Why the Detroit Lions Actually Did Have a Solid First Round
The 2023 NFL Draft did not go exactly the way fans of the Detroit Lions may have expected. Some of that was influenced by the other teams in the league, but ultimately the Lions front office is responsible for its own actions.
Selecting a running back with the 12th overall pick and a linebacker with the 18th feels very 2002. Many Twitter trolls will be the first to tell you the Lions won this draft if it happened 20 years ago, but this year is a bust before the end of the night.
Maybe I'm a positive guy. Maybe my Crimson Tide bias shows a bit. I'll own those things if they hold true. However, I fully believe that while it isn't a perfect draft, the Lions did make quality moves Thursday night that will continue to build on the positive momentum that Dan Campbell's crew has spawned in recent years.
First, it must be taken into account that the Seattle Seahawks did snipe the Lions by selecting Illinois cornerback Devon Witherspoon. They were expected to either take Georgia defensive lineman Jalen Carter or Texas Tech edge rusher Tyree Wilson. The Lions were expected to take the top cornerback in the draft.
When that didn't happen, the Lions were more than happy to pick up a few extra picks to move back to 12 in a trade with the Arizona Cardinals. With their board all out of whack, as the night unfolded, it became clear the Lions didn't panic and stuck to its board.
Make no mistake, Jahmyr Gibbs was expected to be a first-round pick, though the 18th overall pick was the public perception of where his stock would begin. Six picks is a lot in the first round, but I'm not so sure it's that insane when most of the fanbase would have been willing to sit at 6 and take Bijan Robinson. Bijan is more talented out of the box, sure, but Gibbs will serve this offense well as a player that can score from anywhere at any time.
Many look to the free agent signing of David Montgomery and the looming presence of the oft-injured D'Andre Swift, but neither of these players holds the dynamic impact potential of Jahmyr Gibbs.
As for Campbell, the optics of taking a pasty-white linebacker from Iowa are what they are. But deeper than that, Campbell is far and away the best off-ball linebacker in the class. The Lions defense was horrendous in 2022 and linebacker play, particularly in coverage, was a big reason why.
Couple in his personality, he fits everything Campbell has been building in Detroit - which need I remind has been nothing but upward momentum.
At the end of the day, I can understand the hesitancy of this fanbase to trust the process here. It seems easy to draft Aidan Hutchinson at two or Penei Sewell in the top 10. Objectively looking through the Lions successful years with Stafford in the early 2010s, those draft picks were hit or miss when Detroit was picking in the mid-range.
The fanbase has been scorned each time the Lions show the tiniest bit of promise. With Aaron Rodgers out of the division and the Vikings always finding a way to underachieve, the time is now in Detroit.
But here's why you should feel confident - the misses have been few and far between so far for Campbell and general manager Brad Holmes.
They are building a franchise from ground zero and making steady progress. It's a patient process, but the team has made more good decisions than bad and has rectified the bad ones when applicable. And at the end of the day, Gibbs and Campbell have the makeup to quickly become fan favorites.
Leave the application up to the minds in power. Trust is hard after all of these years of trauma, but Campbell's staff is made of the right stuff.
Maybe I'm drinking the Kool-Aid, but the naivety of the sweet taste will at least soften the blow if it kills me.