The NFL teams that consistently draft well year over year not only have a terrific eye for talent but also understand how to blend best player available while also filling some needs along the way.
Trusting the draft board and selecting the best available player is always the best draft strategy. Teams want to come out of the draft with multiple players who add overall talent to the roster, but if they also fill some needs, the team can take a big leap forward.
Lions general manager Brad Holmes has done a terrific job of that over the course of his first two NFL drafts in 2021 and 2022. Tackle Penei Sewell (first round), defensive lineman Aidan Hutchinson (first), safety Kerby Joseph (third), defensive lineman Alim McNeill (third), wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown (fourth), linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez (sixth) and linebacker James Houston (sixth) were impact players as rookies and have become core players for the organization moving forward. Wide receiver Jameson Williams, another first-round pick in last year's draft, should have a bigger impact this year once he returns from a six-game suspension.
With nine picks total and five in the top 81 this year, Holmes will be on the lookout for more impact players in his third NFL Draft with the Lions.
Here's a look at Detroit's most pressing position needs with the draft just days away:
1. DEFENSIVE TACKLE
The Lions like what they have in McNeill and veteran Isaiah Buggs along the interior of their defensive line, but they also know they have to add numbers to that group.
"Buggs is a very talented player," Holmes said at this year's Annual League Meetings.
"The real thing with Buggs is that I think he'll be even better if everything works out in terms of – he had to play a lot of snaps last year. More snaps than we would have liked for him to play due to the circumstance he just had to."
That tells me Holmes is still on the lookout for help along the interior of the defensive line.
Maybe 2021 second-round pick Levi Onwuzurike will be in the mix after missing all of last season with a back injury, but backs can be finicky injuries.
Hutchinson, John Cominsky and Josh Paschal can all play inside, but they are more effective on the edge. The Lions were bottom three in yards allowed per rush (5.2) last season and only 3.5 of their 39 total sacks came from primarily interior defenders.
Didn't the Lions just sign veterans Cam Sutton, C.J. Gardner-Johnson and Emmanuel Moseley? Yes, but Garner-Johnson, Moseley and Will Harris are signed to one-year deals. And the team traded Jeff Okudah to Atlanta for a fifth-round pick earlier this month. That leaves Sutton and Jerry Jacobs as the only cornerbacks with experience currently on the roster signed into the 2024 season.
This is a terrific cornerback class led by the big three of Devon Witherspoon (Illinois), Christian Gonzalez (Oregon) and Joey Porter Jr. (Penn State). It's also a deep class with teams able to get impact players well into Day 2. Something tells me the Lions aren't done adding to this group yet.
The team re-signed leading tackler Alex Anzalone to a three-year extension this offseason. They also like youngsters Derrick Barnes and Malcolm Rodriguez, but they could stand to add another impact player at the position to promote some competition and add something to the group in the passing game. Anzalone, Rodriguez and Barnes combined to allow 78 receptions the 96 times they were targeted (81 percent completion percentage) for 761 yards and a touchdown, per Pro Football Focus statistics.
This isn't a deep class of off-the-ball linebackers, but there are some impact players in this draft on Day 1 and Day 2 that could come in and immediately give the Lions a boost in athleticism and speed at the position.
View photos from offseason workouts on Thursday, April 20, 2023.
4. INTERIOR OFFENSIVE LINE
This is a spot similar to what we talked about with the cornerbacks. Jonah Jackson is a Pro Bowler at left guard. Frank Ragnow is one of the best centers in football. Veterans Halapoulivaati Vaitai and Graham Glasgow are expected to compete for the right guard spot, along with others, in what should be one of the best offensive line units in football.
But Vaitai and Glasgow signed one-year deals and Jackson is headed into the final season of his rookie contract. Atlanta's Chris Lindstrom, one of the top guards in the NFL, just signed a five-year $105 million contract this offseason, which Jackson and his representatives certainly took notice of.
There are some really good interior offensive linemen in this class. Detroit's pick at No. 18 or either of their three picks on Day 2 could make sense to add a versatile and talented interior lineman to the mix.
5. BACKUP QUARTERBACK
The Lions reportedly have a contract offer in for veteran quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who is still weighing his playing options next year, so the need for a backup quarterback could change significantly depending on what Bridgewater decides.
As the roster currently stands, Nate Sudfeld is the only other quarterback on the roster besides starter Jared Goff. Sudfeld served as Goff's backup last season but has only played in six career games and attempted 37 passes in four seasons.
Holmes and the Lions could certainly look to add a young quarterback to start developing and add competition for the backup spot, though that seems unlikely at No. 6. Maybe at No. 18 or with one of those three Day 2 picks.