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Detroit Lions mock draft 2023: Dan Campbell’s squad strengthens the defense

Usually, the 2023 NFL Draft would be the biggest highlight of the Detroit Lions’ season, but now that head coach Dan Campbell has helped turn this franchise around, it’s not so monumental. Still, general manager Brad Holmes has a lot of work to do as the Lions continue their effort to get back to the postseason for the first time since 2016.

That’s where the NFL draft can provide an instant jolt not only to the team’s win total in 2023 but also for years to come. While it’s true that the Lions aren’t facing a franchise-altering decision like last year when Aidan Hutchinson was the No. 2 pick, Detroit still has a huge opportunity ahead, with two first-round selections on April 27.

Nailing this draft could be the difference between the Lions staying put as a team that wants to contend for a playoff spot to one that leaps into the picture for good. Boasting two top 20 picks and a total of five in the first 100 selections, the Lions have a great chance at adding several impactful playmakers during the three-day draft. Let’s look at their picks.

Related: Detroit Lions could be targeting elite defender in NFL Draft trade up scenario

Detroit Lions draft picks 2023

Here are the Detroit Lions’ draft picks in the 2023 NFL Draft.

  • Round 1, 6th overall (via LAR)
  • Round 1, 18th overall
  • Round 2, 48th overall
  • Round 2, 55th overall (via MN)
  • Round 3, 81st overall
  • Round 5, 152nd overall
  • Round 5, 159th overall
  • Round 6, 183rd overall (via DEN)
  • Round 6, 194th overall

Related: 2023 NFL Draft order

2023 Detroit Lions draft needs

Here are the Detroit Lions’ draft needs in 2023.

  • DT/DL
  • CB
  • TE
  • LB
  • EDGE
  • OG

Detroit Lions mock draft: Building Dan Campbell’s defense

Sportsnaut uses Pro Football Focus’ NFL Draft simulator, which provides the flexibility to trade and work through various scenarios. Let’s dive into our Lions mock draft.

1st round, 6th overall: Devon Witherspoon, CB, Illinois

NCAA Football: Illinois at Minnesota
Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

Having already addressed the edge rusher position last year by selecting Aiden Hutchinson second overall, now it’s time to get their young Defensive Rookie of the Year runner-up some help. However, in this case, it happens via the secondary, buying more time for the front seven to get home.

The Lions can add all the pass rushers they want, but if the quarterback can still drop back and quickly find an open receiver, it won’t matter whether he has three or five seconds. This is where a player like Devon Witherspoon can be a game-changer for the NFL’s third-worst passing defense from 2022.

Witherspoon has all the desired traits NFL scouts seek from a No. 1 cornerback, being extremely sticky in coverage while loving the physicality of the sport. This is a player with a competitive spirit coach Campbell will love.

Considered the best cornerback in the draft, Witherspoon could quickly ascend to the top of the depth chart, becoming the lockdown defender Jeff Okudah was supposed to be. If the Lions want to ensure their pass defense is taking a major leap forward this season, landing Witherspoon would be a strong step.

Related: 2023 NFL defense rankings: Evaluating all 32 NFL teams before NFL Draft

1st round, 18th overall: Bryan Bresee, DL, Clemson

Indianapolis-Colts-Bryan-Bresee
Ken Ruinard / USA TODAY NETWORK

As mentioned, Hutchinson wreaked havoc as a rookie, but he needs more help along the defensive line. Alim McNeill continues to develop, but Levi Onwuzurike has battled injuries and is a major question mark going forward, much like Detroit’s defensive line.

One way to inject a top talent into the front seven could present itself on Day One of the NFL Draft, with a loaded prospect pool in the first round. The Lions could approach the first day any number of ways, but our belief is they’ll try to emerge with one cornerback and one defensive lineman/edge rusher. That could mean the order flip-flops from our prediction here.

In this scenario, we take no chances and lock in the premier cornerback first, as we feel that is Detroit’s top need. This played out well with players like Bryan Bresee, Calijah Kancey, and Nolan Smith still on the board in our mock. With those options, Bresee becomes the choice.

Bresee has the positional versatility to play anywhere on the defensive line, but he won’t be asked to play nose tackle. His athleticism offers high upside as a pass rusher, where he could form a dangerous tandem with Hutchinson rushing off the edge and Bresee pushing the pocket from the inside. Yet, Bresee’s strength could also play really well in the running game, helping the Lions improve a unit that ranked fourth-worst in the NFL last season.

Still just 21, Bresee would immediately step into a starting role, albeit on a line that features Hutchinson and James Houston rushing off the edge. These presences should help Bresee avoid double-teams as a rookie, yet even if he does start to dominate and get more attention, he’s ready to go to work.

2nd round, 48th overall: Sam LaPorta, TE, Iowa

2023 NFL Draft tight end rankings, Sam LaPorta
Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

The Lions decided to trade Pro Bowl tight end T.J. Hockenson ahead of last season’s trade deadline, and their offense didn’t suffer. Yet, it just makes sense to continue providing Jared Goff with more weapons as Jameson Williams and Amon-Ra St. Brown draw most of the attention their way.

We can’t help but get the impression that coach Campbell wants a strong blocking tight end, but you can’t be too picky when assembling a roster. Getting Sam LaPorta in the middle of the second round delivers a starting-caliber player who could quickly replace Hockenson’s production.

LaPorta is great after the catch, routinely shedding tacklers, and his 4.59 40 time shows he can stretch the seams. As mentioned, the 6-foot-3, 245-pounder could improve as a blocker, but that can be developed over time. For now, he’s a plug-and-play starter with Pro Bowl potential.

2nd round, 55th overall: Daiyan Henley, LB, Washington State

Washington-State-Daiyan-Henley
Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

Another area of weakness on Detroit’s defense comes at the linebacker position, where Alex Anzalone and Malcolm Rodriguez are the presumed starters. While Rodriguez has yet to reach his ceiling, neither have sky-high potential.

At 6-foot-2, 225 pounds, Daiyan Henley covers a lot of ground from the linebacker position. At that size, he’s not a run-stuffer, but Henley is excellent in coverage. He’s also a very reliable tackler, having missed just 5% of his tackle attempts during his senior season.

Henley is an excellent athlete, having clocked a 4.54 40 time while posting a 35-inch vertical leap. If he can translate his college production to the next level, Henley could emerge as a starting option before the season ends.

Detroit Lions 7-round mock draft 2023

Here is our full seven-round Lions mock draft.

  • 1st round, 6th overall: Devon Witherspoon, CB, Illinois
  • 1st round, 18th overall: Bryan Bresee, DL, Clemson
  • 2nd round, 48th overall: Sam LaPorta, TE, Iowa
  • 2nd round, 55th overall: Daiyan Henley, LB, Washington State
  • 3rd round, 81st overall: Nick Herbig, EDGE, Wisconsin
  • 5th round, 152nd overall: Jake Haener, QB, Fresno State
  • 5th round, 159th overall: Keaton Mitchell, RB, East Carolina
  • 6th round, 183rd overall: Dontay Demus Jr., WR, Maryland
  • 6th round, 194th overall: Starling Thomas V, CB, UAB

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