After another disappointing campaign in 2019, the Detroit Lions set out to make big changes to the roster heading into the 2020 season. The team struggled mightily on both sides of the ball, especially once their star quarterback, Matthew Stafford, was sidelined for the remainder of the year after playing exceptionally in the first 8 games of 2019. The defense was abysmal all year and must improve if the team wants to win more than 3 games this year. The team needs to show signs of significant improvement this year, or GM Bob Quinn and Head Coach Matt Patricia will be looking for jobs outside of Detroit.
In the draft, the Lions looked to improve their defense, particularly their secondary, and bolster their running game. Through the first 4 rounds, Bob Quinn only selected players that helped improve the team’s pass defense and rushing attack, valuing toughness and athleticism at the positions of need. I will take a look at each of the 9 Lions picks in the 2020 draft, and give my opinion on how the player will perform in Detroit going forward.
Jeff Okudah, CB (Pick 3)
The Lions desperately needed to add talent at the Cornerback position after trading their star corner, Darius Slay, to the Philadelphia Eagles earlier this offseason. Despite having Slay last year, the team still ranked in the bottom 5 in terms of passing defense in the NFL and needed more talent on the outside on defense. They added Desmond Trufant in free agency who is a solid number 2 corner, and then went out and got their defensive star of the future. Okudah was the second defensive player selected in the draft, and the first defensive back selected at the 3rd overall pick.
Okudah had a breakout year in his junior season at Ohio State as an All-American cornerback. Opposing quarterbacks could not find success against Okudah for the entire season, only completing 39% of their passes thrown in Okudah’s direction. He had 34 tackles and 3 interceptions, proving that he could physically hang with any player. At the combine, Okudah impressed scouts with his athleticism and speed. Standing at 6’3, 200 lbs, Okudah showed that he is fast and strong enough to stay with any receiver in the NFL on an island, showing his worth as a lockdown corner.
In Matt Patricia’s ideal defense, he needs a player like Okudah to lock down one side of the field. He needs a cornerback to shut down the opposing team’s best receiver, allowing the safeties to play aggressively near the line of scrimmage, or prioritize coverage towards the slot. I think Okudah will be a star for Detroit, but will he be enough to help improve the defense enough to show tangible improvement for the team overall.
De’Andre Swift, RB (Pick 35)
With the 3rd pick in the second round, Bob Quinn decided to address the offensive side of the ball, despite the consistent problems with the defense last year. Instead, the Lions took one of the top running backs in the draft, De’Andre Swift from Georgia. Swift is one of the most complete players in the entire draft because of his skills in the passing game as well as his running ability.
Swift is a hard-nosed runner who thrives off of contact while he is in the hole. He runs low to the ground, making him hard to tackle, and uses his amazing speed and short burst to bounce off defenders and beat them to the outside. He is arguably the best running back in the draft class because of the versatility he can bring the offense and should form a nice 1-2 punch with Kerryon Johnson in the Detroit backfield.
Ultimately, I like the pick for the Lions because it gives them a legitimate threat alongside Johnson in the backfield and someone who can step up into the starting role if Johnson gets hurt again. However, given that the Lions pass defense was so bad throughout last season, I thought they would take a defensive lineman or safety to help improve the talent around Okudah. If I were Bob Quinn, I would have looked to take a player like Xavier Mckinney or Grant Delpit, elite safeties that could have been another elite talent to add in the defensive backfield. The defensive line worries were addressed with Detroit’s 3rd round pick, so I don’t have any problems with not taking a defensive end.
Julian Okwara, DE (Pick 67)
Julian Okwara is the reason why I am fine with Detroit not taking a defensive end earlier. The Lions had an anemic pass rush las year due to injuries and a lack of depth and desperately needed to add multiple defensive ends to the roster. After signing Danny Shelton and Jamie Collins to bolster other parts of their front 7, the Lions needed more help on the ends.
Okwara was one of my favorite defensive ends in the draft this year because of his speed off the edge. He can beat tackles consistently because of his athleticism and gives the Lions some much-needed pressure on opposing quarterbacks. He is not the best defender against the run, but the other signings and draft picks on the defensive line were run stoppers, and Okwara is a needed change of pace.
I cannot hate the Okwara pick from any angle. I just wish once again that the Lions took another defensive end in either free agency or the draft, to give Okwara some help going forward in the pass rush department. He might struggle early, but Okwara should be a good defensive lineman for Detroit going forward.
Jonah Jackson, G (Pick 75)
With the second pick in the 3rd round, Detroit opted to add to their interior offensive line. After losing Graham Glasgow to free agency, they had a hole at the guard position that needed to be filled, and Jackson looks to be a possible solution for Detroit.
At Ohio State and Rutgers, Jackson played both as a guard and a tackle, showing that he is athletic enough to play any position on the offensive line. His versatility can be a big help to a Detroit line that has struggled with health in recent years and is a great pass blocker to help Stafford stay upright in the pocket.
This is a pick that is a smart one for Detroit on paper, but there could be some regret looking back on it. The Lions could have added another defensive player with a lot of potential, such as Bradley Anae, Jabari Zuniga, or Terrell Lewis.
Logan Stenberg, G (Pick 121)
With their only pick in the fourth round, The Lions selected another interior lineman, Logan Stenberg. The Lions wanted to ensure that they had a capable starter at guard at the beginning of the year after investing heavily in their running game already, so they added another option at guard after trading down to the bottom of the 4th round.
Stenberg earned a reputation as a tough guy in college after leading the SEC in personal fouls in 2019. He is a great run blocker who can create gaping holes for running backs and is capable as a pass blocker as well. He will just need to become more disciplined and stronger all-around as a blocker to be an everyday starter in the NFL.
It is another pick by Detroit that is not sexy at all and does not address their largest weaknesses from last year, so I can’t give the pick an A. However, I am happy that the Lions are adding depth after seeing their line fall apart down the stretch in previous years. I think Stenberg will be an elite run blocker for Johnson and Swift in the future.
Quintez Cephus, WR (Pick 166)
The Lions wanted to come out of the draft with a receiver this year. It was considered the best WR class in the history of the NFL draft, and the Lions wanted some of that talent. The only WR that the Lions took was Quintez Cephus, of Wisconsin, and it is the only pick the Lions made that I truly do not like for Detroit.
The Lions made two selections on the offensive line prior to this pick but had the option to take one of the great receivers of the draft like Lynn Bowden, Bryan Edwards, or Gabriel Davis. Instead, the Lions prioritized their offensive line and the run game and took two guards. There was a large run of Wide Receivers during the 3rd and 4th round, meaning that there was not a lot of talent left for Detroit in the 5th round. Cephus was one of the slowest receivers at the combine this year and did not have an illustrious career at Wisconsin. Also, he has had off-the-field issues as well but seemed to have everything cleaned up going into the NFL.
If I were the Lions, I would have pursued a receiver earlier in the draft, in the 2nd or 3rd round, and looked for a running back in this area of the draft. The best running backs in the league are consistently drafted in the 4th round and later every season, and the Lions need more talent at receiver for Stafford. I just do not think that Cephus is the talent that Stafford needs to truly excel.
Jason Huntley, RB (Pick 172)
The Lions chose to take a second running back at the end of the 5th round instead of addressing their need for a safety, outside linebacker, and depth at defensive end. There were still great options at all of those positions, and the Lions decided to take a return specialist instead.
I do not know much about Jason Huntley admittedly, but I do think that the Lions should have taken a defensive player after ignoring it for so long in the draft. I think this will be another pick that the Lions might regret in the future.
John Penisini, DT (Pick 197)
Other than having an amazing name, I do not have much of an opinion about the selection of John Penisini for Detroit. The Lions signed two defensive tackles in free agency and added more depth with Penisini. He has the opportunity to learn from Danny Shelton and Nick Williams, two veterans who have been around the NFL.
He is strong and thrived as a run-stopper in college. He will be a reserve this year but could have a big impact in the future as a strong second defensive tackle and an anchor against the run.
Jashon Cornell, DT (pick 235)
With their last pick in the 2020 draft, the Lions selected Jashon Cornell, another defensive tackle, doubling up on late-round defensive tackles. Cornell is a similar player to Penisini but relies more on quickness rather than strength to stop the run. Cornell will be another reserve who can learn from the veterans on the defensive line and could be their starter at defensive tackle in the future.