Detroit Lions go off the perceived board, but Brad Holmes adds 2 playmakers in Round 1

Detroit Free Press

Free Press sports writer Tony Garcia answers three questions about the Detroit Lions’ selections Thursday in the first round of the 2023 NFL draft.

Do you trust Brad Holmes?

There seems to be a general consensus the Lions reached on their first pick, taking Alabama running back Jahmyr Gibbs at No. 12 overall. Don’t believe it? Ask Gibbs himself.

“I didn’t think I was goin to get picked as high as I did because running backs don’t normally get picked as high in this new era of the NFL draft,” Gibbs told reporters in a zoom shortly after he was selected. “It was pretty shocking to me, but I’m grateful.”

THEY SAID IT: In RB Jahmyr Gibbs, Lions ‘got the best overall athlete in this draft’

Holmes followed that pick about 30 minutes later, when the Lions took another perceived reach with Iowa linebacker Jack Campbell at No. 18 overall. Campbell has plenty of accolades: AP All-American, Butkus Award Winner, and the highest graded athlete at his position at the combine, but many had him as a Day 2 selection.

Holmes took two anchors in the trenches with his first two first-round picks in Penei Sewell (No. 7 in 2021) and Aidan Hutchinson (No. 2 in 2022). But since then, it has been more risk-reward selections. He traded up for wide receiver Jameson Williams (who had two catches as a rookie and was just suspended six games for gambling) and now adds Gibbs and Campbell into the fold.

Selections like Amon-Ra St. Brown, Kerby Joseph and Malcolm Rodriguez show Holmes knows how to identify talent where others don’t. Thursday was an exercise on trust — which thus far, he’s earned.

GRADING THE PICK: Jahmyr Gibbs at No. 12 is just too high

How does Gibbs fit into the backfield?

The short answer is the Lions didn’t become the second team to take a running back in the top 20 since 2018 just for Gibbs to stand on the sidelines. And yes, they did just spend $18 million on David Montgomery for the next three seasons and they still have D’Andre Swift (for now), but the backfield will feature a good deal of the former Crimson Tide rusher.

Gibbs is not just the prototypical running back — the 5-foot-9, 200-pound speedster can catch the ball out of the backfield or motion into the slot with versatility beyond that of a normal ball carrier. Offensive coordinator Ben Johnson values finding various ways to get athletes the ball in space and the Lions feel Gibbs can be a plug-and-play difference maker in that regard.

Why didn’t the Lions wait for Jack Campbell?

Because they didn’t want to miss out on Campbell — under any circumstance.

There’s no way to tell if any player is going to be sure-fire successes. But the Lions had such conviction about Campbell, they made the former All-American and Dick Butkus Award winner the first linebacker off the board. When linebackers coach Kelvin Sheppard walked from the team’s war room down to the media center at the headquarters in Allen Park Thursday night, he was still smiling about two meetings he had with former Iowa defensive players during the pre-draft process.

The first, was Campbell. The second, his teammate, Lukas Van Ness.

GRADING THE PICK: Iowa LB Jack Campbell fills a need, but may be a reach

“There’s a couple guys during this process that kind of stuck with me and Jack was at the top of that list,” Sheppard said. “When he left the room, me, Dan (Campbell) and AG (Aaron Glenn) looked at each other like ‘damn, that’s going to be hard to top right there’ because it was just exceptional.

“(Also), I joked with him on the phone that Luke Van Ness we had on the top 30 (visits) and I thought he talked more about Jack on his visit than he did about himself. That resonated with us, because that’s a guy that just went top 15 as well that spoke glowingly about this guy as a leader and what he brought to the team.”

Sheppard described him as a “Dan Campbell guy.” His draft day digs reflected as much; he wore just a gray T-shirt and took the Zoom call with media from a small, taupe-colored bathroom in his family home in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

“I feel I’m going to bring Jack Campbell,” he said. “Just a humble guy, ready to learn, when I step on the field I’m going to give it everything I got every single snap. That’s who you got in me, a good human being who’s always going to put his teammates first and come in ready to work.

“Ask no questions, roll up my sleeves and get the job done no matter how long it takes.”

Contact Tony Garcia at apgarcia@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter at @realtonygarcia.

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