NFL draft preview: Time for Detroit Lions to make backup QB decision beyond Jared Goff

Detroit Free Press

Free Press sports reporter Dave Birkett takes a position-by-position look at the top prospects and biggest Detroit Lions needs in the 2023 NFL draft. This is the third in an eight-part series:

Jared Goff changed the narrative about the Lions’ quarterback position, and his future as its caretaker, with a strong season in 2022. After struggling through his first season-and-a-half in Detroit, Goff finished last fall with 4,438 yards passing, 29 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He was a big reason the Lions fielded one of the NFL’s most dynamic offenses, and he played well enough down the stretch to earn a Pro Bowl nod as an alternate.

Goff may never be considered in the top tier of NFL quarterbacks, but with the Lions entering their window of contention a year earlier than expected, he appears to have locked up the starting quarterback job for the foreseeable future. He conquered one of his biggest bugaboos last season by cutting down on turnovers, and though he’s still viewed as a quarterback who needs things right around him to have a chance at success, the Lions have surrounded him with talent.

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The Lions could surprise and draft a higher-upside quarterback in Round 1, but general manager Brad Holmes was quick to note after the season “it’s a lot easier to get worse at quarterback than to get better.” More likely, the Lions, who have not drafted a quarterback since taking Brad Kaaya in the sixth round of the 2017 draft, will target a backup in the later rounds.

For now, Nate Sudfeld is the only quarterback besides Goff on the Lions roster, though the possibility remains they could sign a veteran backup like Teddy Bridgewater in the coming weeks.

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On the roster: Jared Goff, Nate Sudfeld.

Top 3 QB prospects: 1. Bryce Young, Alabama; 2. C.J. Stroud, Ohio State; 3. Will Levis, Kentucky.

Other players with Michigan ties: Taylor Powell, Eastern Michigan.

Day 3 sleeper: Dorian Thompson-Robinson, UCLA.

Recent Lions draft picks at QB: None in the past five years.

Part 1: Previewing the NFL draft’s top specialists

Part II: Previewing the NFL draft’s RB class

Draft dish

There is not a quarterback prospect in this year’s draft the caliber of Joe Burrow or Trevor Lawrence, but as many as four quarterbacks could go in the top 11. Young, the 2021 Heisman Trophy winner, is the surest prospect of the bench and the favorite to go No. 1 to the Carolina Panthers. He’s undersized at a shade over 5 feet 10, but has great field awareness and processing skills.

Stroud was the best quarterback in the Big Ten the past two seasons and shined in an eye-opening performance in Ohio State’s playoff loss to Georgia. NFL teams have questioned his ability to make off-schedule plays, and there’s a small chance he could drop out of the top five.

Levis and Anthony Richardson are high-upside prospects who lack the polish of Young and Stroud. Richardson is an electric runner with a bazooka for an arm, but his 53.8% completion percentage and limited experience are concerns. Levis was better in 2021 than he was last season, when he battled injuries all year.

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Tennessee’s Hendon Hooker is alone in the next tier of quarterbacks. He’s 25 years old, coming of a serious knee injury and played in a half-field read offense, but he excelled last season in his second year as Tennessee’s starter. A team could take a chance on Hooker in Round 1 to get his fifth-year option.

There probably is not another quarterback in this year’s draft worthy of a top-100 pick. Thompson-Robinson is a five-year starter with good mobility. Stetson Bennett won two national titles at Georgia. And the Lions hosted Kansas State’s Adrian Martinez on a pre-draft visit.

Contact Dave Birkett at Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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