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NFC North Roster Additions: Lions hope for immediate impact from big-name draft picks

The Lions drafted the top TE in the draft and added a National Championship winner that they hope can step in to fill roles ASAP.

NCAA Football: Iowa at Minnesota Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Lions were the only NFC North team to draft ahead of the Green Bay Packers in the 2019 NFL Draft, and they were able to grab away a talented player that was high on many draft boards to be the all-around tight end that the green and gold have needed. The Lions also took heavy stock in the defensive side of the ball to fill holes of players who have vacated their positions in recent years.

Most recently, the Lions have needed to fill up the defensive end position. Ezekiel Ansah has now signed with the Seattle Seahawks, but the Lions are hoping to get a strong season out of newly signed Trey Flowers and fourth-round draft pick Austin Bryant.


  • Round 1: TE T.J. Hockenson, Iowa
  • Round 2: LB Jahlani Tavai, Hawaii
  • Round 3: DB Will Harris, Boston College
  • Round 4: DE Austin Bryant, Clemson
  • Round 5: DB Amani Oruwariye, Penn State
  • Round 6: WR Travis Fulgham, Old Dominion; RB Ty Johnson, Maryland
  • Round 7: TE Isaac Nauta, Georgia; DT P.J. Johnson, Arizona

Hockenson was the crown jewel of this year’s tight end class and the Lions were able to snatch him up at the eighth spot in the first round. At 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds, the Iowa product was the most complete TE prospect in the draft. He’s not quite as athletic as fellow Iowa tight end Noah Fant, but Hockenson is less of a project and a great (and willing) blocker. That is an attribute the Lions will need this season if they want Kerryon Johnson to take the next step in the rushing game. Linebackers, even at the pro level, will have a hard time running with Hockenson with his ability to separate.

The aforementioned Bryant will hope to slot in on the opposite side of the ball as Trey Flowers on defense. A member of the supremely good Clemson defensive line, Bryant can turn into a valuable pass rush asset with a little NFL coaching. He has length and some bend, but will need to find a way to work against top-level outside tackles. The Lions defensive line saw flashes with Da’Shawn Hand on the interior, lined up next to the talented Damon Harrison Sr. (Snacks!), so the trenches in Detroit could be formidable with this addition.

Where they need help on defense is on the back end. Darius Slay can’t cover everyone. It’s possible that third and fifth round picks, Will Harris and Amani Oruwariye, compete for secondary snaps right away. The Lions moved up seven spots to draft Harris, the Boston College safety. He’s familiar with Lions DC Paul Pasqualoni, who coached the BC d-line from 2015 to 2017. Harris has good size and speed, with versatility to move around the Lions defense well.

Oruwariye is a lengthy corner who has some tools that could see him playing across from Slay one day, but he’s not an instant starter for Detroit.

Undrafted Free Agents

G Beau Benzschawel, LB Malik Carney, WR Jonathan Duhart, LB Tre Lamar, S C.J. Moore, T Matt Nelson, LB Anthony Pittman, T Ryan Pope, DT Ray Smith, G Micah St. Andrew, DT Kevin Strong

A lot of Badger fans will recognize the first name on this list: Beau Benzschawel. That’s not to say he’s their top undrafted free agent. In fact, there’s a reason he went undrafted. Owen Riese of APC and B5Q put it this way last August:

Benzschawel has a chance to be a quality NFL player, but he’s not the top offensive line talent that fell into the Lions lap just because he’s a former Badger offensive linemen (and I love Wisconsin offensive linemen). The value here is what’s important because the Lions didn’t have to spend draft capital on someone who can play strong on the interior line and adds depth to a unit the Lions have made a conscious effort to build up the past couple years.

In addition to second round pick Jahlani Tavai, Lions are also making a concerted effort to find plenty of linebacker pieces. They signed three additional linebackers as undrafted free agents. With Jarrad Davis manning the inside and Christian Jones being a surprise impact player for Detroit last season, there’s still one more backer position for the Lions to fill.