Detroit Lions GM Brad Holmes swung big and connected in NFL draft 2022

Detroit Free Press

General manager Brad Holmes went into the 2022 NFL draft determined to find a “game changer” and came away with two players who fit that bill. This is why I believe the Detroit Lions had one of the best draft hauls in the league.

I’m asked to grade the Lions’ picks every year after the draft. It’s a silly exercise in some ways, passing judgment on players who have not played a down in the NFL and who are still in the developmental stage of their careers, and for that reason I’ve always tried to make my grade more about how the Lions use the draft capital they have and less about the talent the acquire.

Where players go from here is largely up to them, and the path they’re on won’t be evident for another year or two at the least.

But I give the Lions an A-minus grade for this year’s class because Holmes maximized the value of his first three selections by taking the draft’s best prospect at two positions and fleecing the Minnesota Vikings in a trade up, according to all the popular trade value charts. I thought he made some worthwhile gambles on traits and production in the later rounds while trying to add depth to his defense.

Aidan Hutchinson was the right pick at No. 2.

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Hutchinson was the best prospect in the draft, at a major position of need and a spot on the board where the value was right for a pass rusher.

Kayvon Thibodeaux and Derek Stingley Jr. may have slightly more upside, and there is some belief around the league Holmes preferred Thibodeaux. But the support for Hutchinson elsewhere in the building was overwhelming, and there is no doubt the Michigan product is coach Dan Campbell’s kind of player.

Hutchinson should be a force for years to come on a defense that otherwise lacks playmakers, and it wouldn’t shock me if he led the team in sacks in 2022. But trading up for Jameson Williams is the type of bold move that has the potential to push the class from good to great.

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Williams was the No. 1-rated receiver on the Lions’ draft board, and likely the only reason he made it to 12 was because of the torn ACL he suffered in Alabama’s national championship game loss to Georgia.

It’s fair to have concerns over Williams’ medical history. The last time the Lions took a receiver coming off an ACL was Ryan Broyles in 2012. But give Holmes credit for being convicted enough about a prospect’s greatness to go and get the player, and give him even more credit for pulling off what could be a heist of a division foe.

The Lions traded Nos. 32, 34 and 66 for 12 and 46. Essentially, Holmes gave up an early second-round pick to move up 20 spots in Round 1 and at the Round 2/3 turn. The old Jimmy Johnson trade value chart marks that as a clear win for the Lions (they gave up 1,410 points on the chart, and got back 1,640 points worth of value), and the newer Rich Hill version does the same (337.3 points received, 280.2 points given up).

Some GMs would prefer quantity over quality, believing no elite prospects were available at 12. Again, that’s a fair stance to take. The picks at those positions — Georgia safety Lewis Cine, North Dakota State receiver Christian Watson and Oklahoma linebacker Brian Asamoah — would have made a nice addition to Hutchinson had the Lions stayed put.

But as good as that trio is, no one in it has the elite upside of Williams, and Holmes was able to finagle a second-round pick in the deal that netted him a much-needed depth piece for the defensive line in Kentucky’s Josh Paschal.

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Paschal provides interior pass rush, which the Lions lacked last season, and fits with the “build a monster” philosophy Holmes espoused last year when he took Penei Sewell at No. 7. In the past 15 months, the Lions have spent four picks on defensive linemen in Hutchinson, Paschal, Alim McNeill and Levi Onwuzurike, and signed two others — Romeo Okwara and Charles Harris — to significant deals.

I don’t know how good the D-line will be this fall, and I thought the value at 46 was in taking a different defender instead, someone like Georgia linebacker Nakobe Dean (if he was medically cleared) or Penn State safety Jaquan Brisker.

But Paschal is powerful player who adds something to the front, and the Lions added safety depth with Kerby Joseph in Round 3.

Surely, there are people reading this who do not approve of Holmes’ picks. Maybe you wanted Thibodeaux at two, or thought the Lions should have taken Kyle Hamilton after their trade up.

Give it two years and we’ll know better whether Holmes was right about his player evaluations, but in the moment, it’s OK to appreciate the work he did.

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

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