Mel Kiper: Detroit Lions GM Brad Holmes deserves A or A-plus for first two drafts

Detroit Free Press

One prominent NFL analyst is giving Brad Holmes high marks for how he’s handled the draft in his first two seasons as Detroit Lions general manager.

“I’d give him an A, a solid A,” ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. said in a conference call Wednesday. “You could go A-plus.”

Holmes inherited a Lions team coming off three straight last-place finishes in the NFC North in 2021 and, after trading starting quarterback Matthew Stafford to the Los Angeles Rams in one of his first acts as GM, has built the franchise into one of the leading contenders in the NFC entering his third season.

Holmes took cornerstone right tackle Penei Sewell with his first pick as Lions GM, No. 7 overall in 2021, added two more starters through the draft that spring, receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown and defensive tackle Alim McNeill, and took five defensive contributors last season.

Sewell and St. Brown made the Pro Bowl last season,; Aidan Hutchinson, the No. 2 pick of the 2022 draft, was runner-up for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year; and Hutchinson, James Houston (sixth round), Josh Paschal (second round) and Malcolm Rodriguez (sixth round) combined for 20.5 sacks, an NFL rookie record.

The Lions finished last in the NFL in total defense last season, but Holmes said at the combine earlier this month he liked where his defense was trending because of its youth.

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Hutchinson, Rodriguez and third-round safety Kerby Joseph were regular starters in 2022, and Houston emerged as a top edge rusher late in the year.

“We had drafted six defensive players last year and five of those six guys, they end up playing some key roles for us but they were rookies,” Holmes said. “So you can look at the number of, yeah, we don’t want to be in the bottom five of the rushing and passing yards categories, but I will say the way we finished winning eight of our last 10 and seeing those guys grow together and learn how to play winning football, I think it shows. So I don’t think the cupboard’s bare on defense just like you look at the overall ranking. But I think we got some good young players that showed that they can really help us going forward.”

The Lions spent the first wave of free agency adding more upgrades to their defense, signing cornerbacks Cam Sutton and Emanuel Moseley and safety/slot corner C.J. Gardner-Johnson. All three project to play prominent roles in the secondary this fall, and Kiper said their additions open the board for Holmes in April’s draft.

“I went away from the corner because of that,” Kiper said. “I had (cornerbacks) Christian Gonzalez from Oregon or Devon Witherspoon, Illinois, going there (in mock drafts before free agency). Went away from that because of the signings and went to (Georgia defensive tackle Jalen) Carter. So you can say if it’s not going to be Carter and it’s going to be somebody else, is there another defensive lineman to take at that point? It’s too early for a linebacker. That could be wide open at that point.”

The Lions have two first-round picks, their own at No. 18 and the Rams’ pick at No. 6 from the Stafford trade, and five of the first 81 selections overall.

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Carter is one of the top talents in this year’s draft, but off-field concerns and a run on quarterbacks could put him in the crosshairs for the Lions at six. He showed up overweight to his pro day workout and could not finish drills, and he pleaded no contest to a pair of misdemeanors for charges related to an accident that killed one of his teammates and a Georgia football staffer.

Kiper said Carter is worth a roll of the dice at six for a general manager who’s hit home runs in both his at-bats at the draft so far.

“Jalen Carter, do they take him at six to put him inside and have Aidan outside?” Kiper said. “What a combination that would be. This defense as you know has got to be better. It’s got to be. And these defensive backs that they added certainly will help dramatically and if they can get a defensive tackle like Jalen Carter at six than that would, obviously with Aidan’s development and Houston and Paschal and all the young guys they had, if they develop and they will continue to develop, that bodes well for this defense being vastly improved this next year.”

Contact Dave Birkett at Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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