The Detroit Lions will have some decisions to make in April when they are on the clock with the No. 7 pick in the NFL draft. And it will go beyond what player they might choose or position they want to focus on.
With multiple quarterbacks potentially still available at No. 7 and many teams in search of a new signal-caller, the Lions may be able to move down and stockpile more picks as they attempt to rebuild in the post-Matthew Stafford era.
It’s still early, but unlike last year when Detroit was at No. 3, there may be more options once free-agent movement has finished up.
“That would be something they could do,” ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said. “If they think [Alabama receiver] Jaylen Waddle is a really good player [they could take him], but they can get something to move off of that spot, that may represent [Ohio State quarterback] Justin Fields now.
“Maybe that’s a spot where teams move up to get Fields or [North Dakota State QB] Trey Lance or [Alabama QB] Mac Jones. Maybe you get an offer from, say, New England to move from 15 to seven, what you do is drop down from seven to 15, get some extra choices and then be in a position where it’s a little bit more palatable to look at a pass-rusher like Jaelan Phillips from Miami or a Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah [of Notre Dame].”
That’s the intriguing — and potentially difficult — part of this draft. With much of the elite talent focused on offense, between the multiple quarterbacks, Waddle, Alabama’s DeVonta Smith and LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase at receiver and Oregon’s Penei Sewell at tackle, defensive players at No. 7 might be a stretch.
Even the one defensive player who might make sense at the spot at the moment — Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons — has questions because he opted out of the 2020 season so no one has seen him play for a year.
Kiper Jr. said he believes the 2020 draft will be the “most mysterious draft ever,” because there’s so little known about so many players. With no combine and very little in-person, at-school evaluation, teams might not be able to do as much homework on players as they would otherwise, leading to more questions and unknowns than before.
That’s why a trade could make the most sense for Detroit if there are partners out there. And there will be quarterback-needy teams. At least Carolina, Denver, New England, Washington, Chicago and Indianapolis all have quarterback questions.
While moving down from No. 7 all the way to No. 19 (Washington), No. 20 (Chicago) or No. 21 (Indianapolis) might seem like a long fall, if it nets two or three extra picks along the way, it could end up being a good option for a Detroit team in the midst of stockpiling what it can.
And in that range, taking one of the better defenders in the draft would still be an option. The Lions need defensive playmakers at every level.
So what might happen if Detroit decided to stay at No. 7? There’s the possibility of remaining on defense with Parsons. But with the elite players in the class on offense, Kiper routinely mentioned Waddle as a possibility for Detroit.
The Lions are in desperate need for a receiver with just two players in their room at this point — rookie Quintez Cephus and 2020 opt-out Geronimo Allison — and could use a playmaker for new quarterback Jared Goff.
If Smith or Chase are there, they would be options. But if they are not, Kiper Jr. is high on Waddle as a possibility.
“So if you’re stuck at seven, going back to that, if you’re stuck at seven you want one of the best five players in this draft and you can make an argument that Jaylen Waddle is,” Kiper Jr. said. “Now he’s coming off a fractured ankle. He did play in the championship game but he limped around. Wasn’t close to 100%.
“But he did play in the game and showed his true character and how much he wants to be able to play and compete with his teammates.”
Kiper Jr. also mentioned Waddle’s success as a punt returner — an advantage especially if Detroit decides not to re-sign Jamal Agnew, who had been one of the NFL’s best returners the past four seasons.
Lastly, there’s the reason for the possible trade in the first place — the quarterback. The Lions, even with Goff, could be in the rookie quarterback draft market. Goff offers Detroit flexibility if it doesn’t want to take a quarterback early. This mostly gives the Lions options.
“I would go Justin Fields based on upside and talent. There’s some things he needs to work on and improve but he’s got a ton of ability,” Kiper Jr. said. “I would lean to Fields there if you said I’m going to go quarterback, that’s the most important position. We like Jared Goff, but we don’t know for sure if he’s going to be super elite. So let’s go that route. I would go Fields at that particular point.”
But Kiper Jr. also said at Goff’s age (26) and the potential for his ability and his future he would look at other positions unless there was a quarterback there he completely loved.
“It’s not like Jared is 35. So his age, you’re moving forward with Jared,” Kiper Jr. said. “I would use that seventh pick to upgrade at another position.”