Lions are smart to move down and get another pick
Detroit sent the sixth overall pick to the Arizona Cardinals in exchange for the 12th selection and the 34th overall pick in the early second round. The move left Detroit with the 12th and 18th picks in the first round. The Lions enter day two with picks 34, 48, 55.
The move makes sense if Detroit did not love the remaining prospects at six. With the questions surrounding Georgia star Jalen Carter it makes sense why the team would hesitate to pull the trigger on selecting him. When in doubt, a team moving back a few picks and getting more capital is never a bad move. An early second-rounder is a good value to move back six selections.
With their two first-round picks, the Detroit Lions selected running back Jahmyr Gibbs and linebacker Jack Campbell. Both players were drafted above what many saw their value to be. There is good reason to belive the Lions could have traded back into the late 20s with both picks and still landed both players.
The Detroit Lions find Alvin Kamara-type running back in reach for Jahmyr Gibbs
Taking Gibbs with the 12th overall pick comes off as a bit of a reach, especially after signing David Montgomery to a not insignificant amount of money to play running back. However, Gibbs possesses a lot of talent. He has home-run speed and can be a featured aspect of Detroit’s passing game. Analysts drew comparisons to Alvin Kamara for Gibbs. With the skillset he provides, that is about as accurate as a comparison can be.
Gibbs provides good agility, acceleration and change of direction. Any speed and movement ability, he excels at. After transferring to Alabama from Georgia Tech, Gibbs posted 926 rushing yards, 444 receiving yards and 10 total touchdowns in his lone season with the Crimson Tide.
He does not have the prototypical size of a featured back. Gibbs stands at 5-9 and weighs in at 199 pounds. However, as a receiver out of the backfield or in the slot, Gibbs provides another playmaker for offensive coordinator Ben Johnson to work with.
Head coach Dan Campbell’s ties to the New Orleans Saints could have influenced this move. The Saints saw success for years with a two-headed monster in Kamara and Mark Ingram in the backfield. Adding Gibbs to the backfield with Montgomery could allow the Lions to replicate that. If it was not already clear 2023 will be D’Andre Swift’s final season in the Motor City, this pick all but seals it.
There is little doubt that Gibbs will be a productive player for the Detroit Lions. However, the value at 12th overall will leave many scratching their heads. The belief that Gibbs would land in the first round grew in the days leading up to the draft. But those expectations were for the mid-to-late 20s, not at pick No. 12.
The Detroit Lions reach hard on linebacker Jack Campbell
Nothing against Gibbs or Campbell, but Holmes reached on both of these picks. The 6-5 linebacker moves really well for his size. He enjoyed a standout performance during the scouting combine. Campbell has solid sideline-to-sideline speed, and he provides good enough play dropping back into zone coverage. His speed is not quite there to consistently line up in man coverage, but his size will be a benefit against large tight ends.
As a run defender, Campbell will thrive. He is a sound tackler. He fills holes and diagnoses the run well. Campbell does not blast his way through holes in the line of scrimmage. He tends to wait for the back to reach the line before engaging him. He finished 2022 with 83 tackles.
Campbell has the same size profile as Tremaine Edmunds. His strength and movement ability will make him a starting-caliber player right away. He can immediately push Alex Anzalone for the starting linebacker spot next to Malcolm Rodriguez.
Linebacker was a position of need for the Lions entering the draft. However, the value in this year’s linebacker class was in the second or third rounds. Campbell is going to be a productive player, but he still has limitations. He moves well for a 6-5 linebacker, but his movement skills are average at best for the position as a whole.
Campbell is certainly a kneecap biter, but the value for any linebacker prospect at 18 just was not there. There is a reasonable chance Campbell would have been available when the team selected again at pick No. 34. The grade is not low because Campbell will not be a good player, but because there was better talent to be found at 18.
The Detroit Lions’ remaining needs as they enter day two of the NFL Draft
The Lions need to find a starting interior defensive lineman in round two. Many expected the team to target the position early in the draft, either with Jalen Carter at six or Calijah Kancey at 18. By passing on both, the Lions leave the one major hole on the roster entering the draft vacant. Mazi Smith and Bryan Bresee are off the board as well.
With picks 34, 48 and 55, the Lions will likely find that defensive tackle to pair with Alim McNeill. However, the remaining group does not have the upside of the four interior defensive lineman already off the board. Keeanu Benton is a possibility. He is the best remaining interior guy available.
Detroit would benefit from adding talent to its tight end room. Brock Wright flashed potential, but there is a need for more talent at the position. Michael Mayer, Darnell Washington, Sam LaPorta and Tucker Kraft are all available.
The team could add more cornerbacks to the room. Cam Sutton, Emmanuel Moseley and Jerry Jacobs form a solid starting trio, but teams can never have too many good corners. After trading away Jeff Okudah, the door for the Lions to take a corner was blown wide open. Joey Porter Jr., Tyrique Stevenson and Cam Smith are the best corners still available entering day two.
For more from the author, Thomas Chavez, check him out on Twitter here: @tlchavez43
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