The Detroit Lions have had success in recent years finding diamonds in the rough late in the NFL Draft. Just last year, Detroit selected linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez and edge rusher James Houston on Day 3. Safety Kerby Joseph was a late Day 2 pick, as well. And how about wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown in 2021?
It’s a major departure from the Lions’ previous draft luck. Detroit used to be a team that had issues drafting, and it showed in their lack of promise and success on the field.
Now, that seems to be changing. Detroit’s draft success under general manager Brad Holmes helped the team achieve their first winning season since 2017 this past year.
With the 2023 NFL Draft quickly approaching, who could the Lions target in those later rounds? Who could join the team’s growing list of promising late-round prospects? Here are three NFL Draft sleeper prospects for the Detroit Lions to target.
3) Clayton Tune, quarterback, Houston
Let’s get the quarterback position out of the way first. The Lions seem somewhat likely to draft a quarterback at some point during the NFL Draft. However, it may not be in the early rounds.
Detroit is sold on Jared Goff being the starting quarterback for the 2023 season. And he has absolutely earned that right, playing some of his best football while leading a top-five offense in the NFL.
Holmes went on the record earlier this offseason saying that he will upgrade the backup quarterback position. However, the team has yet to actually upgrade that spot. They re-signed Nate Sudfeld, but bringing back last year’s backup isn’t an upgrade.
Drafting Tune gives them a potential upgrade while also giving them a signal-caller they could trust down the line. Tune is has a stronger arm than most give him credit for, and he shows a lot of poise in the backfield.
The Houston product might not be the sexiest name out there, but there is some potential here. If the Lions want to take a flier on a quarterback this year, Tune is certainly a viable option.
2) Luke Schoonmaker, tight end, Michigan
Let’s stay within the state of Michigan for this one. The Lions are no strangers to picking Michigan Wolverines. They drafted Aidan Hutchinson second overall just last year.
Beyond backup quarterback, one other area Detroit has yet to address this offseason is the tight end position. After trading TJ Hockenson last season, the team ran a bit of a rotation the position.
That could end at the NFL Draft later this month. The Lions have an opportunity to find a gem at tight end, and Schoonmaker may be that diamond they’re looking for.
The Michigan product has reliable hands and is not afraid to make catches in traffic. Furthermore, Schoonmaker has the size and athletic profile to succeed in the NFL.
If the Lions are waiting for the NFL Draft to address their need for a tight end, keep Schoonmaker’s name in mind. Detroit very well could return to the Michigan well in the later rounds this year.
1) Chandler Zavala, offensive guard, NC State
Finally, let’s take a look at a position the Lions could simply use some depth in. Detroit brought back guard Graham Glasgow this offseason but lost Evan Brown to the Seattle Seahawks.
Injuries to their guards were an issue in 2022. The Lions lost Halapoulivaati Vaitai before the season and watched as Brown and Jonah Jackson dealt with injuries at various points in the season.
Adding Graham certainly helps, but more depth would be welcomed. Enter Zavala, who the Lions had in on a top-30 visit ahead of the NFL Draft later this month.
The NC State product shines in run-blocking scenarios. He moves very well for his size, and explodes off the line of scrimmage. There is work to be done in pass protection, but there is some upside here.
The Lions have Zavala on their radar, as evidenced by their decision to bring him in for a visit. Don’t be surprised if the NC State guard ends up wearing Honolulu Blue to begin his NFL career.
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