Matt Patricia and his staff -- almost the entire Detroit Lions football operation -- descended on Mobile, Alabama, last week for the Senior Bowl and coached the North squad. They held meetings and ran practices. They tried to teach players and, for the first time since October, won a football game even though it does not count in any sort of standings.
But the primary purpose for the Lions was to help get an idea of some of the players they might end up selecting in the NFL draft. Even before working with players closely for a week, Detroit had often looked to the Senior Bowl for potential players. General manager Bob Quinn has raved about the game in the past, taking 11 players over the past four drafts who played in the game.
That number is likely to rise later this year, especially since the club has even more intimate knowledge of this year's group. With that in mind, here are six team prospects that could end up becoming Detroit players by the time May rolls around:
Edge rusher Josh Uche: The former Michigan standout impressed every day in practices and then was consistently in the backfield for the North during the Senior Bowl. He had 35 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks last season for the Wolverines. In the Senior Bowl practices, he showed the ability to occasionally drop into coverage along with good instincts rushing the passer. The Lions need speed on the edge and he could be an attractive second-round pick for Detroit if he were to still be on the board at No. 35.
Edge rusher Bradlee Anae: If Uche isn’t there, the Utah edge rusher could be incredibly attractive to Detroit. His instincts off the ball are top-notch and he had enough speed to chase down Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts. He had two sacks in the Senior Bowl but, like Uche, appeared to be constantly around the ball. He’s the type of player who could play standing up or in a stance, giving Patricia some flexibility. This after a 41-tackle, 13-sack season in 2019.
Quarterback Anthony Gordon: The Lions need to figure out their backup quarterback situation, and while it’s possible they make a play for a more established veteran, Gordon could be an intriguing midround prospect. Yes, Detroit has gone this route unsuccessfully before with Jake Rudock and Brad Kaaya, but this staff got to spend a week working with Gordon. So they’ve seen a bit more of his makeup. He has a compact motion and good enough arm strength and looked the best of the North quarterbacks, going 8-of-12 for 69 yards and two touchdowns. He doesn’t have a ton of starting experience -- taking over the Washington State job for the first time after Gardner Minshew graduated -- but completed 493 of 687 passes for 5,579 yards, 48 touchdowns and 16 interceptions last season. He isn’t a starter right away, but he wouldn’t need to be. He could, however, be the perfect quarterback to groom for the future behind Matthew Stafford.
Defensive lineman Jason Strowbridge: Patricia watched the former North Carolina defensive lineman a lot during practices. He could be an outside-inside player that could give depth behind Trey Flowers. He didn’t have massive sack numbers -- 11.5 career sacks -- but was productive off the line with 127 career tackles.
Punter Braden Mann: Sam Martin is headed toward free agency. The Lions have two punters on the roster, both of whom signed futures deals – so the club has no significant dollars wrapped up in a punter. The 2018 Ray Guy Award winner might draw some attention, especially with how much attention Patricia pays to special teams. Drafting a specialist can be dicey -- Martin worked out, Jimmy Landes and Nate Freese did not -- but the Lions are likely to look at this class of punters and got to work with Mann up close.
Defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw: Kinlaw was the best non-Justin Herbert player participating in Mobile last week and a likely first-round pick at a position of need for Detroit. The South Carolina product had 93 tackles, 18 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks in his career. He didn’t end up playing in the actual game last Saturday but helped his stock throughout the week. He was open about his difficult upbringing, which included times in his childhood where he and his family had to live in Washington, D.C., without electricity or water. When he did participate in practices, he was dominant in South team practices. He wouldn’t be Detroit’s pick at No. 3. If the Lions were to trade down and pick up a selection closer to No. 10, it’s possible Kinlaw would garner consideration.