Written by: JT Bowen
Deeming something ‘perfect’, especially months before the on-field product will be seen, is a fool’s errand. The mere practice of handing out grades for free agent signings or draft selections is purely speculative, and more often than not are far from the actual outcome.
The incumbent Detroit front office has repeatedly demonstrated a habit of doing things their own way, which is highly reminiscent of the New England roots they’ve grown from. Signings and draft picks routinely receive poor grades from media and fans alike, and while they shouldn’t let outside opinions impact decisions, perhaps the analysts have some merit in their thoughts, as the Lions haven’t exactly parlayed offseason moves into positive change under the current regime.
I pretty much agree with the bulk of national opinion on the Lions’ free agency period. I’ll begin to embrace bringing in former Patriots once it turns into wins, and the rest of the moves were far from exciting, just plugging holes that needed to be plugged. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, and making splashy signings isn’t necessarily a good thing, but it would’ve been nice to see the Lions bring in some players who aren’t as replacement-level as some of the ones they have thus far. Like most, I hover around a B-minus to a B in terms of a grade and won’t really be able to say otherwise until the players take the field.
Shifting gears towards the Draft, which appears to still be taking place as scheduled in spite of the national tumult, though, is another story. Both prior to and following the majority of free agency, I’ve believed that the Draft will be far more impactful on the upcoming season than any offseason signings. With four selections in the first 85 picks, and possibly more if a trade comes together, the incredibly-deep draft class could be the impetus to a winning culture that Matt Patricia has painstakingly attempted to construct over the past three years.
I have no doubt that the Lions will make some surprises, for better or for worse, in this Draft. I’m pretty sure they’ll take one of the guys pegged to them at the top, like Jeff Okudah or Derrick Brown, at #3 or wherever they end up picking in the first round but expect some curveballs past that. Detroit will seek out guys that fit their mold and overvalue them to ensure they’re available (such as Jahlani Tavai) and feel differently about positions of need than national media (not taking any offensive linemen last year), which highly dictates the final haul they end up with.
However, as I already mentioned, that strategy hasn’t panned out in Detroit’s favor, going 6-10 and 3-12-1 over the past two seasons despite the influx of mold-fitting players. And the bulk of grades handed out by the media, both regarding the Draft and free agency, have been reflective of the disappointing on-field product. So, let’s evaluate what would be the perfect Draft, by media standards, for the Lions.
Basically, I see two ‘perfect’ routes the Lions could go at the top: Chase Young falling to #3 or a trade-down to acquire more picks. The latter seems infinitely more likely, but either option would likely receive a high grade from most analysts.
Let’s examine the first option:
After Joe Burrow goes first overall as widely expected, the Redskins, with a new front office, go the Arizona route and move on from Dwayne Haskins after just one year, selecting Tua Tagovailoa. Haskins wasn’t great as a rookie, and Tua is almost certainly a better prospect than him.
That leaves Detroit, picking third overall, with the consensus best player in the draft: Chase Young.
I haven’t talked extensively about Young simply due to the fact that it seems incredibly unlikely that he is available when the Lions draft. Young’s monstrous production and freakish athleticism have scouts billing him as a generational talent at arguably the Lions biggest need, edge rusher.
In a vacuum, this move would garner an A+ from every single credible sports outlet. To get a talent like Young at such great value is as close to perfect as a team can get. However, in Detroit’s scheme, the move looks even greater. The Ohio State product would fit impeccably as a defensive end opposite to Trey Flowers on Matt Patricia’s defense, bringing the desired height, weight, power, and technique that the front office looks for.
As great as Young is, though, the Lions still have a lot of roster holes, and with no extra picks from a trade, they will have to work diligently to fill them.
In the second round, the Lions address what most regard as the second-largest issue on the roster, cornerback, as they select Jeff Gladney out of TCU at 35. A number of corners exist in this class, leagues behind Jeff Okudah and CJ Henderson, who will go somewhere around the end of Round 1 and the start of Round 2, and Detroit snatches up the best fit of the crop in Gladney.
Gladney is a tough, lengthy corner who excels in press coverage. While he’s not the Day 1 starter that Jeff Okudah would be, Gladney could grow behind Desmond Trufant and compete with Amani Oruwariye for the second corner position. He possesses the intangible traits that fit the Lion mold, and his coverage versatility make him a nice choice at the top of Day 2. This isn’t the absolute steal of a pick that Young is, but would likely result in similar A-range grades from most media.
For brevity’s sake, I’ll run through the rest of the picks more quickly:
Lloyd Cushenberry III at #67: Insane value for top-3 iOL in class if available at beginning of Round 3. Big need with Glasgow gone and the rest of the interior linemen on the team average at best.
Kyle Dugger at #85: Freakishly athletic small-school product that has been flying up draft boards since amazing Combine performance. Versatility allows him to play all over the field in Patricia’s defense.
Jordan Elliott at #109: Solid all-around interior defensive lineman with room to grow who played against the best in the SEC. If he’s still available Day 3, solid value pick.
Devin Duvernay at #149: Speedy wideout who can sit behind Danny Amendola with room to grow into the team’s slot receiver of the future. Not incredible value, but fills a need and looks towards the future
Ke’Shawn Vaughn at #166: Very productive running back for Vanderbilt, that, at worse, is a hard-nosed, quality backup to challenge Bo Scarbrough and Ty Johnson.
Khalil Davis at #182: Capable interior disruptor, with solid quickness off the snap and an ability to both stop the run and generate pressure. Never too many defensive linemen, and solid value in Round 6.
Michael Turk at #235: With Braden Mann, the consensus top punter prospect in this class, likely gone, I heavily debated between adding a more raw prospect or a quarterback. I settled on the talented Arizona State specialist, who can come in and compete with the two current rostered punters to replace Sam Martin. Has the potential to become a premier punter with a booming leg and solid all-around athleticism.
Obviously, the true gem of this class is stealing Chase Young. It looks increasingly unlikely that he will be available at #3, as Dwayne Haskins is set to be present at the Redskins’ virtual draft session, which would make for an awkward situation if they elected to take Tua or another quarterback. Of course, there’s the slim chance either a team trades up to #2 or Washington passes on Chase Young and chooses another defensive prospect such as Isaiah Simmons, but it would be foolish to bet on that.
However, the haul is still impressive front-to-back. Many Lions fans seem to think that past Jeff Okudah every corner sucks, but that’s far from the case. Gladney has the tools to become a great starting corner and grabbing a Day 1 starter on the offensive line as well as some upside-laden players later on rounds out a solid few days.
Let’s turn our attention, though, to the much more likely scenario.
Reports today surfaced from Ian Rapoport basically confirming what we all pretty much figured: The Lions are actively taking calls (or Zooms) listening to trade-down offers.
Though he’s never actually done it with an early pick, Bob Quinn year after year always dangles his first-round picks, seemingly eager to move back and accrue some extra picks in the process. But that attitude might change this year, as the Lions have never picked this high in his tenure and a few quarterback-needy teams behind Detroit may snap at their chance to lock up their future signal-caller.
Like most years, the quarterback roulette is extremely foggy at the top. After Joe Burrow’s almost certain path to Cincinnati, things become very unclear. Concerns about Tua’s medicals are the main issue, as current circumstances have prevented the talented Alabama standout from getting clearance from team doctors, but reports regarding teams like Miami and Los Angeles potentially valuing Justin Herbert and Jordan Love above Tua make it even more cloudy. That said, there is no doubt in my mind that to some degree this is a smokescreen, whether it stems from Miami not wanting to have to trade up for Tua or some ulterior motive. How much of this is true remains to be seen and won’t be revealed until Draft night, but if a team wants to come up for a QB, Detroit is in the prime spot to be the partner in a trade.
With the first team (excluding the Bengals) potentially set to take a quarterback sitting at #5, there’s really only two options to trade up to—Detroit at #3 or New York at #4. Trading with the Giants admittedly would make more sense for most teams; this early in the Draft, the distance from pick to pick is massive, and jumping from #4 to #3 can make a massive difference in the expected compensation.
However, with Dave Gettleman still at the helm of operations for New York, I would be surprised to see the Giants move back, given Gettleman’s strange outlook on prospects and overall stubbornness. I just can’t see him passing on Isaiah Simmons, a player who embodies his ‘hog-molly’ build.
That leaves the presumed two quarterback-oriented teams (Miami and LA) to trade with Detroit.
Despite my inner bias, I would honestly settle for a mediocre return if it meant the Lions could pick up a couple of extra picks. Obviously, it would be a swap for #3 and #5 or #6, but even adding just another second-rounder, regardless of the value, might be enough to sway me.
And in lieu of the flurry of rumors about poor medicals, the rise of Justin Herbert, and Tyrod Taylor potentially serving as the starter in LA, all of which would drive down the value of a prospective trade, the Lions will and should attempt to squeeze as much as they possibly can out of this deal to position themselves to win right now.
A common question that arises when evaluating a trade-down scenario in this class is if it’s worth it to risk missing out on a defensive stud like Jeff Okudah or Isaiah Simmons, and I firmly believe it is. Firstly, the odds that Okudah is gone by 5 or 6 is highly unlikely — he’s not going 1 or 2, New York is better off with Simmons, and Miami wouldn’t take him at 5 while paying around $30 million to two corners. Simmons is a different story, yes, but I’d rather have Okudah. At worst, though, if both are somehow off the board, you can take Derrick Brown, who, despite Lions media continually destroying him, feels like a really solid player in the making at a position of need.
Getting one of these three players, plus picking up some bonus selections, seems almost too good to be true, which is very well may be, given the current front office. But it would undoubtedly be a win and receive high marks from all, a well-executed method of likely acquiring the same guy they would take at #3 while adding more picks in the process.
As I mentioned, while I see a few potential suitors trade up, I don’t see a whole lot of value in terms of raw picks coming back Detroit’s way should they move back. At this point, I would be more than happy with this trade: LA acquires #3, DET acquires #6, #37, and a 2021 third-rounder (or #71 this year)
No, it’s not dipping into the army chest of selections that Miami wields, and it adds a level of risk in that Detroit is no longer guaranteed Jeff Okudah. But simply due to the fluctuating value and projected availability of quarterbacks past Joe Burrow, that might be the best the Lions can get. And they should pounce on it regardless.
So, let’s illustrate a potential mock with these newly-acquired selections:
Jeff Okudah at #6: He’s the guy at #3, and he’s still the guy at #6. Potential star corner in the making, and Day 1 starter opposite Trufant.
Yetur Gross-Matos at #35: First-round talent slipping due to overvaluing offensive linemen and receivers. Stud defensive end with upside should start early in rookie year opposite Trey Flowers as a tremendously athletic edge rusher.
JK Dobbins at #37: The beauty of adding extra picks is that you can afford to make selections that would otherwise be viewed as a luxury. While that still holds true here, adding a top-3 running back in the class to pair with Kerryon Johnson isn’t as questionable as it would be if they hadn’t picked up an additional selection from LA.
Robert Hunt at #67: Very well could be gone here, and arguably a Day 1 prospect from an on-field perspective, but injury questions tank his stock. If he can stay healthy, he is a potential early starter and an upgrade over the majority of options at guard on the Lions roster.
Rashard Lawrence at #85: A’Shawn’s potential replacement. A bit smaller, but aggressive and able to eat space in the middle. Tough as nails, and at worse a solid rotational guy to bolster an iDL that needs talent.
KJ Hill at #109: A favorite pick of many Lions fans, Detroit selects their third OSU product of the Draft. The Buckeyes’ all-time receptions leader, Hill is a fluid route-runner who can learn behind Danny Amendola to become the slot receiver of the future.
Antonio Gandy-Golden at #149: Another darling of Detroit fans, a productive small-school standout who is slightly reminiscent of Kenny Golladay. Big target who will primarily make his living on jump balls and in the red zone, but has more upside if he can polish route running.
Hakeem Adeniji at #166: Will probably go earlier, but a versatile, athletic, and learned starter at Kansas. Plays with good technique, and with patience, could grow into a starter or premier backup.
Braden Mann at #182: The nation’s best punter at the collegiate level. Replacement for Sam Martin who can see a Michael Dickson-esque growth into one of the league’s best legs early in his career.
Mykal Walker at #235: Upside dart throw at linebacker at the end of the Draft. A bit smaller than Detroit’s mold for linebackers, but is highly versatile, laterally quick, and still has room to grow.
In my eyes, both of these Drafts would be seen as a winner by not only myself but the overwhelming majority of national media. Whether it be picking up a generational EDGE talent or acquiring extra selections in a trade-down, the Lions have two clear routes to improve and seize the positive opinions of analysts.
Thanks for reading! The NFL Draft is nearly here, so expect a bit more content beforehand and a ton after as we break it all down. Stay safe, and go Lions!