Latest mock drafts from Kiper, Jeremiah have Lions double-dipping defense in first round

Detroit News

Detroit Lions general manager Brad Holmes made it clear during his end-of-the-year press conference that he fully intends to upgrade the team’s 32nd-ranked defense this offseason. With those comments in mind, it’s hardly surprising to see some of the top mock drafters having Detroit focus on that unit in their early projections.

In a mock posted late last week, NFL Network analyst and former NFL scout Daniel Jeremiah had the Lions using the team’s No. 6 and No. 18 picks to address the back seven, starting with Illinois cornerback Devon Witherspoon in that early slot.

“I fell in love with Witherspoon’s skill set after the first game I studied,” Jeremiah wrote. “He is dripping with instincts and possesses outstanding ball skills. His feisty play style would fit the culture Dan Campbell and Co. are building in Detroit.”

Listed at 6-feet, 180 pounds, Witherspoon is coming off his best season, as a senior for the Illini, breaking up 14 passes and intercepting three, while allowing just 34.9% of the passes his direction to be completed.

Jeremiah followed up that selection by giving the Lions Clemson linebacker Trenton Simpson at No. 18.

“The Lions add another athletic playmaker in Simpson, who could slide right next to Malcolm Rodriguez to form an excellent young LB corps,” Jeremiah wrote.

Possessing a high level of schematic versatility, the 6-foot-3, 230-pound Simpson tallied 72 stops, three pass breakups and two forced fumbles in 12 games for the Tigers. The Lions’ need for a linebacker could be potentially amplified, depending on what they do with starter and captain Alex Anzalone, who is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent in March.

Similar to Jeremiah, Kiper also slotted a pair of defenders to the Lions, giving them rangy edge defender Tyree Wilson out of Texas Tech with the No. 6 pick.

“(The Lions) ranked last in the league in yards per play allowed (6.2) and opposing QBR (55.9); they had issues defending the run and the pass,” Kiper wrote. “Wilson, the top true defensive end in this class, would help both. He can use his burst at the snap to beat offensive tackles on passing downs or use his 6-foot-6 frame to hold up against the run. An edge-rushing duo of Wilson and Aidan Hutchinson would be formidable, with surprise rookie James Houston working in on obvious passing downs.”

The 6-foot-6, 275-pound Wilson managed to replicate his breakout junior season in 2022, racking up 61 tackles (14.0 for loss) and 7.0 sacks in 10 games. His size, strength and playing style would be a natural fit along Detroit’s front.

After bolstering that front, Kiper followed up with the best cornerback remaining on his board with the No. 18 choice, having the Lions snag Oregon’s Christian Gonzalez.

“Gonzalez was a lockdown defender at Colorado before transferring to Oregon last year, where he picked off four passes and improved every week,” Kiper wrote. “He’s going to test really well at the combine in March too. This pick makes too much sense for a Detroit defense that badly needs an infusion of young talent in the secondary.”

The Lions intercepted 12 passes in 2022, but received minimal playmaking from their cornerbacks. Starters Jeff Okudah and Jerry Jacobs combined for the only two picks from the position group.

In Kiper’s projection, Gonzalez was the third cornerback selected behind Witherspoon (No. 14) and Penn State’s Joey Porter Jr. (No. 17).

jdrogers@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers

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