The Detroit Lions are heading into the offseason with one major priority: upgrade the defense. Detroit ranked 28th in points allowed and 32nd in total yards given up in 2022. Their struggling defense was a detriment to their top-ranked offense. The Lions ranked fifth in points for and fourth in total yards gained this past season.
The Lions have playoff aspirations for the 2023 season. The team finished 2022 with a 9-8 record after starting the season 1-6. The offense is expected to reload. Offensive coordinator Ben Johnson is returning for another season after other teams courted him for a head coaching position.
For Detroit to have success in 2023, the defense needs to become respectable. The team needs to add talent at cornerback and in the pass rush, and, of course, the team needs to add depth to key positions.
Using Pro Football Focus’ mock draft simulator, I took the reigns as GM of the Detroit Lions. In this mock draft, I go through the first two rounds targeting positions of need on the defense.
Round One: Pick Six
Devon Witherspoon, Cornerback, Illinois
With the sixth pick in the draft, the Lions select Devon Witherspoon out of Illinois. Witherspoon may be the best cornerback in this year’s draft class. At 6-0, he does not possess elite size for the position, but he is great at processing offenses and possesses reliable route-recognition skills.
He allowed just a 34.9 percent completion percentage in 2022 as he sticks well onto receivers. The 22-year-old is no slouch in run defense either. He does not possess top-end speed. There are times when he can get burned, and he can get a bit handsy in coverage. It will not be surprising if he suffers from pass interference or defensive holding penalties early in his career. However, these issues can be remedied with experience.
Witherspoon has the potential to be a team’s top cornerback. He offers versatility to play both on the outside and in the slot. Whether his ceiling is as someone who can shadow a team’s best receiver throughout a game is yet to be seen. Witherspoon immediately upgrades a Detroit Lions secondary that struggled in 2022.
Round One: Pick 18
Bryan Bresee, Defensive Lineman, Clemson
With veteran Michael Brockers a potential cap casualty and Levi Owunzirike yet to live up to his second-round billing, the Lions need an interior defensive lineman to pair next to Alim McNeill. Clemson’s Bryan Bresee could be an elite interior pass rusher to fill that role.
Bresee is a bit limited in college tape. He played in 10 games in 2022 and just four in 2021. The 6-5, 300-pound lineman offers a blend of size and burst that is rare in interior defensive linemen. In his limited sample size, he consistently gets under offensive linemen and pushes the line of scrimmage.
Bresee can line up anywhere on the defensive interior, from over the tackles to playing at the nose. There are some injury concerns surrounding the 21-year-old which is a big reason why he is falling to the mid-to-late first round. However, if he hits, Bresee can be a dominant defensive lineman for the next decade-plus.
Round Two: Pick 48
Trenton Simpson, Linebacker, Clemson
Back-to-back Clemson picks for the Lions in this mock draft. Trenton Simpson offers great talent for the Lions in their linebacker room. Alex Anzalone is a pending free agent this offseason. If the Lions elect not to re-sign him, Simpson could step in and fill a role next to Malcolm Rodriguez. If Anzalone is brought back, Simpson is a great depth piece and potential successor as Anzalone ages.
Simpson finished 2022 with 51 total tackles for Clemson. He was lined up everywhere from the defensive line to the slot. In run defense, he is physical at the point of attack, and his athleticism allows him to make offensive linemen miss at the second level.
The 6-3 junior offers unique size for an off-ball linebacker. Simpson is solid in man coverage and is a likely candidate to cover the opposing team’s tight ends in pass coverage. He has room for improvement in zone coverage. If he can put it all together, he has the tools to be a reliable coverage linebacker.
Round Two: Pick 55
Isaiah Foskey, Edge Rusher, Notre Dame
The Lions have a pair of promising edge rushers in Aiden Hutchinson and James Houston. The potential return of Romeo Okwara is another valuable piece to the team’s pass rush. However, a team can never have too many solid pass rushers, and with Okwara’s injury history and sizeable cap hit in 2023, drafting another edge makes sense.
Notre Dame pass rusher Isaiah Foskey projects at the traditional 4-3 defensive end. He finished 2022 with 12 sacks, three hits and 18 hurries. He utilizes his physical skillset to gain leverage on offensive linemen. In run defense, he has shown an ability to beat his blocker off the edge and get into the backfield.
The Detroit Lions get a developmental edge rusher with this pick. Foskey is going to have moments where he looks really good, and moments where more physical linemen are able to push him back. The 6-5 edge rusher is unlikely to ever be a top-end pass rusher, but he has great value as a rotational edge.
(Featured Image Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports)