For the Detroit Lions, one thing is certain in this draft: expect something unlike anything you've ever seen before.
As long as NFL Draft has existed, the movement of draft picks from one team to another has been standard practice, and it has only become more common over time. Teams are always looking to make a move to better position themselves for the players they have their sights set on in the draft, and they're willing to go to great lengths to get it done. Players, current draft picks and even future draft picks are all on the table when it comes to negotiations—even coaches can be part of the equation when it comes to stocking your draft board.
Brad Holmes, enters his third season as general manager of Detroit Lionshas shown how fearless he is to pick up the phone and find out what it will cost to make a move for the guys he's dialed up on his draft board.
When the Lions picked seventh overall in 2021, Holmes' first season as GM, he checked in with the Atlanta Falcons before the draft to see what it would cost to move up for Ja'Marr Chase. In the end, the price was “too high” for Holmes, but no harm and no wrong in finding out. When the same draft rolled on, Holmes reached out to a number of teams to see if there was a way Detroit could get out of the second round and select someone they considered a first-round talent in defensive tackle Levi Onwuzurike. Again, Holmes didn't end up making a deal, but still ended up with the player he wanted when the Lions exercised patience and selected Onwuzurike with the No. 41 pick. And in last year's draft, Holmes finally found the right price with Minnesota Vikings and jumped at the opportunity to move up 20 spots in the first round to select wide receiver Jameson Williams.
On the one hand, you might not appreciate Holmes' conviction when it comes to targeting specific players in the draft. By standing pat in 2021 and waiting for the board to fall to him, he mitigated the damage that could have been even more expensive if he had moved up to select Onwuzurike, a player whose injuries prevented him from playing any football at all last season. On the other hand, you can appreciate the confidence Holmes has in his and his scouting department's ability to evaluate football prospects and wait for the right deal to make a move—like when he actually got value by moving up in the aforementioned deal for Williams.
Regardless of which way you lean, it's best to prepare for news and rumors on the horizon for a general manager with a penchant for making phone calls this time of year; Holmes has five draft picks in the top-81 picks of the 2023 NFL Draft, and hardly any perceived holes that absolutely need to be filled with rookies. He could easily maneuver around the board with all the draft capital on hand this year to take any player he wants, except for the quarterbacks the Carolina Panthers and Houston Texans will pick first and second overall, respectively, and that, in and of itself, is a extreme example of the freedom to choose the best player available.
Holmes and Co. could choose to use its plethora of draft picks to create contingency plans and long-term solutions for spots on its roster by prioritizing value over need. It's an uncomfortable place for fans who have followed this team closely over the last few decades, but what Dan Miller said before Week 14's game against the Minnesota Vikings last season is as poignant as it was then: “Let's get comfortable being uncomfortable because you know what uncomfortable is? It means you are good. That means you have expectations of you – and now this team does.”
So far, the draft has represented an opportunity for the Lions to fix their problems here and now. It would give a false sense of security to the fans and a heap of expectations on young players. In 2020, Jeff Okudah filled the team's need for a starting cornerback after Matt Patricia chased Darius Slay out of town. TJ Hockenson was the upgrade the Lions needed at tight end in 2019 after moving on from Eric Ebron, who filled the same void in 2014. In 2017, Jarrad Davis would hold down the middle of a defense that lacked the impact of players like DeAndre Levy and Stephen Tulloch. All overdrawn to fit a pressing need.
“As you get closer to the draft and you just want to fill those question marks, fill those holes, I think it equates to some mistakes,” Holmes told reporters Monday at the NFL owners' meetings in Phoenix. “I'll say even in St. Louis, it got to the point where we had a pretty strong defensive line and we had some concerns elsewhere, but we just kept adding to our defensive line. And it just became this beast that just be the strength of the football team. So again, when you're trying to stick to that depth chart, you're trying to fill every hole, I just don't think that's how we're doing it. We're just trying to take the best player for us.”
Get comfortable with the Lions drafting the best player available at any given time during this regime, whether it fills a need or not. In reality, they have been doing it all along; in their first two drafts, because they inherited a roster so lacking in top talent and depth, it didn't stick out so obviously because the best player available filled a need. But after skillful drafting and talent acquisition in free agency, get ready for a Lions draft unlike any you've experienced.
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