Written by: JT Bowen
Finally, after months of speculation, false rumors, and nixed pro days, the 2020 NFL Draft, despite coinciding with a global pandemic, is at our doorstep.
Clearly, this draft will be unlike any drafts prior. Commissioner Roger Goodell, in the comfort of his own home, will be announcing each pick of the first round. There will be no wacky suits, long waits in the green room, or ferries escorting 300+ lb individuals to the stage to greet the commissioner. While many top prospects will have cameras in their homes to capture and televise the moment they’re drafted, the level of intimacy and celebration, embracing fans and walking out with their New Era team caps, will be much lower.
In spite of this clear regression from an entertainment standpoint, the televised draft may outperform any past years simply due to the lack of anything else to watch. This will be the first major sporting event, albeit not an actual game, in over a month, and it goes without saying that most sports fans are dying for some action.
Over the past month or so, we’ve had our fun with different trade-down routes and best-case scenarios, but it’s time for my actual predictions. Not what I think will or what I want to happen, but how I expect the Detroit front office to approach a pivotal draft for the incumbent regime.
With that being said, let’s unpack my final mock draft before the actual selections occur on Thursday night.
ROUND 1, #3 Overall
Jeffrey Okudah, CB, Ohio State
Last article, I spared you from the Okudah talk, but for my realistic guess, I can’t not choose the standout corner here.
I would love for the Lions to move back with Miami or LA and still be able to grab Okudah while obtaining some extra picks—who wouldn’t? But frankly, given the swirling rumors around Tua’s medicals and Justin Herbert’s perceived ‘safety’, I don’t see a team coming to trade up when it seems likely both clubs would be content with either quarterback.
And with Chase Young just out of reach, Detroit selects his defensive partner-in-crime, Jeffrey Okudah.
I’ve talked extensively in past write-ups about the natural fit of Okudah in Detroit and how he fills a huge need, but at the surface, Okudah is both safe and comes with tremendous upside to become a top-tier corner early into his career.
Recent reports suggest that Auburn’s Derrick Brown, a player who is heavily disdained by the majority of Lions media, could be in play here, but Okudah is better value and would provide immediate impact off the bat. Unless something changes drastically very soon, I truly believe and hope that he’s the selection.
ROUND 2, #35 Overall
Marlon Davidson, iDL, Auburn
Though they pass earlier on his counterpart on the dominant Auburn defensive line in Derrick Brown, the Lions still acquire a mightily underrated and versatile piece for the trenches in Marlon Davidson.
Davidson, a four-year starter for the Tigers, is a mammoth of a man, standing at 6’3, 303 lbs, and purely based on his size, fits the scheme in Detroit. While I don't know if I’d take him this early, the Lions have shown in years past that they will not hesitate to select a player, even if it’s widely seen as a reach, if he is built in the mold they desire.
Over the course of his career at Auburn, Davidson lined up at a plethora of different spots in the front seven, primarily as a 3-4 OLB but also finding arguably more success on the interior of the defensive line. This versatility is heavily coveted by Matt Patricia and perhaps the main appeal to Davidson as a player, but Davidson’s strength in the run game and upside as a pass rusher are intriguing as well.
Davidson is a blend of experience and adaptability in the SEC but also a talent who undoubtedly benefited by virtue of playing alongside Derrick Brown and Nick Coe. He will need time to carve out a defined role and improve some of his techniques, but his size and power should parlay into meaningful rotational snaps on defense in Year 1 before taking on a bigger role later in his career.
ROUND 3, #67 Overall
Julian Okwara, DE, Notre Dame
Of any pick in this draft, I’d say this is the least likely in terms of availability, but if he makes it here, Okwara would be an absolute steal in Round 3.
The brother of current Detroit defensive end Romeo, Julian Okwara is a supremely-talented edge rusher who would likely be viewed as a Day 1 talent were it not for a broken leg ending his senior season early. However, the stellar 2018 campaign that flashed athleticism and production with 8.0 sacks, an interception, and a forced fumble should still project Okwara as a Day 2 player.
Okwara, while he will still need time to return to form after a severe injury, could flourish as a rotational pass rusher much like his older brother did in his first season in Detroit. Though he has his struggles in stopping the run, Okwara’s immediate value as a sack artist with room to grow is enticing. Once he puts on a bit more weight, Okwara’s burst and finesse should propel him into a starting role across from Trey Flowers relatively early.
ROUND 3, #85 Overall (via PHI)
Ben Bartch, OT, St. John’s
Given the win-now mandate looming large over Bob Quinn and Matt Patricia, selecting a D-III converted tight end who likely won’t see the field as a rookie might be a head scratcher. And addressing the tackle position, with two formidable starters in place and a quality swing tackle behind them, before addressing the interior offensive line, is even more confusing. But that’s just how the Lions roll.
Though the Lions didn’t get to personally coach him, they surely got a good look at him dominating their edge rushers, a surprisingly-refined technician as a tackle despite hailing from a D-III university, St. John’s, in Minnesota. Bartch brings ideal size, standing at 6’6 and just over 300 lbs, as well as athleticism and quite a bit of potential as a former tight end.
It goes without saying that Bartch will need time to acclimate to the competition level of the NFL, a seismic leap from his days in the MIAC. Additionally, there’s a chance Bartch fails to replicate his successful week in Mobile and flames out in the pros, or reaches his ceiling as merely a swing tackle. But Bartch’s potential and prototypical traits could parlay into a starting tackle, which would be great value in the third round.
After investing a sizable amount of cap space in Hal Vaitai, and Taylor Decker playing out his fifth-year option, this would be a questionable move. Bartch’s tools and upside, though, help to justify this selection above more pressing needs.
ROUND 4, #109 Overall
Tyler Johnson, WR, Minnesota
I’ll be honest—I didn’t know very much about Johnson, and I won’t pretend I did, until a recent segment on the Pro Football Focus podcast, where they detailed some of their favorite underrated prospects.
Sam Monson of PFF, who chose Johnson as his underrated receiver of choice (which is praise in and of itself in a stacked class), basically stated that the Minnesota wideout didn’t excel at anything, but didn’t particularly struggle with anything either. And if that doesn’t scream ‘future Detroit Lion’, I’m not sure what does.
At 6’1, Johnson doesn’t project as the jump-ball deep threat that Kenny Golladay is, and he lacks home-run speed to excel in the YAC game like Golden Tate. But he is incredibly physical off the snap, absurd production for the Golden Gophers. Monson’s quote regarding Johnson perfectly sums it up: “I can’t find a particularly good reason that he’s winning over and over and over again, but equally I can’t find a reason that it won’t still continue.”
Johnson, in spite of athletic shortcomings, was an integral part of Minnesota’s 11-2 campaign last year, and should continue to produce at the NFL level. He may lack the upside of receivers like Donovan Peoples-Jones and Collin Johnson who should go in a similar range, but Johnson’s all-around game and prolific numbers make him a very safe, Bob Quinn-type pick that will assist in bolstering a receiving corps with myriad questions beyond 2020.
ROUND 5, #149 Overall
Ben Bredeson, OG, Michigan
With no Pro Days or team visits due to the ongoing circumstances, the clear advantage Detroit possessed in coaching at the Senior Bowl is amplified. Though it was only a week, the opportunity to meet with and coach several prospects is invaluable to the scouting process, and I fully expect the Lions to target many of the players they coached in Mobile during this draft.
In-state product Ben Bredeson, who was on the Lions-coached North Team at the Senior Bowl, could be a player Detroit pursues. A four-year player for the Michigan Wolverines, Bredeson’s motor and power should carry over into pro-readiness.
Bredeson is sort of the antithesis to Ben Bartch—a proven talent for a big school, has pretty much shown exactly what he’ll be at the next level, and highly unlikely that he’s a complete bust in the pros. Detroit needs help at guard, and while Bredeson won’t be a clear-cut favorite to start at guard like his teammate Cesar Ruiz would be, he can help replace Graham Glasgow as a high-floor interior lineman and compete in the rotation.
We just can’t get enough of those Michigan guards.
ROUND 5, #166 Overall (via PHI)
Derrek Tuszka, DE, North Dakota State
After seeing the absolute gem that the Raiders unearthed in small school 4th-rounder rookie Maxx Crosby last season (who many Lions fans were pounding the table for), Detroit takes this year’s version of him in the talented edge rusher Derrek Tuszka out of NDSU.
While he didn’t post the 4.66-second forty or 4.13-second short shuttle that Crosby did in last year’s Combine, Tuszka had an impressive Combine in his own right (4.79 40, 24 bench press reps, 6.87 three cone) that showcased the athleticism he used to dominate in his collegiate career. Additionally, Tuszka comes in at 6’4, and while he’d need to put some weight on (251 lbs compared to the 6’2, 269 lb Trey Flowers), his size and raw tools make him an intriguing prospect.
Tuszka would need some time to adjust to the NFL, but his intangibles, unrelenting play, and power to bulldoze tackles should allow him to be a solid rotational end with room to grow.
ROUND 6, #182 Overall
Isaiah Coulter, WR, Rhode Island
Taking Minnesota’s Tyler Johnson helps to quell some questions about the receiver room going forward, but it’s not enough. Throwing a dart at a high-upside, productive wideout at this point in the draft could provide additional assistance in providing long-term clarity.
Enter Isaiah Coulter of URI. Coulter, in a lot of ways, reminds me of a quicker, more elusive Travis Fulgham, whom we took in a similar spot last year. That doesn’t necessarily inspire tons of confidence in Coulter, as Fulgham barely hung onto a roster spot, but the comparisons from a size and fit perspective are there.
Coulter’s route tree is limited, and one of his main drawbacks is how he seemed to exclusively rely on his athleticism to beat defenders. But 4.45 speed and a 6’2 frame that hauled in over 1000 yards last season can justify the selection, as Coulter can compete early on for a spot on the depth chart.
ROUND 7, #235 Overall (via NE from PHI)
Joshua Kelley, RB, UCLA
Sure, there’s some validity in the claim that the need for a punter or even a young project quarterback. But if he’s available in the seventh, I think UCLA halfback Joshua Kelley is absolutely the pick.
The most obvious link of Kelley to Detroit comes from his standout Senior Bowl performance. While he was great during the practices, his numbers from the actual game are outstanding: 15 carries for 105 yards. In a game meant to display talent across the roster, Matt Patricia, who was coaching the North team, clearly favored Kelley, giving him twice as many carries as the second most-used running back.
Kelley also wowed at the Combine, running a 4.49-forty and putting up 23 reps at the bench press. At 5’11 and 212 lbs, Kelley fits the mold of a power back, something offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell is fond of in his ball-carriers.
Combined with his consistent production at UCLA (2567 scrimmage yards and 25 touchdowns), Kelley is a legitimately perfect fit for the Lions offense. While he’d firmly be beneath Kerryon and Bo on the totem pole, and would likely never be a three-down workhorse, Kelley would be a solid, proven runner to add to the roster, and could step in as a rookie if injuries continue to plague the position.
And, with that, having finally exhausted just about every last iota of content possible, we conclude the mock draft cycle. Now, all there is to do is wait until Thursday night.
The chances of me even guessing one of these selections correctly past Round 1 are microscopic, and even the first choice is uncertain. Additionally, the unpredictable nature of late-round trades will make many of my selections obsolete. But, given Detroit’s habits and tendencies, this would be my best guess at how the Lions draft these next few days.
Thank you for reading, stay safe, enjoy the Draft, and expect some new content once it’s all over.