Perhaps no team did more to alter its fortunes this weekend than the lowly Detroit Lions. I love what they did. And, much more importantly, evaluators I reached out to in the aftermath of the draft felt the same way.
If this franchise finally gets turned around, if Dan Campbell and Brad Holmes accomplish what so many have tried and failed, and if the Lions actually become a consistently winning organization, I suspect we look back at their player acquisitions from the 2022 draft as a major reason why. They have gone about turning the assets they received for Matthew Stafford into potential foundational pieces, and it appears on paper as if they are well on their way.
Aiden Hutchinson was the consensus top overall pick before Travon Walker broke the combine. Look at Jacksonville’s vast history of blowing or overthinking top 10 picks; the fact they took this gamble probably bodes well for the Lions. Grabbing the Michigan pass rusher and culture-changer and exemplary human being is huge for Detroit. And it set the tone for a great three days.
For all of the talk about receivers in this draft, and the different varieties available, and all of the varied opinions, one thing stood out to me among the evaluators I trust: Jameson Williams has the best chance to be a truly franchise-altering talent. No one has higher upside at that position. No one else can take the top off a defense like him. And once he’s healthy, he’ll do just that. I can’t applaud Holmes and his staff enough for paying what seemed to me to be a bargain price to move up 20 spots.
“If you are going to make a move like that in this draft, on that side of the ball, you do it for that kid (Williams),” one executive told me. “He could be truly special.”
Another said: “I love what the Lions did. They kickstarted their rebuild.”
On Day 2 they grabbed perhaps my favorite player in the entire draft in pass rusher Josh Paschal, a tremendous kid who is all about helping others and who has used overcoming cancer as an impetus to make the world a better place. Would they have selected Hutchinson’s bookend pass rusher from Michigan in that spot had the Ravens not grabbed David Ojabo? Perhaps. But I love the idea of Hutchinson and Paschal teaming up as well.
Safety Kerby Joseph and tight end James Mitchell also caught my attention in the mid-rounds. Will the Lions end up regretting sitting out this polarizing quarterback class entirely? Maybe. But next year’s batch will most definitely be more exciting than this class, and Detroit should be well positioned enough to capitalize. In the meantime, their talent level is heading decidedly in the right direction for a change.
Eagles surge toward top of NFC in roster supremacy
The Eagles are closing in on the Bucs and Packers for NFC roster supremacy. I like what they are putting around their quarterback. I like what they did in the draft (including Philly’s mega-trade for A.J. Brown, which I think was a steal).
I think both Brown and the Eagles will make noise this season.
Brown will be a physical beast with jump balls and catch radius and contested catches. Yeah, it’s a lot of money, but the owner is a billionaire and he isn’t really paying anyone on offense right now and the QB is still making peanuts. Now’s the time to do it, and two years from now they’ll have flexibility in the deal if they need it.
Philly upgraded its spine on defense, which was massive. Jordan Davis is a freak of nature defensive lineman who can be eased in on a DL that has top veterans like Fletcher Cox still around. And now Nakobe Dean – the alpha of a Georgia defense that might be the best of all time – can run around behind him. Had the Eagles stayed at 18 and not dealt Brown, I could see Devin Lloyd being the pick there; Dean will more than suffice and getting him at 83 is better yet.
I think Cam Jurgens will team with 2021 draft pick Landon Dickerson to provide an interior anchor of the offensive line for years to come at the center position. Oh yeah, and did I mention that what Brown’s presence downfield will do for an already potent run game?
This is the best team in the NFC East for me. And if Hurts can get a little more consistent and the staff can continue to evolve in what that offense looks like, I see the Eagles being a factor in that conference come January. Oh, and landing Carson Strong as an undrafted free agent could end up being huge, too. If that kid can stay healthy, he plays in this league at some point.
More insider notesThere are some teams with some obvious lingering needs heading out of the draft. Tyrann Mathieu to the Saints makes a ton of sense. Had Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton been there with their second first-round selection then they wouldn’t be as hotly connected to the veteran. But now it makes too much sense not to happen … Speaking of safeties, someone is gonna get a good one if/when the Ravens deal Chuck Clark. They are loaded at his position after selecting Hamilton with their first pick. Clark has worn the green dot at the QB of their defense for years, he can play multiple roles including linebacker/hybrid stuff, he is beloved in that locker room and is a true leader. Not sure what they end up getting for him, but after dealing a bevy of veterans in recent years who asked out after seeing their roles change (Hayden Hurst, Orlando Brown, Hollywood Brown, for starters), hard to see them keeping Clark after drafting his replacement with two years left on the veteran’s deal …Baltimore’s draft is being heralded, and rightly so, but that front seven still needs a lot of work. Hard to imagine they don’t add at least one veteran edge rusher, and perhaps two. A reunion with Justin Houston and someone like Jerry Hughes would make a lot of sense … I still see the Browns doing whatever they can to bring back Jadeveon Clowney and Jarvis Landry; those needs are real. And as I have been reporting, if the Browns are serious about trading Baker Mayfield, ownership better get real about eating at least half of his near-$19M salary. And Seattle remains the only landing spot that truly makes immediate sense.