NFL draft scenarios: 3 ways Detroit Lions can spend their 2 first-round picks

Detroit Free Press

Projecting what the Detroit Lions do in the 2023 NFL draft is always a crapshoot. But this is one of my favorite exercises of the year — playing out different scenarios for the Lions, and making educated guess on how their decision on their first pick of the draft might impact their other selections.

Lions general manager Brad Holmes has said he does not use a depth chart to guide his picks, but the Lions do have both short- and long-term needs they can address through the draft.

I don’t know what the Lions’ draft board looks like. That’s a closely guarded secret. But more than anything, this is a road map of the type of prospect the Lions can expect to get at various points in the first three rounds, and the type of player they will be looking for to fit their roster.

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Scenario 1: QBs go early

Round 1: No. 6: DE Tyree Wilson, Texas Tech; No. 18: CB Emmanuel Forbes, Mississippi State. Round 2: No. 48: OG Steve Avila, TCU; No. 55: RB Zach Charbonnet, UCLA. Round 3: No. 81: WR A.T. Perry, Wake Forest.

Holmes has taken a lineman with his first pick in each of his two drafts, Penei Sewell and Aidan Hutchinson, and the belief is he’d like to go big at six this year. If three quarterbacks go in the top five, the Lions will have at least one of Wilson, Will Anderson and Jalen Carter on the board. Nabbing Wilson and pairing him with Hutchinson would be a win for a team that had massive issues defending the run last season.

With Wilson, the Lions can turn their attention to the back end of their defense with their second first-round pick. Forbes has the ball skills the Lions like in their defensive backs with 14 career interceptions. He’s slightly built at 6 feet 1 and 166 pounds, but the Lions can work him in slowly after signing cornerbacks Cam Sutton and Emmanuel Moseley in free agency.

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Adding two more cornerstone defensive players to a young roster seems like the right move for a Lions team on the verge of the playoffs, but Jameson Williams’ suspension has exposed concerns on offense they can address on Day 2. Avila is a mauler at 332 pounds who can play any position on the interior line. He may start his career as a backup, but the Lions have uncertainty at their guard positions beyond 2023. Charbonnet seems like a luxury pick, but the former Michigan standout is a versatile back who would pair well with David Montgomery the next few years. Perry would give Jared Goff another big outside weapon in the passing game, with a tight end still to be added on Day 3.

Scenario 2: C.J. Stroud slides

Round 1: No. 6: CB Devon Witherspoon, Illinois; No. 18: OL Darnell Wright, Tennessee. Round 2: No. 48: LB Trenton Simpson, Clemson; No. 55: DT Zacch Pickens, South Carolina. Round 3: No. 81: TE Tucker Kraft, South Dakota State.

If Stroud, the draft’s No. 2 quarterback prospect, slides out of the top five, Holmes will be burning up the phone lines trying work a trade down with a QB-needy team like the Tennessee Titans. If he’s stuck at six, the best player on the Lions’ board could be one of cornerbacks Witherspoon or Christian Gonzalez. Witherspoon strikes me as a Dan Campbell kind of player. He’s a punishing tackler and plus run defender who gets himself to the ball.

I still see four quarterbacks going in top half of Round 1 in this scenario, but their slide could leave an offensive lineman like Wright on the board at 18. The Lions are set at both tackle positions, but Holmes says he does not draft for need. Wright will be one of the best players remaining if he’s around when the Lions pick. He played both tackle spots and right guard in college, and would give the Lions another cost-controlled option on their line.

On Day 2, the Lions get back to filling holes on defense by taking the draft’s best coverage linebacker in Simpson, a freakish athlete who comes from a military family and impressed in interviews at the combine. This might be a tad early for Pickens, but he provides something the Lions badly need, an interior pass rush, and Holmes has a propensity for tackle defensive linemen in Round 2. With their third-round pick, the Lions get a combination tight end in Kraft, who is a bit underrated in a strong tight end class.

Scenario 3: Rolling the dice

Round 1: No. 6: DT Jalen Carter, Georgia; No. 18: RB Bijan Robinson, Texas. Round 2: No. 48: TE Luke Musgrave, Oregon State; No. 55: LB Jack Campbell, Iowa. Round 3: No. 81: DB Clark Phillips III, Utah.

I have my doubts Carter is a culture fit for the Lions, but the team has done extensive research on the Georgia tackle and he is the most talented non-quarterback in the draft. He would fill arguably the Lions’ biggest need as an interior defender, and if he makes it to six, given their other options, the Lions might see him as too good to pass up.

Robinson is another top-of-the-draft talent who could fall for different reasons, but would make a ton of sense for the Lions if he makes it to 18. (I might even take him at six, for what it’s worth). Robinson is a three-down player whose receiving skills are advanced enough that he could see time alongside David Montgomery in the Lions backfield. On a contending team like the Lions, he is worth a first-round pick.

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The Lions have bigger needs on offense than running back, and a tight end in Musgrave would take care of one of those on Day 3. Musgrave missed time last season with a knee injury, so he fits the profile of the second-round picks Holmes has rolled the dice on before. Campbell is a plug-and-play linebacker who would help the middle of the defense, another lingering area of concern, and Phillips projects as a slot defender because of his size, but like Forbes and Witherspoon, has advanced ball skills that should be attractive to the Lions.

Contact Dave Birkett at Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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