NFL Draft Grade: Detroit Lions Haul

Image courtesy of Brett Davis, USA TODAY Sports

Written by: JT Bowen

Instagram: @_jtbowen

Nine picks and three days later, the inaugural virtual draft has concluded, and though markedly less wild than advertised, it was fairly eventful.

First and foremost, a huge kudos must be extended to the NFL, their logistics and networking departments, and the media coverage in regards to the draft. Despite concerns leading up to the kickoff on Thursday evening, there were zero apparent issues with technology, both from a team and league-wide standpoint, and if there were any, they were mitigated seamlessly.

Moving forward, as I mentioned earlier, there was a notable lack of action in terms of trades within the first round. Detroit stayed put at #3, with Bob Quinn citing a lack of interest from other teams in trading up, and asides from a one-spot jump by the Bucs to guarantee a tackle, only three minor trades took place in the 20-30 range.

Additionally, the majority of picks in the first round were largely unsurprising. There were a few reaches and a few slides, which is to be expected, but not really any massive shocks unless you’re counting the Jordan Love-Green Bay pick.

I won’t lie: at face value, I feel like Bob Quinn, in an absolutely make-or-break year, killed this draft. He addressed needs early, got solid value for most of his picks, and added talent on both sides of the ball to better help this team contend next year.

Clearly, not every pick is or will be a home run. And with uncertainty swirling around OTA’s, minicamps, and the start of the season, we won’t know how beneficial this influx of players is to the roster and the franchise’s future for probably a while.

In spite of my feelings on the banal and brainless practice of handing out instant grades for players who most likely won’t take the field for at least six months, I’ll throw one in that captures the value and need of each player drafted alongside a brief recap of what they bring to the table.

Let’s get into it.

ROUND 1, 3rd Overall:

Jeff Okudah, CB, Ohio State

A collective sigh of relief among Lions fans was let out when Roger Goodell announced Detroit’s selection, taking the best player available and the widely-expected choice in Jeff Okudah.

My preferred and predicted pick in all of my mock drafts but one, Okudah’s value, talent, and pro-readiness has been well-documented in the past few months as speculation grew that he would be the pick at #3.

In the days leading up to the draft, rumors surfaced detailing Detroit’s infatuation with Auburn’s Derrick Brown, and when it was announced that Detroit would stay at #3, I legitimately had no idea which direction they would go.

Ultimately, though, the Lions made the right choice, selecting one of the most highly-touted cornerback prospects in the last decade and an immediate impact starter at a position of need.

There’s validity in being disappointed that Detroit couldn’t move back to 5 or 6 and get Okudah while adding bonus picks, especially considering the abundance of rumors that they were likely to trade back. I get it. I was, frankly, a bit unhappy that Bob Quinn couldn’t capitalize on the apparent interest.

However, I soon remembered that the Lions still ended up with a consensus top-3 to 5 player in this class, and a guy that is being hyped up as a future All-Pro cornerback. Regardless of what could’ve been, you simply cannot fault Bob Quinn and Matt Patricia for taking the best player available at a massive position of need.

Following the first round, in Bob Quinn’s Zoom conference with notable figures on the Lions beat, he revealed that there was little legitimate interest in the pick, furthering the notion that the front office, with no real offers on the table, made the correct choice with the third overall choice.

Miami and Los Angeles seemed content sitting back to grab their quarterbacks, and as usual, the majority of the rumors preceding the draft were likely nothing but a smokescreen. Other than that, moving back past #8 would’ve almost certainly pushed Detroit out of range for any of the ‘blue-chip’ defensive prospects.

To conclude, yes, it stings a bit that Detroit couldn’t accrue more draft capital and still get their guy, and it’s just Detroit’s luck that in the year they have a top-3 pick looking to trade down, a global pandemic throws a wrench in the process and likely aided in the inability to move back.

At the end of the day, though, Jeff Okudah is a Lion. Detroit finally has two above-average starting cornerbacks, one of whom's drawn comparisons to superstars at the position.

A lot will be expected of Okudah this season and going forward—corners rarely go third overall unless they’re a generational prospect. But Okudah’s talent, strong habits, and mental fortitude should pave the way for a superstar corner who can replace Darius Slay as the next great Detroit CB.

Grade: A

ROUND 2, 35th Overall:

D’Andre Swift, RB, Georgia

If there were any surprising choices by Detroit in this class, it’s this one—hands down.

After a 2019 season marred by injury at the position and an uneventful 2020 free agency, it seemed like we could pencil in the Lions for a team looking to add depth at the position in the draft.

Selecting the class’s top prospect at the position at the start of the second round though, was a bit of a surprise, though.

I’m conflicted on this pick. While I don’t utterly despise it like many on the Detroit beat seem to, it certainly raises some eyebrows.

Just two years ago, the Lions traded up in the second round to select Kerryon Johnson. They grabbed a speedster in the 2019 class and unearthed a gem in Alabama castoff Bo Scarbrough last season.

So to spend a premium pick on a player at a position decreasing in value is shocking, to say the least, especially factoring objectively bigger needs.

Much like the Okudah pick, though, taking a step back and looking at what Swift can add to this team perhaps better illustrates the real value.

When healthy, Kerryon has shown he can be a really good RB and adding D’Andre Swift, who’s better in most aspects, is downright scary. While Kerryon has some value in the passing game, Swift’s prowess as a receiver out of the backfield will add another level to this offense.

Taking into account more pressing holes and the plummeting value of running backs in this league, this pick is controversial, no doubt.

In a vacuum, though, this is a massive move to drastically improve the backfield and add a top-tier weapon for Matthew Stafford. Widely thought of as a top-20 talent in the class and consistently drawing comparisons to Alvin Kamara, Swift is an unmistakably huge add for this offense, bringing real OROTY potential if used correctly.

Only time will tell whether it was malpractice to pass on a talented iOL or defensive linemen with many still available in order to splurge on an offensive weapon in Round 2 when the past has shown productive backs can be added on Days 2 and 3. But make no mistake, Swift can elevate an offense that was potent last year to lethal this year, with a refined skill set and versatility.

Grade: B-

ROUND 3, 67th Overall:

Julian Okwara, DE/OLB, Notre Dame

Seemingly every year under the Bob Quinn regime, we clamor for an edge rusher to be added and never get it, with the focus on coverage. This year, though, in a surprisingly Anti-Patriot draft as a whole, Quinn bucked that trend, selecting Fighting Irish defender Julian Okwara.

I would be lying if I said this wasn't my favorite selection by a wide margin. Simply put, Okwara is a Round 1 talent who fell to Round 3 solely based on injury, a tremendously talented and versatile edge who can get to the passer.

Selecting Okwara at #35 would’ve made me pretty happy. To get him at #67, though, is a steal, and I’m elated about it.

Okwara projects into the JACK role where he’ll directly compete with Austin Bryant to replace Devon Kennard. Okwara’s diverse skill set, though, should parlay into a starting role very early.

Betting on a player who suffered a fairly significant injury (broken leg) and has struggled with consistency and in coverage is risky, as Detroit has been burned by injury-prone prospects in recent years, but Julian is worth it, a great fit in the defense with upside and a huge improvement to Detroit’s nonexistent pass rush.

The fact that he gets to play alongside his brother, Romeo, is the cherry on top.

Grade: A+

ROUND 3, 75th Overall (via IND):

Jonah Jackson, OG, Ohio State

After shoring up the roster at holes like corner and defensive end, the primary remaining need was at guard following the departure of Graham Glasgow. And given some of the incumbent front office’s tendencies with drafting O-lineman (zero taken last year), I wouldn’t have been shocked had Detroit passed on the position entirely. However, Bob Quinn traded up (probably unnecessarily) to grab Jonah Jackson and bolster the interior offensive line, capping off what might be the best round he’s ever had.

The second Buckeye taken in as many days, the former Rutgers transfer is a solid pick here. Rated as the second-best iOL in the draft according to PFF, Jackson gave up one sack in over 1000 snaps, and figures to immediately slot in as the team’s starting right guard.

Jackson was a leader for Rutgers and OSU. He excelled at the Senior Bowl. Now he’ll look to replace Graham Glasgow as another high-floor, experienced guard that can help both in the run game and pass protection.

I wouldn’t call it a steal, but it's an awesome value to add a probable-Day 1 starter in a weak class late on Day 2. Nothing to dislike here.

Grade: A-

ROUND 4, 121st Overall (via LVR)

Logan Stenberg, OG, Kentucky

The Lions found another trade partner at the start of Day 3, this time moving down a dozen spots with the Raiders to pick up an extra fifth-rounder.

And with their adjusted fourth-rounder, Detroit doubled down on the guard position, scooping up another potential early starter in Kentucky mauler Logan Stenberg.

Standing at 6’6” and a 2019 first-team All-SEC recipient, Stenberg is a tough and aggressive road grader. His highly physical and tenacious nature can become an issue as he racked up 24 penalties across the last two seasons, but when used correctly leads to pancaking opposing edge rushers.

Stenberg is battle-tested in the best collegiate conference and comes again at a solid value. His presence, along with Jonah Jackson’s, suddenly makes the iOL room in Detroit very crowded. At worst, Stenberg will play an integral role in the guard rotation as a rookie, but seeing him replace ‘Good Job’ Joe Dahl as a starter in Year 1 wouldn’t be shocking.

Detroit’s commitment to retooling the interior of their offensive line with two selections in the top half of the draft should help improve on the issues at the position last year.

Grade: B+

ROUND 5, 166th Overall

Quintez Cephus, WR, Wisconsin

Most would agree that Detroit needed to address the wide receiver position at some point in the draft, with zero wideouts under contract beyond 2020 and Kenny Golladay the only one who figures to be in the long-term plans. Detroit did, taking advantage of a historically-deep class, selecting Wisconsin’s big-play threat, Quintez Cephus.

In Madison, Cephus fell victim to the run-first offense that featured a star running back in Jonathan Taylor and a consistently dominant offensive line blocking for him, as well as shoddy quarterback play. However, towards the end of his junior year, he turned in a couple of memorable performances against Oregon and Ohio State, showing his value as a skilled player who can thrive in the open field.

Cephus was never destined to be a top receiver in this class, and his 4.73-forty time certainly didn’t help his chances. However, Cephus’s ideal size, play strength, and a knack for making plays in an offense that never took full advantage of him are intriguing.

Firmly behind the likes of Golladay, Marvin Jones, and Danny Amendola, expect Cephus to compete with Chris Lacy, Travis Fulgham, and Geronimo Allison for the WR4/5 spot on the depth chart. If Cephus shows promise, though, he could step into an expanded role in the future.

My only gripe with this pick was skipping on some of the talent still on the board. Passing on Isaiah Coulter, James Proche, Donovan Peoples-Jones for a less proven and less athletic receiver is questionable, and the grade will be largely an estimate until we see how Cephus’s career plays out in comparison to the others.

Regardless, Cephus is a solid, unspectacular pick at a position of need largely in the range he was projected to go. He should add depth as a rookie and legitimate starting potential beyond Year 1. Not much to complain about here.

I won’t comment on how much Jeff Okudah’s comments about Cephus being the best receiver he faced in college factors into this.

Grade: B-

ROUND 5, 172nd Overall (via LVR)

Jason Huntley, RB, New Mexico State

Perhaps the first real surprise, especially after Detroit had spent valuable capital on a running back earlier on in the draft, the Lions used the extra pick acquired in the trade back with the Raiders to take NMSU’s, Jason Huntley.

Like the Swift pick, I’m still pretty conflicted about this one. Obviously, a fifth-rounder isn’t as crucial as a second-rounder, but with talented players like Bradlee Anae, DPJ, or a punter still on the board, it raises questions of the value.

Much like the guard position, the running back room has quickly become extremely competitive. Huntley figures to battle directly with 2019 pick Ty Johnson to become the speedy, pass-catching gadget back on the roster, and while still leagues behind Swift, Kerryon, and Bo, could have a role if he makes the team.

Huntley wasn’t on most people’s radars, including my own, coming out of NMSU. However, with 4.37 speed and averaging over 7 yards per carry in 2019, along with the versatility to catch out of the backfield and play in the slot, he has shown an ability to make plays.

I would say Huntley’s main value, though, comes as a return specialist, with a career five return touchdowns, including three as a junior. Detroit has lacked consistency in the return game for years, and Huntley could be an answer.

However, passing on still-available defensive talent for a running back whose far from a roster lock that excels on special teams is confusing, and though Ty Johnson wasn’t great as a rookie, I hate to see the Lions giving up on him this early.

Late-round selections are typically meant to take players with room to grow, and Huntley is just that. But he joins a very crowded RB room, and passing on bigger holes like a developmental quarterback or a punter prevents me from grading this pick favorably.

Grade: C

ROUND 6, 197th Overall (via IND)

John Penisini, DT, Utah

Though Detroit signed Danny Shelton to help replace Damon Harrison and A’Shawn Robinson as a run-stuffer in the middle, the Lions added much-needed depth on the interior in Utah’s John Penisini in the sixth round.

Many fans, particularly those at Pride of Detroit, were pounding the table for Penisini’s teammate, Leki Fotu, to be drafted as a big body in the middle that could help in stopping the run, or Bradlee Anae, as a power edge rusher. Instead, the Lions waited a couple of rounds and grabbed their teammate on the defense.

Penisini is a traditional gap-filler nose tackle, a shade under 320 lbs. He reminds me in some ways of PJ Johnson, last year’s seventh-rounder who ultimately failed to make the roster, as a backup with potential to start down the line.

Given Detroit’s focus on stopping the run, it’s a bit surprising to see them wait until the end of Day 3 to address the hole. If Penisini ends up beating out his competition, he has an immediate route to rotational snaps behind Danny Shelton, who can be a solid mentor to Penisini.

Though I think the interior defensive line should’ve been dealt with earlier in the draft, Penisini, quality run-stoppers like Damon Harrison and Michael Pierce can be found late in the draft or UDFA. Penisini is a PFF darling (ranked 104th overall, ahead of Fotu and Anae), a risk-free pick that can anchor the defense if he carves out a role in Detroit

Grade: A-

ROUND 7, 235th Overall (via NE from PHI)

Jashon Cornell, DT, Ohio State

Much like the offensive guard position earlier in the draft, the Lions concluded their 2020 class going back-to-back on iDL, selecting their third and final Buckeye, Jashon Cornell.

Cornell, a redshirt senior for Ohio State, was a one-year starter who had a solid final season in Columbus, tallying four sacks and 30 tackles. While Penisini is a prototypical run-stopper on the defensive line, Cornell is a more versatile piece who finds more success in penetrating and rushing the quarterback.

Similar to Penisini, Cornell will have to claw his way to a roster spot, but his athleticism and experience in the Big Ten, along with untapped potential and ideal size, is about as much as you can ask for in a seventh-round flier.

I would be surprised if Cornell ever cracks the starting lineup, and making the final 53 will be a challenge in itself. Adding another Buckeye, though, who traditionally bring a solid pedigree at the next level, could be a beneficial add as a rotational lineman for the Lions.

Grade: B+

I know this is the premier time to start drinking the Kool-Aid, and proclaiming the Lions as a ‘team to watch’ for next season after what most would consider a successful draft. Detroit added probably four Day 1 starters, and bolstered depth across the roster. There weren’t any egregious reaches, and the Lions made a point to fill the gaping holes that remained following free agency.

In an effort to pump the brakes, we have to briefly ignore the charming nature Bob Quinn radiated this weekend and the overall solid picks that he made. The track record of this front office is mediocre at best, and the treatment of players hasn’t received glowing reviews. The Packers and Bears didn’t have great drafts, sure, but getting our hopes up for the upcoming season is an unshakable habit that always ends up betraying us in the end.

However, I have to give credit where credit is due. Bob Quinn and Matt Patricia finally seemed to divert from the monotonous, New Englandesque picks they’ve made in the past, attacking lingering roster needs head-on and not overvaluing players based on their fit.

There were a couple of questionable selections, which is to be expected, as teams’ draft boards (especially Detroit’s) don’t mirror media opinions, especially in the latter rounds. But the Lions, in spite of their futility, really nailed this draft. I would be lying if I said the team wasn't dramatically better than it was at the conclusion of the 2019 campaign, and though we said the exact same thing at this time last year, there’s a different feel.

Detroit’s run game will be better. The secondary might have some growing pains, but it will be better. The pass rush should improve. Matthew Stafford and Kerryon Johnson will be healed. It’s fair to expect a jump from TJ Hockenson. And the depth from front-to-back is respectable.

Again, don’t get your hopes up, but for right now, it’s not unreasonable to have higher hopes for this year’s Detroit Lions.

Overall Grade: A-

Thanks for reading, and the support leading up to draft season. Now, as we enter a time of uncertainty regarding the timeline for the NFL season and a quiet period for football, expect less content, but enjoy the excitement with this team.

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