NFL Combine: Potential Aaron Donald Clone Led Top Performances for Lions

Aaron Donald

Getty Aaron Donald fights a double team with the Rams in 2022.

The Detroit Lions watched closely as the 2023 NFL combine played out last week, and it can be hard to get a feel for what players stood out the most with so many events going on.

For the Lions, the team has plenty of obvious needs on the field, all of which could be addressed by standout players that played a starring role over the weekend.

Which players stood out most for the Lions? Here’s a look at some of the top names, any of whom could be major fits in Detroit for 2023 and beyond.

Calijah Kancey, Pitt DT

With obvious needs in the trenches, Detroit had to love seeing Pitt’s Calijah Kancey look like one of the most athletically gifted interior line prospects in the draft. Needing help up front, the Lions could now turn to Kancey in the middle of the first-round while still landing an elite cornerback earlier.

Kancey showed off the goods during the combine, running a very impressive 4.73 40 yard dash, which was better than his first time.

At just around 6’0″, Kancey might see size as a concern, but his performance over the weekend drew parallels to another Pitt defensive line prospect that fits his style in Aaron Donald. Famously, Detroit passed on Donald for Eric Ebron in the 2014 NFL draft.

Brad Holmes was part of the front office that evaluated and drafted Donald, meaning this could be a match made in heaven for the Lions, and a chance to right an old wrong.

Deonte Banks, Maryland CB

Many will focus on performances by Christian Gonzalez, Joey Porter Jr. and multiple other cornerbacks at the combine, but Deonte Banks may have quietly had the best weekend of all players at the position.

Banks isn’t the biggest name coming out of Maryland, but after his combine performance, that might change. He had a fantastic broad jump which placed third amongst cornerbacks, and had several other fantastic results including a fast 4.3 40 yard dash. Trevor Sikkema of PFF tweeted about Banks and his excellent weekend:

“Official numbers for Maryland CB Deonte Banks: 40-yard: 4.35 (92nd percentile). Vert: 42” (97th percentile). Broad: 11’4” (98th percentile). That athleticism absolutely shows up on tape as one of the best coverage players in that class. First round player,” Sikkema tweeted.

The draft class is looking very deep at cornerback, and that’s good news for the Lions, who will need perhaps two players from the position relatively early in the draft. Detroit could theoretically check off another defensive need higher and perhaps target Banks with the 18th selection if they like him enough.

Athletically, there clearly isn’t a reason not to like Banks after the weekend he enjoyed.

Quentin Johnston, TCU WR

On the surface, the Lions don’t seem to need another wide receiver in the first-round, but after what the team saw from Quentin Johnston, that theory could be out the window quick.

Detroit faces free agency questions with DJ Chark, and could look at another elite wideout to build their skill position for the future. Johnston gave the team a lot to think about with a fantastic combine.

Johnston looked smooth in drills, had an impressive 11’2″ broad jump and even made a fantastic catch which showed what he can do on the field:

Detroit also sat down with Johnston at the combine, so it’s clear they are at least considering him at the position. With numbers and plays like this, it’s no surprise why. He was a big winner for the Lions.

Anthony Richardson, Florida QB

Perhaps no prospect had a better weekend overall than Anthony Richardson, and that’s to Detroit’s advantage in a big way relative to what they may decide to do at quarterback.

First, Richardson showed off his speed with a blazing fast 4.4 40 yard dash, proving he’s got the straight line speed that can win in the NFL.

Then, if there were any questions about arm talent, Richardson seemed to answer those as well. He showed off some impressive arm strength within a deep bomb pass during the on-field workout portion of the event.

Detroit might not need a quarterback, but they could certainly strongly consider one. Richardson is going to command attention in the first-round, which could mean Detroit could secure a trade backward for more picks. The flip-side? The Lions simply take Richardson and develop his obvious talent for a few years.

Jack Campbell, Iowa LB

The Lions have a major need for defense in this draft, and perhaps specifically at the linebacker spot. That’s good news, because there were several prospects that stood out at the position this week.

Perhaps the best for Detroit’s purposes was Iowa’s Jack Campbell. Already seen as one of the tougher players in the draft, Campbell made a big impression with his testing and his work on the field.

Campbell ran an impressive 4.7 40 yard dash to show off his speed, and he also landed as one of PFF’s best defensive players at linebacker from the combine.

Detroit could need a continued infusion of talent at linebacker, and Campbell could be a potential solution for the team in the second-round of the draft relative to this performance.

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