Is Lions’ draft haul overly criticized?
Connor Rogers picks the two teams he thought crushed the 2023 NFL Draft and explains why he isn’t as low on the Lions’ selections as others.
MICHAEL HOLLEY: Favorite draft team-- who was it? Who did the best draft for you?
CONNOR ROGERS: It's the Seattle Seahawks. Yeah, it really is. I mean, you look at Jaxon Smith-Njigba now as their number three wide receiver. You look at getting a number one corner in Devon Witherspoon. They got a lot of value across the board as well deeper into the draft.
They got Anthony Bradford, one of the best run blockers, at guard. They took Olu Oluwatimi from Michigan-- tons of starting experience at center throughout college. So they shored up the interior of their offensive line. They got a guy with the ceiling of number one wide receiver that'll be their number three wide receiver.
They got a shutdown man-to-man corner that plays with an edge to his game. I absolutely loved what Seattle did. And on the AFC side, it's the Steelers. They just became a tougher football team.
Broderick Jones on offensive line-- they needed a tackle. They were proactive about going up and getting him. They got Joey Porter Jr at long press corner. Keeanu Benton is going to play nose tackle in three-tech for their defensive line. He's a great run stuffer with some pass rush upside.
And then Darnell Washington-- I thought he was a top 20 player in the draft. They got him really late at 93. That's insane to me. Now they have two tight end sets of Darnell Washington and Pat Freiermuth. In a division that it's really, really tough to stay alive with all that competition, the Steelers knocked this one out of the park.
VINNY GOODWILL: Now, you just talked about the teams that you love. I have a colleague at Yahoo Sports that gave the Lions an F. And if I were giving them, I would have given them an F-minus because I give the Lions F's for everything.
I'll divorced myself from the Lions, Connor. Don't worry about it. It's been 23 years since I've done it. So I have no-- I'm Detroit, but I'm not the Lions. OK.
Did the Lions have as bad of a draft as some people thought with trading down and trading down-- I feel like they traded twice in the draft but traded out of 6 to get to 12 and then taking a running back and then trading D'Andre Swift to Philly. How did you view them before the weekend compared to how you viewed them coming out of the weekend?
CONNOR ROGERS: It's really tough to go through because there's the context of did they reach on a couple slots? Absolutely. Did they take positions that have lost value in the eyes of the NFL in this era of running back and off-ball linebacker in the first round? Sure, but they walked away with really good players, guys.
Honestly, if I'm going to nitpick anything from this draft, it's taking Sam LaPorta over Michael Mayer. That's the one head scratcher that I couldn't get on board with. And Laporta is still a solid player, but if you put Brian Branch in that first round conversation and swap him out with Jack Campbell and you just flip their draft slots, I'm fine with this draft. Brian Branch is a great player, gives them stability on the back end.
When you have Jack Campbell-- he was my top linebacker, and that's a big need for them. It was not a great draft. You know what they did? They looked at Jahmyr Gibbs and said, he's a great player in a not so great draft. There's probably eight non-quarterbacks in this draft that can be true difference makers, and they grabbed one.
And listen, they reached a little bit, but that doesn't mean it was a bad draft. I think they got four starters in this draft class, and that alone is a win for them for a roster that is already pretty good. Not to disappoint you guys here, but I didn't react to the Lions draft the way many did. And I think in three years, it'll be a different context in view of this draft class.
MICHAEL HOLLEY: I'm so glad you said that. I love Brian Branch-- just the position that he plays. I feel like there are going to be a lot more players like that in college football. The coaches are going to value that more-- a guy who can play in the slot, but also-- defend wide receivers in the slot, but also play safety.
But I like the way you said it. The draft is-- it's just a matter of, who do I want? That's the number one thing you got to ask yourself before you even make a draft pick. You got to have that conversation on Monday before the draft starts on Thursday. Who do we like in this draft, and how do we get them?
So they clearly-- Connor and Vinny, they liked Gibbs. Sounds like they liked Gibbs more than they like Bijan Robinson, which is interesting. But they liked Gibbs.
VINNY GOODWILL: That's really interesting.
MICHAEL HOLLEY: They liked Branch. Right. They liked Campbell. And shockingly, they liked Laporta over Mayer, clearly. And they got their guys.
And I like what Brad Holmes had to say. Tell me if you agree with this, Connor. Holmes said, hey, when I first looked at Campbell, I thought, hey, traditional middle linebacker type-- plug the hole. But the more I watched him, he's extremely athletic. He can do a lot more than the things people describe him doing, and so that's why he's such a fit for us. You agree that he has some athleticism that your traditional run thumper, run stuffer doesn't have?
VINNY GOODWILL: Wait--
CONNOR ROGERS: Absolutely.
VINNY GOODWILL: --to win the NFC? Hold on. Hold on. I'm sorry, Connor. [INAUDIBLE].
CONNOR ROGERS: You're back?
VINNY GOODWILL: Never-- no. Hell, no. Never. I'll never be back. I quit. I quit those toxic relationships a long time ago. But they're fourth in the-- fourth-- is Vegas high? What am I missing here?
CONNOR ROGERS: It's a bad conference. That's what it has to be.
MICHAEL HOLLEY: And a good team. And a good team, Vinny. You'll be back. You'll be back. Go ahead, Connor. I'm sorry to interrupt you.
CONNOR ROGERS: It's all good.
VINNY GOODWILL: I was just-- I had a heart attack. Elizabeth, I was coming home to you.
CONNOR ROGERS: Listen, when you look at Jack Campbell, I mean, there's just not a lot of bad tape of him, and that's hard at the linebacker position. And then he goes out to the combine, and he's an elite tester. He really is.
I think what people got mixed up, especially when you're carrying almost 250 pounds in an era where most linebackers are 235, 230, especially at the college level, it looks a little bit different. But he ran good enough at the 40 and then was elite at just about everything else.
The agility with him, the ability to drop in zone coverage or read the quarterback's eyes and make a play on the football, the sideline to sideline speed, but of course, the ability to come downhill and be a thumper-- and that's a lost art in today's game that Campbell still has. And the Lions-- that defense got really ran on a lot last year, and they just had enough of it.
And you add Campbell and Branch-- arguably two of the best run defenders in the entire draft-- that shows me that Brad Holmes and Dan Campbell are in sync. A coaching staff and a front office that are in sync to address their needs and the kind of players that are going to have success there goes a long way. And it's paid off already for the Lions during the Brad Holmes and Dan Campbell era.
VINNY GOODWILL: I'm just shocked on this whole Lions at number 4 odds thing going. That's just-- that hasn't been the reality of that franchise. The last time that the Lions were actually picked to do something, I think they went 0 and 16. I think that's when that was.
MICHAEL HOLLEY: They're good now, though. No, no. Yeah, they are. I like the-- they are-- by the way, Vinny. I don't know if you-- they are the official team of "Brother from Another." The Detroit Lions-- we are on board. We-- we'll just start saying "we." We finished 9 and 8 last year.
We prevented the Packers-- we prevented the Packers from going to the playoffs in the final game of the season. And we have addressed our needs sufficiently. Is there any-- Connor, before we let you go, is there any-- or I know there's probably more than one-- teams that you looked at them and even in retrospect, you go, I just don't know what they were thinking with the draft? I've had a night or two to think about it, and it just doesn't make sense the way they handled their draft choices. Who would that team or who would those teams be?
CONNOR ROGERS: I think it has to be the 49ers. And maybe it doesn't matter because they're so well coached, and their roster is good. But imagine sitting there all week. You don't have a pick until the third round.
I understand they took Ji'Ayir Brown, the safety from Penn State first in the third round. But then you take a kicker with a top 100 pick. Listen, kicker in the top 100 is never good business. I don't care how good the kicker prospect is. And he's not an elite kicker prospect. He's just a good one-- Jake Moody.
I just look at that and go, man, you could have gotten really good depth there on the offensive or defensive line. There was some starters available at other positions. I don't like that strategy at all, and I despise it when you didn't have a first or second round pick to begin with. Kicker before round 6, guys, you'll be on my losers list immediately.
MICHAEL HOLLEY: Well, I guess you got the Patriots on your losers list, too, because they took two kickers. They took a kicker and a punter. Took a kicker--
CONNOR ROGERS: But they did wait.
MICHAEL HOLLEY: --a kicker in the fourth round. In the fourth round, though-- fourth round on their kicker and sixth--
CONNOR ROGERS: And they traded up for him. They traded up for that kicker.
MICHAEL HOLLEY: Yeah. And listen, every position matters. See, I'm not one of these, don't take this guy. Well, except for long snapper-- long snapper--
CONNOR ROGERS: You have a line. Yeah.
MICHAEL HOLLEY: But then again, the Patriots have drafted a long snapper, too. Look, hey, when you win championships-- Bill Belichick has gotten away with a lot of stuff. When you win championships, people stop asking questions. He has done some really crazy stuff with his draft picks. Drafting kickers, punters-- he has drafted kickers, punters, long snappers, and gunners.
He has drafted gunners. I don't know. But you have six championships, so the rest of us can just sit down somewhere because I guess he knows what he's doing.
You also, Connor Rogers, know what you're doing. Appreciate you, man. Thank you for stopping by. And you just have to let me know what the bet payoff is. I mean, you want a great--
CONNOR ROGERS: Just trust me next year, Michael. Just trust me.
VINNY GOODWILL: No, no, no, no, no, no.
MICHAEL HOLLEY: I already trust you. I trust you.
VINNY GOODWILL: No, no, you get something from him.
MICHAEL HOLLEY: Hey, man, he's about to get married. You tell me where you're registered. Uncle Michael will take care of it.
CONNOR ROGERS: My man.
MICHAEL HOLLEY: Get you a nice-- that nice present that everybody was like, wait a minute. No, no, let me go down another tier. They asking for that? Ooh. I'll get you it. I'll get you that one.
VINNY GOODWILL: You getting married, man? My condolences.
CONNOR ROGERS: I appreciate you, guys. Thank you so much.
MICHAEL HOLLEY: Connor Rogers, appreciate you, man Thank you.
CONNOR ROGERS: Later, guys.
MICHAEL HOLLEY: You didn't just say-- you didn't just say "my condolences" on a wedding announcement, did you?
CONNOR ROGERS: Oh, that was good.