Lions NFL Draft big board: Top players to watch at edge, wide receiver and more


It’s early April and the NFL Draft — hosted by Detroit — is soon approaching.

The Lions are drafting later than they ever have (at No. 29) in the Dan Campbell-Brad Holmes era, thanks to the success of the 2023 season. But Holmes, the team GM, is excited about the opportunity to continue adding to a roster that reached the NFC Championship Game in its first playoff run together.

And his strategy is clear.

“You guys know us by now,” Holmes said at the owners’ meetings in Orlando, Fla., last week. “We’re just going to pick the best player. I know everybody always wants to (say), ‘Needs! Needs! Needs! We got to get needs!’ … But you guys have heard me talk openly about it. When it comes to the draft, man, you can really make some mistakes when you’re trying to reach for a need and missing out on impact players.”

As we await the draft, here’s a fresh big board, highlighting potential fits for the Lions in the first round and beyond.

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Edge

Dallas Turner, Alabama: Turner is widely regarded as the No. 1 edge in this class. He has an explosive first step, an elite motor and defends the run. If there’s something to nitpick, it’s that he’s only 242 pounds, while other first-round edges are closer to 260. That didn’t slow him down at Alabama, though. He’s been projected as a top-15 pick, which puts him out of range for the Lions barring a trade.

Laiatu Latu, UCLA: The more I watch Latu, the more I think he’s the best pass rusher in the class. He had an FBS-best 24.6 pass-rush win rate in 2023, recorded 13 sacks and 21.5 tackles for loss in his final season. He wins regularly thanks to his hand technique and eyes, something that doesn’t come naturally to many. The only real questions with him are health-related (Latu was forced to medically retire at Washington with a neck injury before transferring to UCLA and getting cleared to play). As a result, he’s been mocked in the teens and 20s. Could he fall to 29?

Jared Verse, Florida State: Verse is a highly productive edge who also tested well at the combine, earning a relative athletic score of 9.58. He can win on his initial rush or counters, plays with effort in the run game and is strong as a bull with 31 bench reps. Hard to see him making it to 29, but you never know.

Chop Robinson, Penn State: A natural pass rusher with an explosive first step, Robinson could grow into a fearsome threat for the Lions. He’s more traits than production right now, but his tape shows a high-upside prospect who hasn’t yet reached his potential. When you’re picking late in the first, those are players worth betting on and developing.

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Darius Robinson, Missouri: Robinson’s versatility is his calling card. He lined up all over the defensive line for Missouri and could do the same in the NFL at 6-foot-5, 286 pounds. He wins with power but lacks some of the pure explosion/speed others at the position have, though, which might devalue him a bit.

Adisa Isaac, Penn State: Isaac is another edge with traits and twitch. He recorded 27 tackles for loss in his final 26 games and is generally viewed as a top-50ish prospect. As Dane Brugler notes, he has some freelance tendencies, but that could be worked out of his game with NFL coaching.

Marshawn Kneeland, Western Michigan: A local product who already had a formal meeting with the Lions at the combine. He’s a fun watch with a relentless motor and good athleticism. Viewed as a top-60 prospect by many, he could be available for the Lions in the second round.

Austin Booker, Kansas: Booker is inexperienced and needs to continue adding weight to his frame, but I wouldn’t call him raw. He’s talented, and has a plan of attack when he takes the field. He’ll need reps to continue getting better, but you don’t want to depend on him as a starter out of the gate. The Lions could provide the sort of playing time needed to continue his development, without forcing him to be a guy right away.

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The Lions would have to trade up to draft cornerback Terrion Arnold. (Butch Dill / USA Today)

Cornerback

Terrion Arnold, Alabama: The 2024 CB1 on many boards, including Brugler’s. He has him as his No. 10 prospect and compares him to Bears CB Jaylon Johnson — a first-team All-Pro this past season. After hearing Arnold at the combine, it’s clear he wants to be great and plays with the swagger the Lions like. But he’s been a projected top-20 pick since the season ended. They’ll have to trade up to land him.

Quinyon Mitchell, Toledo: One of the biggest winners of the offseason workout cycle, Mitchell has cemented his status as a first-round pick. The first-team All-American possesses elite ball skills and pairs it with a calm and collected game, capable in man or zone. He possesses good size, ran a 4.33 40 and had the most bench reps (20) of any corner at the combine. Likely another trade-up candidate, should the Lions go that route.

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Nate Wiggins, Clemson: Wiggins ran a blazing 4.29 40 at the combine and pairs that speed with strong size at 6-foot-2. With this combination, Wiggins has elite closing speed, which shows up in his film time and time again. At Clemson last season, Wiggins allowed a passer rating of 44.1. While he plays with effort, the question with Wiggins is his frame, weighing in at 185 pounds. The Lions want their corners to be able to defend the run. It remains to be seen if he can.

Cooper DeJean, Iowa: DeJean is a football player. Period. He has the potential to play outside corner, nickel or safety at the next level. For some teams, he’ll be a guy you draft and let the chips fall. But for others, he might not be a fit.

Kool-Aid McKinstry, Alabama: McKinstry has long been in the spotlight as a draft prospect, and might be suffering from draft fatigue. He’s calm, cool and collected, battle-tested, comes from a program the Lions love and can play press-man. One question with McKinstry has been his long speed. He reportedly ran a 4.47 40 at his pro day — one that Holmes attended. He feels like a realistic option, should he be there at 29. But the way the Lions talk about Carlton Davis III and Amik Robertson, this could be another year they kick the can down the road at outside corner in the first round.

Kamari Lassiter, Georgia: Lassiter carries himself like a 10-year vet and can play either man or zone coverage. He’s smooth in coverage and is an aggressive tackler in space. He also comes with a championship pedigree. I was really impressed listening to him at the combine. Good-looking prospect who could be there for the Lions.

Ennis Rakestraw Jr., Missouri: Poor testing at the combine — reportedly due to a groin injury — put a pause on the Rakestraw buzz, particularly in the first round, but he still possesses many qualities the Lions like. He can tackle, he can play man coverage and he has the attitude. Rakestraw reportedly ran a 4.44 40 at Mizzou’s pro day. Those numbers aren’t as official, but they would be a major improvement if accurate.

Mike Sainristil, Michigan: Sainristil might be the best nickel in what’s considered to be a strong nickel class. The Lions just so happen to have a gem in Brian Branch. However, with Campbell telling reporters at the owners’ meetings that he believes Branch can play more safety, it could open the door for the Lions to draft an inside guy like Sainristil. What I’ve learned from covering this team is that the Lions love football players, and Sainristil is just that. The goal is to field the best possible lineup, so I don’t think the Lions would be scared to draft him and make it work.

Renardo Green, Florida State: Green’s stock seems to be all over the place, so it’s hard to get a feel for where he’ll ultimately end up. I really like his game, though. A team that covets a man corner later on could be the ideal fit for him. He’s very comfortable playing that style of football. Aaron Glenn is, too. Just food for thought.

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Defensive tackle

Byron Murphy II, Texas: Murphy is an undersized, yet explosive defensive tackle. He recorded 45 pressures and a FBS-best win rate of 19.1 percent last season among interior defensive tackles. There’s been a trend of these smaller, pass-rushing defensive tackles emerging as first-round prospects, and Murphy fits the description. He’s a three-tech at the next level.

Jer’Zhan Newton, Illinois: One of my favorite prospects in the class, Newton is a fun watch. He’s explosive and moves well for his size, which makes sense considering he’s a former running back. Newton could be a disruptive three-tech for a team in need of defensive tackle help. But with Alim McNeill and DJ Reader in the fold, with Levi Onwuzurike and Brodric Martin still developing, the Lions might look to use their resources elsewhere.

Braden Fiske, Florida State: No defensive tackle helped his stock more than Fiske. While he has below-average length (31-inch arms), he makes up for it with elite athleticism. His 9.90 relative athletic score garnered him national attention, largely thanks to his elite speed and agility numbers. Again, the Lions might not be in the market for a pass-rushing three-tech, but never say never.

Offensive line

Troy Fautanu, OL, Washington: Fautanu represents the guard-tackle option among the offensive linemen listed here. He might be best suited as a guard, but he’s shown enough for some to think he could handle tackle. Versatility is important for a Lions offensive line that has some decisions ahead.

Jackson Powers-Johnson, IOL, Oregon: One of my favorite prospects in the class, Powers-Johnson is considered to be a Day 1 starter at center. However, he also impressed in reps at guard at the Senior Bowl, and played there at Oregon before taking over at center. He could be a guard-now, center-later prospect for a team like the Lions. Think of how the Eagles used Cam Jurgens.

Graham Barton, IOL, Duke: A versatile, 6-foot-5 lineman who played center, guard and tackle in college, it’s easy to see why Barton is thought of as a first-round pick. He recorded a relative athletic score of 9.99 as a guard. His speed and agility ratings all check out as elite no matter where you line him up. He’s most likely best suited in the interior, but man, the versatility is intriguing with him. Wouldn’t be surprised to see the Lions fall in love with him.

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Kingsley Suamataia could make the Lions O-line a family affair. (Kirby Lee / USA Today)

Kingsley Suamataia, OT, BYU: Imagine an offensive line featuring Penei Sewell at left tackle and his cousin, Suamataia, at right tackle. That could be a reality for the Lions in the near future. The team reportedly had a formal meeting with Suamataia at the combine and it makes sense. He’s uber-athletic, listed third on Bruce Feldman’s Freaks List after being clocked running 21.8 mph at 318 pounds. Taylor Decker is a free agent in 2025 and will be 32 at the start of the 2025 season. If the Lions don’t want to hand out a big contract, they could look to get younger with Suamataia — letting him develop for a year before taking over as a 22-year-old in 2025.

Tyler Guyton, OT, Oklahoma: A tackle who needs time and could be offered it in Detroit. Guyton is raw and inexperienced, but he’s 6-foot-8, 322 pounds and moves well for his size. Can’t teach that.

Cooper Beebe, G, Kansas State: Beebe has all the experience in the world and just feels like a guy who’ll be a 10-year starter in this league. His stock is hard to read, and his age/limited versatility could keep him below some other interior linemen, but he could start immediately if needed.

Christian Haynes, G, UConn: Another guy who should be ready to roll as a rookie, Haynes was an All-American last season, has good short-area agility and finishes well in the run game.

Wide receiver

Brian Thomas Jr., LSU: A fast-rising X receiver with the speed and size to win on the outside, Thomas would be a home run at No. 29. He has everything teams covet and could help keep an elite Lions offense elite. However, he’s been projected in the teens and early 20s in most mock drafts.

Adonai Mitchell, Texas: Mitchell has a lot of the qualities you look for from an X receiver. He’s 6-foot-2, ran a 4.35 40, has a 39.5-inch vertical and can accelerate/decelerate with the best of them. That’s where it starts with him. Per Brugler, Mitchell has some wasted movement in his routes that needs to be cleaned up, but you have to think he can get there in the NFL.

Xavier Legette, South Carolina: Rising up draft boards, Legette has the sort of physical build and speed combination that could translate well at the next level. He can win in the contested catch game, ran a 4.39 40 at 221 pounds and has a 40-inch vertical. He’s not a finished product, but he can win with contact and with speed. Keep an eye on him.

Ladd McConkey, Georgia: He’s not the typical X receiver many have linked to the Lions, but McConkey can separate with the best of them, which gives him the look of a high-floor prospect. The Lions have proven they don’t need the big-bodied, go-up-and-get-it type.

Keon Coleman, Florida State: Coleman’s stock has been falling since the season ended, thanks to a poor 40 time (4.61 at the combine) and a limited route tree. Florida State used him in questionable ways last season, which certainly didn’t help. The upside is there for Coleman to turn into a quality receiver as a big-bodied jump-ball winner, but he struggles to separate and is still developing as a route runner. You’d feel better about him in the second round, but a team might be willing to bet on his potential earlier. He plays faster than his times suggest.

Devontez Walker, North Carolina: The Lions reportedly met with Walker at the combine, and he brings an intriguing size-speed blend at 6-foot-2 with a 4.36 40. He didn’t have the most productive season and really needs to improve his footwork, but that’s why someone could potentially get a player with his raw talent in the second or third round.

Other positions worth monitoring: Safety, tight end, kicker.

(Top photos of Laiatu Latu and Brian Thomas Jr.: Darren Yamashita and Petre Thomas / USA Today)





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