Geez, is this city of ours living in pro football favor, or what? Our Detroit Lions completed their best season in more than 30 years, coming within one horrific second half of their first Super Bowl appearance ever, and as a reward for our fanatical enthusiasm we get to host the 2024 NFL Draft!

Well… that’s not exactly accurate. In truth, the league selected Detroit as the site of this year’s NFL Draft Presented by Bud Light — the free event expected to attract nearly 400,000 football fans to Hart Plaza, Cadillac Square, Campus Martius, and various other downtown sites from Thursday, April 25 to Saturday, April 27 — during its annual league meetings two years ago in Palm Beach, Florida. So The D has been on the clock in our preparations for a while, and the timing of the Lions restoring its roar up through the NFC Championship game is purely coincidental.

Is it ever. It has been reported that the Lions and consortiums of local civic boosters tried twice before to drive the NFL Draft to Woodward Avenue, but their bids were rejected both times. The league wouldn’t divulge the reasons why, of course, but it’s believed the concerns had more to do with rooms than reputation: there simply didn’t seem to be enough hotel space to accommodate the massive crowds expected. Those anxieties have been relieved somewhat through the recent addition of more than 1,000 rooms downtown in such new hotels as the Roost Detroit at Book Tower, the Cambria Hotel, and the Godfrey Hotel in Corktown.

The third time will be charming. The 2024 Draft will take place on a gigantic “Draft Theater” stage adjacent to Campus Martius Park, and its footprint will extend all the way down to an interactive, family-friendly “NFL Draft Experience Presented by Rocket Mortgage” theme park at Hart Plaza. With games, exhibits, and entertainment events planned for Eastern Market, Greektown, Grand Circus Park, and other locations throughout downtown, Detroit will be transformed into a spectacular pigskin lover’s fantasyland for three straight days.

Unique activities include:

  • An Autograph Stage where fans can obtain free autographs of current players and NFL legends (final schedule to be confirmed just before the event).
  • A Pro Football Hall of Fame exhibit including the Hall of Fame busts of such Lions immortals as Lem Barney, Barry Sanders, Calvin Johnson, and Alex Karras.
  • An NFL Locker Room replica allowing fans to see exactly how it appears on game day, including the sights and sounds of a real pregame warmup inside a video tunnel.
  • Interactive Football Skills Tests for fans, including vertical jumps, “Hail Mary” passes, and 40-yard dashes against live opponents and digital NFL players.
  • Youth Activities, concentrated at the Corner Ballpark, located at the former site of Tiger Stadium at Michigan and Trumbull, including a field goal challenge, clinics, competitions and demonstrations.
  • An NFL Shop presented by Visa at 1001 Woodward Avenue, open from April 20-27, for exclusive NFL draft and team merchandise.

What you need to know

The 2024 NFL Draft presented by Bud Light will be held Thursday, April 25 through Saturday, April 27 in and around Hart Plaza, Cadillac Square, Campus Martius, and numerous other public spaces across the downtown Detroit area.

Admission is free, but anyone intending to be within the event area is required to download the free “NFL OnePass” app and register. The “One Pass” will provide up-to-date information on events, fan activities, security and entry procedures, and more. Adults 18 and older are required to register, and may add up to five minors to bring to the NFL Draft Experience.

Anyone not having a smartphone should look for an NFL ambassador on site who can help them gain access.

The “One Pass” is good for all events except the seated section of the actual Draft Theater, where player selections will take place. Fans can purchase tickets to be inside the theater during the selections, but anyone who registers for the Draft Experience will have access to witness the draft on giant screens around the area and adjacent to the stage. The NFL encourages fans to get to the Draft Experience early as attendance will be on a first-come, first-served basis. For any other questions, see the NFL.com site (nfl.com/draft/event-info/faq) or the Visit Detroit “Ultimate Guide to the NFL Draft” page (visitdetroit.com/2024nfldraft).

It’s hard to estimate how many visitors may be arriving in the Motor City. The 2023 Draft in Kansas City drew 312,000 fans, but unlike KC Detroit is within reasonable driving distance of at least six other NFL cities (Chicago, Cleveland, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and Buffalo). And while it may be difficult to comprehend, people in those cities worship their fan-chises almost as much as we do the Lions. And don’t forget there are football fans in Canada, too, eh?

At any rate, it is the NFL’s second greatest annual extravaganza (you can guess No. 1) and promises to be the biggest event to hit downtown since Super Bowl XL was played at Ford Field in February 2006. Anybody remember those dark frigid nights, snow flurries, and rows of boarded-up businesses on Woodward back then?

Roger Goodell does. That was his first year as NFL commissioner, and with those sights and sounds still rattling somewhere in his subconscious he made it a point to come to Detroit last January for a “Pregame Huddle” in advance of the draft to extol the advancements he’s seen here since.

“What you have done in this community is amazing,” Goodell told an audience at Ford Field that included representatives from the Lions organization, Visit Detroit, the Detroit Sports Commission, and other stakeholders involved in getting the Draft to the D. “I’ve been coming here for decades. You see what you’ve done physically in the downtown area, but it’s really as much about the way you’ve come together.”

The NFL Draft was held in New York City for 14 consecutive years — and, had it not been for a scheduling conflict at Radio City Music Hall, might still be — but when the decision was made to take the show on the road it was important to Goodell that each league city put its unique personality on the event.

“We want you to do it Detroit style,” Goodell encouraged. “Let people understand what Detroit is all about. And you won’t get a bigger platform: our draft here will probably be viewed by 60 to 70 million people over the three days. There are not many opportunities like that.”

click to enlarge NFL Draft attendees can sample local restaurants in and around downtown Detroit. - Downtown Detroit Partnership

Downtown Detroit Partnership

NFL Draft attendees can sample local restaurants in and around downtown Detroit.

Indeed, it will be a priceless opportunity for locally owned Detroit businesses, particularly those located downtown, to strut their stuff before hundreds of thousands of new consumers.

What’s more, the People Mover will be operating free 24 hours a day beginning at 7 a.m. Thursday, April 25, with trains up to every five minutes, and all 13 stations will be open. The QLine, SMART park and ride bus transportation from metro Detroit locations, and DDOT bus services also will be available. A comprehensive security plan is being developed, which will be carried out by an alliance of local, state and federal agencies.

A Taste of Detroit


Local restaurants committed to feed the masses in a “Taste of Detroit” tailgate include:
• Waka by Baobab Fare
• Fried Chicken and Caviar
• Mom’s Spaghetti
• Good Cakes and Bakes
• Chef Greg’s Soul-N-The-Wall
• Juicy Oistre
• Chita’s Nefertiti Bar & Grill
• Supercrisp
• Detroit Water Ice
• The Kitchen by Cooking With Que
• Brome Modern Eatery
• El Parian Taco
• Fusion Flare Kitchen and Cocktails
• Louisiana Creole Gumbo
• M Cantina
• Detroit 75 Kitchen
• Good Vibes Lounge
• Kuzzo’s Chicken and Waffle
• Bangkok 96 Street Food
• Shibam Coffee
• Haraz Coffee House
• For the Love of Cheesecake
• Lush Yummies Pie Company
• Golden Fleece
• La Marsa Cuisine

Other special attractions will include a “DCLEATED” art exhibit featuring 20 gigantic football cleats painted with murals from Detroit artists, to be displayed throughout downtown and auctioned off with all proceeds going to charity.

Goodell praised the Lions for their “can-do spirit” in helping the city ultimately land the draft.

“They believed that this community should be on the stage, and they pursued it very aggressively,” Goodell said. “They brought the business community together along with the public sector, and leadership here has been extraordinary. And I think people in the world should see it. And you’re going to have that opportunity. So if everyone sees what Detroit really is and the passion of the people in this community, that will be a successful draft.”

Sound like a hustle? You ain’t seen nothin’ yet! The draft weekend is expected to conclude Saturday with an attempt to break the Guinness World Record for the largest hustle line dance, with thousands doing the Detroit Hustle down Woodward Avenue to Hart Plaza.

Roger that.

Do you feel the draft?

So, the question that’s on the minds and lips of even casual Lions fans: who is the team going to pick in the first round of its hometown NFL Draft?

Based on their excellent 12-5 record last season, the Lions will pick 29th out of the league’s 32 teams. There are seven rounds in all, and the Lions will have one pick in each round. Teams make their selections in reverse order of how well they performed the previous season, which explains why the Chicago Bears own the No. 1 overall pick.

(Just kidding, Bears fans. We kid.)

Last month Tim Twentyman, senior writer for the detroitlions.com website, speculated that the Lions’ top three needs going into next season are defensive line, cornerback, and offensive line. “Cornerback is certainly an option here,” he wrote, “but I think this is a pretty deep class of corners and Lions GM Brad Holmes has proven he can find starting Day 2 talent in the secondary.”

Twentyman’s pick? Offensive lineman Graham Barton of Duke University. (Never heard of him? You’re not alone.) “Holmes said he won’t overlook the offensive line this offseason,” Twentyman wrote. “Barton would be a great addition in Detroit with his tenacity and versatility. At 6-foot-5, 313 pounds he’s got terrific length and could really play all five spots upfront, if needed.”

And check his weight: 313. Could be destiny.

(Since Twentyman wrote that, however, the Lions signed unrestricted Pro Bowl guard Kevin Zeitler from the Baltimore Ravens. So that prediction may need to be adjusted. He has compiled a wide range of opinions from draft predictors nationwide at detroitlions.com.)

On the NFL Network last month, on a show called Mock Draft Live, the “experts” had the Lions shoring up their secondary by selecting highly-touted cornerback Ga’Quincy “Kool-Aid” McKinstry from the University of Alabama. “The marketing campaign just writes itself, right?” one host chortled. “Honolulu Blue Kool-Aid!”

click to enlarge Brian Branch selected by the Detroit Lions during the 2023 NFL Draft. - Joshua R. Gateley/ESPN Images

Joshua R. Gateley/ESPN Images

Brian Branch selected by the Detroit Lions during the 2023 NFL Draft.

However, Eli Zaret, the gravel-voiced sportscasting legend for decades on both Detroit radio and TV now heard every Monday on The Drew and Mike Show podcast, takes a more pragmatic view. “Deciding exactly who to pick is pretty much impossible when you don’t choose till 29, 61, and 73,” he reasons. “Deciding what to pick is a breeze, because the numbers point us in the right direction.

“The Lions had the third leading offense among the 32 teams but only the 19th best defense. Yet they were second in rush defense while a dismal 27th in pass defense. They need an edge rusher to play opposite Aiden Hutchinson and a lot of help in the secondary. Then again, Brad Holmes is impressively creative and has surprised us with many of his choices. He’s already signed a free agent corner, so we’ll just have to wait and see how he continues to address their deficiencies in pass coverage.”

And what say you, Rob Parker, the FOX Sports host and former Detroit media mainstay preparing to launch America’s first all-Black sports talk radio station, “Sports Rap Radio,” on AM 1270 here May 16? “I’m not a draft expert like everybody else this time of year, so I’d rather give you what I think they need,” he says.

“So the Lions, I think, most need a pass rush. They need that type of player on their roster, somebody who can bust through, especially from the interior, and I don’t believe they have that. I think they can find somebody who can help them with the 29th pick, but that’s number one.

“Another one, I’d say, is they need help at cornerback,” Parker opines. “Last year they could give up big plays downfield, so a corner has to be a priority in the second or third round. And here’s the other thing: a kicker.”

Uh… why? “Because last year all the fans made excuses for (Lions head coach) Dan Campbell’s blunders, but he cost them a trip to the Super Bowl,” says Parker. “I don’t care what anybody says. If the reason he kept going for it on fourth down was because he couldn’t trust his kicker, you’re not going to win. So I think third round or lower, that should be a priority, too.”

click to enlarge Blue: Front of house guest areas for NFL Draft Experience - Teal: NFL Draft Experience entrances - Green: Draft D in D activations - Red line: People Mover route - Rideshare: Designated areas for rideshare app drop-offs - Red: Back of house restricted areas for NFL Draft Experience - Downtown Detroit Partnership

Downtown Detroit Partnership

Blue: Front of house guest areas for NFL Draft Experience
Teal: NFL Draft Experience entrances
Green: Draft D in D activations
Red line: People Mover route
Rideshare: Designated areas for rideshare app drop-offs
Red: Back of house restricted areas for NFL Draft Experience

Schedule of events

Thursday, April 25:

2024 NFL Draft Experience
Noon-10 p.m., Campus Martius Park/Hart Plaza

NFL Draft Red Carpet Kickoff Event
5 p.m., Fox Theatre, featuring attending draft prospects

2024 NFL Draft Day 1 (Round 1)
8-11 p.m., Draft Theater, Randolph and Monroe Streets

Friday, April 26

2024 NFL Draft Experience
Noon-10 p.m., Campus Martius Park/Hart Plaza

2024 NFL Draft Day 2 (Rounds 2-3)
7-11 p.m., Draft Theater, Randolph and Monroe Streets

Saturday, April 27

2024 NFL Draft Experience
9 a.m.-6 p.m., Campus Martius Park/Hart Plaza

2024 NFL Draft Day 3 (Rounds 4-7)
Noon-7 p.m., Draft Theater, Randolph and Monroe Streets

The revolution will also be televised


If you don’t want to come downtown — fear of crowds, parking paranoia, whatever — but still want to see Detroit showing out to the world, the draft will be televised locally on Channel 7 and nationally on NFL Network, ESPN, and ESPN Deportes, and streaming on NFL+. Air times are scheduled for 8 p.m. Thursday, 7 p.m. Friday, and noon Saturday on all four networks. For more information on NFL Network’s coverage, see nfl.com/network/events/nfl-draft.



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