Written by: JT Bowen
Despite a highly active free agency period for the Lions, the Draft, which is less than a month away, will be integral both for Detroit’s imminent success and the franchise’s future. While some level of clarity has been added following the offseason moves so far, a number of the major roster issues still linger.
From a draft standpoint, the Lions are in a great spot. Obviously, the hope is that they trade down with a quarterback-needy team and pick up some extra picks, but regardless of what direction they go early on, a game-changing talent should be added. Additionally, the inevitable Darius Slay trade netted the Lions an extra third and fifth-round selection to help bolster depths in the middle rounds.
This Draft will be very different from years past due to the growing concerns of the coronavirus pandemic spreading rapidly across the country. Not only has it altered the location and coverage of the Draft itself, but the inability to bring in prospects for individual interviews and team workouts, as well as the lack of pro days, greatly changes how teams view and evaluate players.
With the bulk of free agency behind us, let’s jump into my third iteration of the Lions Mock Draft, adjusted for Detroit’s added draft picks.
ROUND 1, 3rd Overall
Jeffrey Okudah, CB, Ohio State
Barring an unforeseen shift in this next month preceding the Draft, and in the absence of a team trading up with Detroit, I don’t see myself moving off of this horse. Nor should the Lions front office.
Rarely do cornerbacks as flawless from a holistic stance as Okudah comes around. Okudah has no lingering injury history, a pristine off-field record, and tape that speaks for itself. While he’s not as loud-mouthed as Jalen Ramsey, a player he has drawn comparisons to from a skill standpoint, Okudah is confident and has a swagger to him that would replace Darius Slay’s attitude.
Okudah’s ability to lock down opposing WR1s and excel in man coverage, along with his ideal size and elite athleticism, make him as safe a pick as they come in this class. Okudah’s game-ready traits would make him an immediate starter and form a menacing duo with newly-acquired Desmond Trufant, capping off the retooling of a Detroit secondary that suddenly looks extremely dangerous.
ROUND 2, 35th Overall
A.J. Epenesa, DL, Iowa
Few will suffer from not having a Pro Day more than Iowa standout A.J. Epenesa. Once touted as a probable top-10 pick, Epenesa’s clear regression from his 2018 season and a lackluster Combine performance, the Hawkeye defensive lineman is sliding down draft boards.
He’s not Chase Young, and he’s not K’Lavon Chaisson. However, in the Lions’ scheme that depends on heavy-handed, powerful players in the trenches, Epenesa’s apparent lack of speed and agility will be mitigated by his versatility along the defensive front.
At 6’6 and 280 pounds, Epenesa adequately fits the mold of a Matt Patricia defensive player. He would slot in as a bookend to Trey Flowers immediately, but his size and power would allow him to slide inside the defensive line as well. He comes at a great value for a massive need in the second round, and if he can replicate his level of play from two years ago he should be a solid contributor with room to grow.
ROUND 3, 67th Overall
Tyler Biadasz, iOL, Wisconsin
After letting starting guard Graham Glasgow walk in free agency and sign in Denver for $11 million/yr, a price point I would’ve been more than comfortable resigning him for, the Lions’ largest need on offense is unquestionably at guard. With two starting tackles in place and Frank Ragnow at center, Joe Dahl’s mediocrity leaves two openings for starters at either guard spot.
Detroit recently re-signed Oday Aboushi. They added Russell Bodine and former 1st-rounder Joshua Garnett earlier in the offseason. And I’m sure they have high hopes for Dahl and 2019 priority undrafted free agent, Beau Benzschawel.
However, adding yet another Big Ten player on the interior offensive line would help put to bed some concerns. Biadasz, much like Epenesa, was formerly seen as a likely first-rounder, but a less-than-stellar 2019 season has dropped him into the Day 2 conversation. Biadasz’ main value comes as a run-blocker, as evidenced by fellow Wisconsin star Jonathan Taylor setting records on the ground.
Biadasz, though, has upside to grow into a solid all-around guard, his play rooted in strong technique and high football IQ, as well as a route to immediate playing time in a wide-open iOL room in Detroit. Coupled with the chance to play with his former teammate (Benzschawel), Biadasz would be a rock-solid Day 2 pickup to help anchor the middle of the offensive line as a mauling interior presence.
ROUND 3, 85th Overall (via PHI)
Van Jefferson, WR, Florida
Though it’s not the most pressing immediate need and might be a bit rich to address on Day 2, wide receiver is a quietly-growing issue that an extra third-rounder acquired in the Darius Slay trade could help quell. With literally zero wideouts under contract following the 2020 season, addressing the problem now should assist in temporarily alleviating the concerns.
After watching the fallout of the Darius Slay situation, the necessity of locking up the current franchise star not named Matthew Stafford, Kenny Golladay, for the long term is even more evident. However, Golladay cannot singlehandedly shoulder the offensive load—he’s played alongside a formidable cast of other wideouts as well. That’s not to knock Golladay, but with an unclear future beyond 2020 apart from him at the receiver position, Detroit would be wise to add a pro-ready talent to help Kenny as another offensive threat.
Enter Van Jefferson. Despite being widely regarded as one of the most technically-refined and learned prospects at the position in this year’s class, Jefferson has never wowed from a statistical standpoint, and is already 24 years old, having transferred from Ole Miss to Florida during his college career. Adding in his limited athleticism (relatively, of course), he’s not the upside, swing-for-the-fences flier many may prefer at the position, after seeing Kenny Golladay’s astronomical growth.
What Jefferson will bring is experience and a very high floor. He’s been around football his whole life and is an all-around safe bet as a running mate for Golladay entering a new decade. Though Matt Patricia didn’t get to personally coach him at the Senior Bowl, he surely watched as Jefferson produced one of the best weeks of practice for any player at the event.
Jefferson has the tools to contribute heavily Year 1, and is a prime target to become the team’s secondary receiver for years to come.
ROUND 4, 109th Overall
Jason Strowbridge, iDL, North Carolina
Returning to the Senior Bowl well at the top of Day 3 nets another player whom the Lions viewed in Mobile, this time more closely, in Jason Strowbridge.
Strowbridge is kind of the opposite of Van Jefferson, in some ways. While Jefferson should see a role early in his rookie season regardless of which team he ends up with, Strowbridge is a much more developmental project.
At the Senior Bowl, Strowbridge had a solid week. What stood out most, though, was the relationship forming between Strowbridge and his coach for the week, Matt Patricia. Over the course of the week, Patricia could be seen individually coaching the Tarheel product, demonstrating techniques and helping him improve altogether.
Strowbridge will need time to grow into a role on the defensive line, but his versatility to move along the front, agility and quickness, and proven ability to be coached would make him a solid upside pick at the top of Day 3.
ROUND 5, 149th Overall
Javon Leake, RB, Maryland
Surprisingly, Detroit has not yet addressed the running back position in free agency. Kerryon Johnson is still the clear primary option but has struggled to stay healthy throughout his career. Adding another name to compete for touches in a backfield that has been hampered by injuries could be beneficial.
Maryland’s Javon Leake is a name to look out for on Day 3. He’s a bigger back, and certainly not the speediest, running a 4.65 40 at the Combine, but has limited wear and big-play ability. He runs with vision and patience and is fluid in the open field. With just 155 total touches across his collegiate career, Leake still has room to grow, and lots of tread left on his tires. He could join his former teammate, Ty Johnson, to help shore up the running back committee, and adds value in the return game as well.
ROUND 5, 166th Overall (via PHI)
Kenny Willekes, EDGE, Michigan State
The Lions continue to overhaul their defensive line, snatching up in-state product Kenny Willekes.
In a class marred by uncertainty and unfamiliar due to a strange pre-draft process, Kenny Willekes is one of the few that stands out as a player who, whatever team drafts him, knows exactly what they’re getting. Willekes is a high-floor, pro-ready talent who can immediately contribute to the defensive front. He plays with a relentless motor, brings high-character and aggression, and can create pressure off the edge, an area Detroit lacks in.
The former Spartan won’t ever be the most athletic or fastest but is as safe as they come to add depth at a position of need.
ROUND 6, 182nd Overall
Braden Mann, Punter, Texas A&M
Not too much to say here. The Lions lost Sam Martin this offseason to Denver, and need to add a new punter. Aggie prospect Braden Mann is widely regarded as the best in the class. Assuming he’s still available here, it’s a solid move to draft a replacement to Martin, and Mann can enter as one of the league’s premier legs. He was coached by the Lions at the Senior Bowl and plugs an area of need.
ROUND 7, 235th Overall (via NE from PHI)
Cole McDonald, QB, Hawaii
Now armed with a 7th-round selection courtesy of New England, the Lions throw a dart at Hawaii’s standout signal-caller, Cole McDonald. Detroit has shown interest in players hailing from Hawaii, most notably taking Jahlani Tavai in the second round last year, so it’s not out of the question that McDonald is on their radar.
Were it not for Jordan Love dominating as an “all-the-traits” prospect, McDonald would likely be more popular in this class. He has a prototypical QB size at 6’4, a rocket arm, and athleticism to navigate and escape the pocket. In some regards, he can draw comparisons to Matthew Stafford.
McDonald, though, is clearly not regarded as a top prospect. He has his share of poor decisions, low football IQ moments, and shoddy accuracy. Additionally, playing in the Mountain West Conference, which isn’t quite the breeding ground for NFL talent that many Power 5 schools are, likely hinders his stock.
Despite having signed Chase Daniel to back up Matt Stafford and a young third option in David Blough, taking a flier on a quarterback filled with potential who can sit behind one of the league’s best is far from a bad pick in the final round.
Wishing everyone good health during these trying times, and looking forward to the Draft as a temporary escape. Thank you for reading my third mock draft, and stay tuned for more content as the days until the draft dwindle.