Last year, Detroit Lions general manager Brad Holmes and company did a wonderful job of laying down the foundation and bringing in starters like Penei Sewell, Alim McNeill and Amon-Ra St. Brown. They also got nice contributions from Ifeatu Melifonwu and have plenty to be excited about when it comes to developing guys like Derrick Barnes, Levi Onwuzurike and Jermar Jefferson. It was a nice first draft for a first-time general manager, but they needed to have a big Year 2 if they want to continue that success.
Let’s take a look at how this regime did with their second full draft class.
First round (2): EDGE Aidan Hutchinson (Michigan)
With the Jacksonville Jaguars electing to take Georgia edge rusher Travon Walker, this made things pretty simple for the Lions. In hindsight, we know that the Lions and the rest of the league did not think very highly about this quarterback class, so Malik Willis was off the board here.
That likely left the options down to edge rushers Aidan Hutchinson and Kayvon Thibodeaux. You could also argue that maybe defensive back was an option here, but getting a blue chip pass rusher had to be a bigger priority, and the aforementioned EDGEs were two of the most talented prospects to choose from.
Personally, I would have been happy with either Hutchinson or Thibodeaux. You could have honestly flipped a coin and it wouldn’t have mattered to me. I like Hutchinson ever so slightly more than Thibodeaux, so this was a slam dunk pick to me.
Hutchinson represents everything that this front office is looking for in a player. He is extremely athletic, hard-working and loves the game of football. This was a match made in heaven for both sides.
Role: Starting EDGE (Lions got their gamechanger)
First round (12): WR Jameson Williams (Alabama)
After trading up in the first round with the Minnesota Vikings, the Lions went and got another game changer in Williams. It turns out that Holmes got great value for this pick, and they didn’t even have to give up a future first.
My love for the player was a bit overshadowed by my desire to add more defensive prospects in this draft at first, but as the night went on, the more I loved this pick. Williams is the fastest player in the draft, and this team hasn’t had this type of speed since they traded up for Jahvid Best in 2010.
If Williams can stay healthy, they have someone who can take the top off of defenses and open things up for guys like St. Brown, Hockenson, Swift, and others. I admire Holmes’ determination to trade up and make sure they can add a stud like Williams, because they weren’t going to get a player of his caliber had they sat around and waited.
If last year’s plan was to play things safe and lay the foundation, then this year’s plan was to get aggressive and make sure that they get blue-chip players for the future. Consider me a fan.
New Lions WR Jameson Williams fundamentally changes the way defenses have to play.
A thread on him flat out torching defenses: pic.twitter.com/2x83OVe1kL
— Brett Whitefield (@BGWhitefield) April 29, 2022
Role: Eventual starter (needs to get healthy first, but can play X, Y or Z; game-changer)
Second round (46): EDGE Josh Paschal (Kentucky)
This pick absolutely has “Dan Campbell” written all over it.
After overcoming cancer and being forced to learn how to walk again, Paschal returned to the Kentucky program and became a three-year captain, while being the voice of the locker room.
Paschal isn’t just a character pick, he has the tape to back it up. In 2021, he finished the year with a 90.2 run defense grade (via Pro Football Focus), a pass rush win rate of 16.3 percent and a run-stop rate of 12.4 percent.
Many were surprised to see the Lions double dip at EDGE while they still had pressing needs at linebacker and safety, but let’s be honest. This team isn’t going to be competing for any titles yet, and we’ve been complaining about wanting a halfway decent pass rush for years, so let’s just sit back and enjoy the fact that they’re finally investing a lot of resources there.
This regime has made it clear that they want to add elite athletes, which is a breath of fresh air from the previous regime.
While I would have preferred to have gone safety or linebacker here with guys like Jaquan Brisker, Bryan Cook, Chad Muma and Troy Andersen still on the board, I can’t complain too much about nabbing another great defensive lineman.
Role: Role player (swiss-army knife; can play on the edge, inside, and even stand up as a linebacker)
Third round (97): S Kerby Joseph (Illinois)
At this pick, the Lions really needed to keep their focus on the defensive side of the ball, but more specifically at linebacker or safety, where they are desperate for talent. Thankfully, even though the Indianapolis Colts had just traded up ahead of them to take safety Nick Cross, Joseph was still on the board and is a player who can immediately upgrade their pass defense.
The Lions were very familiar with Joseph during their pre-draft process and met with him multiple times, including using one of their 30 pre-draft visits on him. So it’s very possible that they were more fond of Joseph than Cross, who went one spot ahead of him.
I highlighted Joseph in my safety rankings earlier in the year as a guy that can be a true free safety and ball hawk for this defense.
Joseph has everything you want in a free safety: great length, an insane wingspan (79.5 inches), and elite ball skills (five interceptions in 2021 and a 21.1% forced incompletion rate). Over 60 percent of Joseph’s snaps came in the deep safety role during his time at Illinois, and that is probably where he will end up as a pro.
The biggest concern surrounding Joseph as a prospect is his inexperience. He had a fantastic 2021 and finished the year with a 90.4 overall grade via PFF, but only played a total of 288 snaps in his previous two seasons. Teams will have to do their due diligence as to why Joseph was not a starter until subbing in for an injury during their game against Virginia. But when he saw action, he was one of the best safeties in college football.
Joseph was in my fourth tier of safeties ahead of Bryan Cook and Nick Cross, who were both selected ahead of him.
One thing that may get lost in all of this is what Joseph can bring as a special teamer. Here is an excerpt from when he spoke to the Lions media on Saturday.
“I can do everything,” Joseph said. “My four years playing at Illinois, I did every special team corps that was known to man. I started off on special teams, which is why I know it, which is why I enjoy playing it.”
Role: Developmental (could start right away at safety due to lack of talent on the roster, but more likely a starter in 2023; fits well in Detroit’s split-zone scheme)
Fifth round (177): TE James Mitchell (Virginia Tech)
How could I be upset with this pick when I made the same pick myself around the same slot in my one and only seven-round mock draft this year?
If not for a torn ACL shortening his season, Mitchell would probably be in consideration for a late Day 2/early Day 3 pick. If he can stay healthy, he has the potential to earn some starting snaps and use his speed/route-running ability to create some mismatches.
The Lions had to wait a bit before adding depth to their tight end room, but their patience paid off as they were able to land a solid player still.
Mitchell suffered his injury early in the college football season, so he should be healthy enough for the start of training camp. I’d expect him to make some noise early on and challenge for the TE2 role.
Role: Role player (should challenge for TE2 right away; possible H-back)
Sixth round (188): LB Malcolm Rodriguez (Oklahoma State)
Rodriguez is a fantastic talent, but likely has fallen this far due to his length. He is in the one percentile in terms of height, wingspan and arm length, but if put in the right situation he can succeed.
Rodriguez has plus instincts and fits the mold of the high-character athlete that the team is looking for. When you get to the later rounds, you’re not expecting to get Day 1 starters, and getting a guy that can contribute in any way, shape, or form is even rare this late in the draft. I’d expect Rodriguez to compete early on special teams and could get some time as the Lions’ BUCK if injuries start to pile up right away.
Role: Role player (backup BUCK and special teamer)
Sixth round (217): EDGE James Houston (Jackson State)
The Lions draft their third edge rusher here.
This was the first pick of the draft that seemed to have a lot of local media members and fans scrambling to get any information they could on the late-round pick.
Houston is an HBCU graduate just like Brad Holmes. After transferring from Floriday, he had a very productive senior season at Jackson State, totaling 16.5 sacks, 24.5 tackles for a loss, seven forced fumbles, and an interception.
Role: Developmental (pass-rusher/off-the-ball linebacker/special teamer)
Seventh round (237): CB Chase Lucas (Arizona State)
Lucas was a five-year starter at Arizona State, and is already 25 years old, but he adds some extra speed and explosiveness to the cornerback position.
Not much to complain about once you get into the later picks of the draft because it’s a rarity that they even make it in the NFL anyway. It’s nice to bet on athletes and the Lions could use some more DBs in their 4-2-5 scheme, so this one gets a passable grade.
Couple connections between new #Lions CB Chase Lucas and other current Lions.
He lined up opposite Amon-Ra St. Brown several time and trained with the same coach as Jeff Okudah.
— Pride of Detroit (@PrideOfDetroit) April 30, 2022
Role: Developmental (Depth CB that has played inside and out/special teamer)
Overall grade: A
The Lions did a great job of meeting most of their needs while focusing on drafting elite athletes with great character and a love for the game of football. I can’t complain much about any of these picks, and in some cases, I would have made the same selection that Brad Holmes did.
The team also decided to use six of their eight picks on defense, where they desperately needed the most help.
If we were to get nitpicky, then maybe it would have been nice to address the linebacker and/or safety position earlier in the draft, but it’s unrealistic to get everything you want when it comes to the NFL Draft, especially if you entered the weekend with as many needs as the Lions had.
On paper, Brad Holmes and co. knocked this one out of the park. They went out and got the blue-chip players they were looking for while addressing some of their biggest needs. Not much else you could ask for.
What grade would you give the Lions’ 2022 NFL Draft class?
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