The Detroit Lions got sniped.
They really, really liked cornerback Devon Witherspoon. The University of Illinois product would have fit right in with the Lions’ defensive backfield and could have even reunited with former college teammate Kerby Joseph, who made noise in his rookie year with Detroit last season.
Maybe they thought they were safe with that pick at No. 6. Maybe they knew another offer was coming. But what we know is that Seattle took Witherspoon at No. 5 and Detroit promptly traded down — all the way to No. 12.
The Cardinals were the ones to come up, with picks they had just acquired via a trade down with the Texans for the No. 3 pick. They sent Nos. 12, 34 and 168 to Detroit for Nos. 6 and 81.
The Lions then consequently missed out on offensive tackle Paris Johnson Jr., edge rusher Tyree Wilson, running back Bijan Robinson, defensive tackle Jalen Carter and OTs Darnell Wright and Peter Skoronski.
So, who did they pick at 12?
Alabama running back Jahmyr Gibbs.
It’s interesting that so much NFL draft discourse the past few months centered on whether Robinson, widely considered the best running back prospect since Saquon Barkley, should go in the first round given the positional value of running backs. And then Robinson goes No. 8 overall to the Atlanta Falcons and Gibbs is nabbed four spots later.
“Jahmyr Gibbs, he’s been mocking in the 50s,” general manager Brad Holmes said. “Now that one I did laugh at because if you look at the talent of the player and you look at the totality of the draft, I didn’t think that was even remotely close.”
Like Robinson, Gibbs is a playmaker. Not only does he have the agility and vision to run behind Detroit’s stellar offensive line, he can run routes like a wideout and has “home-run speed,” as one scout put it to me. That could make him a dangerous weapon for quarterback Jared Goff, with Gibbs at times serving as another receiver.
Detroit can get really creative given the versatility of its skill players. The Lions’ arsenal now includes Gibbs, Amon-Ra St. Brown, who tallied the 11th-most receiving yards in 2022 despite working primarily out of the slot, David Montgomery, D’Andre Swift and Jameson Williams, who first must serve a six-game suspension.
“It’s like, kind of pick your poison,” Gibbs said of specifically teaming up with his former Alabama teammate Williams. “We can both make explosive plays in the pass game and run game.”
The Gibbs selection, of course, drew mixed reviews. It was a head-scratching move.
The Lions’ next one was even more confounding. They watched as edge rushers Lukas Van Ness and Will McDonald, OT Broderick Jones and cornerbacks Emmanuel Forbes and Christian Gonzalez were claimed, leaving the draft’s consensus top wideout Jaxon Smith-Njigba still available. Tight end Dalton Kincaid was also up for grabs, and after trading away T.J. Hockenson midway through last season, Detroit has a big hole at the position. The board had fallen in Detroit’s favor at No. 18 … before the football world’s collective mouth fell open again.
The Lions selected inside linebacker Jack Campbell out of Iowa.
Campbell, mind you, is really talented. He’s tough as nails, a total Dan Campbell type of player. But No. 18 overall? For an inside linebacker? Consider that veteran linebacker Bobby Wagner’s latest contract is $5.5 million per year. Lavonte David is making $4.5 million in Tampa. Campbell will now make right around those figures.
It stands to reason that Detroit, which owns the No. 34 overall pick as a result of its swap with the Cardinals, could have gotten Jack Campbell with its first Day 2 selection. But Holmes and his staff weren’t tempted to “get cute,” noting that Campbell was the highest-rated player remaining on their draft board “by a large margin.” They instead played it safe, which carries its own risk.
“We had a good feeling that he would have been there, but we didn’t want to mess around,” Holmes added. “I was more excited to just get the guy at 18.”
The Lions like who they like. They didn’t want to wait to get their guy. This one, like Gibbs, was valued differently than the consensus. Neither showed up in too many first-round mocks. But media have their jobs and Holmes has his.
“There’s no disrespect, but I would guarantee you that we’ve put a lot more work into that and to those players and [done] a lot of character research, a lot of evaluations — a lot of deep digs,” Holmes said.
The Lions have plenty more picks to play around with in the coming days, including Nos. 34, 48 and 55 in the second round.
They’re not done yet.
Carmen Vitali covers the NFC North for FOX Sports. Carmen had previous stops with The Draft Network and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. She spent six seasons with the Bucs, including 2020, which added the title of Super Bowl Champion (and boat-parade participant) to her résumé. You can follow Carmen on Twitter at @CarmieV.
NFL Draft coverage from FOX Sports:
Get more from National Football League Follow your favorites to get information about games, news and more