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In his latest 2023 NFL mock draft, ESPN analyst Mel Kiper has the Detroit Lions selecting two defensive players in the first round. Kiper's first projection had the Lions targeting defense as well, highlighting the team's needs in this area. With the No. 6 pick, Kiper has the Lions selecting Oregon cornerback Christian Gonzalez, who Kiper believes could test off the charts at the combine. Kiper's second projection has the Lions selecting Arkansas linebacker Drew Sanders with their second first-round pick. According to Kiper, the Lions' defense ranked near the bottom of the league in most statistical categories, making it imperative for the team to focus on this area in the draft.
- Kiper has the Lions double-dipping on defense in the first round of his latest mock draft
- The Lions have the No. 6 and No. 18 picks in the first round
- The team's defense ranked near the bottom of the league in most statistical categories
- Kiper believes the Lions should use Day 1 of the draft to focus on defense, despite a talented tight end class at the top
Mel Kiper's picks for the Detroit Lions
6. Detroit Lions (via LAR) Christian Gonzalez, CB, Oregon
I wrote in January this was a little high for the Lions to take a cornerback, but I've come around on the ceiling of this corner class. We could see two in the top 10. People I talk to in the NFL believe Gonzalez is going to test off the charts at the combine, and Devon Witherspoon (Illinois) and Joey Porter Jr. (Penn State) have a chance to be the No. 1 corner as well. The 6-2 Gonzalez had a stellar 2022 season at Oregon, picking off four passes.
The Lions, who also own the No. 18 overall pick, have to come out of this draft with plug-and-play starters on defense. They finished 2022 last in QBR allowed (55.9) and yards per play allowed (6.2). Whether it's a pass-rusher or corner here, that's the direction they should go. And remember, they have an extra second-round pick from the T.J. Hockenson trade, too.
18. Detroit Lions Drew Sanders, LB, Arkansas
Back to the Lions, to whom I projected a cornerback with the No. 6 pick. They should double dip on defense in Round 1, and Sanders, my top-ranked inside linebacker, would really help them. Again, this defense ranked near the bottom of the league in most statistical categories, so the Lions could go with the best defender left on their board. Sanders, a transfer from Alabama, stuffed the stat sheet in his lone season at Arkansas — 111 tackles, 16 tackles for loss, 9.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception. His pass-rush upside means he could move around the defense and make plays, and he should be a three-down defender.
I thought about tight end for Detroit because it's a talented class at the top, and there's a hole after the TJ Hockenson trade, but the team likely could address the position on Day 2. It should use Day 1 to focus on defense.
The Big Picture: Lions need to rebuild their defense
The Detroit Lions have a lot of work to do to rebuild their defense, which ranked near the bottom of the league in most categories last season. With two first-round picks in the 2023 NFL draft, the team has an opportunity to add some much-needed talent to its defense. By targeting defense in the first round, the Lions can address some of their biggest weaknesses and lay the foundation for a better defensive unit in the future.
Lions Defense By the Numbers
- The Lions defense ranked last in the NFL in yards allowed per game (392.4)
- The team also ranked 28th in the league in points allowed per game (25.1)
The Lions' defensive struggles were evident in their rankings in key statistical categories last season. The team allowed the most yards per game and the fifth-most points per game in the league. That being said, over the final 10 games of the season, the defense was MUCH better, which is a great sign. By prioritizing defense in the draft, the Lions can address these issues and start to turn things around.