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It’s difficult to figure out exactly what the Detroit Lions were trying to accomplish on NFL Draft weekend. They picked Alabama running back Jahmyr Gibbs at #12 after trading back from #6.
Then, they took Iowa linebacker Jack Campbell well ahead of where most analysts thought Campbell might go. They used an early second-round pick on Iowa tight end Sam LaPorta — over Notre Dame’s Michael Mayer who went one selection later.
Then, they took Alabama safety Brian Branch later in the second before grabbing Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker in the third round.
I’m not going to list every pick they made, but those five raised some eyebrows across the NFL.
Let’s start with selecting Gibbs at #12. Taking a running back that high is almost always a bad idea. Especially if a team isn’t taking a potential generational player like Bijan Robinson. Trading down in the first round is almost always a GOOD idea, which Detroit did.
They moved up from #81 overall to #34 overall in exchange for moving down to #12 from #6. That’s decent value and initially I wanted to applaud the move. However, if they really wanted to take a running back, they should have stayed at #6 and picked Robinson. That’s what I thought they would do, actually.
Many people were surprised they took a running back, but I wasn’t. The Lions roster is actually pretty solid and they could afford to use a pick on a luxury item like an RB. However, if they wanted Gibbs, I think they could have traded down again from either 12 or 18 and acquired more draft capital.
The head-scratching picks didn’t end there for the Detroit Lions
Though the Gibbs pick is a bit peculiar, it doesn’t compare to taking Jack Campbell at #18. Campbell is not a player who needed to be picked in that spot. In fact, the Lions likely could have used the extra pick they got from the Cardinals to draft him.
If they were dead-set on a linebacker, Drew Sanders of Arkansas made more sense. But with guys like Myles Murphy, Nolan Smith, Mazi Smith and Bryan Bresee still on the board, I just don’t understand the selection.
Then, they picked Sam LaPorta over Michael Mayer. Again, odd choice. Many thought Mayer might be a first-round pick. Obviously, they like the fit with LaPorta better. But tight end is another non-premium position.
The Lions used their first three picks on three non-premium position players. That’s extremely strange strategy.
Then, it all changed
After taking LaPorta, I was ready to declare the Detroit Lions 2023 NFL Draft a complete disaster. But then Alabama safety Brian Branch fell into their laps at #45. Branch is one of my favorite players in this class.
I think he’s the type of guy that can completely change a defense, something the Lions desperately needed. They added a pair of cornerbacks in free agency, but getting a defensive quarterback was essential. Having Branch fall to #45 is a godsend.
Then, they took Hendon Hooker with their first pick in the third round. Love that pick, too. Hooker is a perfect backup quarterback with the potential to take over in two years. He had the potential to be selected far earlier, possibly even the first round, but fell to the third. Coming off a major knee injury, he’ll likely “redshirt” next season and compete with Jared Goff in 2025.
Goff has two years left on his contract, giving Hooker plenty of time to develop before the team might expect him to start. That’s great for both him and the team. It gives Hooker and Will Levis an edge over their counterparts taken in the Top 5 of the NFL Draft.
They took defensive tackle Brodric Martin out of Western Kentucky with their second pick in the third round. Martin is a solid player, and I have no qualms with the pick. Though, I really think they should have taken a defensive tackle earlier rather than the linebacker and tight end they selected.
With six picks in the first three rounds, Detroit had a unique opportunity to add great players in premium positions. Instead, they used their first three selections on extraneous players. Plus, a massive reach with Campbell, a reach with LaPorta and a minor reach with Gibbs.
They got good value later, but the Lions missed an opportunity to have the best NFL Draft of any team. Instead, they looked the part of the same, old Lions.
Interesting strategy, Cotton, let’s see how it works out for them.
Follow Dan Zaksheske on Twitter: @RealDanZak