The Detroit Lions looked like one of the best teams in the NFL at the end of the regular season, overcoming a 1-6 start to finish with a winning record and just miss their first trip to the playoffs since 2016.
Not bad for a team that previously went 3-13-1 in its first season under firebrand head coach Dan Campbell. But the Lions have work to do in this year’s NFL Draft if they want to continue that momentum, particularly when it comes to a defense that was worse than all but three teams in 2022.
So far, oddsmakers are buying the second-half version of the Lions over the earlier incarnation, as they’re the eighth choice to win the Super Bowl (at +2500 at Caesars Sportsbook and PointsBet). Only the Chiefs, 49ers, Bills, Eagles, Bengals, Jets, and Cowboys have shorter odds to win it all, remarkable given where the Lions started under Campbell.
Whether they actually fulfill that promise could depend in large part on what they do with their two first-round draft picks in the draft that kicks off on April 27: They have the No. 6 pick of the Rams (thanks to the Jared Goff-Matthew Stafford trade) and their own No. 18 overall selection.
So, who will they take?
Over at FanDuel, the Lions are listed as the +1000 No. 2 choice to draft Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker, which might be a bit of a stretch considering the team’s needs on defense and the fact that Hooker, 25, is only three years younger than Goff, who is signed through 2024.
Moving right along, FanDuel pegs the Lions as +300 favorites to land Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter, who was expected at one time to go even higher than No. 6. Some teams reportedly took him off their draft boards after he was arrested for reckless driving and racing in a car crash that killed offensive lineman Devin Willock and recruiting staffer Chandler LeCroy shortly after the Bulldogs won the national title game over TCU.
The Detroit News reported that the Lions brought Carter in for a pre-draft visit, but so did other teams, including the Bears. The fact that the Lions had Carter in for a chat at least indicates they’re not set against drafting him, which makes this price a little more tempting, if a bit short. It should help that Carter already has accepted a plea deal in his case, getting 12 months probation, a $1,000 fine, and 80 hours of community service, per the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
FanDuel certainly expects the Lions to go with defense, as they have cornerback (-110) and defensive lineman (+100) as their two likeliest positions for the Lions to pick first. It hardly seems worth it to lay money on a DL considering the next-best available player at the position, Pitt’s Calijah Kancey, isn’t supposed to go until somewhere around No. 18 or later, according to most mock drafts.
What about defensive backs?
If the Lions do nab a cornerback as high as No. 6, it almost certainly will be Oregon’s Christian Gonzalez. At FanDuel, Gonzalez is -200 to be the first corner taken, followed by Illinois’ Devin Witherspoon at +160. If the Lions are targeting Witherspoon, they might try to wait to get him with their No. 18 pick.
The Athletic’s experts predict the Lions will take Gonzalez, but they also offer this tidbit of reporting:
“The other option at 6 might have been Texas Tech edge Tyree Wilson. He’s probably in the same discussion with Gonzalez for best defensive prospect not named Will Anderson Jr. or Jalen Carter. If we didn’t go with Gonzalez, I also would’ve been fine taking Wilson and trying to snag a corner at 18 or maybe even the second round. I doubt Devon Witherspoon will be there at 18. Same with Joey Porter Jr. So you’re talking about that next tier of corners, a guy like Maryland’s Deonte Banks.”
The same story predicts Detroit will take Alabama safety Brian Branch with that No. 18 pick. That might seem like overkill, but also might be something the team would consider since it had the 20th-ranked pass defense in the NFL last year.
Other longshot possibilities
At one time, the Lions were considered one of the favorites to take Texas running back Bijan Robinson, but apparently bookmakers decided they’re in good enough shape sticking with De’Andre Swift and the newly signed David Montgomery, because DraftKings now has them as the +1600 No. 9 choice to grab Robinson, behind the Chargers, Commanders, Cowboys, and others.
Given the team’s defensive needs, it would be shocking if Detroit took Robinson at No. 6, but perhaps he’ll still be around for the 18th pick. It might be worth a flyer at those odds.
At DraftKings, the Lions are +3000 to take a running back with their first pick and +1000 to take a quarterback, so that book, too, expects them to go with a defensive player up top.
What if the Lions go all-in and trade up to get the top pass rusher in this draft, Alabama linebacker Will Anderson? Campbell has constantly said a team can never have enough pass rushers, but how high up would Detroit need to move to get Anderson? DraftKings clearly thinks he could go third overall, as that book lists him at +2000 to be drafted second, but only +270 to go third.
If the Lions truly are considering taking a quarterback of the future, it might be worth taking a look at Kentucky passer Will Levis, who once was viewed as a lock to go in the top 10 but has slipped a bit lower than that in some of the more recent mock drafts. The Lions are viewed at DraftKings as the No. 9 choice to take Levis at +1500.
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