I’ve been an avid (crazed) follower of the Detroit Lions since the early days of Barry Sanders. I have watched the NFL Draft each year for as long as I can remember. And in all the years that I’ve been following the NFL Draft, I can never remember a draft season where there has been so much uncertainty. But not only for the Lions, but for all 32 NFL teams. It seems as if every mock draft out there has a different pick in each spot in the top 10, including the Lions’ pick.
Here’s what we know the Lions WON’T do with their first round pick: take a quarterback, running back, kicker, or punter. Almost every other position is in play.
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix
In recent days, several mock drafts that I’ve reviewed have the Lions selecting safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix from Alabama. This isn’t a bad selection. Justin Gilbert, Darqueze Dennard, Kyle Fuller, and Calvin Pryor have also been mentioned as possible selections. A cornerback or safety seems like the logical way for the Lions’ to go. The loss of Louis Delmas to the Dolphins and the inconsistent play from the secondary over the past number of years would justify the addition of any of the top rated defensive backs. It just makes sense.
But there are other things to consider. We’ve known for several months that the Lions’ have a fascination with receiver Sammy Watkins from Clemson. His performance in January’s Orange Bowl cemented him as the top receiver in this year’s draft class. His hands and speed make him a much sought-after commodity for many teams. However, there is little to no chance that “Super Sammy” falls all the way to number 10. To get the chance to select him, the Lions would likely have to trade up much higher into the top 10.
I can’t see him getting past the Raiders at number 5 (remember passed on Calvin Johnson for Jamarcus Russell in the 2007 draft, a decision the likely regret every single day). Trading up would likely require them giving up multiple picks, and likely one, if not both, of their second and third round selections in this year’s draft. It seems like a steep price. But he may be the type of player that is worth it.
I’ve also read that the Lions may be interested in trading up for DE/LB combo Khalil Mack from Buffalo. The Lions pass rush took a hit with the loss of defensive end Willie Young to the Bears. It seems as if the Lions’ linebackers haven’t provided much of a pass rush in recent years and Mack may be the man to change that. Dre Levy has become a solid starter for the team but his strength is in pass coverage. He had six interceptions last year but has only recorded one sack in five NFL seasons. Mack would give the Lions the edge rusher they’ve lacked from the linebacker position for the past number of years.
Another theory I have heard is that the Lions may be interested in trading up for Jadeveon Clowney. As mentioned above, the Lions lost Willie Young to the Bears, weakening their pass rush.
Personally, I’m not sure that defensive end is as much of a need as some people are making it out to be. Ziggy Ansah led all rookies in sacks in 2013, Jason Jones is returning from a ruptured patellar tendon, and 2013 seventh round pick Devin Taylor surprised everyone with his play in the latter part of last season.
If the Lions have the chance to draft what may be a once-in-a-generation talent like Clowney, they have to take it. But I am not sure they will get that chance without giving up a significant number of other draft picks, both in this draft and in the future.
The Suh Affect
A bigger concern to me is what could be two major holes in the middle of the defensive line following the 2014 season. There have been reports of discord between the Lions and star defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh this offseason. He is approaching free agency and is looking to sign an extension that will make him the highest paid defensive player in NFL history. His recent absence from voluntary workouts has concerned some, but I truly believe that it isn’t as much of a concern as some may think.
Suh is an All-Pro, and despite the fact that he is a team captain, he has trained on his own during the offseason for the past 3 years. He’s been a standout performer for the team since he entered the league, despite the occasional lapse in judgment on the field.
All of the noise from fans and media may convince Suh to take his talents elsewhere. The other hole on the d-line could be Nick Fairley, who is entering the final year of his rookie contract. The Lions have already said they won’t be picking up his option for 2015. He may also decide to walk after the coming season. This would leave the Lions in a major lurch.
Several mock drafts have had the Lions drafting Pitt defensive tackle Aaron Donald. Considering that the position may become one of need fairly quickly, this might be the pick.
The final scenario would see the Lions trading back several positions in the draft to pick up extra selections in the later rounds. The team has eight choices at the moment but it wouldn’t hurt to have a few more. If they decide to trade back even 3 or 4 spots, there are still quality players available.
On The Clock
I’m glad I’m not in Martin Mayhew’s shoes. There are so many possible picks at number 10. Whether he picks a receiver, defensive back, or defensive lineman, it will be the topic of debate for many months to come. I just wish May 8th would get here already!