Lions 2023 draft preview: Could defensive tackle Jalen Carter be an option at No. 6?

Detroit News

Over the next several days, leading up to the 2022 NFL Draft, we’re taking a position-by-position look at the Detroit Lions’ roster and evaluating how the team might address each unit. Today: Defensive tackles.

▶ Current roster: Alim McNeill, Isaiah Buggs, Benito Jones, Levi Onwuzurike, Demetrius Taylor

▶ Short-term need: 7.5 out of 10

▶ Long-term need: 8.5 out of 10

▶ Top prospects: Jalen Carter, Bryan Bresee, Calijah Kancey

▶ Day 2 options: Mazi Smith, Adetomiwa Adebawore, Siaki Ika, Keeanu Benton

▶ Late-round considerations: Moro Ojomo, Kobie Turner, Jerrod Clark, P.J. Mustipher

▶ Analysis: Lions general manager Brad Holmes has done a nice job plugging roster holes in free agency, but he curiously didn’t address one of the team’s biggest areas of concerns entering the offseason — the interior of the defensive line.

Sure, the Lions re-signed a couple of their own free agents, most notably Buggs, who logged a career-high 755 snaps in 2022, but made no additional upgrades to a group that played a central role in allowing opponents to rush for 5.2 yards per carry and combined for just 3.5 sacks.

So yeah, it goes without saying, it remains an area meriting serious attention in the draft.

And at the very top of the draft, where the Lions hold the No. 6 pick, the conversation figures to be tricky. With the way things have been trending, there’s a good chance Georgia’s Carter will be on the board when Detroit is on the clock.

Let’s be clear: As a player, Carter checks every box. He’s a dominant interior force against both the run and the pass, earning the label of best talent in the draft from multiple pundits. But the reason he figures to be available to Detroit is red flags relating to his character.

First, there was his role in an offseason auto accident that resulted in the death of two people, including a former college teammate. Carter pleaded no contest to charges of racing and reckless driving, but questions remain about how he handled himself the night of the incident, leaving the scene and calling teammates, not the police, after witnessing the accident.

Beyond that, Carter showed up to his pro day overweight and out of shape, declined to take part in standard athletic testing and bombed the positional drills, raising concerns about his work ethic.

The Lions are still doing their homework, as they should, including hosting Carter for a pre-draft visit. It’s possible they believe the team’s strong locker room foundation can keep the prospect in line and on track, but, on the surface, the addition appears to go against the culture established under Holmes and coach Dan Campbell.

So if they pass on Carter, that leaves the next wave of talent at No. 18, which includes Kancey and Bresee. Kancey is a fascinating discussion. He’s hyper athletic, and a highly productive pass rusher, but small, with shorter arms than any successful NFL defensive tackle. Bresee is a little more boring, but still athletic and productive. Regardless, 18 might be a little rich of a resource to spend on the high-floor, low-ceiling talent.

The Lions could always come back to the need on the draft’s second day. If either of them last until Detroit picks again at 48, Michigan’s Smith or Northwestern’s Adebawore would be solid additions. Smith is big, strong and surprisingly quick for his size. He would help shore up the run defense in a hurry, even if he doesn’t immediately offer much playmaking in the backfield. Adebawore is slimmer and better profiles as a pocket disruptor with his elite athletic traits.

If both are gone by that stage of the second round, you could make a strong case for Baylor’s Ika as a space-eating run-stuffer or Wisconsin’s Benton, a pre-draft riser who has the frame to do it all, but just needs to find more snap-to-snap consistency.

If the Lions get all the way into Day 3 without finding a defensive tackle, it would be a disappointment, but there should still be some talent to mine. Ojomo is unlikely to linger until the middle of the fifth round, where Detroit first picks that day, but there’s always the possibility of a trade if the undersized, but high-effort lineman is there in the fourth.

Another undersized prospect who grabs our attention is Turner, who successfully made the jump from Richmond to Wake Forest last year. Extremely explosive off the line, he racked up 34 pressures for the Demon Deacons last season, and was equally, if not more impressive playing the run.

jdrogers@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers

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