Lions to select best available player in 2024 NFL Draft

DETROIT — The Detroit Lions have employed a distinct strategy over the past three NFL drafts.

It’s one that has allowed the franchise to land five Pro Bowl players (Penei Sewell, Aidan Hutchinson, Jahmyr Gibbs, Amon-Ra St. Brown and Sam LaPorta) in that span, with Sewell — the seventh overall pick in 2021 — and St. Brown — a fourth-round selection in 2021 — also earning first-team AP All-Pro honors for the 2023 season.

This year, Detroit holds the 29th overall pick, and Lions general manager Brad Holmes and coach Dan Campbell say they have no plans to change their approach — regardless of team needs.

“You guys know us by now. We’re just gonna pick the best player [available],” Holmes said at last month’s league meetings. “I know it’s always, everybody wants to say, ‘It’s needs, needs, needs … you gotta get needs’ … and it’s a lot of appreciation for our process for free agency because I did always say about the whole needs train. Free agency is a time to do that.

“Free agency is a time to pull out the depth chart and start plugging holes and all that kind of stuff, but you guys have heard me talk openly about it. But when it comes to the draft, you can really make some mistakes when you’re trying to reach for a need and you’re missing out on really impact players.”

This offseason, the biggest roster needs for the Lions were at cornerback, edge rusher, defensive tackle, offensive guard and a potentially a wide receiver after losing veteran receiver Josh Reynolds, who inked a two-year deal with the Denver Broncos after free agency opened last month.

The Lions were aggressive addressing them — particularly on defense — with the signings of former Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle DJ Reader, veteran outside linebacker Marcus Davenport and former Las Vegas Raiders cornerback Amik Robertson.

They also traded for Super Bowl winning cornerback Carlton Davis III from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and re-signed veteran CB Emmanuel Moseley, who, despite appearing in just one game last season due to a knee injury, the Lions think can help the team when at full strength.

“I truly believe this was our best free agency haul that we’ve had since we’ve been here,” Holmes said. “The reason why I say that is through our planning and process this year, we have these No. 1 targets, and we literally were able to get every single one of our No. 1 targets that we were out to get. It doesn’t always work that way.”

After a successful free agency, the Lions’ preparation for this year’s draft is no different than the past. There’s no such thing as a perfect roster in the NFL, but Campbell said he’s pleased with what they have so far.

“We’re the best we’ve been in four years, and we feel like we’ve got a lot of those holes filled,” he said.

He added: “Since we’ve been here, we’ve really man, draft the best player available. Don’t let the … ‘man, we absolutely have to have a linebacker.’ Don’t let that … just go for what you believe is gonna fit your team and what you feel like is the best player at the time,” Campbell said at the league meeting. “And I don’t think this year is any different.

“I think what’s unique is those first two or three years, we did have a lot of holes, so it just naturally was like, ‘Well, here we go, that worked out’ because if you’ve got eight holes, your odds are pretty good that you’re gonna get a guy that’s gonna fill a hole.”

The Lions allowed opponents to score a touchdown on 23% of their drives last year, which ranked 25th in the league. They also allowed 247.4 passing yards per game, which was the sixth-most in the NFL, while allowing 7.8 yards per attempt, which was second-most, and 34 completions of 20-plus air yards, which tied for second-most.

Additionally, the team released starting cornerback Cameron Sutton last month when they found out about a warrant for his arrest stemming from his alleged involvement in a domestic violence case.

With Sutton’s absence, will the Lions to target a potential replacement in the draft?

“Certainly, there’s still some guys we’re looking at in free agency that can bring in some competition and that may or may not be done before the draft,” Campbell said of possibly adding another cornerback. “I know that it brings up a little more urgency for another player that can compete, but as far as everything else goes, we’re ready to go into the draft and see if we come away with something in there.”

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