- Michael Rothstein, ESPN Staff Writer
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The NFL draft is less than 12 hours away, which means soon enough the Detroit Lions will have to reveal whether all of their Sammy Watkins attention and visits from Jadeveon Clowney and Khalil Mack had substance or were designed to throw everyone off.
But the draft will be more than just one round for the Lions, who will need to use the three days in May to build depth on a roster that is big on stars but small on those players beyond the big names that can turn the Lions into a playoff team.
Every day up until the first day of the draft, we’ll look at a different position grouping and see what Detroit has and what the team could end up looking for during the 2014 draft.
Today concludes with safeties.
Players Lost: Louis Delmas (signed with Miami)
Draft priority: High
Potential Rounds: Any
Analysis: Much like cornerback, safety is a definitive need for Detroit in this draft. The Lions tried to assist themselves at the position in free agency by signing Ihedigbo and Abdul-Quddus. The problem there is Abdul-Quddus is more of a four-unit special teams player and Ihedigbo appears to be more of a stop-gap option for the Lions than the safety of the future.
This is a position group Detroit needs to upgrade and it is a somewhat tough class to do it in unless the Lions make a move early. That’s part of the reason why I had the Lions taking Clinton-Dix in the first round of the NFL Nation mock draft earlier this week and why he could very well be the team’s choice Thursday night.
In letting go of Delmas, the team signified it wanted to find a more reliable playmaker than Delmas. Too often, Delmas would miss on plays and his injured knees were a concern. The Lions let him go and he signed with Miami, but it also all but guaranteed the team would look to safety early in the draft.
If Detroit is going to really go after winning now, it needs to improve its defensive backfield with a top pick or two. In doing so, it should also improve the front seven, which would then have that extra half-second they so often seemed to need last season to sack quarterbacks.
Depending how the board falls Thursday -- and really, other than a trade, that will dictate all of the Lions’ decisions -- Clinton-Dix could be taken by Detroit or left on the board for someone else. That’s part of the fun of the draft, truly no one can accurately predict what is going to happen.
Of all reasonable options, I’d take: Clinton-Dix in the first round if the board falls even as close to expected. I know Bill Polian disagreed with me on "SportsCenter" on Wednesday, but the Alabama safety does not feel like a stretch at No. 10 and would fill an immediate need. Drafting Clinton-Dix could also move Ihedigbo into a more flexible role. Of course, the Lions haven't drafted a safety in the first round since Bennie Blades in 1988.
If the Lions passed on Clinton-Dix in the first round, a player to watch in later rounds could be Northern Illinois’ Jimmie Ward in the second round; Minnesota’s Brock Vereen in the third or fourth round and Wisconsin’s Dez Southward in the fourth or fifth round.