Detroit Lions: Lions draft preview

Much of the chatter around the Detroit Lions and the NFL draft in the past few days has been about the secondary. Many mock drafts -- including the ones at ESPN.com and the NFLNation mock draft -- had the Lions trying to solidify the defensive backfield.

It’s an area Detroit has not addressed with a first-round pick in a long time. How long? The last time the Lions selected a safety in the first round, no prospect in this year’s draft was born.

Cornerback is a little bit more recent, but Detroit still played in the Silverdome when that player was picked.

So here is a look at the Lions’ draft history from the prism of the last time the team selected each position group in the first round.

Stafford
Stafford
Quarterback: 2009, Matthew Stafford, Pick 1. How that worked out -- He has already emerged as one of the top quarterbacks in franchise history and became the fastest player to throw for 16,000 career yards. He holds the Lions record for career passing yards with 17,457 and has only played five seasons.

Running back: 2010, Jahvid Best, Pick 30. How that worked out -- He had concussion issues before he entered the league and that continued in the NFL. By the 2013 season, he was already out of the league.

Wide receiver: 2007, Calvin Johnson, Pick 2. How that worked out -- Johnson has become one of the top wide receivers in NFL history, in the same conversation as Jerry Rice. He has played in 101 games, made 572 catches for 9,328 yards and 66 touchdowns.

Tight end: 2009, Brandon Pettigrew, No. 20. How that worked out -- Pettigrew re-signed with the Lions this offseason for three more years. He has had some inconsistencies but can both run routes and is a very good blocker on the line of scrimmage. He has 284 catches for 2,828 yards and 16 touchdowns, but has only played in all 16 games twice in his five seasons.

Reiff
Reiff
Offensive tackle: 2012, Riley Reiff, No. 23. How that worked out -- Reiff was the third tackle in his rookie year and became the team’s starting left tackle in 2013. He gave up seven sacks in 2013, but was part of one of the better offensive lines in the NFL. Depending what happens in the draft, he could end up at guard in the next couple of seasons.

Offensive guard: 1996, Jeff Hartings, No. 23. How that worked out -- Hartings started for five seasons at right guard for the Lions, but it wasn’t until he went to Pittsburgh in 2001 that he flourished, becoming a two-time All-Pro for the Steelers ... at center.

Center: 1945, Frank Szymanski, No. 6. How that worked out -- Technically, Hartings is a center, but he played guard for Detroit, so that is where I listed him. Before that -- we’re looking to the pre-modern era of the NFL. Szymanski played three seasons in Detroit and then one in Philadelphia and one in Chicago. After his career ended, Szymanski became a Probate court judge in Wayne County, Mich.

Ansah
Defensive end: 2013, Ezekiel Ansah, No. 5. How that worked out -- Ansah became a starter in his rookie season and played well above expectations for a player initially viewed as raw and somewhat of a project. Ansah led all rookies with eight sacks and was the first pick of Martin Mayhew’s strongest draft.

Defensive tackle: 2011, Nick Fairley, No. 13. How that worked out -- Fairley has been an inconsistent player throughout his career with Detroit. At points, he can be dominant. At other times, he disappears and is inconsistent. This led to the Lions not picking up his fifth-year option, an option that came with little risk.

Linebacker: 2006, Ernie Sims, No. 9. How that worked out -- He played four seasons in Detroit before moving on to Philadelphia, Indianapolis and then the past two years with Dallas. He has made 419 career tackles.

Cornerback: 1998, Terry Fair, No. 20. How that worked out -- Fair was better known as a return specialist throughout his career, but had 171 career tackles and seven interceptions in four seasons with the Lions. Now retired, he is an assistant coach at the University of Tennessee.

Safety: 1988, Bennie Blades, No. 3. How that worked out -- Blades played 10 seasons in the NFL -- nine of them with the Lions. He started 125 games for Detroit and had 14 career interceptions between the Lions and Seattle. He also recovered 11 fumbles and made 772 tackles.
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.

Other previews

Players Lost: Louis Delmas (signed with Miami)

Players Signed: Isa Abdul-Quddus (from New Orleans); James Ihedigbo (from Baltimore); Nate Ness.

Players on the roster: Glover Quin; Don Carey; DeJon Gomes; Ihedigbo; Abdul-Quddus; Ness.

Draft priority: High

Potential Rounds: Any

Players who have visited or the Lions have met with: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama; Deone Bucannon, Washington State; Jaylen Watkins, Florida (per Detroit Free Press).

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.

Clinton-Dix
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.

Possible targets: Clinton-Dix; Calvin Pryor, Louisville; Bucannon; Ward; Craig Loston, LSU; Vereen; Southward; Dion Bailey, USC.
The board has been put together and in a little over 24 hours, the Detroit Lions will be able to see exactly how the NFL draft they have planned for over the past five-plus months will actually shake out.

In explaining his team’s draft process Monday, general manager Martin Mayhew said because the Lions are at the No. 10 spot, they have their initial draft board, will remove the quarterbacks and then have their essential Top 10 to work with Thursday evening.

Other than the obvious that Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins is somewhere on their board, here is one man’s guess of what their Top 10 board could look like come Thursday -- pulling quarterbacks off, of course, since the Lions are not searching for one. Remember, this is just a guess. Detroit has not tipped much of anything off as to what their board would look like.

Watkins
1.Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson: The Lions have made no secret about their love for the player who caught 101 passes last season and is considered the top receiver in the draft. The Lions brought him in for a visit, brought his teammate, Martavis Bryant, in for a visit and also brought in his brother, Jaylen Watkins, a defensive back from Florida. They ate with Sammy at his pro day, and Mayhew believes he is a good fit for the organization. The question is whether Detroit could really go and get him as he will be long gone by No. 10.

2.Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina: There’s no way Clowney is lower than third on any team’s draft board, and if he is, that team is likely kidding itself. Clowney is a transcendent talent who is the most physically gifted player in this draft and perhaps in the past four or five drafts. For Detroit to get him, it would likely have to trade all the way up to No. 1, but if he somehow fell to No. 3, then it might be worth it to pursue.

3.Khalil Mack, LB, Buffalo: The second-best defensive player in the draft also fits a position of need for the Lions. While Watkins is often the talk of most trade-up scenarios, it is Mack who could be the player Detroit could end up targeting in that type of scenario. He is an instant playmaker who is a three-down linebacker and would give the linebacking corps an immediate upgrade in talent and depth.

Evans
4.Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M: Many of the other rumors surrounding Detroit involve a lesser trade-up scenario for Evans, who was Johnny Manziel’s main target with the Aggies. The Lions would likely only have to go up to No. 7 to grab him, so it would cost less in return than Watkins. Lining him up with Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate would give the Lions one of the scarier passing games in the NFC.

5.Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn: He is the top tackle in the draft and almost certainly not going to be available for Detroit. If he somehow slipped to the Lions, they would find a way to make it work on the line, most likely moving 2013 left tackle Riley Reiff inside to guard.

6.Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M: Matthews could be available, in theory, depending on how the top of the draft goes, what trades are made and the number of quarterbacks selected. He or Taylor Lewan are often considered the highest rated tackles in the draft behind Robinson.

Dennard
7.Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State: After the top six is where it gets tricky -- and this is likely where the Lions’ pick will come from. Dennard lacks the ideal size defensive coordinator Teryl Austin would like in a cornerback, but he could be the best cover corner in the draft and likely will be the first cornerback off the board Thursday night. Part of why I didn’t consider him in the NFL Nation mock is he wasn’t available as Minnesota took him at No. 9.

8.Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama: Some will think this is high for Clinton-Dix, who I took in the NFL Nation mock draft Tuesday. Former general manager and ESPN analyst Bill Polian panned the pick and said cornerback was the more glaring need. That is a fair assessment, but safety is also a position of need for the Lions and Clinton-Dix is the best safety at a somewhat thin position compared to the rest of the groups in the draft. As I mentioned Tuesday and Wednesday, I believe the Lions will try to trade down.

Donald
9.Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh: Not necessarily a position of need for Detroit, but he could very well be the best player available for the Lions at No. 10, and as I mentioned Wednesday, the player I believe the Lions should take at No. 10 if he’s available. Drafting Donald would offer Detroit flexibility on the defensive line, and he has experience in both a 3-4 and 4-3 scheme, which can help in Austin’s defense as he tries to turn it multiple. Plus, he can learn from Ndamukong Suh for a season before potentially stepping into a starting role if Suh or Nick Fairley departs Detroit in 2015.

10.Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech: There are a lot of interesting connections for Fuller with Detroit. Both of his brothers have played for the Lions at some point in their careers. Vincent Fuller was a cornerback for Detroit in 2011 and Corey Fuller was drafted by the Lions last season and is on the roster for 2014. Kyle Fuller has outstanding ball skills, but isn’t as strong in coverage as Dennard.

Next six: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan; Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU; Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame; Anthony Barr, DE/LB, UCLA; Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State; Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina.
The NFL draft is a day 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 continues with the cornerbacks.

Other previews

Players Lost: None.

Players Signed: Rashean Mathis (re-signed); Cassius Vaughn (signed from Indianapolis); Aaron Hester

Players on the roster: Chris Houston; Darius Slay; Bill Bentley; Jonte Green; Chris Greenwood; Akwasi Owusu-Ansah; Mathis; Hester; Vaughn.

Draft priority: High

Potential Rounds: Any

Players who have visited or the Lions have met with: Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State; Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech; Bradley Roby, Ohio State.

Analysis: Since the end of last season, cornerback has been an obvious and major need for the Lions. That has not changed and, if anything, has heightened in the past few weeks as Houston continues to heal slowly from a toe injury.

That both Martin Mayhew and Jim Caldwell have expressed concern about Houston getting back to his 2012 form could be telling that the Lions believe they need to make a move on a cornerback, be it in the first, second or third round.

Add to that something else Mayhew said Monday – that by the third season, a cornerback is either going to get it or he won’t. Bentley, Green and Greenwood are all entering their third seasons. Slay is moving into Year 2. Owusu-Ansah will be in his fourth season in the league, but third with any experience. Between the five of them, the Lions have to hope they can find two good cornerbacks.

They re-signed Mathis as an insurance policy if the same thing happens in 2014 that happened in 2013, but the Lions would probably like to have him as a strong depth and fill-in performer instead of as their No. 1 corner, which he was in 2013.

Then there’s Houston, whom the Lions could be stuck with no matter what in 2014 because of the potential salary-cap hit if he were cut. But he is also in a play-or-be-cut season this year as well since the Lions are in a win-now mode anyway.

All of this means expect Detroit to once again take a cornerback fairly early in the draft, although the first round could be a stretch at No. 10. If the Lions trade down, though, or trade back up into the first round – cornerback could be a targeted possibility.

Of all reasonable options, I’d take: The ideal option in my head would be for the Lions to trade back to eventually take Fuller. But Fuller is probably too much of a reach at No. 10 to reasonably pull off. So if the Lions pick at No. 10 or trade up, watch for Stanley Jean-Baptiste from Nebraska in the second round.

Jean-Baptiste has the height defensive coordinator Teryl Austin covets – he wants corners over 6-feet – and has the experience playing big-time college football. He would be a good addition for the Lions, who have to deal with receivers Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson in the division, among others.

Possible targets: Gilbert; Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State; Fuller; Roby; Jean-Baptiste; Keith McGill, Utah; Phillip Gaines, Rice; Aaron Colvin, Oklahoma; Jaylen Watkins, Florida; Ross Cockrell, Duke; Dontae Johnson, North Carolina State.
The NFL draft is less than a week 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 continues with the linebackers.

Other previews

Players Lost: Rocky McIntosh (free agent)

Players Signed: None.

Players on the roster: Stephen Tulloch; DeAndre Levy; Ashlee Palmer; Cory Greenwood; Tahir Whitehead; Travis Lewis; Julian Stanford; Jon Morgan; Brandon Hepburn.

Draft priority: Medium

Potential Rounds: Any

Players who have visited or the Lions have met with: Khalil Mack, Buffalo; Kyle Van Noy, BYU; Khairi Fortt, California (per Detroit Free Press); Kevin Pierre-Louis, Boston College (per Detroit Free Press).

Analysis: This is an intriguing position for the Lions, mostly because they have talent set at two of the three major linebacker spots, but unproven at the third and have very little depth. If this sounds familiar, it was the same situation Detroit was in a season ago.

The Lions made no alterations to the linebackers during the offseason, leaving their best chance for an upgrade to be in this week’s draft. Here’s the problem: After Mack and, maybe, C.J. Mosley, there are not any sure-fire dynamic options at No. 10. There could be some solid picks later on, either if the Lions trade down a few slots or wait until the second round.

But this is a position that needs some addressing, particularly if the Lions want to be more multiple in their fronts, which means they’ll at least need a third definite competent linebacker to go with Tulloch and Levy.

It’s possible Palmer or Whitehead are able to turn into that consistent player but Palmer didn’t see a ton of action last season as Detroit played mostly nickel and Whitehead has been a special teams player thus far.

If one of them can improve enough, then the Lions need to only build depth. But if they don’t believe in Palmer or Whitehead, then finding a linebacker could be a top priority for Detroit.

Of all reasonable options, I’d take: If the Lions stay at No. 10, I would pass on Anthony Barr – who is kind of a hybrid defensive end/linebacker -- and wait until the second round to try and get Van Noy out of BYU. He can pass rush and has excellent instincts to get to the ball. He can also cover.

Of course, if the Lions are able to trade up into the top five picks of the draft, I’d go with Mack over Watkins there, as Mack could end up being a defensive stalwart for the next decade for Detroit if that happened. But Van Noy in the second round would be the choice.

Possible targets: Mack; Barr; Van Noy; Chris Borland, Wisconsin; Jeremiah Attaochu, Georgia Tech; Trent Murphy, Stanford; Shayne Skov, Stanford; Chris Kirksey, Iowa; Jordie Tripp, Montana; Denicos Allen, Michigan State.
The NFL draft is less than a week 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 continues with the defensive line.

Previous previews

Players Lost: Willie Young, DE (signed with Chicago); Israel Idonije, DE (signed with Chicago)

[+] EnlargeDonald
AP Photo/Don WrightTaking Aaron Donald at No. 10 would provide the Lions with insurance in case Ndamukong Suh or Nick Fairley is not back in 2015.
Players Signed: George Johnson, DE; Kourtnei Brown, DE; Darryl Tapp, DE/OLB; Vaughn Martin, DT; Corvey Irvin, DT.

Players on the roster: Defensive ends: Ezekiel Ansah; Jason Jones; Devin Taylor; Tapp; Brown; Johnson. Defensive tackles: Ndamukong Suh; Nick Fairley; C.J. Mosley; Andre Fluellen; Martin; Irvin; Jimmy Saddler-McQueen; Xavier Proctor.

Draft priority: Medium

Potential Rounds: Any

Players who have visited or the Lions have met with: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina; Larry Webster, DE, Bloomsburg; Denico Autry, DE, Mississippi State (per Detroit Free Press).

Analysis: It is an interesting situation when it comes to the Detroit defensive line, in part because the player the Lions should take in the first round could end up being available at the slot. It might not, though, be the player the Lions will take.

If Aaron Donald, the defensive tackle from Pittsburgh, is sitting at No. 10 and no unexpected players like Mike Evans are still available, the Lions should take him even though they have Suh and Fairley. The reasoning behind it is simple.

By taking Donald, the Lions would provide more depth up front in the present and also provide themselves with a potential replacement for either Fairley or Suh should either one not return to Detroit after the season. Worst case for Detroit, if both Suh and Fairley somehow returned, the Lions could have even more flexibility on the defensive line and truly have the best defensive front four in the NFL.

Donald may be the best player available at that point as well.

Even if the Lions pass on Donald, they will almost assuredly take a defensive tackle at some point this week because the team's top six defensive tackles -- and every non-practice squad defensive tackle -- will be an unrestricted free agent after the season.

Detroit needs to add a rush end, too, and Anthony Barr could be an option there in the first round. Larry Webster could be a late round pick to watch. He's a project, but he could fit in well with what the Lions have already in Ezekiel Ansah and Devin Taylor at the position.

Of all reasonable options, I'd take: As mentioned above, if Donald is available, that is who I would take in Round 1. I don't think the Lions would do this -- my bet would be they bolster the secondary -- but Donald is a difference-maker.

Should that happen, the Lions could use a fourth-round pick on Webster as well and really solidify the defensive front the team tried to build the entire defense around.

Possible targets: Donald, Webster, Barr, Dee Ford, DE, Auburn; Aaron Lynch, DE, South Florida; Jackson Jeffcoat, DE, Texas; Dominique Easley, DT, Florida; Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State; Kelcy Quarles, DT, South Carolina; Ego Ferguson, DT, LSU.
The NFL draft is less than two weeks 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 draft.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Martin
Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY SportsUSC's Marcus Martin could fill a future need for the Lions at center.
Today continues with the offensive line.

Previous position groups: Quarterbacks; Running backs; Wide receivers; Tight ends

Players Lost: Jason Fox (signed with Miami); Leroy Harris (free agent); Dylan Gandy (free agent).

Players Signed: Dominic Raiola (re-signed); Darren Keyton; J.B. Shugarts; Sherman Carter.

Players on the roster: LT Riley Reiff; LG Rob Sims; C Raiola; RG Larry Warford; RT LaAdrian Waddle; OT Corey Hilliard; OG Rodney Austin; Keyton; Shugarts; Carter.

Draft priority: High for center; Low-to-medium otherwise.

Potential Rounds: 3-7

Players who have visited or the Lions have met with: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan; Marcus Martin, C, USC.

Analysis: This isn’t a great draft for centers, but the Lions don’t need it to be a spectacular one – just one with enough players who could eventually develop, and that should not be an issue.

Once Detroit re-signed Raiola and didn’t land Phil Costa in free agency, it became apparent that the team’s hunt for Raiola’s eventual replacement would come from the group of centers in this draft. There isn’t necessarily a first-round – or even a second-round – pick in the bunch, but there is talent and there is the opportunity to find a potential starter in the group.

Martin, the highest-rated center in the draft by ESPN.com and the only one known to have visited Detroit, is the No. 54 overall player. Two other players are ranked in the top 100 – Colorado State’s Weston Richburg and North Carolina’s Russell Bodine.

One of those three, either in the third or fourth rounds, would be a good pull for the Lions depending on who else is available. Should they wait until later in the draft and those three are gone, Utah State's Tyler Larsen and Oklahoma’s Gabe Ikard could present intriguing options to draft and groom.

Other than center, the Lions have their top three tackles and guards likely set entering training camp, but Detroit has done well finding offensive linemen in the past few years out of the draft, including Warford in the third round last season and Waddle on the undrafted free-agent list a year ago.

The only way Detroit would take a tackle in the first round is if the top tackle on their board fell to them at No. 10 and the Lions either didn’t like any of the other options and couldn’t trade out of the position. That’s the scenario where the team could take either Jake Matthews or Taylor Lewan.

Otherwise, finding a fourth guard and tackle could be either a third-day or undrafted free-agent proposition this season as the Lions' top six linemen from last season all return.

Of all reasonable options, I’d take: If Richburg or Bodine are there in the third round, I’d potentially make a move on one of those players. If not, I’d wait until the third day and take Ikard. Center would be, by far, the only position worth being concerned with before the third day of the draft, and by then the Lions will likely be looking for a backup quarterback, possibly a wide receiver or linebacker and then the best players available to fill out the roster.

That’s where they could potentially grab a Michael Schofield, who played both guard and tackle at Michigan, or a Brandon Linder or Spencer Long at guard. I’d anticipate Detroit drafting a tackle or guard at some point in the draft, but unless it is an obvious best player available situation, that won’t happen until the third day.

Possible targets: Center – Martin, Richburg, Bodine, Larsen, Ikard. Tackle – Lewan, Schofield, Billy Turner, North Dakota State; Cornelius Lucas, Kansas State. Guard – Schofield; Brandon Linder, Miami (Fla.); Spencer Long, Nebraska.
The NFL draft is less than two weeks 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 players beyond the big names who 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.

[+] EnlargeAustin Seferian-Jenkins
Joe Nicholson/USA TODAY SportsWashington tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins could be an option for the Lions in the second round.
Today continues with tight ends.

Previous position groups: Quarterbacks; Running backs; Wide receivers

Players Lost: Dorin Dickerson (free agent)

Players Signed: Brandon Pettigrew (re-signed); Jordan Thompson (free agent, also a long snapper).

Players on the roster: Pettigrew; Joseph Fauria; Michael Williams; Matt Veldman; Thompson.

Draft priority: Medium-to-high

Potential Rounds: 1-4

Players who have visited or met with the Lions: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Washington; Eric Ebron, North Carolina; C.J. Fiedorowicz, Iowa.

Analysis: This is an interesting position for Detroit, mostly because the team re-signed Brandon Pettigrew in March. If the Lions had gone away from doing that, it would be pretty simple to forecast a tight end being drafted at No. 10 (likely Ebron) or with the second-round pick, which could be a multitude of different options.

By bringing back Pettigrew, it lessened the need for the position somewhat since there is now the dual-threat tight end (Pettigrew) and the red-zone threat tight end (Fauria) on the roster. Michael Williams, who was on injured reserve last season, is more of a blocker.

What the Lions do with this position next week will depend on what offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi believes he will need in the short term and down the road. Remember, he is used to working -- not as a coordinator, but as an offensive philosophy -- with Jimmy Graham, the game’s top tight end at the moment.

And as the importance of a featured running back has disappeared across the NFL the past few years, the premium on a tight end as a matchup conundrum for defensive coordinators has raised significantly.

This leaves an interesting question for Detroit. If Ebron is there at No. 10 -- and it isn’t a guarantee he will be, but it is definitely a possibility -- will the Lions take him hoping he can develop into Graham in a couple of years? If he does, what does that mean for the future of Fauria on the roster, as he would be the tight end most impacted by that pick unless he has increased his blocking ability significantly in the offseason.

If the Lions pass on Ebron, and they likely should unless they can’t trade down and aren’t enamored with Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix or Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald, then the second or third round should offer some strong possibilities for them.

Austin Seferian-Jenkins, perhaps more than Ebron, could end up being the star tight end of this class. He can block a bit, run routes, and has the basketball pedigree similar to stars Graham, Antonio Gates and Denver's Julius Thomas. He also has more football experience entering the league than those three, and could be the logical complement and eventual replacement for Pettigrew in two-to-three seasons.

If the Lions believe in Fauria’s development, Fiedorowicz could be a third-round option, but he was less of a receiver and more of a blocker in college. He has insisted, though, he could do both.

An intriguing option in the second or third round would be Notre Dame’s Troy Niklas. He could be a bit of a NFL project in that he has only played tight end for a couple of years, but he has great size, good hands and is already a capable blocker. As I wrote in February, he is potentially the last of a group of true dual-ability tight ends and could be drafted -- like Seferian-Jenkins -- as an eventual Pettigrew replacement.

Of all reasonable options, I’d take: Seferian-Jenkins in the second round or Niklas either in a trade-up in the late second or hope he’s there in Round 3. Those would be my two top targets at the position instead of Ebron for multiple reasons.

The Lions, as written over and over again here, need defense more than anything. There are massive questions about the depth and talent in the secondary, and though it might not appear this way for 2014, defensive tackle is going to be a position of need beginning in 2015. The Lions would be better off trading back to take a cornerback or even a receiver later in the first round.

Plus, Seferian-Jenkins and Niklas could both end up being better than Ebron in the pros.

Here’s my biggest issue with Ebron, and it is written in his draft profile on ESPN.com.

“Ball skills are not as good as perception. Makes some circus catches,” the profile writes. “Has long arms, shows adequate leaping ability and good body control to adjust. Hauls in high-percentage of away-from-frame opportunities.

“But too many focus drops on 'catchable' balls. Highest drop percentage (11 percent) in 2013 of all the top TE prospects.”

That last part is why the Lions could shy away from Ebron. Jim Caldwell and Lombardi have stressed catching the ball after Detroit had the highest drop rate in the NFL last season. And that profile reads a lot like the tight end the Lions already have on the roster -- Pettigrew -- as a player who makes the tough catch but sometimes drops easy, catchable balls.

For those reasons, Seferian-Jenkins or Niklas would be the wiser choices.

Possible targets: Ebron; Seferian-Jenkins; Niklas; Fiedorowicz; Jace Amaro, Texas Tech.
The NFL draft is less than two weeks 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 continues with wide receivers.

Previous position groups: Quarterbacks; Running backs

Players Lost: Nate Burleson (signed with Cleveland); Micheal Spurlock (unsigned)

Players Signed: Golden Tate (from Seattle); Naaman Roosevelt (played with Buffalo in 2010 and 2011)

Players on the roster: Calvin Johnson; Tate; Ryan Broyles; Kris Durham; Kevin Ogletree; Jeremy Ross; Roosevelt; Patrick Edwards; Cody Wilson; Corey Fuller; Carlin Isles.

Draft priority: High

Potential Rounds: Any round

Players who have visited or the Lions have met with: Sammy Watkins, Clemson; Martavis Bryant, Clemson; Allen Robinson, Penn State (local workout); Bennie Fowler, Michigan State (local workout); Erik Lora, Eastern Illinois; Marqise Lee, USC; Mike Evans, Texas A&M (went to pro day); Cody Latimer, Indiana (per Detroit Free Press); John Brown, Pittsburg State (per Detroit Free Press).

Analysis: Despite their top free-agent signing, Tate, being a wide receiver and having the top pass-catcher in the game in Johnson, bringing in more wide receivers to overhaul a group that led the NFL in drop rate last season has been a priority.

A lot of this has to do with Detroit’s overall philosophy this offseason – find as much help as possible for quarterback Matthew Stafford to lift him from a very good quarterback to one of the top players in the position in the NFL. The Lions have focused their coaching staff hires on this goal and appear to be doing the same with both free agency, and now, the draft.

The draft is a little bit different for Detroit because even if the front office won’t admit it, the franchise understands it might be time to at least contemplate searching for a replacement for Johnson if there is someone with that type of talent there.

The Lions have expended considerable time over the past three months investigating Watkins, believed to be the best receiver in the draft, to see if he could be the player eventually relied upon to be that replacement.

They brought Watkins in for a visit, went to his pro day and met with him privately; a lot of work for a player who has little-to-no chance of being around at Detroit’s current No. 10 selection. The team even met with his receiver teammate, Bryant, and his brother, Florida safety Jaylen Watkins, in the process.

Of course, one could make the argument that the Lions would be better waiting until the second or third round to take a receiver and grabbing Bryant anyway.

While a lot of the focus has been on Sammy Watkins, this is a very deep, very talented receiver class. If the Lions don’t trade up for Watkins, there’s a chance Evans could be around at No. 10 and he would be an intriguing pick for the Lions. So would potentially trading down to grab a receiver a little bit later and stockpiling picks.

When it comes to this position, Detroit could end up doing pretty much anything.

Of all reasonable options, I’d take: My feelings on trading up for Watkins have been known for a little while – don’t do it. The only prospects, in my opinion, worth moving up for are Clowney and Mack, players who can make an immediate difference on defense. So when it comes to reasonable, there’s this.

If Evans is there at No. 10, the Lions would have to consider him heavily. Whether they should make the pick or not is something different, but they’d have to look hard at it. Personally, I’d wait until the second or third round and grab one of these prospects if available (and one likely will be): Latimer, Bryant, Robinson, Kelvin Benjamin from Florida State, Paul Richardson from Colorado or even a guy like Donte Moncrief from Mississippi. At least one of those players, if not more, should be available when the Lions pick on the second day – perhaps even in the third round. Don’t be surprised, either, if Detroit ends up taking another receiver a bit later as well because this is a high value position in the 2014 draft.

Possible targets: Watkins; Evans; Odell Beckham Jr., LSU; Lee; Latimer; Benjamin; Davante Adams, Fresno State; Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt; Richardson; Bryant; Robinson; Brandon Coleman, Rutgers; Moncrief; Kevin Norwood, Alabama; Mike Davis, Texas; Shaq Evans, UCLA; Jeff Janis, Saginaw Valley.
The NFL draft is less than two weeks 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 continues with running backs.

Previous position groups: Quarterbacks

Players Lost: None.

Players Signed: Joique Bell (re-signed); Jed Collins (from New Orleans)

Players on the roster: Reggie Bush; Bell; Mikel Leshoure; Theo Riddick; Steven Miller. Fullback – Montell Owens; Collins.

Draft priority: Very low

Potential Rounds: Late, if at all

Players who have visited or the Lions have met with: Dri Archer, Kent State; Zurlon Tipton, Central Michigan (local workout).

Analysis: With all the other issues facing the Lions, from small ones like bringing in a young cornerback to larger ones like the entire defense, wide receiver and even a backup center, the one spot Detroit does not need to be concerned is at running back.

The position, unless you can land a franchise back like Adrian Peterson or Arian Foster (who was an undrafted free agent), no longer has the value it used to. Considering the way New Orleans has used running backs in the past – having played a lot of them in varying roles – there just isn’t a need to draft one until very late.

And very late would likely just become the best player available situation. So considering we’re talking so late in the draft and so many other teams with varying needs, it could be difficult to speculate who would be available and who could be taken.

The type of running back, though, could be pinpointed. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Lions take a back somewhat similar to Bush, as he once again did not play a full season and while he is still a game-breaker, insurance could be useful there.

But again, it depends who is available late.

Of all reasonable options, I’d take: Likely none. Too many other needs to fill. However, if a multipurpose back like Dri Archer from Kent State or De’Anthony Thomas from Oregon fell to the sixth round, I’d grab them instantaneously because they could be a role difference-maker – kind of like Andre Ellington with Arizona last season. That type of talent that late is certainly advisable to draft.

Possible targets: Dri Archer, Kent State; De’Anthony Thomas, Oregon; Silas Redd, USC; Lache Seastrunk, Baylor.
The Detroit Lions have their starting quarterback in Matthew Stafford and a former starter as a backup in Dan Orlovsky. Kellen Moore, now entering his third season with the Lions, has not taken a snap and is still on the roster.

That, though, should not preclude Detroit from using one of its draft picks -- or a priority free-agent deal if it came to that -- on a quarterback next week during the NFL draft. The position will not be of the highest priority to the Lions as there are true needs on the roster, but this is a new coaching staff.

[+] EnlargeAaron Murray
AP Photo/Wade PayneGeorgia's Aaron Murray could be a mid- or late-round possibility for the Lions.
And with that staff will likely come a quarterback they will want to groom on their own to eventually at least replace Orlovsky down the road. This should bring Detroit to the third day of the draft -- unless something unforeseen happens and one of the top-tier quarterbacks falls to them in the second round -- and to a list of players who have one flaw or another. But most of those flaws can be fixed.

"We have to wait and see where some of these quarterbacks go," ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said earlier this month. "Connor Shaw, some think fourth round, some think seventh round. Kenny Guiton was a backup to Braxton Miller at Ohio State but played well when Miller was out. He could be a late-rounder or priority free agent.

"We have to see how far Aaron Murray from Georgia drops. I thought he'd be a third-round pick. Of course, he had the injury; maybe he goes fourth-to-sixth round now. Those are some of the guys that could be intriguing guys that at least have that ability."

Murray is one name that stands out, mostly because his pedigree is similar to Stafford's. Murray, who is shorter and doesn't have the arm strength Stafford possesses, is ahead of Stafford in many categories in the Georgia record books, including passer efficiency rating, career passing yards and completions, and touchdown passes in a season and a career.

Of course, Murray played four years at Georgia, whereas Stafford only had three.

But Murray's injury, a torn left ACL, will likely drop him in the draft. This is good for Detroit.

"Two things with Murray are size, which is a big factor. You could say, well, Drew Brees had similar size, went first pick in the second round and look what happened," Kiper said. "The injury, the lack of ideal size, doesn't have a great arm but I think his arm is more than good enough.

"I think he's going to be a great fourth-round pick, maybe fifth-round pick that one time looked like a second or third."

That's value -- and in drafting a quarterback that could be a strong backup and maybe even a starter in the future, value is what the Lions are looking for.

Other than Murray, who has met with the Lions, there are other potential value options depending on when Detroit opts to take a quarterback. Kiper mentioned two in the later rounds in Shaw and Guiton.

Clemson's Tajh Boyd is a player Kiper mentioned that once had a much higher value than he currently possesses. There's also Tom Savage from Pittsburgh, who has been a late riser in the draft and likely would be gone before Detroit considered taking a quarterback, but if he is around in the late third round, it could be worth trying to trade up to nab him.

Then there's the other SEC quarterback coming off an injury, Zach Mettenberger, who is also the other quarterback the Lions have met with. Like many other quarterbacks in this draft, there is not a consensus opinion on him.

"Logan Thomas is the physical freak of the quarterbacks. Looked like a top pick three years ago and has really regressed since then but has all the talent in the world. He can be a second-round pick," Kiper said. "Zach Mettenberger, one of the best arms of any quarterback, if not the best arm, out of LSU coming off the injury.

"Limited mobility but some people like him. Some don't."

When it comes to quarterbacks and who is available for the Lions, that's the key to the entire draft.
The NFL draft is less than two weeks 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 who 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 starts with quarterbacks.

Players Lost: Shaun Hill (signed with St. Louis)

Players Signed: Dan Orlovsky (from Tampa Bay)

Players on the roster: Matthew Stafford; Orlovsky; Kellen Moore.

Draft priority: Medium

Potential Rounds: 4-7

Players who have visited or the Lions have met with: Zach Mettenberger, LSU; Aaron Murray, Georgia (per NFL Network)

Analysis: Since Lions general manager Martin Mayhew met with reporters at the NFL combine in February, one of the things he has been most steadfast about is potentially drafting a quarterback to develop. That wasn’t going to change if the Lions had brought back Hill.

It isn’t going to change now that the Lions have signed Orlovsky.

The Lions have a new coaching staff, a new offensive coordinator and a new quarterbacks coach – so it would be logical to think they would want to have their own young quarterback to mentor. Coaches love having players they can mold, no more so than quarterbacks, who end up being so key to any franchise.

Considering the players Detroit has worked out, it is obvious the team is looking for more of a project quarterback as well. Both Mettenberger and Murray are coming off of injuries sustained last season, so there would be little pressure on either one of them to play in 2014 unless it became an emergency situation.

Even then, Detroit would probably look for a veteran on the market before going to either one of those two players.

Of course, the Lions could end up drafting another quarterback, depending who falls where and the value of round compared to where a player stands on their board, but both Mettenberger and Murray would be sensible selections for Detroit.

The only reasons the Lions likely wouldn’t pick a quarterback next month would either fall with players they want no longer being around or a sudden resurgence in the belief that Moore can play in the NFL.

Unless new offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi and quarterbacks coach Jim Bob Cooter take a similar liking to Moore that former offensive coordinator Scott Linehan did, Moore could have a difficult path to a roster spot this fall.

If Mayhew had any confidence in him as anything other than a No. 3 quarterback, he likely would not have brought in an experienced backup like Orlovsky to help out Stafford. And at this point, having a No. 3 quarterback you don’t necessarily believe in entering his third season is probably not what Detroit has in mind at the position.

Of all reasonable options, I’d take: Mettenberger on the third day if he’s there. He has a strong arm, prototypical size for a quarterback and can learn from both Stafford and Orlovsky for at least a season before being potentially needed in the No. 2 role. The size and arm strength make him an interesting project quarterback for Lombardi, Cooter and head coach Jim Caldwell, probably more so than Murray. If Detroit really wanted to take a chance, Logan Thomas from Virginia Tech has a bunch of the tools as well, but has less experience than Mettenberger. Mettenberger and Thomas would be the best two options of the likely third-day candidates.

Possible targets: Mettenberger; Murray; Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech; Tajh Boyd, Clemson; Bryn Renner, North Carolina; Connor Shaw, South Carolina; Stephen Morris, Miami (Fla.).

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