The Detroit Lions and GM Brad Holmes were aggressive on the free agent market this offseason.
Cornerbacks Cam Sutton and Emmanuel Moseley provide the team with two versatile cornerbacks. Guard Graham Glasgow provides the team with a reliable stop-gap option as it searches for a long-term fit. Safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson gives the team a trio of solid safeties when paired with the recovering Tracy Walker and stand-out rookie Kerby Joseph. Running back David Montgomery is an upgrade over last season’s leading rusher Jamaal Williams.
Those were just the major outside free-agent signings. Holmes and the Lions’ front office also re-signed starting linebacker Alex Anzalone, depth interior defensive lineman Isaiah Buggs and other productive role players.
The Lions have been afforded with a lot of flexibility after attacking free agency. Most of the team’s key positions of need have been filled. The additions of Sutton and Moseley mean the team does not have to spend one of its two first-round picks on a cornerback. The same goes for adding Glasgow to the offensive line.
The only position Detroit did not address so far in free agency is the interior defensive line. Re-signing Buggs and Benito Jones provide solid depth along the interior, but the Lions need to find a starting-caliber player to pair next to Alim McNeill. It will come as no surprise if Holmes selects an interior defensive lineman high in this year’s draft.
The team owns eight selections in the 2023 NFL Draft, including four in the top 55. Using Pro Football Focus’ mock draft simulator, I took the reigns as GM of the Detroit Lions. I go through all eight of the team’s picks to address the remaining areas of need and shore up depth at important positions.
Round 1, Pick No. 6
Anthony Richardson, Quarterback, Florida
Before anyone asks, both Jalen Carter and Will Anderson Jr. were off the board by the time the sixth pick came around in this simulation. Cornerbacks Devon Witherspoon and Christian Gonzalez were on the radar, but why not take a swing on a potential franchise quarterback?
Richardson has the best raw tools of any quarterback in this year’s class. The 6-4, 232-pound 21-year-old possesses elite arm strength and athletic ability. He will be one of the best runners of the football from the quarterback position immediately upon entering the league. His arm strength will rank near the top of the NFL as well.
However, Richardson is raw. He only spent one season as a full-time starter at Florida. Richardson flashed the ability to throw into tight windows and throw with leverage, but he did not do so consistently. He needs to improve his processing and work on going through his progressions.
What Richardson needs is time to develop. He showed gradual improvement in reading defenses and sticking in the pocket later in the season. With an opportunity to sit and learn for a season or two, Richardson could develop the mental aspects of the game to match his physical tools.
The Lions can afford to offer him that time. The team has Jared Goff under contract through the 2024 season. He has proven reliable enough for the team to win with him. However, if Richardson puts everything together, he can become a quarterback the Lions win because of.
It is not likely the Detroit Lions find themselves picking this high anytime in the near future. The team has playoff aspirations in 2024. Now is the time to pull the trigger on finding a franchise quarterback for the next 10-plus years. Richardson is a boom-or-bust prospect, but he is well worth the risk for the Lions.
Round 1, Pick No. 18
Bryan Bresee, Interior Defensive Lineman, Clemson
This pick came down to Bresee or Pittsburgh’s Calijah Kancey. While Kancey offers a lot of upside as a pass rusher, there are legitimate questions as to how effective he will be as a run defender. The Lions need both pass rush and run defense in upgrading their defensive line. Bresee can offer both with enough experience.
The Clemson product is a great athlete for his size. He ran a 4.86 40-yard dash at the combine. That is a good time for a defensive lineman who stands at 6-5 and weighs in at 298 pounds.
Bresee is a stout run defender who has room to grow as a pass rusher. He offers a lot of explosiveness at his size, allowing him to push the pocket. However, Bresee does not have the most experience among his fellow prospects. He only appeared in 14 games over the past two seasons. He dealt with an ACL tear in 2021 and underwent shoulder surgery in early 2022.
Bresee may need time to develop into a more versatile pass rusher. He does not always rush with a plan of attack. While he may take some time to become a reliable interior pass rusher, he will enter the league as a run-stopper. For a Lions team that ranked 29th in rushing yards allowed last season, that is a valuable baseline to provide.
Round 2, Pick No. 48
Tyrique Stevenson, Cornerback, Miami
There is no such thing as too many reliable cornerbacks on an NFL roster. The Lions take Stevenson to join a cornerback room with Sutton, Moseley, Jeff Okudah, Jerry Jacobs and Will Harris. He is not one of the top-end cornerback prospects in this year’s draft, but Stevenson has the upside to be a long-term starting-caliber cornerback. Whether that is as a team’s No. 1 corner or as a team’s No. 2 corner will depend entirely on how he develops at the next level.
He allowed only 17 catches this past season with the Hurricanes, doing so on 40 targets. The 6-0, 198-pound corner has the size and play strength to matchup against most receivers in the league. He is reliable in press-man coverage and off-ball man coverage, but he has room for improvement in zone coverage.
Stevenson is a boundary cornerback. With both Sutton and Moseley providing versatility in the slot, Stevenson can carve himself a niche on the outside. With solid depth in the cornerback room, the Detroit Lions can take their time in bringing Stevenson into a prominent role with the defense. Cornerbacks typically take at least a season to adjust to the NFL level.
Round 2, Pick No. 55
Daiyen Henley, Linebacker, Washington State
At pick No. 48, linebacker would have been a great fit, but the likes of Jack Campbell, Drew Sanders and even Trenton Simpson were already off the board. Ultimately the pick went to Stevenson, but the Lions should still address a developmental linebacker early in the draft. At pick No. 55, Washington State’s Henley makes the most sense.
Henley posted a 4.54 40-yard dash at the scouting combine. He is a bit undersized at 6-2, 225 pounds, but that did not stop PFF from ranking him as the top linebacker in this year’s class.
Henley can play as a sideline-to-sideline run defender, and he has the burst to get downhill and plug holes. He is not great in pass coverage, especially dropping into zone, but he has the speed and movement skills that inspire hope he can improve.
With Anzalone under contract for the next three years, the Lions can utilize Henley as a rotational linebacker. He can be used as an extra body in the box to shut down opposing teams’ rushing attacks. There is no guarantee he puts everything together, but, at the very least, he should provide instant impact on special teams while he develops at the linebacker position.
Round 3, Pick No. 81
Tucker Kraft, Tight End, South Dakota State
The Detroit Lions are currently rolling into the 2023 season with Brock Wright as the starter. Wright stepped up in 2022 after the team dealt away T.J. Hockenson. He flashed potential in moments, but there is plenty of room for growth. Sam LaPorta was considered with one of Detroit’s two second-round picks, but his value at the 55th would not have been great.
Kraft is the best tight end available in the third round. The 6-5, 254-pound tight end is a good run blocker and possesses a strong pass catcher skillset.
He is not the fastest tight end in the class, and his route running has room for improvement. However, Kraft has all the physical tools to be a reliable starting tight end.
Kraft and Wright can compete for the starting tight end spot. Together, both players can provide solid play when the Lions employ dual tight end formations.
Round 5, Pick No. 152
Jaxson Kirkland, Guard, Washington
With Glasgow joining the roster, the Lions do not need to find an immediate starting option at guard. The team can afford to draft a player in the later rounds and develop him. Kirkland could easily be that developmental prospect. He is big, standing at 6-7. He has the size to kick out to tackle if asked, but it is likely he finds his home at guard in the NFL.
His height will make it difficult to get leverage at times, and he is susceptible to bull rushers. Kirkland’s ceiling is not particularly high, and there is a good chance he is never anything more than a serviceable backup. However, he is overall a good pass rusher. He uses his hands well, and he possesses good agility for his size.
Kirkland is a project, and it is likely the Detroit Lions look to a future draft to find a long-term starting guard to replace Glasgow or Jonah Jackson. In the fifth round, finding a guy who can be a reliable backup and potential starter is good enough.
Round 6, Pick No. 183
Jose Ramirez, Edge, Eastern Michigan
Ramirez is not a great run defender, but as a rotational pass rusher, he could be a great piece to supplement Aiden Hutchinson and James Houston on the edge. He has a high motor and some natural pass-rush instincts that are enticing for a late-round prospect. He does a good job timing the snap and can dominate if a team tries to block him with a tight end.
Ramirez is inconsistent, and he needs to utilize his hands in pass-rush moves better. He is a work in progress. The Detroit Lions could use him in pass-rush situations while developing his run defense. He does not have much more than a low-end starter upside, but the team needs edge rushers to rotate in for Hutchinson and Houston.
Round 6, Pick No. 194
Jake Moody, Kicker, Michigan
Yes, the Lions re-signed kicker Michael Badgley during free agency. No, that does not mean he will be their kicker in the 2023 season. Badgley was fine. He made 83.3 percent of his kicks and all 33 of his extra points this past season. However, only $350 thousand of Badgley’s contract is guaranteed. It is likely the Lions will bring in a player to compete for the starting job.
Moody makes a lot of sense to be Badgley’s competition. He made 82.9 percent of his field goal attempts in 2022, including a 59-yarder against TCU. He made all but one of his attempts from inside 40 yards. Outside of 40 yards and Moody is not so automatic. He went seven-for-eight on attempts from 40-49 yards and three-for-seven on attempts from 50 yards or beyond.
He does not possess elite leg strength, but Moody projects to be an accurate kicker at the NFL level. Longer kicks could continue to be an issue for him, but inside of 50 yards, he should be pretty reliable.
Could the Detroit Lions land Moody as an undrafted free agent? Possibly. The team would have to bank on him slipping through the remainder of the sixth and the entirety of the seventh round. Then they would have to bank on him signing with them over any other team that throws him an offer. It makes sense to grab him at pick No. 194 and guarantee he will be there to compete with Badgley.
(Featured Image Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)