The Detroit Lions arguably sit in the catbird seat for the 2020 NFL Draft. With the Bengals and Washington widely expected to select Joe Burrow and Chase Young, respectively, it could reasonably be argued that the draft really starts when the Lions come on the clock at No. 3 overall.
Detroit can go in any number of different directions, given the quality of prospects on both sides of the ball, as well as the possibility of a trade-down. In Chris Trapasso's seven-round 2020 NFL mock draft, released earlier this week, they sprung for one of the most unique players in this year's class. Then, they spent the rest of the mock stocking up on even more defensive prospects.
Round 1, No. 3 overall: Isaiah Simmons, LB, Clemson
Simmons is one of the most athletic and versatile players in the draft. He finished last season with 104 total tackles, eight sacks, 16 tackles for loss, three interceptions, eight passes defensed, two forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery. According to Pro Football Focus, he allowed a passer rating of just 65.3 on throws in his direction. Then, he tested in the 98th percentile for athleticism among NFL linebackers.
He gives the Lions a full-field playmaker who can operate as a pass rusher, coverage linebacker, safety, or slot corner depending on matchups or team needs. In short, he's the kind of player you can build a defense around, like a souped-up version of some players Matt Patricia coached during his days as the Patriots' defensive coordinator. With Detroit trading Quandre Diggs last season and rumored to be shopping Darius Slay, finding a player like Simmons who can be plugged into any role the Lions want is a major coup.
Round 2, No. 35 overall: Yetur Gross-Matos, EDGE, Penn State
Round 3, No. 67 overall: Brandon Aiyuk, WR, Arizona State
The Lions shelled out big money for Trey Flowers last offseason, but one player isn't enough to sustain a pass rush. That's where Gross-Matos comes in. He had a pass rush win rate of 18.9 percent last season, per PFF, an even better mark than some players expected to go ahead of him, like Iowa's A.J. Epenesa (17.5 percent). His strong sophomore season (eight sacks, 20 tackles for loss) is a strong indicator that his junior year production was no fluke, and he makes for an excellent building block for the Detroit defense.
Aiyuk had a breakout senior season at ASU, catching 65 passes for 1,192 yards and eight scores. He has one of the best combinations of athleticism (90th percentile in SPARQ) and production (3.04 yards per route run) in the class, and his 10.9 yards after catch average is one of the best among this group of wideouts as well. Having only one year of this type of production is somewhat concerning to teams, but if you land a prospect like this in Round 3, that's a heck of a get.
Round 4, No. 109 overall: Brandon Jones, S, Texas
Round 5, No. 149 overall: Harrison Hand, CB, Temple
Round 5, No. 172 overall: James Lynch, DL, Baylor
Round 6, No. 183 overall: Charlie Heck, OL, North Carolina
On Day 3, the Lions use each of their first two selections on addressing their various needs in the secondary. As mentioned above, they traded Quandre Diggs last year and seem at least somewhat likely to trade Darius Slay this offseason, and they could also lose Tavon Wilson in free agency. Restocking the cupboard with multiple defensive backs in the draft is an idea that makes a lot of sense for them. Teams begin looking for traits as they get later in the draft; and Jones' versatility (he played deep safety, in the box, and in the slot as a senior) and Hand's athleticism (95th percentile in SPARQ) fit the bill.
After the Lions cut ties with Damon Harrison and Mike Daniels this offseason, they need some help along the interior of the defensive line. Enter Lynch, who broke out last season with 13.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss. Each of those figures exceeded what he'd done in his previous two seasons combined, but it's still pretty rare for a major-conference player with that kind of production on the inside to be available this late in the draft.
Heck has excellent size and strength for an NFL tackle but hasn't been particularly well-tested in pass protection, but the Lions can take a shot on him late in the draft and hope he develops into a swing tackle or starter sometime down the line.