NFL Draft 2023
It’s been over a year since I retired from an active part in the broadcast booth, but that doesn’t mean my interest in my lifetime association with the University of Michigan and the Detroit Lions football fortunes have diminished. I am still a fan, as many of you know, and I will remain engaged as long as I can. So, how about some thoughts on the recent NFL draft.
The Lions draft strategy was interesting to me. That may be a cryptic comment, but, it’s the way I feel about it. Like every fan out there, I have an opinion, and because of my more than 30 years broadcasting Lions football, it may carry some weight, it may not. But, I want to stay engaged with you, and give you my take.
Last year the Lions were statistically the worst team in the NFL on defense. They gave up more yardage than anyone. Only the Bears and Cardinals gave up more points. The Lions also allowed 6.2 yards per play which was the worst in the league. Now, I’m not trying to be mean, those are all verifiable stats, from the league stats site. So, my question is, with that record on defense, why in your eight draft selections do you take 5 offensive players and three defensive players? Maybe it’s because they did a good job in free agency to fill their defensive needs. It could be. Like I said, I think it’s interesting.
With the first pick, the Lions take a running back. Jahmyr Gibbs. I’m sure he is a talent. Subsequently they traded De’Andre Swift, a running back on their roster to Philly. So, basically, they traded a known quantity in Swift for an unknown but, in their mind, an upgrade in Gibbs-with their first pick. Interesting.
I like linebacker Jack Campbell. An Iowa guy, you know you are getting a quality player. Character, great work ethic, the whole package. My question is, if an offense spreads you out, is Campbell an every down linebacker? Will the other guys try to isolate the 6-5 250 pound linebacker on a back or slot receiver. I mean, with my second pick in the first round, I would hope he’s an every down backer. Only time will tell. Interesting.
Third pick, Sam LaPorta, tight end, Iowa. Again, an Iowa player, you know you’ve got a solid guy. Really good player. So, you traded T J Hockenson last year. Another tight end who was a very high draft pick of yours a couple years ago, and you grab LaPorta, who plays the same position. Hockenson was a leading receiver, and big timer who went on to Minnesota and was very productive. Additionally, some would say you passed on the best tight end in the draft in Notre Dames Mike Mayer who was taken the next pick by the Raiders. LaPorta and Mayer are now inexorably linked together. Who will have the better career is the question, and the reputation of your talent evaluation may rest in those two guys. Interesting.
Next, you go with a sleeper defensive back in Brian Branch of Alabama. Everyone believes he was a value pick, and could have gone higher. I think he’s a good one, and will help the Lions.
Three of the next four selections are offensive players, including Tennessee’s Hendon Hooker who is potentially really good quarterback. I think it will take three years to really evaluate Hooker. He’s coming off knee surgery, and will need time to get up to speed at the NFL level. A pick that won’t really be any help in 2023, but may be down the road. Interesting.
According to an NFL Network draft analysis guy…the other teams in the Lions division, Green Bay, Chicago, and Minnesota got A or A- grades on their drafts. He gave the Lions a C. You can’t believe all that stuff from the analysts, and I get that. They are full of hot air in a lot of instances, but it’s an opinion that’s out there.
Look, other analysts are picking the Lions to win the NFC North next season. That’s an opinion that’s out there too. I hope they are right. In the draft, like in college recruiting, only time will tell. Every NFL team out there is telling their fan base they got the guys they wanted and they are better than they were a year ago. Every team. Including the Lions. Nothing really matters until the regular season next September. Then it matters.
Finally, I will go out on a limb and tell you who I thought really did a nice job in their draft. These two teams flashed in a good way from my perspective. Let’s put it this way, these teams got my attention in a positive way, whereas the Lions got my attention in an interesting way. Does that make sense? I hope so…maybe it’s me just being cryptic again.
Anyway, Philadephia, for being a Super Bowl team really hit it out of the park in the first round. They drafted maybe the most NFL ready and talented player in the draft in defensive tackle Jalen Carter, and then they got another starter in Linebacker Nolan Smith. Both guys played at Georgia, I saw both of them in person, and they are the real deal. Smith brings the combination of speed and size and attitude. The best got better by a lot in one day.
The other team that stood out for me was Houston. They drafted a franchise quarterback in C J Stroud from Ohio State, then a pick later they stepped up and got the best defensive combo player in the draft in Will Anderson of Alabama. The Texans have a long way to go, I know that, and Stroud will have to learn fast, but you cannot discount his amazing numbers at OSU. He’s got skill. Anderson is a game wrecker. He’s going to make a difference right away. With new coach DeMeco Ryans at Houston, I really like where this franchise is moving. Ryans is a star in the making as a coach, and his team is on the rise.