On the second day of Draftmas, Ash Thomspon gave to thee,
Two offensive players in each found for the team.
The Detroit Lions defense in 2020 may have been the worst in NFL history, but that does not mean that the team can ignore the offensive side of the ball in the draft. They let their entire wide receiver corp walk, they have at least one hole on the offensive line, their tight end depth is questionable, and their running backs get hurt… because they play running back. Needless to say, there are opportunities to add all kinds of talent in this draft. The offensive skill positions, in particular, have a great deal of talent throughout the draft.
I am not going to give you players for the seventh pick. There are a million articles telling you the Lions should look at Jamar Chase, Pennie Sewell, Kyle Pitts, Justin Fields, Trey Lance, or an Alabama receiver at seven. You know that if you’ve worked your way down to reading my NFL draft coverage. My round one on offense is predicated on a trade back. And yes, I know the Lions do not have picks in the sixth or seventh round this year. If it helps you sleep better, assume that part of the gain in that trade back was sixth and seventh-round picks.
Round One: Skill Position or lineman?
Rashod Bateman is my number three receiver in this draft, and I think he’s the second most likely to become a dominant number one receiver. Chase, Waddle, and Bateman are my first tier of receivers in this draft and I have my doubts that Waddle has true number one potential. If he went to a bigger school, or even if he played the whole year, Bateman would be in that conversation nationally. My pro comp for Bateman is 6′ tall Steve Smith. Bateman can run jet sweeps, crossing routes, and also fight for an imperfect deep ball if required. In the Lions offense, without another high-profile target, I could see Bateman having an immediate impact similar to that Justin Jefferson had in Minnesota last season. This is a prospect that just takes care of all the little things. His fake routes on running plays look like real routes, and he uses them to set up plays later in the game. He isn’t a thunderous blocker, but when the ball breaks outside, he gets on someone.
The other trade-back prospect I like on offense is Christian Darrisaw. The Virginia Tech Senior started as a freshman and kept his job for his entire college career. He is a left tackle at the collegiate level, but he has the agility to switch sides without difficulty. It is legitimately a struggle for some people, but Darrisaw is the kind of fluid athlete who shouldn’t have a problem. He is exactly the kind of player that fits the zone rushing attack that Anthony Lynn is likely to implement as the Lions’ new offensive coordinator. Unlike the other top tackle prospects in the 2021 draft, Darrisaw actually played football in 2020. That is probably something that will matter to a guy like Dan Campbell. Nobody’s biting off kneecaps running around in their underwear all year.
Round Two: Pass Catchers Galore
The Lions need a slot receiver for 2021, and there is a huge pile of them available in the late round-one to early round-two range. The guys I like at this point, though, are the ones with a little bit of inside/outside versatility. A guy who can start on the inside but move outside if one of the Lions’ current starters goes down is more worthy of an early pick than one who absolutely can not. Amon Ra St-Brown may not go in the second round, but he should. He is a stud route runner, with great hands who “gets freaking open” in the immortal words of Hulk Hog… oh wait, Lions coach Dan Campbell. He is a player that the Lions should strongly consider because of that versatility.
Elijah Moore is a short receiver with the speed to really hurt defenses. He’s a guy whose tape makes judgment a bit difficult. The Ole Miss offense routinely runs a play every ten seconds and Moore doesn’t come off the field much. With legitimate and obvious 4.32 speed he’s often tasked with a lot of sprinting, and as drives unfold he does wear down a little bit. Despite being 5’9″, I don’t think Moore is completely limited to an inside receiver role. I believe Moore is the exception, much like Golden Tate before him. He lined up all over the field in college and given his skill set he should continue to do the same as a pro. Nobody will be able to keep up with Moore on crossing routes and the Anthony Lynn offense has historically featured a lot of those. Moore in a Lions uniform would be a really nice draftmas present.
Round Three: Let’s Block Some People
Alex Leatherwood’s fall in stock in the draft baffles me. He’s not a spectacular athlete. He’s a really good offensive lineman. Those two things can both be true. Leatherwood might be a team’s right tackle, or he might fill one of their guard spots, but one thing is absolutely 100% certain beyond even a glimmer of doubt: Alex Leatherwood is a starter somewhere on any of 32 NFL offensive lines as a rookie. Other teams can look for dancing bears who can’t push the pile. Brad Holmes needs to be smarter than that. The Alabama boost had Leatherwood listed in the round one conversation in January, but this is likely closer to where NFL teams see the actual value of this player.
One of the knocks on Zack Wilson is that he never faced pressure at BYU. One of the reasons that is true, comes in the form of offensive tackle Brady Christensen. He isn’t the most athletic guy on the line, he may need to move inside to guard, but hey, the Lions need guards for the future too. Christensen handled his business at BYU’s competition level on the outside, but his lack of lateral mobility makes guard a better fit. He’s powerful, and he’s got the mentality to hit people even in his pass sets. Hank Fraley has done great things with worse players than this.
Round Four: Let’s go Outside!
Josh Palmer reminds me of Kenny Golladay in a very specific way. Both had questionable tape in college because of how terrible their quarterback play was. Unlike Golladay, who never really got open but made ridiculous plays on forced balls constantly, Palmer does get open. Then he waits, and waits, and waits, for a poorly thrown ball to eventually come his way, which he does catch. In the video I linked, you can see the subtle route running techniques that make Palmer the number one player in the draft who is incredibly likely to be a better NFL player than he was a college player. There are rankers who have Palmer in the 300s who are going to be giving someone an F when he gets drafted early on day three. They’re going to be wrong. Truthfully, I wouldn’t be mad if the Lions took Palmer as early as the end of the third, but this is likely where he is actually going.
Simi Fehoko fits the Lions’ profile for an outside receiver to this point. He’s 6’4″ 227lbs and he ran a 4.37 40 yard dash at his pro day. He is a smart player who shows a lot of potential, but he does have some concentration drops on routine plays. He isn’t a hesitant blocker whether he’s lined up outside or in the slot, so he projects well as a special teams player. He definitely interviews well. Fehoko is a guy that I believe will find a way to hang around in the league for a decade. There is a possibility that he goes before this because there are not a lot of true outside receivers to write home about, but the beginning of day three is where Fehoko fits.
Round Five: Oh Canada!
Chuba Hubbard was a world-class sprinter in the 100-yard dash coming out of high school. I don’t like him just because he grew up 20 minutes from my house, but it helps. He’s a patient runner who explodes through holes, even when they’re a bit tight. Hubbard ran a 4.36 40 yard dash at his pro day, but he’s far from the stereotypical speed back. Yes, he can catch the ball out of the backfield, though he’s not moving to slot receiver any time soon. Yes he can find the edge quickly, but he also got powerful legs that keep moving on impact. He is not an easy out for would-be tacklers. So if he’s that great why is he a fifth-round pick? He fumbles. Hubbard has 11 fumbles in his college career, and while not all of them are the bad kind, that’s far too many, even if a few were just great defensive plays. Palmer is also Canadian, but I swear that has nothing to do with my takes on these two guys.
Josh Imatorbhebhe is a really nice athlete at the wide receiver position. He is not a route running technician, not at all. He is freakishly fast, however, and uses that to create separation on underneath routes. On those rare cases where his quarterback hits him in stride at Illinois he makes plays. Jared Goff’s main feature as a quarterback is that he hits receivers in stride all over the field. He reminds me a lot of Kenny Golladay. Like Golladay, he is fast enough, but not fast. He is also big enough, but not actually big. What he does do, however, is jump out of the building and grab contested balls. His 4.48 40 doesn’t fit the Lions’ profile so far, but that red zone ability could be tempting on day three.
Round Six: Yes I Know the Lions do not Have a Sixth Round Pick
Shi Smith is going to be a 40 catch 650-yard receiver out of the slot for someone within the next few seasons. That’s about as good as it gets in round six of the draft. Guess how good his quarterbacks were? Terrible, so obviously I love him. He’s not big but he fights for balls effectively. He’s the kind of player who does his damage on short routes underneath. He is neither big nor fast. He has good but not spectacular hands, and his routes are fine but not shoe-blowing. He’s a scrappy competitor who does make circus catches, but as often as not his awkward adjustments to the ball in the air make those catches necessary. He fits into a short passing game with a quarterback that hits players in the numbers quite nicely, and that’s about what I expect from Anthony Lynn’s offense in Detroit.
Trey McKitty is an intriguing prospect. Georgia’s coaches didn’t use him much in the passing game in 2020, but he showed up at the Reese’s Senior Bowl and was burning fools all over the field. College coaches don’t always make great choices. He had knee surgery before the 2020 season, which may also explain his lack of playing time. In round six, McKitty is exactly the kind of risk you want to take. He’s the kind of player who can take a short route a long way, but he hasn’t done it a lot on tape. This is a smart guy, he graduated from Florida State in three seasons before transferring to Georgia last year as the team geared up to support incoming QB Jamie Cunningham who then opted out. A six-catch season is likely not what McKitty expected to find in the transfer portal after two fairly productive seasons at FSU.
Round Seven: Whop, There it is!
I’m not sorry. Whop Philor is another quicker than fast slot-only receiver. I think because his legs are pumping quickly, many draft analysts expected him to run faster, just like they’re always shocked when a long strider who is 6’5″ runs a 4.4 40. Some folks never see past the optical illusions that competition and body type create. Before he ran a 4.57, Whop was a trendy day two pick because his tape is great. He’s a daredevil in the middle of the field. He makes the catch at the cost of his own body every time he has the chance. He’s also terrific on his crack-backs. Not in a Heinz Ward highlight-reel kind of way, but in a gets in the way and stops his guy from making the play kind of way. He’s a slot-only receiver because he’s not fast and he’s small, but guess what, slot corners typically aren’t fast or big either so that bad 40 time isn’t really a big negative. Philor is the kind of guy who will be someone’s WR 4 for a long time despite his lethal lack of height/speed/weight.
Jamie Newman had the opportunity to put himself in the quarterback conversation for the 2020 draft. If there is any player who could have benefitted immensely from playing in 2020, or taking the extra year in 2021 that the NCAA offered all players, it’s Newman. He joined the Georgia program to get into a real offense, then opted out before the season started. Some shade has been thrown his way regarding whether he was willing to compete for the job. The Wake Forrest offense he played in makes any attempt to judge his tape meaningless. They never asked him to do anything a professional team will. However, he showed a big arm and athletic traits that will have teams interested. Someone might fall in love with his traits and take him higher than this, but Jamie Newman is a seventh-round flyer level player. By the end of his rookie contract, I would give even odds that Newman is a tight end as a quarterback. He’s got the physical tools, but he’s farther from pro-ready than even Trey Lance.
Day three of draftmas takes us to the defensive side of the ball. Three players that the Lions should look at for each round of the draft is what you’ll be treated to barring real life getting in the way, which it does almost every year at some point. You can find me @mrtweetson along with the dozens (AND DOZENS) of other followers who have subjected themselves to my tweets since I started talking about sports on this account, or in the slack channel that some people are calling “The most intelligent Lions chat on the internet” where you can share your weekly sorrow, and offseason unreasonable level of optimism with about 300 other Lions fans who have passed the reasonable human being test. Despite a shockingly low bar (just, like, don’t be a dick), not everyone has. Watch the Vlogs and buy the shirts, yadda yadda yadda. Keep the hamster’s wheel serviced and moving, thanks in advance. Draft takes heated on an open fire, Groupthink tugging at your brain. Though it’s been said many times, many ways: Happy Draftmas toooooooo you.