The Detroit Lions had a 2023 NFL Draft that received mixed reviews. If we remove the shock factor, is it bad? Or just a little chaotic?
The Detroit Lions came into the 2023 NFL Draft with high expectations. They were listed as one of the most interesting teams in the draft, mostly due to the capital they possessed and the many directions they could go in to achieve what they needed to elevate their status as a true NFC contender.
After the first day of the 2023 NFL Draft, they faced the wrath of the draft media sphere. The idea that, with two first-round selections, the Detroit Lions took a running back not named Bijan Robinson in Jahmyr Gibbs at pick 12, and an off-ball linebacker in Jack Campbell at pick 18, was pretty crazy. With many mocks believing they’d get a running mate for Aidan Hutchinson and an established outside corner who could be “the guy” in the room, disappointment abounded.
The best argument to grade the draft poorly is the lack of surplus value you are generating by taking a running back and linebacker in round one, two positions that have high variance in terms of success by round and their true value over replacement. Combine that with what was described as a deep running back class and a weak linebacker class, it was a reach on both accounts.
After day two, though, several analysts got back on the bandwagon. In the pick they got back from trading with Arizona, Detroit got an impact tight end in the building in Sam LaPorta. While his size could limit his ability to play inline, LaPorta is a smooth route runner as a pass catcher, and has impressive toughness and agility post-catch. Then, they moved up five spots to secure Brian Branch, a player that could’ve gone in the first round. Branch has the processing skills and ability in man and zone coverage to be a key part of the secondary. Not to mention, he’s one of the best tacklers entering the draft in recent memory.
After a couple of moves back down the board in trades with Kansas City and Denver, the Lions made the ultimate chaotic move, selecting quarterback Hendon Hooker at pick 68. The takes were all over the place on Hooker, from a dark horse QB1 or QB2 in the class that should’ve been a first-round selection to someone who thrived in a mickey mouse offense who needs to develop, even at 25. Whatever happens, it’ll be interesting to see what the long-term plan is at quarterback for a team who could be on the NFC doorstep in a weaker conference.
The Lions then moved back into the third round, using three day three picks to do so to land Brodric Martin from Western Kentucky. While he’ll be able to hold the line as a space eater at defensive tackle, which feels eerily similar to Alim McNeill, it felt like another reach. William and Mary tackle Colby Sorsdal and UNC wide receiver Antoine Green finished up the class.
Reach and value played ping pong throughout the 2023 NFL Draft for the Detroit Lions, so how should we feel about it? Its chaotic nature is the surface-level takeaway, as are the round one reaches. However, Campbell is exactly the player they needed to let Malcolm Rodriguez run and chase in space. Gibbs is a big-play artist who will get his chances every game to generate explosive plays between the tackles, but his skill set in space should strike fear, especially with a great offensive coordinator in Ben Johnson. We’ve talked about what Branch can do as a slot and a safety, and what LaPorta does as a force multiplier in the middle of the field with Amon-Ra St. Brown.
Could Hooker be that guy? Maybe, but betting on a mid-round quarterback to hit usually isn’t the bet to make. Nor is a bet on two positions that can often get good production wherever you’re picking in the draft. Analysts go back and forth on this one based on talent versus value and surplus value, but time will tell to see if this is a watershed class that gets Detroit over the top.