National analysts grade the Lions' 2020 draft class
Mel Kiper Jr., ESPN
The Lions' defense was awful last season, and coach Matt Patricia and general manager Bob Quinn are under pressure to win now. Detroit tried to upgrade the defense in free agency with Danny Shelton, Jamie Collins and more additions, but by trading Darius Slay, it opened a void at cornerback. Top pick Jeff Okudah will fit; he's a physical, athletic man-to-man cover guy who has some swagger and should be the Lions' top corner as a rookie. I know Patricia and Quinn were tempted by defensive tackle Derrick Brown there, but they stuck with their biggest need and got the best cornerback in the class.
On Day 2, Detroit added the best running back in the class with D'Andre Swift. This team hasn't had a 1,000-yard rusher since Reggie Bush in 2013, the longest active drought by any team in the NFL, and Kerryon Johnson now has serious competition. The Lions also got my third- and fourth-ranked guards in the class, as Jonah Jackson and Logan Stenberg could be asked to play early. Quintez Cephus got lost a little bit in a deep wide receiver class, but he could be a nice Day 3 find.
Overall, for a coaching staff and front office that needs to win now, the Lions did about the best they could, though this class won't wow you.
Andy Benoit, Sports Illustrated
No team played more man coverage than the Lions last season, which is a philosophy that Matt Patricia brought over from New England. In that same vein, Patricia also puts a huge emphasis on matchups, having specific corners travel almost everywhere with specific receivers week after week. You must have a true No. 1 corner to consistently do this. What Stephon Gilmore has brought to New England, the Lions hope Jeff Okudah will bring to Detroit.
The downfall of Detroit’s man coverage last season was it occurred behind an absolutely futile pass rush. Enter third-round pick Julian Okwara. Julian is a different style of defensive lineman than his older brother Romeo, with whom he’ll now be teammates in Detroit. While Romeo is a long and somewhat thick-bodied moderate NFL-caliber athlete who is highly dependent on his mechanics, Julian is more of a dynamic edge defender, with the length, burst and flexibility to turn the corner and reach the quarterback. Guys with those attributes are not usually available in Round 3. The Lions desperately needed to buttress their pass rush; you’ll likely see Julian Okwara in a passing down sub-package specialist role in 2020.
Offensively, the focus was on the running game. The Lions resumed their ongoing efforts to find Barry Sanders’s replacement. The latest swing here, D’Andre Swift, was a highly refined zone runner at Georgia and will operate mainly out of those designs in coordinator Darrell Bevell’s offense. Swift has the lateral agility to create his own space, and his potential explosiveness as a receiver could do wonders for a Lions offense that must regain some aerial balance after becoming heavily skewed toward vertical throws in 2019. With sustaining third-year back Kerryon Johnson aboard, expect Swift to fill an Alvin Kamara type role.
To buttress the Swift pick, Detroit added third-rounder Jonah Jackson, who has a chance to start immediately at right guard ahead of middling veterans Oday Aboushi and Kenny Wiggins (who has been a quality backup but turns 32 in August). And fortifying the Jackson selection, the Lions also pursued his likely backup in Logan Stenberg, a blue-collar scrapper who might even be able to compete for a starting job with Joe Dahl.
Chad Reuter, NFL.com
On the first two days of the draft, the Lions secured a shutdown cornerback, explosive running back, much-needed interior offensive line help and brought together two family members in a literal sense. They hit the offensive line again with Logan Stenberg, who has exactly the type of nastiness and strength you want up front – at times it got the best of him during his collegiate career, though, so maturity will be a factor in how fast he can contribute. Quintez Cephus was a third-round talent with a seventh-round 40 time (4.73). He'll be a factor in the Lions' offense sooner than later. Jason Huntley can be a special teams ace. John Penisini meets the team's need for a backup nose tackle.
Vinnie Iyer, Sporting News
Bob Quinn and Matt Patricia started with a bang in Jeff Okudah, and their best picks after that related to biggest need and value were Julian Okwara and Jonah Jackson. They weren’t in a position to take D’Andre Swift as a luxury pick and possible upgrade to oft-injured but talented Kerryon Johnson. They could have done more to consider the defense at linebacker and tackle vs. doubling up on guard after getting Jackson.
Luke Easterling, USA Today
After all the talk of trading down from No. 3 overall, the Lions stayed put and filled their biggest need with by far the best corner in the class, Ohio State’s Jeff Okudah.
Bigger needs aside, Georgia running back D’Andre Swift was a great value at No. 35 overall, and gives the Lions a dangerous 1-2 punch in the backfield with Kerryon Johnson. Was there a better moment than watching Notre Dame defensive end Julian Okwara realize he would be playing with his brother in Detroit?
The Lions scored big by doubling up on two of this year’s best guard prospects in the third and fourth rounds with Ohio State’s Jonah Jackson and Kentucky’s Logan Stenberg. Oh, and Wisconsin wide receiver Quintez Cephus? Okudah said he’s the best receiver he’s ever faced. Not bad for a fifth-round pick.
Pro Football Focus
One could argue that the Lions were looking to upgrade both starting options at guard heading into the draft, and after selecting Jonah Jackson in the third round, they doubled up with Logan Stenberg in the fourth. Stenberg has a mean streak that should play well into the physical play style that the Lions seem to be building toward. His solid work in pass protection is also promising. Stenberg has pass-blocking grades of 75.0 or higher in each of the past two seasons.
John Penisini isn’t going to get after the quarterback at a high level, but he is going to do one thing better than most — stuff the run. After notching a run-defense grade of 83.2 in 2018, he bumped that all the way up to 90.6 this past season.