How Detroit Lions figure into competitive QB market in 2023 NFL draft

Detroit Free Press

The 2022 NFL draft is still three weeks away, but some teams — including possibly the Detroit Lions — appear to be eyeing next year’s draft and the potential bumper crop of quarterback prospects available.

The Philadelphia Eagles became the fifth team to acquire a second first-round pick in 2023 when they traded two first-round choices this year to the New Orleans Saints on Monday.

In return for the Nos. 16 and 19 picks this year, the Eagles received the No. 18 selection this year, a first-round choice next year, third- and seventh-round choices this year and a second-round pick in 2024.

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The Saints also received a 2022 sixth-round pick in the deal.

While the Eagles still have two first-round choices this spring, the real payoff could come next year, when Alabama quarterback Bryce Young and Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud could be available as underclassmen.

Young, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, and Stroud are coming off strong 2021 seasons and positioned to be top picks in 2022 with repeat performances this fall.

This year’s draft is considered light on blue-chip quarterback prospects, though Liberty’s Malik Willis and Pitt’s Kenny Pickett could end up as top-10 picks — and Willis could go as high as No. 2 to the Lions.

The lack of NFL-ready starting quarterbacks this year already has caused some needy teams to hit the quarterback trade market, while others appear to have turned their attention to next year’s draft, loading up on the capital needed for potential trade-ups.

Along with the Eagles, the Lions, Houston Texans, Miami Dolphins and Seattle Seahawks have multiple first-round picks in 2023. All have potential long-term needs at the quarterback position.

The Eagles (Jalen Hurts), Texans (Davis Mills), Dolphins (Tua Tagovailoa) and Seahawks (Drew Lock) project to start unproven young quarterbacks this fall, while the Lions return veteran Jared Goff. The Eagles, Texans (in the Deshaun Watson trade) and Seahawks (in the Russell Wilson trade) have acquired their extra 2023 draft picks in recent weeks, while the Lions (in the Matthew Stafford trade) and Dolphins (in a trade down in last year’s draft) have been sitting on multiple first-round choices for more than a year.

Lions general manager Brad Holmes reiterated his confidence in Goff at the NFL’s annual meeting last week, but once again stopped short of declaring Goff the team’s future at the position.

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Goff, who turns 28 this fall, struggled early last season but led the Lions to wins in three of his final four starts, when he completed 67% of his passes with nine touchdowns and two interceptions.

Holmes, speaking to beat reporters last week, did not rule out drafting a quarterback at No. 2 and said there would be a benefit to having a young quarterback who could learn under Goff with no pressure to play this season.

Goff is under contract through 2024, though the Lions can get out of his contract with limited salary cap impact after this season.

“Sure, I could see some advantage of there is a young quarterback that can learn under Jared,” Holmes said. “I don’t think Jared would have any issues taking on that role. He’s had more younger guys with less experience behind him, so he’d be very comfortable with that.”

More and more, the NFL has become a league of haves and have-nots at the quarterback position, with teams jockeying for signal-callers they believe can make them playoff or championship contenders.

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The Los Angeles Rams won the Super Bowl after trading for Stafford last January, and four teams have traded for perceived quarterback upgrades this spring: The Cleveland Browns acquired Watson from the Texans to replace Baker Mayfield, who remains on their roster; the Denver Broncos traded for Russell Wilson after Aaron Rodgers decided to stay with the Green Bay Packers; the Indianapolis Colts acquired Matt Ryan for a third-round pick and the Washington Commanders acquired Carson Wentz from the Colts rather than try and win with a quarterback they draft at No. 11.

Meanwhile, young quarterbacks and recent top-10 picks Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert, Joe Burrow and Josh Allen are considered the class of the AFC.

Young completed 67% of his passes with 47 touchdowns and seven interceptions in his first season as Alabama starter last fall, while Stroud threw for 4,435 yards with 44 touchdowns and six interceptions in his first season starting at Ohio State.

Beyond Young and Stroud, athletic Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson is considered a potential first-round pick next spring and Alabama edge rusher Will Anderson is viewed as a better prospect than any defender in this year’s draft.

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

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