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NFL Draft: Lions GM Brad Holmes defends RB Jahmyr Gibbs and LB Jack Campbell picks

"We had [Campbell] as the highest-rated player and the same with Jahmyr. We'll just take the best player for us."

The Detroit Lions made two of the most curious selections in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft.

After Detroit traded back from No. 6 to No. 12, the Lions drafted Alabama running back Jahmyr Gibbs and then took Iowa linebacker Jack Campbell with the No. 18 pick. Not only were neither considered first-round prospects on Yahoo Sports' prospect big board but Campbell was considered a third-round pick.

Nevertheless, Lions general manager Brad Holmes went absolutely ballistic with excitement when the pick for Gibbs dropped and doubled down hours later, even despite the trepidation by media pundits on the position value of drafting a running back and off-ball linebacker in the top 18.

“They’re football players,” Holmes told reporters Thursday night. “If you believe that they can have an impact for you on the football field, then you just go ahead and take them.”

Take your pick on which decision was more questionable; both earned "F" grades from Yahoo Sports' Charles McDonald. Only one other running back has been drafted in the top 12 since Saquon Barkley went No. 2 to the New York Giants in 2018, and it was an hour or so earlier Thursday night when the Atlanta Falcons took Bijan Robinson with the No. 8 pick. As for Campbell, the last off-ball linebacker to go in the top 18 was Devin White, who went No. 5 to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2019.

But the positional value didn't matter for Holmes.

"It's not about just 'don't pick a running back' because it's not how we really view [Gibbs],"Holmes said. "And it's the same thing about 'don't pick an off-ball linebacker.' That's not really how we view Jack. If you look at the totality of the draft, when we selected Jack he was our highest-rated player that was left on the board and it was actually by a good margin."

Could the Lions have drafted either player later?

OK, so maybe both players were truly the Lions' top-rated prospects on the board at the time. With many other holes on the roster, Detroit still could have traded back or grabbed other positions of need — both picks came before the wide receiver run in the back half of the first round and there were still solid defensive linemen or pass rushers left.

Holmes disagreed with that assertion, too.

"You can look at positions and all that kind of stuff but especially in this draft if you try to get cute and you're like, 'No, there was no other whatever you would tab as a premium position. Oh, you better get a pass rusher. Oh, you better get a tackle.' No. That's not what the case was," Holmes said. "We had [Campbell] as the highest-rated player and the same with Jahmyr. We'll just take the best player for us."

The thing is, the Lions have three more picks in the next round — Nos. 34 (from the Cardinals), 48 and 55. There was a very real possibility one or both of Gibbs and Campbell would have been at any of those selections. At the very least, those picks would have given the Lions enough draft capital to move up in the event they got worried one would be taken sooner.

Lions GM Brad Holmes made two questionable picks in the first round for the NFL draft. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Lions GM Brad Holmes made two questionable picks in the first round for the NFL draft. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

That didn't matter for Holmes, who called the decision to stay at No. 18 and take Campbell a "no-brainer" despite most mock drafts positioning Campbell as a second- or third-round prospect. Holmes pointed to the work he and the team did on both players and noted that while he respects, looks at and understands mock drafts, he doesn't believe they tell the whole story of a player.

"They do bring value but that doesn't really move me," Holmes said about where mock drafts placed Gibbs and Campbell. "I didn't really look at, 'Oh, Jahmyr Gibbs, he's been mocking in the 50s.' Now that one I did laugh at because if you look at the talent of the player and then you look at the totality of the draft I didn't think that was even remotely close."

We'll see if Holmes' mentality pans out for the upstart Lions, who are the current favorite to win the NFC North, per BetMGM, at +130 odds. Gibbs should play a large role, in the offense at least, as a member of the Lions' backfield that also includes dual-threat running back D'Andre Swift and free-agent acquisition David Montgomery. Campbell, meanwhile should immediately start at middle linebacker for the Lions, who could fill more holes in the defense throughout the rest of the draft.