Twelve prospects who could fit the Lions on Day 2 of the NFL Draft

Detroit News

Allen Park — The Detroit Lions entered the draft with three picks in the second and third rounds. And they still have three picks during that stretch, but they’re better than before after the team picked up the No. 34 choice from Arizona in a first-round trade that also sent Detroit’s No. 81 selection to the Cardinals.

Now holding three of the first 24 picks Friday night, the Lions are in position to continue to bolster the talent across the roster.

“Like I said last week before the draft, this is a different draft,” general manager Brad Holmes said. “I’ve always said, you don’t draft with a depth chart, but at the same time, you just want to get the best football players for you. Once we made the trade with Arizona and we were still able to get 34 and still get those two players (running back Jahmyr Gibbs and linebacker Jack Campbell), we were pretty excited. So, when the first round ended, there’s still some good players that we’d be excited about. Whether we stay or not, that remains to be seen. You still have the flexibility of going up or down, but I think we’re in a really good spot.”

Here’s a look at a dozen players who could fit Detroit’s culture and long-term roster needs.

▶ Brian Branch, S, Alabama

The Lions don’t have many glaring short-term needs, and a safety who excels playing nickel is redundant to what C.J. Gardner-Johnson brings to the table, but if the team is looking for high-character fits who can make significant contributions beyond 2023, Branch is an easy choice.

It’s clear Holmes respects Alabama’s program and Branch was a defensive leader for Nick Saban’s squad, playing a versatile role with obviously high aptitude for multiple assignments in the back end of the Tide’s scheme.

▶ Michael Mayer, TE, Notre Dame

Tight end isn’t necessarily a need for the Lions, but it’s a position they can more clearly upgrade than most. There were plenty of analysts who pegged Mayer as a fit for the Lions in the middle of the first round, but the team was wise to avoid a position that rarely provides good value at that spot. But in the second round? Sure. Mayer is a do-everything tight end who blocks with a nasty streak, but can produce in the passing game.

▶ Cedric Tillman, WR, Tennessee

The Lions are light on size at the receiver position following the offseason departure of DJ Chark and the recent suspension and release of Quintez Cephus. Tillman stands 6-foot-3 and weighed in at 213 pounds at the combine, where he posted a respectable time in the 40 and showed off explosive leaping skills. There are concerns about an ankle injury that ended his 2022 season, as well as how he was used in Tennessee’s scheme, but it’s tough to argue the 15 touchdowns he posted in his final 18 collegiate games.

▶ Cody Mauch, OL, North Dakota State

One look at Mauch, who grew up on a farm and is missing some of his front teeth, and you know grit is embedded deeply in his DNA. But the 6-foot-5, 302 pounder is also a heck of an athlete. A left tackle for the Bison, he has the athleticism to play all across the line and might be the best suited for the interior at the next level. If the Lions take him, they’ll have the luxury of time to sort through his best fit via the practice field, potentially moving him into the starting lineup to open the 2024 season.

▶ Darnell Washington, TE, Georgia

Going back to tight end, Washington is a different animal. At 6-foot-6, 264 pounds, you can comfortably line him up off the shoulder of one of your tackles and get the benefits of essentially having an extra offensive lineman on the field. But he’s potentially so much more than a mauling run blocker. He flashed stunning athleticism at the combine, both in the standard testing and the positional drills, pulling down a one-handed grab near the sideline worthy of the highlight reel. He could be a fun weapon for offensive coordinator Ben Johnson to deploy.

▶ Adetomiwa Adebawore, DT, Northwestern

Defensive tackle is arguably the thinnest position on Detroit’s roster, and while Adebawore is undersized at 282 pounds, he’s another elite athlete who has shown an ability to disrupt the pocket. He racked up 31 pressures and five sacks for the Wildcats last season.

▶ Hendon Hooker, QB, Tennessee

OK, the Lions didn’t address the quarterback position in the first round, which was the anticipated outcome, but with Will Levis and Hendon Hooker still on the board to open the draft’s second day, it could be worth taking the swing on a potentially high-end backup for quarterback Jared Goff.

Levis might have the higher ceiling, but if you’re looking for the more pro-ready prospect, who can step in and steer you to a win if Goff goes down, Hooker is the better bet. He’s extremely accurate and takes care of the football, which are premium skills for any quarterback. Add to that above-average mobility and he would be a serious upgrade to what the Lions have had behind their starter the past several seasons.

▶ Clark Phillips III, CB, Utah

If you’re looking for players who epitomize what the Lions are about, Phillips checks many of the boxes. He’s passionate about his profession, putting in tons of time in the film room, and that translates to some serious playmaking ability. He intercepted six passes last season. He’s admittedly not the best athlete, and might be better suited for the nickel position at the next level, but he’s got a lot of Quandre Diggs to his game.

▶ O’Cyrus Torrence, G, Florida

The Lions need a long-term guard with Halapoulivaati Vaitai and Graham Glasgow on expiring deals. Well, there might not be a better plug-and-play option than the 6-foot-5, 330 pound Torrence, who easily navigated the leap to the SEC after starting his college career at Louisiana. He’s a mauler, but maybe isn’t the most nimble, which could limit some of the inside zone run concepts the Lions like to utilize.

▶ Keeanu Benton, DT, Wisconsin

Benton had an outstanding pre-draft process, performing well at the Senior Bowl and the combine. Possessing a more traditional frame for the position, you can leave the 6-foot-4, 309 pounder on the field in all situations. He’s still in need of improving his technique when playing the run, to better hold his ground, but his backfield disruption would be a welcomed addition to Detroit’s interior rotation.

▶ Steve Avila, G, TCU

Avila stacks up well with Torrence’s frame, but doesn’t consistently show the same nasty streak as the Florida blocker. Where Avila thrives is in pass protection, where he allowed just 11 pressures and zero sacks on 540 dropbacks in 2022. He’s also versatile, with experience playing center and a little bit of right tackle.

▶ Joey Porter Jr., CB, Penn State

Outside of Levis, Porter is probably the most surprising name still on the board. The physical gifts are immense, but the ability to utilize them is still a little clunky, drawing plenty of flags and not getting his hands on passes often enough. The Lions want playmakers, and Porter only intercepted one pass during his college career, so selecting him would be an upside play.

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers

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