The NFL Draft is less than a week away. The biggest day of the offseason kicks off the festivities on Thursday, April 27 at 8 p.m. EST. The Detroit Lions enter the draft with nine selections, including four in the top 55.

General manager Brad Holmes took an aggressive approach to free agency. Detroit addressed most of its major needs early in the negotiating period. Most notably, the team solidified its secondary with cornerbacks Cam Sutton and Emmanuel Moseley and safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson.

An overhauled secondary will go a long way toward improving a Lions’ defense that ranked near the bottom of the NFL in 2022. The only major need left on defense, arguably the entire roster, is interior defensive line. The team will likely select an interior defender early in the upcoming draft. Other than that, the Lions are in a position to select the best player available with the rest of their picks.

In this mock draft, I go through the Detroit Lions’ selections in the first three rounds. Since predictive mock drafts are never accurate, I placed myself in the GM chair to make my selections using the Pro Football Focus mock draft simulator. There is one trade in this mock draft, and I used a draft value chart to help put a package together.

Let us get started.


Detroit Lions receive: Pick No. 11, Pick No. 72, Malik Willis and stuff

Tennessee Titans receive: Pick No. 6 and Pick No. 152

Both Will Anderson Jr. and Jalen Carter went in the top five in this scenario. At sixth overall, taking a swing on Anthony Richardson could land the Lions a potential franchise quarterback for the next 10-plus years. However, Richardson went to the Colts at fourth overall. Devon Witherspoon could make sense here, but in this scenario I have the Lions trading down.

Rumors have floated around that Malik Willis has fallen out of favor with the Titans. There is speculation that the team is looking to trade up to land one of the top four quarterbacks in this year’s class. With three already off the board, trading up with the Lions makes sense for Tennessee.

For the sixth and 152nd picks, the Titans send Detroit the 11th, 72nd and future draft capital (possibly a 2024 second or third-rounder). Willis is also sent to Detroit in this trade. The Lions are in a good position with current starter Jared Goff. However, Goff has only two years remaining on his contract, and there is no guarantee the team will extend him.

Willis possesses all the physical tools NFL teams covet in modern quarterbacks, but he is raw. Willis has accuracy issues and needs to work on reading defenses. He needs time to develop, and with Goff at the helm, the Lions can afford to give it to him. In this trade, Willis was basically a throw-in. Worst case, he does not develop and the Lions did not really lose anything to get him. Best case, he develops into a starting-caliber quarterback and potential successor to Goff.

With Anderson, Carter and Richardson off the board, it makes sense to move back and accrue more draft capital. Detroit is able to get that without moving too far down the draft board.

Pick No. 11

Christian Gonzalez, Cornerback, Oregon

In an ideal situation, Devon Witherspoon falls for the Lions to take him here. He did not make it past the Raiders at seven in this simulation. That is okay. Christian Gonzalez is not too far behind Witherspoon as a cornerback prospect.

Detroit has solid corners in Sutton, Moseley and Jerry Jacobs. However, there is no such thing as too much corner depth. Gonzalez can start right away for Detroit. He can play in any type of coverage that defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn calls. Gonzalez is adept at press, off-man and zone coverages. He offers a combination of size, speed and ball skills that could make him a star at the NFL level.

In this situation, Detroit is able to land the best player available on the board and address a relative need at the same time. There is not much else to say about Gonzalez. He is going to be a good cornerback in this league, and he provides an upgrade to the overhauled Lions’ defense.

Pick No. 18

Calijah Kancey, Interior Defensive Line, Pittsburgh

Interior defensive line is the only position the Lions need to address early in the 2023 NFL Draft, and in this scenario, they land their guy in Pittsburgh’s Calijah Kancey.

Kancey received consideration with the 11th pick, but the value was not quite where it needed to be to pull the trigger on selecting him. At 18, that value is significantly better.

The undersized defensive lineman is one of the best athletes, pound-for-pound, in this draft class. He possesses quick feet and burst off the line of scrimmage. Kancey is a natural pass rusher who does not allow his size limitations to stop him from getting to the quarterback. He may be limited as a run-defender and may need to rotate out on short-yardage situations, but Kancey has the athletic tools and upside to be a premier interior pass rusher in the NFL. Paired next to Alim McNeill, Kancey could thrive in the Detroit Lions’ defense.

Pick No. 48

Drew Sanders, Linebacker, Arkansas

The trend of high-upside defensive players continues into the second round where the Lions select Drew Sanders with the 48th pick. The Arkansas linebacker offers a size profile the Lions do not currently have in Malcolm Rodriguez and Alex Anzalone.

The 6-4, 235-pound linebacker can rush the passer from the inside and reliably drop back into coverage. Sanders moves very well for his size. He can flip his hips in coverage and has good sideline-to-sideline speed. He does not possess elite speed, but it is good enough for the position. Sanders has good zone instincts but can also line up man-to-man on tight ends.

Sanders has room to grow as a run defender. He does not always attack the hole and his tackling is average at best, he is a converted edge rusher. The Detroit Lions can utilize Anzalone and Rodriguez as the base starters while utilizing Sanders in sub-packages and developing him that way. In a season or two, Sanders could ultimately replace Anzalone as the starter next to Rodriguez.

Pick No. 55

Cody Mauch, Guard, North Dakota State

The run on defensive talent ends here where the Lions take Cody Mauch at 55th overall. Detroit needs a long-term plan at the guard position. Graham Glasgow was brought back for his second stint with the team on a one-year deal, but he is not more than a stop-gap option. Jonah Jackson is entering the final year of his rookie contract as well. The Lions could lose one or both projected starters next offseason, so finding a replacement plan is necessary.

Mauch is listed as a tackle, but it is likely he converts to offensive guard at the NFL level. He offers good athleticism and burst when pulling in the run game. He would be an instant impact in the run game as a starter. However, his pass protection needs work. Mauch has poor pass protection technique, and he needs proper coaching and time to develop.

A year behind Jackson and Glasgow could do wonders for Mauch’s development. It is not likely he enters his second season as an amazing pass protector, but his technique should significantly improve with NFL coaching. At guard, those limitations in pass protection are not as dire as at tackle. The Detroit Lions boast one of the best offensive lines in the league. Drafting and developing Mauch could help them continue to hold that standing for years to come.

Pick No. 72

Tucker Kraft, Tight End, South Dakota State

The Lions’ tight end room needs to be infused with more talent. Brock Wright showed flashes of potential near the end of 2022, but the group as a whole does not inspire much confidence. Wright’s best role in the NFL right now is as a tight end No. two, not a starter. At the very least, Detroit would benefit from bringing in a rookie who could push Wright for the starting spot. South Dakota State’s Tucker Kraft is an ideal fit for the Motor City.

Kraft does not possess elite athletic traits. He is not the fastest tight end in this class, and he is not the best route runner either. His game is built on high-effort plays and toughness. He is one of the best blocking tight ends in this class. Kraft seals the edge and offers a combination of strength and sound technique to win as a blocker. As a receiver, he does not create a lot of separation in man coverage, but he reliably finds the soft spots in zone.

Kraft is a good value in the third round. He enters the league with a day-one starter skillset. He may not have the upside of some of the tight ends who will be taken in the first and second rounds, but Kraft offers a plug-and-play starter who will bring a grit-and-grind mentality to the tight end room.

Pick No. 81

Jayden Reed, Receiver, Michigan State

The suspension of Jameson Williams for the first six games of the 2023 season makes Detroit’s need to add receiver talent that much more pressing. Detroit has a solid receiving core. Amon-Ra St. Brown is a Pro Bowl talent, Williams is unproven but oozes potential as a deep threat, Marvin Jones Jr. is a reliable veteran, and Kalif Raymond and Josh Reynolds are solid depth pieces. However, just like cornerback, there is no such thing as too many good receivers. Jones Jr. is on a one-year deal, and Detroit could use a long-term answer for its third starting receiver.

Jayden Reed was a standout receiver at Michigan State. He thrived in a Spartan offense that, with the exception of 2021, was not particularly good. Reed offers the versatility to line up in the slot or on the outside. He is a good route runner and possesses the speed and acceleration to create separation on his routes. Reed tracks the deep ball well, and he was one of the best contested-catch receivers in college football. He is also a threat in the return game.

Reed can fill multiple roles in the team’s offense. He has the potential to be No. two receiver one day. The Detroit Lions can line Reed up anywhere and he will be a productive player.


For more from the author, Thomas Chavez, check him out on Twitter here: @tlchavez43

Featured Image Credit: © Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

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By Published On: April 23rd, 2023Categories: Detroit Lions, NFL

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