Detroit Lions' Brad Holmes explains why he traded down to take RB, LB in NFL draft Round 1

Shortly after Thursday night turned to Friday morning, Detroit Lions general manager Brad Holmes emerged through the double doors and took the podium to answer questions about his two first-round draft picks at the team facility in Allen Park.

His message was as clear then as it was when the Lions selected Alabama running back Jahmyr Gibbs at No. 12 then followed it with Iowa linebacker Jack Campbell six picks later at No. 18 overall: Mock drafts mean nothing to me.

Though he said it more respectfully than that.

"They’re football players, if you believe they can have an impact for you on the football field then you go ahead and take them," Holmes said. "It’s no disrespect to the mock drafts, I get it’s not the guys that everybody had in their mock drafts and all that stuff, but frankly, we don’t care.

18. Detroit Lions - Jack Campbell, LB, Iowa
18. Detroit Lions - Jack Campbell, LB, Iowa

"When you come across a special player like that and you’re convicted, you just get him."

THREE QUESTIONS: Lions go off the perceived board, but Brad Holmes adds 2 playmakers in Round 1

HOME RUN HITTER: In RB Jahmyr Gibbs, Lions 'got the best overall athlete in this draft'

The Lions started the night with the sixth overall pick — the last asset remaining from the quarterback swap of Matthew Stafford and Jared Goff with the Rams — but per Holmes' admission, many of the players they had near the top of their board had already been selected.

As all teams do, the Lions prepared for multiple scenarios and team brass began working the phones. For the second consecutive season, Detroit executed a draft-day trade to take a skill position player from Alabama at No. 12 overall. This time, it was the transfer running back, Gibbs.

"It happened to work out perfect when we made the trade with Arizona," Holmes said. "Everybody’s board is different, everybody has different rosters and different needs, they’re looking for different things. It doesn’t always line up that way but it happened to line up that way tonight."

The Lions drafting Alabama RB Jahmyr Gibbs at No. 12 overall wasn't the only questionable decision on Thursday night.
The Lions drafting Alabama RB Jahmyr Gibbs at No. 12 overall wasn't the only questionable decision on Thursday night.

While Holmes was thrilled (as evidenced by his war room reaction) the selection was widely seen as the first shocker of the night. Even Gibbs himself said he was surprised to go then — he told reporters on Zoom he was going to end up somewhere in the 20s.

Holmes had no such confidence he would fall that far, going as far as to say he was concerned early in the night when the team had Picks 6 and 18 that he wouldn't even make it beyond the mid-teens.

The 5-foot-9, 200-pound speedster first emerged on Holmes's radar on a September afternoon in Austin, Texas; when he and Alabama out-lasted Bijan Robinson (the first running back taken on the night at No. 8 overall) and Texas, 20-19.

Gibbs had just nine carries for 22 yards, but he caught nine more passes for 74 yards and a touchdown; Holmes hasn't been able to get that or his 4.36-second 40-yard dash out of his head since, which is one reason he said he laughed when he saw Gibbs in the mid-50s in some mock drafts.

It's also why the GM said he doesn't get caught up on the idea of the diminishing value of running backs in a pass-first league — prior to Robinson four picks before Gibbs, no tailback had been taken in the top 20 since Saquon Barkley in 2018.

HMMMM, I DON'T KNOW: Jahmyr Gibbs at No. 12 is just too high

"I understand if you look at analytics and numbers, again like 'running back’ and look at it very static in numbers and black and white, I can see where someone would come up with that," Holmes said. "It’s not just about don’t pick a running back, because that’s not how we view him."

He spoke in the same way about Campbell, as did linebackers coach Kelvin Sheppard, who was asked about what an athlete the level of Campbell (6-5, 249 pounds) can do for a defense.

His relative athletic score of 9.98 out of 10 ranked No. 6 out of 2,652 linebackers to test since 1987. He was both a captain and All-American in college and not only was he named the Dick Butkis Award winner as the nation's top linebacker, but he William Campbell trophy recipient, which is also known as the academic Heisman.

"The athlete, everybody sees that, that’s stuff I don’t try to dive too deep it because its speaks for itself, it’s exceptional what this player can do at his size," Sheppard said. "The thing that jumps him above some other guys in my opinion is his passion for the game. The way it drives him. You see it, he speaks it, he lives it.

"He is a Detroit guy, he is a Dan Campbell guy, he is a culture fit immediately."

That's the key and frankly, what Detroit's first draft night of 2023 was all about. The Lions had their chance to grab perhaps the most talented player in the draft in Jalen Carter at No. 6 overall, but it would seem he didn't pass their character tests, as they let him slide.

GETTING WARMER: Iowa LB Jack Campbell fills a need, but may be a reach

They could've gone with flashier players at 18, but Campbell was at the top of their board "by a good margin," according to Holmes.

Already, the first-round grades from national experts are flying around, largely saying the Lions botched their opportunity at two picks. There's a chance they end up being right.

But then again, Holmes, Campbell and Co. didn't ask their opinion.

"We feel really confident about the work we put in and what these guys are going to do on the field," Holmes said. "I think our fans are going to be really proud and really excited about what they see, and I’m not saying like in a year or two years

"We believe these guys are ready to go right now."

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This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Lions' Brad Holmes explains Round 1 moves in 2023 NFL draft