6 things I think I learned about the Lions at the NFL Scouting Combine

USA Today

After spending over a week in Indianapolis for the 2024 NFL Scouting Combine, it’s nice to be back home. With the pro day circuit firing up later this week, it’s a welcomed pit stop to actually cook a meal. It’s also a good time to share what I think I learned about the Lions at the combine.

I have to say “I think I learned” because, let’s face it, the decisions aren’t made yet. And even if some are, Brad Holmes isn’t sliding into my DMs (or anyone else’s) with his offseason master plan. If you believe anyone speaking in absolutes or guarantees right now, I’ve got timeshares of a bridge to Greenland for sale just for you…

But based on conversations I had with Lions personnel, agents, players and various media members, both local and national, during my week in Indianapolis, here’s what I think I learned about the Lions.

I almost expect a trade out of the No. 29 pick

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Detroit currently holds the No. 29 overall pick in the first round. Don’t get married to the idea of the Lions picking in that spot, or at least have a good divorce attorney on speed dial…

Here’s what Holmes concluded when asked about the idea of flexibility to trade the No. 29 pick,

“So the spot that we’re in, it is exciting to have that flexibility because a lot of things can happen when you’re sitting back there. But again. I’m excited about being in that position. It’s not – i don’t want to paint this as pressure, but you’re kind of out of the top 10 beauty pageant and you’re just kind of like, look, man, let’s just find the best football player.”

The specificity of targets to which Holmes espouses allows the Lions some freedom in moving back a few slots and confident they can still get their guy. They did just that with Jahmyr Gibbs, Brian Branch and Hendon Hooker last year. On the flip side, if there’s only one or two guys they truly covet highly and it’s pick No. 20, it’s easy to see Holmes packaging some picks to move up and get their guy.

I think the Lions 1st pick will be an offensive lineman

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It’s a great draft class for offensive linemen, both at tackle and on the interior. It would be hard to find anyone who was in Indianapolis in any capacity who would say otherwise.

The Lions clearly have multiple OL needs, too. The top three guards from last year are all pending free agents, and there currently isn’t a backup anywhere on the roster at tackle or center — a spot where Frank Ragnow routinely misses practices with his injuries and seriously contemplated retirement last month.

One constant refrain from the Lions, both on and off the record, is how incredibly highly they value their offensive line as a base for everything they do. Add in that it’s very difficult to find impactful offensive line help in free agency, and I see the Lions using their most valuable draft capital where they put their most valuable emphasis.

I think the trade rumors about Chiefs CB L’Jarius Sneed are very much based in reality

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I touched on this issue in the late-week notebook from Indianapolis. The Chiefs media sure believes Sneed is on the move, too.

From a football standpoint, Sneed crosses off the team’s biggest need: outside CB. He’s a schematic fit and a playoff-tested performer. He’s also consistent, with at least two INTs and 75 tackles in each of the last three seasons.

The Lions have three Day 2 picks to work with and enough cap room to acquire Sneed and pay him the $18 million or so per year he wants.

Will the Lions make the trade? I don’t know that answer. But I 100 percent believe all the sources who are saying it could.

One thing to note: Sneed’s ongoing concerns with a knee injury that kept him out of camp last year are a deterrent for some. Holmes has consistently proven he sees injury risk as a way to get value.

I expect Graham Glasgow back but not Jonah Jackson

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Of the aforementioned trio of guards who are free agents, I’m a strong believer (as are most of my colleagues) that Graham Glasgow will return. Don’t expect a hometown discount, however; this is likely Glasgow’s last real shot at a substantial payday, and the soon-to-be 32-year-old knows it.

Jonah Jackson is a tough one. Of all the Lions players entering free agency, he was the one I was asked about far more than any other by folks who cover other teams. Moreover, he was the only lineman anyone talked about, not Glasgow or Halapoulivaati Vaitai or Matt Nelson or Dan Skipper (the other free agents).

I do believe there will be a market for Jackson outside Detroit. I also believe that market will be higher than what the Lions will pay for him, even after the fresh increase to the salary cap. The Lions definitely value their O-line, but they’re also not going to overvalue any one piece of it.

As my friend Troy noted,

Two Day 2 wide receivers to know

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The Lions don’t figure to be in on the premium wide receiver prospects. Aside from not picking high enough to snag the likes of Rome Odunze, Brian Thomas or other first-round projection staples, Detroit could have a contract extension with All-Pro WR Amon-Ra St. Brown done with by the time you read this. As noted in the earlier notebook, they’re quite ebullient on Jameson Williams making a big jump in Year 3, too.

But with Kalif Raymond’s status cloudy due to injury and Josh Reynolds and Donovan Peoples-Jones both free agents (and your guess is as good as mine if either is coming back), the Lions showed a lot of interest in the subsequent tiers of wideouts in their official and unofficial visits. They had done the same at the Senior Bowl in late January.

Two who stand out as good fits both athletically and culturally for the Lions:

Xavier Legette and Malik Washington

Legette met with the Lions in Mobile and again with an official visit in Indianapolis. His face lit up when asked about it too,

“Oh, yes. I met with the Lions, man. That interview went really well. Really, they just wanted to check my knowledge. I feel like I check the box on that.”

The South Carolina product tested very well in Indy, and his big frame and ability to generate yards after the catch are plusses. He’s still generally projected as a Day 2 pick, though he probably moved higher up with his combine performance.

Washington’s podium interview screamed “Lions!” to me. He’s short at just under 5-foot-9, but he’s not small; the versatile wideout weighs more than Jameson Williams, who is almost five inches taller, and Washington tested as a tremendous overall athlete. As a grad transfer from Northwestern to Virginia, he was voted a team captain. He was All-Academic conference team four straight seasons. The Lions met with him at the Shrine Bowl and also in Indy. It would probably take one of the team’s third-round picks to land Washington and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if the Lions did just that.

Looking deeper in the draft, be aware of the name Ryan Flournoy. The Southeast Missouri State Redhawk has the “grit” factor and the athleticism the Lions favor. He told me he did meet with the Lions but couldn’t recall if it was formal or informal at the combine.

Quick hits

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–I strongly believe the Lions’ interest in Western Michigan EDGE Marshawn Kneeland is very real. The Darius Robinson feedback I got wasn’t as buzzy, for lack of a better word, but he certainly fits too.

–One thing that keeps coming up when discussing the Lions and pass rushers: they value positional versatility more than they value speed off the edge, or the ability to only rush the passer. That’s from feedback from college coaches, agents, national draft media and even recent press conferences from Aaron Glenn and Dan Campbell. It’s validated in the current roster, with guys like Aidan Hutchinson, Alim McNeill, Josh Paschal, John Cominsky and Levi Onwuzurike. Believe what they’re telling you, both implicitly and explicitly…

–Talk of potential free agency movement was notably much quieter this year than in any of the dozen or so combines I’ve attended. That’s not just Detroit, but something folks who cover all teams will reiterate. I learned very little about potential Lions targets in my eight days in Indianapolis and it was not from lack of trying to find out — even in off-the-record conversations with sources I’ve known and trusted for years. Many others who are credentialed media echoed that about their respective teams.

–The re-signing of Jalen Reeves-Maybin probably wiped off-ball LB off the draft map for Detroit, even with LBs coach Kelvin Sheppard running the on-field LB drills in Indianapolis. If you’re looking for the Trevor Nowaske replacement as a late-round/UDFA LB with some upside, Georgia State’s Jontrey Hunter might be worth your time…

–There aren’t any Kayvon Thibodeaux or Jalen Carter-type situations in this draft — prospects many fans heavily coveted but the Lions quite clearly didn’t like. I will state two prospects that a lot of Lions fans seem keen upon but are players I don’t get any sense the Lions value that way: Texas DT T’Vondre Sweat and Washington EDGE Bralen Trice.

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