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Post-Free Agency Mock Offers Pair of SEC Surprises to Boost Lions

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The Detroit Lions have put together a busy first week of free agency, and have managed to make some big additions to start things off.

Detroit’s defense has already been able to reap the rewards of some early spending, and the team seems to be on the right track after a week’s worth of work during the first step of the offseason.

Now, the big question becomes what happens to Detroit’s draft hopes when they play out in April. Already, some early answers have come in on that front courtesy of Pro Football Focus.

A new mock draft on the site posted by Trevor Sikkema offers some ideas for the Lions as it relates to what could happen next in the draft after free agency has played out. While many might assume some things would have changed, that’s not completely the case.

With the sixth-overall pick, Sikkema had the Lions landing Oregon cornerback Christian Gonzalez. As he wrote, Gonzalez still makes a ton of sense for the Lions in spite of the team adding help in the backfield because he is arguably the top cornerback prospect.

“After a stellar showing at the scouting combine, Gonzalez is poised to be the top cornerback taken in this draft. Even after signing a few free-agent defensive backs, Detroit could still look to target cornerback at No. 6,” Sikkema wrote.

From there, the Lions go with an edge rusher in Georgia’s Nolan Smith. With 12.5 sacks and 110 interceptions, Smith is productive. Still, Smith hasn’t come up much in the process for Detroit, but Sikkema sees a prospect that would fit Detroit’s mold and culture well.

“Dan Campbell is going to love Nolan Smith. I know edge rusher isn’t their biggest area of need, but if Smith makes it this far in the order, I have a hard time believing he wouldn’t be a Lion. Smith is passionate about football, has elite athletic traits and will defend the run until his last breath,” Sikkema wrote.

In terms of the second-round, there were no write-ups, but Detroit lands Clemson defensive tackle Bryan Bresee at 48. That would be a bonus, because Bresee was once seen as a first-round prospect. With pick 55, the Lions select Hendon Hooker, quarterback from Tennessee. In the third-round, the Lions land Zach Harrison from Ohio State with the 81st pick, who has 11 career sacks in four seasons.

Overall, that’s a lot of good help for the team on defense, but the fact the Lions go quarterback quickly in Sikkema’s mind is very interesting. Hooker is a talented player who suffered an ACL injury, but should be set to return for camp.

Like Smith before him, he’s an intriguing SEC prospect for the Lions to remember that could help out at a position of need. This is an interesting three-round mock as a result

Hendon Hooker’s College Stats & Highlights

Will the Lions go with a quarterback? Some early hints point to that,

In terms of talent, Hooker will be one of the more interesting cases in the draft this coming season. He has plenty of raw talent, but also sustained a tough injury this past season which could threaten his future development.

While Hooker put up 3,135 yards and 27 touchdowns to just two interceptions in 2022 as a leading Heisman Trophy candidate, he also was felled by a torn ACL in November of last year, which is certain to impact his draft stock. Combine that with his age (25), and Hooker is sure to be a polarizing prospect.

There’s no questioning the ability of the quarterback that transferred from Virginia Tech to Tennessee in 2021, however. Hooker put up 8,974 yards in his career and 80 passing touchdowns to just 12 interceptions. He also added 2,079 rushing yards and 25 touchdowns on the ground, proving his dual-threat impact.

The news sounds good on Hooker’s progress, and as he told Tom Pelissero of the NFL Network during the Senior Bowl, he could be back running by March, which could leave him on track for a training camp return.

What’s Next for Lions During Free Agency

While the Lions have done a nice job checking off several needs already, the work could be expected to continue on the secondary market in the weeks ahead, which could impact their draft decision making.

The team’s defense has managed to improve in a big way with the addition of Sutton and Moseley as well as the return of Alex Anzalone, John Cominsky and Isaiah Buggs. In spite of that, the Lions could certainly stand to add one more linebacker to the mix.

As improved as the team’s defensive backfield looks to be, there are questions at safety. Detroit brings back Tracy Walker, but lost one of their top contributors in free agency in the form of DeShon Elliott. Whether the Lions have a response in free agency or the draft remains to be seen, but one could be expected.

Offensively, Detroit seemingly scored by bringing in Montgomery to man their backfield while Graham Glasgow adds toughness and depth to the offensive line. Help could be needed from a depth standpoint at pass catcher, though, with wide receiver and tight end a few of the markets to monitor in the coming days.

Could the Lions add a veteran quarterback? If they do, it might dampen the need to take a player as high as this mock presented has the Lions selecting Hooker.

The Lions could still shop for lower cost veteran upgrades at some of the spots where they have elected not to make moves just yet. Those depth moves could help decide what path gets taken later on in April.

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