The Detroit Lions have secured a backup quarterback for the 2023 season. This past week, the team re-signed 2022 backup Nate Sudfeld to a one-year deal. The contract details were not initially disclosed. Sudfeld returns for another season after joining Detroit’s roster right before the start of the 2022 regular season.
Sudfeld, a former sixth-round pick, has made his way around the NFL as a backup quarterback. The 29-year-old has spent time with the Washington Commanders, Philadelphia Eagles and San Francisco 49ers. His game experience is limited. Sudfeld has thrown for 188 yards, one touchdown and an interception in six career games.
During the scouting combine, head coach Dan Campbell and GM Brad Holmes highlighted the Lions’ need to address the backup quarterback position early this offseason. Prior to re-signing Sudfeld, starter Jared Goff was the only quarterback under contract with the team.
“We believe we can win with Jared Goff,” Campbell said. “We also know he is not going to be here for the next 10 years. Certainly, our eyes are on potentially a quarterback. The question is where do you acquire that at?”
“I feel like last year we kind of left training camp kind of sliding into home plate trying to fill that backup quarterback role,” Holmes said. “So, that is something that we’re gonna need to address, whether it’s here in free agency or upcoming in the draft.”
With Sudfeld returning, the Lions have continuity and a plan in place for their backup quarterback. However, with how active the team was in free agency, Detroit has set itself up with the flexibility to potentially take a developmental quarterback in the upcoming draft.
The Detroit Lions could take a quarterback with the sixth overall pick
The 2022 NFL draft is headlined by four quarterbacks. Alabama’s Bryce Young and Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud are both expected to be off the board within the first two picks. Kentucky’s Will Levis and Florida’s Anthony Richardson are projected top-10 picks. Some draft analysts believe the quarterbacks could all go with picks one through four.
The Lions could take one of the top quarterbacks if they fall to them at sixth overall. Richardson has been a popular name projected to them in recent mock drafts. However, if Holmes and Campbell are not confident the likes of Richardson or Levis can reach their full potential at the NFL level, the team will pass on them.
There is backup-level talent and even potential starting talent at quarterback available outside the first round. With six picks outside the first round, the Lions could easily spend one on a quarterback.
Tanner Mckee and Hendon Hooker have starter upside the Detroit Lions could target in the second or third round
Standing at 6-6 and weighing in at 231 pounds, Mckee possesses the build and traits that would make him a first-round pick 15 years ago. With the evolution of NFL offenses and the quarterback position as a whole, that is no longer the case. However, Mckee has a lot of traits to like as a potential starter.
The Stanford product is a traditional pocket passer, drawing some Joe Flacco comparisons. He is not particularly mobile, and he does not possess a great pocket presence. What Mckee does offer is an accurate arm and smart decision-making. The 22-year-old does not make many turnover-worthy plays.
Mckee could be a quality starter one day. He is unlikely to ever reach the tier of quarterback that even Goff has reached, but starting caliber is a good outcome for a quarterback outside the first round. With decent enough development, Mckee should at the very least be a reliable long-term backup option.
Hooker is recovering from an ACL tear he suffered during the 2022 season. The 25-year-old quarterback offers plenty of experience; however, there are concerns about just how simplified the Tennessee offense was this past season.
That is not to say Hooker is unable to run an NFL offense. There is no reason to believe he cannot, but Tennessee’s offense did not do him any favors in terms of an expansive playbook.
Hooker has a good arm, and he is a good athlete with solid mobility. He could enter the NFL as a nearly complete product with the potential to start early. Hooker may also not develop much more than he has already.
The Detroit Lions could target these late-round quarterbacks as potential backups
Some may not take Stetson Bennett seriously as a prospect. He is an undersized quarterback who will be a 26-year-old midway through the 2023 season. He lacks any elite traits. His arm is average at best, but he thrives as a game manager.
Bennett became a back-to-back National Champion thanks to the elite talent around him at Georgia; however, the Bulldogs do not win two championships without Bennett’s consistent quarterback play. He throws an accurate ball and makes good reads. He does not project to be anything more than a backup quarterback. In that role, he could carve himself a long NFL career. What more can NFL teams ask from their backups than to be reliable game managers?
Aidan O’Connell is somewhat the opposite of Bennett. The Purdue product is an aggressive quarterback. O’Connell throws with confidence, and he is not afraid to throw into coverage. It works out at times, but it can get ugly at others.
O’Connell has good arm strength, and he can fit the ball into tight windows, but his mental lapses will hold him back at the NFL level. If he can clean things up a bit, he could have a decent career as a backup.
Could the Detroit Lions land a potential late-round gem in Dorian Thompson-Robinson?
Thompson-Robinson has shown a good ability to attack the intermediate levels of the field. He throws the ball with accuracy, and he has flashed an ability to improvise at times. Thompson-Robinson offers good mobility and a good enough arm to get the job done. He can lose zone defenders at times, and his deep ball is frankly below-average. Throwing with anticipation is another area of improvement for him.
However, Thompson-Robinson’s tape shows a lot o good things. His aforementioned ability to throw intermediate routes is a good trait to have in an NFL quarterback prospect. He makes his way through his progressions and has shown an improved ability to read defenses.
NFL analyst Chris Simms ranks Thompson-Robinson as a top-six quarterback prospect in this class. Simms says that based off his analysis, he does not understand why the UCLA product is projected as a late-round pick.
With Sudfeld in a position to back up Goff this upcoming season, the Lions could take a chance on Thompson-Robinson in the later rounds. He has some NFL quality traits, and it would be worth taking a chance on developing him. His ultimate ceiling may not be anything more than a career backup, but if the Lions can unlock something in him, Thompson-Robinson could be a potential successor to Goff.
Whether it is the first round or toward the end of the draft, the Detroit Lions are likely to select a quarterback in the upcoming draft. Maybe the team will find a future starter. Maybe the team will find a long-term backup. Of course, the team could also wind up with someone who does not even make the roster. Quarterbacks, especially late-round quarterbacks, are a risk. However, the Lions have afforded themselves with the flexibility to take risks in this year’s draft.
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