If nothing else, 2021’s offseason will be remembered as a stark transition from one era to the next in Detroit Lions’ history.
In the matter of a couple of months, Detroit traded their franchise quarterback, hired a new general manager, and nearly turned over the entire coaching staff. It felt like a whirlwind because it was, and things haven’t slowed down once Brad Holmes and Dan Campbell were hired; the two have started to put their imprint on this team’s roster through trades like the aforementioned dealing of Matthew Stafford for Jared Goff and draft picks, and the acquisition of his former Los Angeles Rams teammate Michael Brockers. Holmes furthered the roster overhaul with a number of cap casualties and the signings of players on one-year, prove-it type contracts.
Now, the two turn their attention to this year’s NFL Draft as an opportunity to build for the team’s future.
This year, I’m using The Draft Network’s “Mock Draft Machine” to put together my drafts—and if you want to make trades like I did here, you’ll have to upgrade to their premium account.
[TRADE] Round 1, Pick 9: OT Rashawn Slater
Detroit receives picks 9, 71, and 191
Denver receives pick 7
After Denver viewed Matthew Stafford as little more than a rental with their trade offer back in January, the Broncos picked up the phone when Alabama quarterback Mac Jones was still available at No. 7 in this mock draft and made a much more palatable offer.
In need of more draft capital to kickstart this rebuild, the Lions picked up two additional picks to slide down just two spots, and in the context of the first six picks, it made sense. After the predictable selections of Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, and Justin Fields were made, the Atlanta Falcons grabbed Trey Lance as their heir apparent to Matt Ryan. This was setting up nicely for Detroit to get a top skill position talent until Cincinnati and Miami nabbed Ja’Marr Chase and Kyle Pitts respectively.
In recent weeks, I’ve really warmed up to the idea of Detroit solidifying their offensive line by taking a tackle they can play on the right side since it looks like Halapoulivaati Vaitai is going to be moving inside to play guard. In this scenario, Oregon’s Penei Sewell and Northwestern’s Rashawn Slater were both on the board which meant there was a great chance one of them would be available at nine—barring another team trading up.
Sewell went to Carolina which left Slater there at nine, and Lions fans should get on board if this guy is the pick in a couple weeks.
Enjoyed watching former Northwestern OT Rashawn Slater. I think he’s a tackle. The 2019 game vs. Ohio State sold me on that. He handled Chase Young well. There will be some teams that grade him as an IOL though. pic.twitter.com/ZiNIND40uX
— Jordan Reid (@Jordan_Reid) November 5, 2020
Slater lacks some of the measurables, historically, for offensive tackles in the NFL at 6-foot-4 and 305 pounds, but the guy has every bit of athleticism—and then some—to be given the chance to play outside. If he has to move inside and play guard, he’s got all the tools to be an All Pro level talent there, too.
Playing both right tackle and left tackle during his time at Northwestern, Slater’s elite processing speed and foot quickness would make him Detroit’s starting right tackle from the jump. He did opt-out of the 2020 season, but Michael Renner of Pro Football Focus provided a stat to show just how dominant Slater was in his final year of play at Northwestern:
Slater is about as clean as it gets from a technical and consistency standpoint for an offensive line prospect. It’s why after two years of starting at right tackle, Slater allowed only five pressures on 355 pass-blocking snaps at left tackle in 2019 before opting out this past year.
Round 2, Pick 41: WR Dyami Brown
There isn’t a position for the Detroit Lions that will look quite as different in 2021 as the wide receiver position. The only wideout currently on the roster who caught a pass for Detroit last year is Quintez Cephus, and while the Lions have given players like Tyrell Williams and Breshad Perriman the opportunity to come in and prove themselves, there is no long-term plan in place at the position.
Plenty of draftniks have gone on the record about how talented and deep this class is at wide receiver. At pick 41, seven (!) receivers had already been selected, so if Detroit wanted to get in on the top-tier talent at the position, it couldn’t afford to put off grabbing one any longer.
Insert Dyami Brown.
In his three years at Chapel Hill, Brown developed into arguably the nation’s best deep threat, averaging 20.3 and 20.0 yards per catch as a sophomore and junior respectively—and his 18.7 YPC is second-best in North Carolina’s history. His job with the Tar Heels was to get deep, and over his three seasons, Brown averaged an absurd average depth of target of 17.1 yards downfield.
The biggest knock against Brown is the limited route tree he displayed, a product of being a sort of one-trick pony in college, but he has the physical traits to work on branching out and developing his ability to run more routes at the next level.
Overall, Brown isn’t as reliable (yet) as Stefon Diggs, but he has similar size, speed and fluid adjustment skills. He projects as a starting-level NFL receiver with the big-play ability to rack up touchdowns.
Round 3, Pick 71: LB Jabril Cox
As Detroit enters this transitional period from one regime to the next, another position in a state of flux is the linebacker position. For Matt Patricia, linebackers needed to be big, hulking bodies, capable of holding their own near the line of scrimmage to make plays. In a league that continues to get faster and quicker, Patricia’s linebackers ran opposite of that trend—and usually the same way in terms of on-field production and success.
Jamie Collins Sr. and Alex Anzalone figure to be the two starting linebackers on the inside of defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn’s defense, but there’s very little depth behind the both of them. Jabril Cox is the kind of player the Lions defense has been missing at the second level, and his playmaking ability in coverage is something Detroit hasn’t had at linebacker in quite some time.
Cox was a three-year starter for North Dakota State, but transferred to LSU his senior season to take on SEC competition. Versatility is his calling card as he played all over the place in his final season at LSU: 388 snaps in the box, 73 snaps on the defensive line, 187 snaps at slot corner, and even 31 snaps at corner per PFF.
He does need to find another level of toughness against the run, but at this point in the draft, Cox is great value for a team in search of depth at linebacker, and he would figure to earn a fair share of snaps as a rookie due to his ability in coverage.
Round 3, Pick 72: CB Tyson Campbell
Campbell is a player you’ll find a bit all over draft boards. If you’re consulting PFF (52nd) or Brugler (55th), you find Campbell comfortably situated in the top 10 cornerbacks in this year’s draft. Head over to The Draft Network (91) and he’s on the outside looking in. Ask Chris Simms and he’s the second-best cornerback in this class.
For Campbell and his fit with the Lions, it’s all about the hope someone like Glenn can help develop the uber-athletic cornerback’s playmaking abilities—or inability, rather. In his three years at Georgia, Campbell had just one interception and nine pass breakups on 869 career coverage snaps, and that’s something that gives Lions fans flashbacks of Nevin Lawson in coverage.
With the raw, physical tools in place, Campbell is the type of prospect you draft with the expectation your coaching staff will help him put it all together at the next level. If Detroit didn’t end up adding that extra third-round pick in the trade made at the top of the draft, Cox would have been the final Lions player selected in the top 100, but adding picks means getting to take more chances, and Campbell is worth the chance right here.
Round 3, Pick 101: IDL Jay Tufele
If Detroit has a relative strength on defense, it’s up front. After signing Romeo Okwara and adding Michael Brockers to the fold this offseason, Detroit is prioritizing a disruptive pass rush up front for the first time in years.
There’s a lot to like about adding a player like Jay Tufele to this defensive line, especially considering the value of getting him at 101. Tufele is a natural 3-tech that possesses the athleticism and strength to be an immediate factor in this single-gap, penetrating scheme Detroit is shifting to under Dan Campbell.
Like Tyson Campbell, Tufele’s production in college left something to be desired which is why he’s earning third and fourth-round grades from draft analysts. Tufele opted out of the 2020 season, so after breaking out in his 2018 season and plateauing in terms of production in 2019 despite getting more opportunities, he didn’t have a chance to put some of those concerns to bed. Still, with his relentless motor and ability to attack and penetrate off the snap, Tufele’s traits project him to be a contributor on defense in the right scheme.
Round 4, Pick 112: WR Josh Palmer
Victimized by Tennessee’s quarterback play, Josh Palmer didn’t get a chance to be as productive as his excellent combination of size and speed suggested he could be with the Volunteers. According to PFF, a whopping 37.2% of the passes thrown Palmer’s way were uncatchable, so again, this pick is one with a considerable amount of projection, but I think there are some strong signals pointing towards Palmer being worth it here in the fourth round.
Matched up against who many believe to be the best cornerback in the country in Patrick Surtain II, Palmer was able to beat him vertically and bring down a touchdown reception in their game against Alabama. At the Reese’s Senior Bowl, Palmer had 16 snaps against defensive backs in one-on-one drills with a win rate of 81 percent, catching 11 passes and two for touchdowns per PFF.
Get this man a quarterback and let him become the receiver he should have been able to be during his time in Tennessee.
Round 5, Pick 153: CB Shaun Wade
Point blank, I’m a believer in Shaun Wade being an NFL player in the right situation and at the right position. Last year at Ohio State, Wade was moved to outside cornerback after Jeff Okudah’s departure and it wasn’t the spot for Wade. He struggled, mightily, to say the very least.
In his first two seasons at Ohio State, Wade primarily played inside at slot corner and was one of the more intriguing prospects earning second-round grades. Per PFF, Wade had 13 PBUs and four interceptions in his time manning the slot for the Buckeyes. He returned his junior season to play outside corner to improve his draft stock and, well, the opposite happened.
A switch to safety could be in his future since two of the biggest things going for Wade are his size and tackling ability. After not being able to initially participate in Ohio State’s Pro Day workout, Wade participated on April 14 and put up the kind of numbers that support what you see on his tape.
Shaun Wade – Ohio State
Pro Day #’s
40 – 4.43
Vert – 37.5
Broad – 10’ 3”
Nice work @shaunwade24!
— Michael Perrett (@PerrettM) April 14, 2021
With the Lions switching defensive schemes and likely adopting the split-safety position of the Rams, Wade’s physical traits and tools lend themselves extremely well to adapting to that role in the NFL, and at this point in the draft, this high-risk, high-reward proposition makes too much sense to pass up.
Round 6, Pick 191: S Paris Ford
At this point in the draft, teams are looking for developmental projects that aren’t close to being ready for the field on Sundays or special teams contributors. Those are the kind of players you’ll find this late in the draft, as well as the players who tested poorly at their Pro Day after needing some good measurements to increase their draft stock.
Pittsburgh’s Paris Ford fits the bill of a guy who tested very poorly, but still stands a chance of making an NFL roster based on his ability to play football, and for the Lions specifically, he is suited to play split zone.
Ford is a throwback safety, one who plays downhill and wants to punish opponents with his violent style of play—which can be undisciplined at times and get him into trouble with missed tackles (21 missed tackles in 2019 alone per PFF). If he can clean up his play and become more fundamentally sound, Ford could stick around in the NFL.