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NFL Draft Preview

Detroit Lions running back D'Andre Swift celebrates his touchdown against the Chicago Bears during the first half on Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020 at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan. (Junfu Han/Detroit Free Press/TNS)

By Connor Lannen

After a season of tanking for better draft positions, months of mock drafts, and probably a little bit too many Colin Cowherd “hot takes,” the 2021 NFL Draft week is finally here.

The 2021 NFL Draft will begin with the first round picks being announced on Thursday, April 29, in Cleveland, Ohio. A limited number of prospects and fans, media crews, and team personnel will be in person at the draft this year.

The fans in attendance have been dubbed the name of the “inner circle” and were chosen by each of the 32 teams to serve as draft ambassadors. An interesting element of the fans chosen to be in the “Inner Circle” is that they must all be fully vaccinated, according to NFL guidelines.

The NFL Draft is one of the most anticipated sporting events of the year and it will be refreshing to see it take place in person again. The NFL has the shortest rebuild time out of any of the four major sports leagues, which is why the draft is so much more anticipated than any of the other leagues.

Draft day is the Detroit Lions Super Bowl, the one day of the year where everyone is undefeated and all the fans are drinking the Honolulu Blue Kool-Aid. This year the Lions have the seventh in the draft, which puts them in an interesting position.

This is the first draft of the new coaching regime and the first draft under new general manager, Brad Holmes. The Lions tore down their team by making several moves this past off-season, that included trading franchise quarterback Matthew Stafford, and letting star players like Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones walk in free agency.

In return for Stafford, the Lions received Jared Goff and two future first round draft picks. Goff was the 1st overall draft pick in 2016 and went to a Super Bowl with the Los Angeles Rams just two years ago.

Many want the Lions to take a shot at drafting their franchise quarterback this season and have completely written Goff off as a part of the Lions’ future. This year’s draft is a QB heavy draft, however, there may be as many as five QBs selected before the Lions are on the clock with the seventh pick.

If the first picks of the draft go as expected, that would potentially leave QB’s such as Trey Lance or Mac Jones on the board when the Lions are on the clock. Lance and Jones are both very risky picks and have no guarantee of becoming the next franchise guy for Detroit.

Detroit’s expectations for the 2021 season are as low as they have been since 2010 which would give the Lions a good chance at the top pick in the 2022 draft. Goff is still only 26 years old and only five years removed from being the #1 pick.

Dan Campbell, Holmes, and the new regime of the Lions should hold off on drafting a QB and give Goff a chance to prove himself as the Lions franchise QB. In addition to the riskiness of the QB picks, Detroit has holes all over the field that need to be filled, and grabbing an elite talent to fill one of those holes will accelerate the rebuild.

There are two avenues I would be happy to see the Lions go down in the draft. The first one would be to keep the seventh pick and draft one of the three elite receivers in Jamarr Chase, Devonta Smith, or Jaylen Waddle.

Chase is being projected to be taken by the Bengals or Dolphins with the fifth or sixth pick. He is the clear #1 wide receiver in the draft and if he is still available when the Lions are on the clock, it should be a no brainer of a draft pick.

The other two receivers, Waddle and Smith, are immensely talented but have their share of question marks. Smith is the reigning Heisman trophy winner and absolutely dominated at the collegiate level. Smith capped off his career at Alabama by catching 12 passes for 215 yards and three touchdowns, all in the first half of the National Championship game.

Smith’s biggest concern is in his size, weighing in at just 166 pounds and standing just 6 feet tall. Personally, I think that talent beats size and he will be dominant in the league but many analysts think that his skills will not translate to the NFL.

Waddle on the other hand is also extremely talented but has an injury history that makes it difficult to spend such a high pick on. Waddle was Smith’s teammate at Alabama but in the fifth game of the season suffered an ankle injury that kept him sidelined until the National Championship game.

In my opinion, all three of the top receivers will make the transition to the NFL and become elite receivers at the next level. I would rank the three in order of Chase, Smith, Waddle, but would not complain about seeing any of the three wearing the silver and blue for the 2021 season.

The other route that Holmes could decide to take is trading the seventh pick for more draft capital and taking a player like Micah Parsons, a few spots back. Some teams desperate for a quarterback may be willing to give up quite a bit in return to take a shot at Lance or Jones.

Parsons, a linebacker from Penn State, is the consensus best linebacker in the draft and would hopefully become a captain of Detroit’s defense, which ranked dead last in the league in 2020.

There is no doubt that the defense needs to be bolstered and Parsons would help do that but taking the linebacker with the seventh pick would be a bit of a reach. Trading back and getting Parsons plus more draft capital would be a home run in my books.

The Detroit Lions are not going to be in the hunt for the playoffs in 2021 and it is important to go into this season with ground floor expectations. There is hope on the horizon as the entirely new coaching staff is working on giving the Lions a new identity and winning culture, something that Detroit has lacked since the 1950s.