Detroit Lions mailbag: Best free agent signing, dream 2021 NFL draft scenarios

Detroit Free Press

As the folks at Lions Wire pointed out, Detroit Lions cornerback Jeff Okudah appears to have changed his jersey number heading into his second season.

Okudah wore No. 30 last year in what was a rough debut, but new Lions running back Jamaal Williams will sport that number in 2021 (according to his media manager, at least).

Okudah still is listed as No. 30 on the Lions website, but he has a No. 23 jersey available for purchase on NFLShop.com, where his old No. 30 jersey is heavily discounted.

As @chase_strong reminded me on Twitter, another Lions cornerback made the exact same jersey switch seven years ago, with remarkable results. Darius Slay, after a down rookie season, switched from No. 30 to No. 23 and developed into a Pro Bowl cornerback before he was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles a year ago.

There is no telling if Okudah’s jersey switch will have similar results, but hopefully the Easter bunny did not put an Okudah No. 30 jersey in your little one’s basket Sunday.

We’re a little over three weeks away from the NFL draft. I’ll have my third mock dropping later this week, but to tide you over, we’ve got a mailbag Monday. Onto your questions:

What’s been the best Lions free agent move so far? – @mattbieniek

If we’re talking strictly free agent moves, give me Williams. I do not expect him to supplant D’Andre Swift as starter or have a 1,000-yard season, but the Lions paid him like they plan to use him plenty this fall and I see him as a solid No. 2 to what should be an improved (and re-emphasized) running game.

If I had to guess, I’d say Williams runs for 500 or so yards, catches 35 or so passes and plays on third downs. Given Swift’s migraine issues last year and the makeup of the current roster, that’s a sound investment.

Of all the moves the Lions made this offseason, their two trades, though, were their best. Getting Michael Brockers from the Los Angeles Rams for the proverbial bag of balls – a 2023 seventh-round pick – was quite the deal, even taking into account the financials of the situation. Brockers is the type of solid vet who can help Brad Holmes and Dan Campbell establish the type of program they want, and he still would start for most NFL teams. And getting two first-round picks for Matthew Stafford gives Holmes a stockpile of ammo to build this roster, though I am on record as saying I would have preferred the Carolina Panthers’ offer of this year’s No. 8 overall pick.

It seems to be the overwhelmingly popular mock, but are the lions actually looking to invest a premium pick in the wr position this early in a significant rebuild? What do you think their dream scenario is? LT? Trade Down for parsons? – @mmmhays

So many mock drafters have the Lions taking a receiver at No. 7 right now because it makes a ton of sense. The Lions have a huge need at the position (more on that later) and there are three premium receivers who should come off the board somewhere around where the Lions pick, Ja’Marr Chase, Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith.

I absolutely would not rule out the Lions taking at receiver at No. 7, with Chase being the most attractive candidate. But by no means do I think that is their dream scenario. Three or four quarterbacks should go in the first four picks. If one of those quarterbacks fall, I could see Brad Holmes who attended pro days for Trey Lance, Zach Wilson and Justin Fields taking his signal caller of the future. Short of having an eye for one of those players, I think Holmes’ dream scenario would be either a trade down that nets additional draft capital or having the draft’s top offensive lineman, Oregon’s Penei Sewell, fall in his lap.

On the trade front, the Panthers at No. 8, New England Patriots at No. 15 and Washington at No. 19 are quarterback-needy teams who might be in the market to move up. Sewell, meanwhile, ranks alongside Chase and Florida tight end Kyle Pitts as the best non-quarterbacks in the draft. Knowing the makeup of their front office, and understanding positional value in the NFL, I believe the Lions would prioritize Sewell over either skill position player should they have their choice of all three.

As for Parsons, I believe he is the best defensive player in the draft, but I do not have a good read on how the Lions view him, on and off the field. In a trade down with Carolina, the Lions still would be able to nab a top offensive player. Going to 15 or 19 would put a different caliber prospect in the mix. It’s possible Parsons falls to that range, but a more realistic candidate in the teens might be rangy Notre Dame linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah.

The Lions will select over or under 1.5 WRs in the upcoming draft? – @spleen95shortbr

I’ll take the under, though I think 1.5 is probably the right place to set the line. It is a foregone conclusion the Lions draft at least one receiver, maybe in the first round. But they are so thin at the position, both for 2021 and into the future, that they probably could use three.

Tyrell Williams, Breshad Perriman, Damion Ratley and return man Kalif Raymond all signed one-year deals this offseason, and Quintez Cephus is the only returning player at the position who caught a pass in 2020. No one in that group is an absolute game changer, and both Williams and Perriman the Lions’ presumptive No. 1 and 2 receivers have extensive injury histories.

I have two problems with taking the over, though. One, I can see the Lions addressing the tight end position with one of their picks instead of receiver. In fact, I had them taking Pitts at No. 7 in my last mock draft. Two, the Lions have just six picks in this year’s draft, and with so many holes still to fill linebacker, safety, cornerback, offensive line it is tough to see them using a third of their limited draft capital on one position. Just guessing three weeks out, I have the Lions taking one receiver in the first three rounds and signing one of the best undrafted free agents at the position.

What kind of role do you see for Trey Flowers this year? If his contract wasn’t so big, do you think he’d still be on the team? – @FriedrichsJk

I asked Aaron Glenn the first part of this question back in February and he gave an intentionally broad answer: Rushing the passer. There still is so much evolution ahead with the Lions’ defense that I don’t think Glenn was being coy. The Lions seem better constructed for a 4-3 right now Flowers and Romeo Okwara on the edges, Michael Brockers and John Penisini inside, and not a lot of depth at linebacker but they indicated to free agents they will be keeping the hybrid model and playing out of an odd-man front a good deal of the time.

Flowers is a good player when healthy, one of the two or three best on the Lions defense. He is a better run defender than Okwara and can play alongside Okwara in sub packages, rushing from inside. Whatever the look, I see Flowers being heavily involved this fall as the Lions seem committed to having their best players on the field.

Going forward, Flowers’ fit both financially and schematically could be a bigger issue. It certainly is possible that the Lions would have released him along with most of their other Matt Patricia signees had his contract been different, but if he didn’t make as much money ($14.375 million in base salary this fall) he might not have been in the crosshairs, either. The one thing I will point out is that the Lions could have restructured Flowers’ contract like they did with Jamie Collins and Jared Goff, but they decided against pushing more of his cap hit into the future. Flowers has big March roster bonuses due in 2022-23, and he’ll need to have a big 2021 season to collect those payments.

Last night watching Timme play, he was the most Duke player who never played for Duke. Who is the most Detroit player who never ended up played for the Lions? – @LionsFanJW

Though-provoking question. First, I love watching Timme play. Maybe it’s the old man in me, but I appreciate how he wins with fundamentals and find him much more likable than many of the Duke players of old. Should be a great championship game between Gonzaga and Baylor on Monday.

As for who is the most Detroit player to never play for the Lions, there’s so many ways you can go with this given the Lions’ history of draft busts, superstars who never won Super Bowls and old-school grit. The first player that popped into my head, though, was John Randle. An undersized defensive lineman who went undrafted and just dominated the league. His underdog story feels like it could have been written in Detroit, plus I enjoyed watching him back in the day and the tenacity he played with.

The other player my mind wandered to was Detroit’s own Jerome Bettis. He’s a Pittsburgh Steeler through and through, but Bettis’ tough, physical running style seems like it was made for (along with, in) Detroit. Alas, the Lions haven’t always embodied that as a team, and maybe that’s part of the problem.

I want to hear your answers to this question, though. What players do you think have that Detroit vibe but never played for the Lions?

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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