Why the Detroit Lions Had One of the Worst Drafts Ever

I’m not one of those guys who believes in draft grades. It’ll take two, maybe three years to really see who won or lost this draft. There are quarterbacks to develop, running backs to scheme, and edge rushers who need to prove they can get past superior blockers to harass quarterbacks. It will take time before we really see this draft for what it really was. However, for one team, they walked into the candy shop, picked up the candy bar, visibly containing Willy Wonka’s golden ticket, and opted for skittles instead. Today, we need to talk about how the Detroit Lions botched the most important draft in their franchise’s history.

Why the Detroit Lions Had One of the Worst Drafts Ever

To call the Detroit Lions a punchline is lazy, but not untrue. Since the NFL merger in 1966, the Lions have made the playoffs 12 times, winning their division on only three occasions. Over that span, they’ve only won a single playoff game. That means that Tim Tebow, a punchline for most NFL fans, has as many playoff wins as the Detroit Lions during the Super Bowl era. But in 2023, there was reason to be hopeful.

Last season, they went 9-8, their sixth winning season this millennia, and looked poised to take over the NFC North. The Chicago Bears, assuming Justin Fields develops, are still a year or two away, the Minnesota Vikings proved to be pushing fool’s gold again in 2022, and for the first time in any active NFL player’s life, the Green Bay Packers don’t have a future Hall of Famer at quarterback. With a talented roster, a coach that inspires his players, and a plethora of high draft picks, this could’ve been the year that the Detroit Lions made the jump to divisional contender… and they couldn’t have screwed it up worse.

NFC Nope

For the first time in a very long time, the NFC North is vulnerable. The Minnesota Vikings have plenty of firepower on offense, but defensively? They’re atrocious. They committed the cardinal sin of fluke playoff teams, losing the point differential, allowing nearly 500 more yards than they accumulated over the season. A team like that can sneak in and win a weak division, but they crumple in the face of real competition.

And there’s not a lot of real competition in the NFC North. The NFC is weak enough as is, with few teams outside of San Francisco and Philadelphia fielding a remotely competitive roster, but inside the NFC North? The Chicago Bears are a joke, the number one pick in this draft, committing to Justin Fields, who, while electric on the ground, is one of the league’s most underwhelming passers. And their bitter rival, the Green Bay Packers? Aaron Rodgers couldn’t drag this roster to contention, and now he’s in New York. Maybe Jordan Love will do the unimaginable, giving the Packers three straight elite passers, but it’s far more likely that they go in the way of the 49ers, Montana-Young-Dilfer, than it is that they have an unprecedented third consecutive Hall of Famer.

The Detroit Lions, a team who was competitive with every playoff team they faced, even beating the Vikings, Jacksonville Jaguars, and New York Giants, started 1-6 before winning eight of their last 10. They also had some defensive struggles, but they were primed to make a serious push with two first round picks and five picks in the first three rounds. In a draft loaded with edge rusher and defensive back help, they were right there, a solid defensive draft away from being the bona fide favorites for the NFC North… and then they were on the clock.

Detroit Lyin

When the Detroit Lions were on the clock for the sixth overall pick, there was plenty of elite talent on the board. Ohio State’s Paris Johnson, the best offensive lineman in the draft, Tyree Wilson, a freak edge rusher with arms as long as Shaquille O’Neal is tall, Jalen Carter, the troubled but undeniably talented defensive lineman from Georgia, and many others were available. Instead, Detroit traded down.

Not the worst move, the draft is a crapshoot, and sometimes, it’s better to scatter-shot, throw as many picks at the wall and see what sticks. But when they were back on the clock again, seven picks later, they did the baffling, the unexplainable. They took a running back.

Firstly, running backs shouldn’t be first round picks. Far too often, you get similar, if not superior, production from later round picks, but it’s not unprecedented. Many teams have done it, and sometimes, it even works out. But there are two major issues. Frankly, the Lions ran the ball pretty well last year. They were good to very good in every team rushing stat, including third in the entire league in rushing touchdowns. But beyond that… they took the wrong back.

Texas’ Bijan Robinson was arguably the best player in this draft. A running back, yes, but still, pound for pound, a surefire hit in the NFL. He was still on the board when the Detroit Lions were originally going to pick at six, and if they were just going to take a running back in the first, they should’ve taken him. Instead, when they traded down to Arizona, they selected Alabama’s Jahmyr Gibbs, as the Atlanta Falcons selected Robinson at eight.

That’s not to say that Gibbs is a bad player. Far from it, his exceptional speed and versatility draws comparisons from some to Alvin Kamara. But Kamara has about 15 pounds of muscle on Gibbs and it shows. Gibbs is an elite complementary back, but he’ll never be an in-between the tackles workhorse. He could’ve been solid value later in the first, or maybe early in the second, but taking this draft’s RB2 while Lukas Van Ness, Broderick Jones, Will Levis, and Christian Gonzalez were still on the board? It doesn’t make any sense.

But again, Gibbs has 4.3 speed, he’s a dynamic player, he could add an entire dimension to Detroit’s offense in a way that arguably none of this draft’s receivers could. That leads to their second first round pick, linebacker Jack Cambpell.

Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Dupe

With the 18th pick in the first round, Detroit took Jack Campbell, no relation, and I still don’t understand. Campbell is a throwback, a downhill thumper from an era where “built like a linebacker” meant something. Big, strong, and fast, Campbell has a nose for the football, but that’s about it. He’s a guy you line up at mike and unleash on running backs. He struggles in coverage and isn’t known for playmaking ability. He serves a purpose, and every team has a spot for a guy like him, but he was a second rounder at best.

Against the likes of T.J. Hockenson or Aaron Jones, Campbell isn’t going to be much help in coverage, and with players like Deonte Banks, Myles Murphy, and Joey Porter Jr. still available, it’s a headscratcher. The Detroit Lions entered the 2023 NFL draft with two first round picks and left with a receiving back and a throwback thumper at linebacker. For comparison, the Philadelphia Eagles revamped their defense with Jalen Carter and Nolan Smith, despite coming into the night with lower picks. But the Lions ended up with six picks in the top 100, and sadly, the most egregious ones are still yet to come.

Because in a stacked tight end class, the Lions skipped Michael Mayer and took Sam LaPorta, a tight end who is unremarkable as an athlete, especially compared to his peers in this class, a good-not-great receiver, and an inconsistent blocker. A year ago, the Lions traded T.J. Hockenson, a two-time Pro Bowler and one of the game’s best young tight ends, along with two fourths, for a second and a fourth… to a division rival. They essentially traded a star tight end and a fourth round pick for LaPorta, who doesn’t favorably compare to Hockenson in any capacity.

But they weren’t done, because believe it or not, the Lions did make a good pick in this draft. They took Alabama’s corner, Brian Branch. I’m a big fan of Branch, as I think he can come in and contribute pretty quickly. For me, he was arguably the safest corner in this whole draft class, and they got really good value by drafting him in the second round… and then immediately flush that goodwill away with their next pick.

On the Hook

There’s no question that Tennessee quarterback, Hendon Hooker has talent. He has prototypical quarterback size, mind-boggling production, he’s smart, and has the best footwork of any quarterback in this class. However, he’s also 25 years old. He will turn 26 during his rookie season, and he’s coming off an ACL tear. Beyond that, the offense that he ran in Tennessee wouldn’t work in the NFL, his pocket awareness is shaky, and his accuracy drops off dramatically when throwing deep or on the run. Hooker needs at least one year on the bench, and by the time he gets his first snaps, he’ll be approaching 27.

Some people were saying that Hooker would be a first round pick, so it is a plus that the Lions were able to select him early in the third, but I ask, to what end? He surely won’t be ready to start this fall, and while Jared Goff had arguably his best year (at least his best year away from Sean McVay), he’s not going to get the Lions to the promised land. Jake Haener and Dorian Thompson-Robinson were still on the board for an entire round after this, if they were hell-bent on a developmental quarterback. Dan Campbell addressing quarterback by selecting someone who won’t be ready to start until 2024 or 2025 just isn’t a wise move.

Rounding out the top 100, the Lions also took Brodric Martin. Martin, a 6’5 337 pound behemoth, was always going to attract NFL scouts, but on film, he just doesn’t separate himself from the group. He doesn’t get pressure, and is best used in a rotation to eat blocks for other defenders. The biggest issue with this selection isn’t Campbell taking him, that kind of size is dizzying, the biggest issue is that he was a unanimous day three pick. Most people had him going in the sixth round at the earliest, and the Lions selected him 96th overall.

The Issue

The Detroit Lions came into this draft with all the dominos lined up. They had plenty of high-value picks, simple needs, and all they had to do was get this draft right to be launched into the stratosphere of contenders in a wimpy conference. Instead, despite having six picks in the top 100, they’ve moved, at best, laterally. With all the ammo needed to blow the draft away, they ended up with a running back who won’t match last year’s production, a linebacker who can’t cover, a less gifted version of a tight end they basically gave away, a good corner, an injured 25 year old rookie QB who can’t read the whole field, and a project defensive tackle.

Now, they’re right back where they started, possibly even worse, and they’ll have to scratch and claw to compete in a division that realistically is only sending their division champion to the post-season. It isn’t one of the worst drafts ever because none of the players will be good, each and every one of these men has potential. It’s one of the worst drafts ever because when the world was served up to one of the most snake-bitten franchises in professional sports, when all they had to do was get one draft right… they completely blew it, and this time next year, the Lions will likely be looking to replace the immensely popular Dan Campbell.

And for the ad hominem rebuttals, I’m a Raiders fan, so I’ve endured just as much suffering as you, Detroit Faithful… but it also means I can recognize a bad draft when I see one.


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