Detroit Lions mailbag: Is ideal pick at No. 7 Penei Sewell, Kyle Pitts or Trey Lance?

Detroit Free Press

We’re less than two weeks away from the NFL draft, and I got the bright idea to squeeze in one final mailbag when @kyle_warwick asked me Thursday on Twitter who I would take if I were the Detroit Lions at No. 7.

The caveat being that Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence and BYU quarterback Zach Wilson — the projected top two picks in the draft — are off the board, and that I have my pick of everyone else.

The way I see it, the Lions would have three options — all good ones — if this were the situation: 1.) Take whichever quarterback ranks highest on their board; 2.) Take Florida tight end Kyle Pitts, one of the consensus best players in the class and the one I believe (after Lawrence) is most likely to reach his potential; or 3.) Take the best offensive lineman, who in my estimation is Oregon’s Penei Sewell.

OPTIONS AT NO. 7

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I rank Pitts just ahead of LSU receiver Ja’Marr Chase and the Alabama receiving duo of DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle, and all three of those players ahead of the draft’s top defensive player, Penn State’s Micah Parsons, based on the feedback I have received from NFL coaches and scouts. Pitts is a freak of a talent — much like Calvin Johnson was in 2007 — who warrants a high draft pick. There is a question of positional value, as tight ends are traditionally less valuable than quarterbacks, pass rushers and offensive lineman; that’s the reason I’d make him the third option.

There are no edge rushers worthy of a top-seven pick in this draft, but Sewell is the best edge protector available, a potential franchise left tackle. He opted out of the 2020 season, so he has a limited body of collegiate work. But he was a special player at Oregon and would team with Taylor Decker and Frank Ragnow to give the Lions the makings of one of the best offensive lines in football.

I’m starting to think Sewell will be on the board at No. 7, and I’m pretty sure he would make lots of Lions fans happy.

The pick for me, though, if I was running the draft, would be the quarterback. Jared Goff absolutely deserves the chance to start this fall, but this is a quarterback league and I don’t see the Lions winning big unless they nail the quarterback position.

Maybe Goff will recapture that 2018 magic — but when my positional draft rankings come out next week I will have both Ohio State’s Justin Fields and North Dakota State’s Trey Lance ahead of Wilson on my quarterback list. I like their skill set, and Lance, in particular, sees to have unlimited potential.

If we’re being realistic, Fields is the safer of the two quarterbacks, and if my job was attached to the pick — as Brad Holmes’ could be one day — he would be tough to pass up. But Lance can be a star with the right development plan in place, and if I were the Lions I would feel fortunate to get him at No. 7.

Onto the rest of your questions.

Thanks Kyle and Dave! my question is what 3 second round picks would you be happy with? i know there will be loads of options on both sides of the ball at 41. your gut feel and picks that you’d like for the Lions. Thanks! — @dansmarmite

I’ll dive a little more into this next week, too, when I do my annual draft scenarios, looking at who could be in play on Day 2, depending on who the Lions take in Round 1. Positionally, I think you have to look at receivers and offensive tackles, both because there should be a host of solid players at those positions around where the Lions pick at No. 41, and because the Lions have intense needs at both spots.

If Minnesota receiver Rashod Bateman makes it to No. 41, I think he would be a nice complement to the speed the Lions added at the position this offseason. Bateman probably goes in the 25-50 range, though

At offensive tackle, Stanford’s Walker Little should be available early on Day 2. He opted out of last season and was injured for most of 2019, so he’s a little bit under the radar. He might slide because of injury concerns, but for a team such as the Lions, with a long-term outlook and no starting spot to fill, he would make sense.

Defensively, I could see the Lions going with a pass rusher who slips because of medical concerns, or a defensive back in what is shaping up to be a solid secondary draft. I’m guessing Florida State cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. is gone by 41 and it might be a tick early for Indiana safety Jamar Johnson, so I’ll say LSU linebacker Jabril Cox, who is a phenomenal athlete and was once a teammate of Lance’s at North Dakota State.

What does drafting Sewell do to Crosby? Can crosby play inside and replace vitai? Would slater make more sense because some think he will move inside? — @mastergurn

Fair question, with all the Sewell talk of late. First, I think you take the best lineman regardless of position. Both Sewell and Northwestern’s Rashawn Slater are really good prospects, but the feedback I’ve received is that Sewell has a chance to be extra special, so I would not pass on him for a better positional fit.

ON THE LINE: NFL draft prospect Penei Sewell plays with ‘violent intentions,’ may not reach Detroit Lions

If the Lions draft Sewell, he’s a Day 1 starter at right tackle. Unfortunately, that would bump Crosby inside, for what will be his walk year, to compete with Vaitai for playing time. I could see the Lions trying to sign Crosby to a relatively modest extension this summer if they do not draft an offensive tackle in Round 1. If they do, Crosby is likely down to his final 17 games as a Lion; they spent big money on Decker and have a huge payday looming for Ragnow.

What’s the furthest the Lions could trade back before they fall out of range of what you consider the top 1 or 2 tiers of players? How far back is *too* far back? — @andrewkeck

There’s a big difference between the first and second tier of players. I think Lawrence stands alone as the top prospect, and the tier of blue-chip talent behind him only runs about four deep: Pitts, Chase, Sewell and Wilson.

Some will argue that Smith and Waddle belong in that group, and perhaps Fields, Lance, Slater, Parsons and Mac Jones, too. Let’s say three of those seven are in the Lions’ top group. I’d guess they won’t be able to go lower than 10 and still get one of those players, so if Pitts falls and Jerry Jones wants to pay up, there might be a deal worth making.

There always is a second, larger group of players who most teams consider first-round talents but maybe not potential stars, 15-25 players deep in any given year. That’s the group the Lions likely will be picking from if they trade down into the teens. Because of the separation of talent, that’s the kind of trade the Lions would need a huge return — including, presumably, a future first-round pick — to pull off.

How’s John Dorsey fitting in so far? Is there any sign of his fingerprints on things? — @career_mechanic

I don’t have any good stories for you about the work Dorsey has done in Detroit so far. He is based in Ohio for now, but has been up here recently for draft meetings and has been on the road evaluating prospects at pro day workouts, and as far back as the Senior Bowl.

Holmes brought Dorsey in because of his experience in both free agency and the draft, and because Dorsey is known for having one of the best eyes for talent in the NFL. The Lions did sign one of Dorsey’s former Cleveland draft picks, wide receiver Damion Ratley. That’s not a major enough move to indicate Dorsey’s influence on where the organization is headed, but both Holmes and head coach Dan Campbell mentioned Dorsey’s evaluation there as a reason behind the signing.

Bottom line: Dorsey and Holmes have known each other for years, and nearly worked together at one point with the Kansas City Chiefs. He should be an important voice in the Lions’ rebuild.

If Kyle Pitts turns into Darren Waller, is that worth the 7th pick? — @Horace_Koch

The current version of Waller is pretty darn good. He had 107 catches and 1,196 yards receiving last season with the Las Vegas Raiders. Waller had some substance abuse issues that delayed the start of his career and was a virtual unknown before 2019. If you draft Pitts at No. 7, I think you would need him to put up Waller-type numbers on a regular basis, starting early in his career, and become the best tight end in the NFL to feel like you made the right pick. That’s a heavy burden, but Pitts has a unique enough skill set that it is a distinct possibility.

PITTS AND THE PENDULUM: Florida TE Kyle Pitts is ‘a rare dude;’ don’t be surprised if Lions draft him at 7

Who do you feel is the dark horse, top 32 pick, that teams are going to be wishing they took higher come next year. Why do you think that player dropped so significantly than? — @Nino_Minniti4

The draft is always a crapshoot, but the circumstances of this draft make it an even bigger crapshoot than usual. So many players opted out of the 2020 season — or have limited experience and/or major concerns because of injuries — that I think several players will fall beyond where their skill sets might ordinarily land them.

Lance is one who, because of his inexperience, might slip a little. But that’s too obvious a choice, and I doubt he plays enough in 2021 to be the guy teams immediately regret not taking. Talented Virginia Tech cornerback Caleb Farley’s injury concerns make him another candidate — but I’ll go with Miami edge rusher Jaelan Phillips.

The best pass rusher in a draft is usually a lock in the top 10 pick — and rarely falls past the top five — but I could see Phillips slipping to the 20s because of his past. He started his career at UCLA and retired due to injuries, including multiple concussions. He transferred to Miami, was dominant at times last season and has an NFL-ready frame, but teams couldn’t bring him in for pre-draft visits or medical evaluations this spring. Phillips might be a star, but whatever team takes him is making a big roll of the dice.

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

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