If trade downs are tough to find, Detroit Lions should spot good options at 7 in NFL draft

Detroit Free Press

Bob Quinn caught heat last spring when he used the No. 3 pick of the NFL draft on Jeff Okudah.

For most Detroit Lions fans, the problem wasn’t that Quinn took Okudah but that he used the No. 3 pick at all.

Trade down, people pleaded, and while it was true the Lions could have taken Okudah at five, six or maybe even eight, getting NFL teams to part with valuable draft capital to move up a few (or more) spots is difficult.

New Lions general manager Brad Holmes could run into a similar issue when the 2021 NFL draft kicks off April 29.

The Lions hold a coveted pick, No. 7 overall, but pre-draft jockeying has made it such that dealing down from that spot — if that really is what Holmes wants to do — could be a Herculean task.

Trevor Lawrence is going No. 1 overall to the Jacksonville Jaguars, and Zach Wilson should follow at No. 2 to the New York Jets. The San Francisco 49ers are eyeing Mac Jones at No. 3, most league observers believe, and after that it’s a crapshoot.

Dave Birkett’s new mock draft: 3 potential trade down options for Lions ]

Most draft trades, early in Round 1, at least, are for quarterbacks, and in this weird NFL offseason of major quarterback movement, many of the teams in need of long-term help at the position already have stumbled onto their solution.

The 49ers traded up from No. 12 for the right to take the draft’s third-best quarterback. The Jets locked in a quarterback at No. 2 when they traded Sam Darnold to another quarterback-needy team, the Carolina Panthers.

The Panthers at No. 8 now appear to be out of the QB draft mix, as do the Philadelphia Eagles, who moved down six spots to No. 12. And the only other top-13 teams that may draft one are the Atlanta Falcons at No. 4, the Denver Broncos at No. 9 and the Lions.

That’s great news if Holmes, who has been thorough in his pre-draft study, actually wants a quarterback. At least one of North Dakota State’s Trey Lance or Ohio State’s Justin Fields should be there at No. 7.

But if Holmes’ play is to trade down, there does not appear to be an abundance of teams who want to move up.

The New England Patriots at No. 15, Washington at No. 19, the Chicago Bears at No. 20, the Pittsburgh Steelers at No. 24 and the New Orleans Saints at No. 28 are potential quarterback hunters, but each will have to weigh how far to go up and at what price.

It’s possible another prospect tickles a GM’s fancy enough to make a move. Kyle Pitts is considered a generational tight end prospect, one who reportedly has caught the eye of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, and Penei Sewell should pique the interest of any team looking to protect its quarterback.

But no defensive player is worthy of a trade up into the top seven, and there are three receivers good enough that teams desiring a difference maker at that position can be patient and wait.

I put the Lions through three different trade-down scenarios in my latest mock draft — all for teams wanting to move up for a quarterback — in an exercise similar to what NFL teams do as they cycle through scenarios in the weeks leading up to the draft.

How far is too far to move down? What is the right price to move up? And what caliber prospect can the Lions expect in a move down to each spot?

If the Lions move down within the top 10, they should be able to land a similar-caliber prospect to the one they’d get at seven: A top-notch receiver or the best defensive player on the board.

In the teens, the Lions likely would miss out on players like Jaylen Waddle, DeVonta Smith and Micah Parsons, though injuries or character concerns could push one or more of those prospects down in this COVID-restricted pre-draft world.

What they would find, though, is a similar-caliber prospect at 15 or 19 or maybe even 24.

In my mock draft scenarios, I gave Michigan defensive end Kwity Paye to the Lions at 15, but strongly considered linebackers Jamin Davis and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah. Both linebackers, plus defensive end Jaelan Phillips and a bevy of offensive linemen, were still available at 19.

There is danger in passing on premium talent at the top of the draft for a higher quantity of the solid-but-not-spectacular players that populate the later part of the first round.

If a trade option is on the table for Holmes, that is what he’ll have to consider: Take a quarterback, who may have the potential to be great. Grab an offensive skill player or tackle who can help immediately and for many years to come. Or roll the dice on a good but not great talent for the lure of additional draft capital.

Holmes has said he is comfortable picking from the collection of players who should be available at No. 7, and after evaluating the few seemingly unlikely trade-down scenarios in my latest mock draft, Lions fans should get comfortable with that notion as well.

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

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