Brad Holmes and the Lions wisely want to build their roster through the draft. That would be a lot easier if they weren't burning second-rick picks. For all the good Holmes has done in his young tenure as GM, he is falling into the same draft hole as the former regime -- and only digging the Lions deeper.
The Lions took the field yesterday against the Seahawks without a single second-round pick at their disposal. On the other side, you probably noticed linebacker Boye Mafe, a rookie second-rounder who made six tackles. You definitely noticed wide receiver D.K. Metcalf, a 2019 second-rounder who torched Detroit's defense. Seattle got contributions in some shape or form from five of their last six second-round picks. None of them beyond Metcalf necessarily changed the game, but they were all on the field in the Seahawks' 48-45 win.
The Lions' 2022 second-rounder, Josh Paschal, was watching from the sidelines as he recovers from an injury that plagued him in college. So was their 2021 second-rounder, Levi Onwuzurike, as he recovers from an injury that plagued him in college. So was their 2020 second rounder, D'Andre Swift, as he tries to shake the injury bug that bit him as soon as he entered the NFL. Swift has shined when he's been healthy enough to play. This year, Onwuzurike and Paschal haven't played at all.
Boy, could the Lions use them. The worst defense in the NFL sank to new lows on Sunday, surrendering 555 yards to one of the worst offenses in the NFL. The Lions were picked apart by Geno Smith -- Geno Smith!! -- and then gutted by Rashaad Penny, who also gutted them late last season. They never even forced a punt.
Onwuzurike and Paschal were supposed to fortify Detroit's defensive line, particularly its interior pass rush. Onwuzurike was talking about "fu*king people up" after Holmes and the Lions drafted him No. 41 overall. He was awfully quiet as a rookie, slowed by a lingering back problem. He re-injured it in his first padded practice this summer and has since been recovering at a "snail's pace," per Dan Campbell. Holmes said he couldn't bear the thought of missing out on Paschal after the Lions drafted him No. 46 overall. A couple months later, they sent him to the physically unable to perform list due to a re-aggravated sports hernia.
Holmes defended these picks last month, backing the Lions' pre-draft medical process. He said the Lions aren't "kicking ourselves" because the injuries to both players were "things that we were prepared for." Maybe as standalone issues, but not as overarching restraints: If the Lions had truly been prepared to get nothing out of two second-round picks in the first four games of the season -- and possibly for a good while longer -- they wouldn't have the worst defense in football. That's on Holmes as much as defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn.
Beyond the injury concerns about Onwuzurike and Paschal, both picks were widely viewed as reaches. Questions about NFL athleticism were legitimate. That's a recipe for regret early in the draft. It's not hard to turn second-round picks into steady contributors. The Lions have just made a mess of it in the last six drafts, starting with Bob Quinn's infamous selections of Teez Tabor in 2017 and Jahlani Tavai in 2019, sandwiched around Kerryon Johnson in 2018. Of the Lions' last six second-round picks, only three are on the roster and only Swift is a starter.
Take a look around the rest of the NFC North. All six of the Vikings' second-rounders since 2017 are on their roster, four of whom are starters, including a pair of Pro Bowlers in Dalvin Cook and offensive tackle Brian O'Neill. All four of the Packers' second-rounders since 2019 have started games this season. All five of the Bears' second-rounders since 2020 have started games this season, including two from this year's draft in cornerback Kyler Gordon and safety Jaquan Brisker.
If it's hard to slide seamlessly into the NFL, it's easy to fall behind. The game moves faster than ever before. At the very least, Gordon and Brisker are
banking valuable experience early in their careers with the Bears. In the NFL, missed reps are lost forever. Stalled development is regression. That's the concern with Onwuzurike and Paschal, who should be playing prominent roles in Detroit's young defense. Instead, they're watching and withering as that defense gets whipped.
First- and second-round picks are lifelines for bad teams. The Lions have done fairly well with the former in recent years, but not well enough to basically whiff on the later. They are like a wounded animal refusing aid. Drafting wounded players hasn't helped.