Detroit Lions: Mike Evans

 Mike EvansThomas Campbell/USA TODAY SportsIf Mike Evans is available when the Detroit Lions pick at No. 10, Mel Kiper Jr. would select the Texas A&M wide receiver.
Since the end of the 2013 season, when the Detroit Lions once again found themselves in the familiar position of being in the top 10 of an NFL draft, many questions have been asked about what the team will do with the pick.

Could they trade it and try to move up to nab receiver Sammy Watkins? Could they try to trade back to acquire a position of need – perhaps a cornerback – and also to stockpile picks? If they stay at No. 10, what could happen?

Would they draft a wide receiver? Reach for a corner? Take the best defensive player available or best player available (other than a quarterback) period?

With Detroit not in the market for a starting quarterback this season, the Lions have many, many options available to them a month from now when the NFL draft starts at Radio City Music Hall.

And with so many potential scenarios playing out, I gave one to ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. last week. Four names, four different positions, one slot – assuming Detroit stays at No. 10 – available. What does he think the Lions would do if wide receiver Mike Evans, safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, linebacker Anthony Barr and cornerback Justin Gilbert were all available at No. 10?

This came on the heels of his Grade A draft last week , when he selected defense for the Lions in the first three rounds. He did that, in part, because he doesn’t seem to believe Evans will be available for Detroit at No. 10.

So what does he think Detroit would do if those aforementioned four players were all sitting there for the Lions?

“If Evans, Barr, Clinton-Dix and Gilbert are there, it’s a no-brainer for me,” Kiper Jr. said. “It’s Mike Evans because he’s the highest-rated player, by a pretty good margin now. I always say, if you’re picking at 10, you have to get a guy who is six, seven or eight. He’s number five on the board right now. Five, six on my board, right on the heels of Sammy Watkins as the second-best receiver in this draft and some may even have Evans ahead of Watkins. He’s a big-time talent. He’s a physical freak.

“People say, well, he reminds some of us of Mike Williams, well, yeah, you could make that argument but he’s much more consistent catching the ball and is more explosive. But there’s always going to be that comparison. So I would say Evans.”

The Lions, of course, drafted Mike Williams in 2005 -- the first draft Martin Mayhew was the assistant general manager for. That selection did not work out too well for the Lions, who were hoping to pair Mike Williams with Roy Williams for a dynamic receiver pairing.

Unlike 2005, receiver isn’t as big of a need position since the team signed Golden Tate to be the team’s No. 2 receiver this offseason.

Kiper went on, though, and explained what he thinks the Lions might do if Evans is unavailable at No. 10 – and considering Tampa Bay traded the other receiving Mike Williams (Syracuse-and-still-in-the-NFL variety) to Buffalo – the Bucs are now in desperate need for a receiver and pick ahead of Detroit.

“Clinton-Dix is still the major need. He’s a hot guy right now and is clearly, I think, the consensus best safety,” Kiper said. “So if you want to stretch it a bit and fill a need, I’m not saying they are stretching because their rating may have Clinton-Dix in the top 10, but I would say just on need alone in a division with Aaron Rodgers and [Jay] Cutler and you know Minnesota is going to address the cornerback spot, I would say they may stretch it a bit for Clinton-Dix if Evans was gone at that point.”

This would be a fairly logical selection for Detroit even though the team signed James Ihedigbo to a two-year deal this offseason to play next to Glover Quin. Ihedigbo will be 31 years old by the end of the season, and if the team can pick someone up to be a third safety this year and a starter by 2015, that scenario would put them in a good position in the defensive backfield for the first time in a long time.
In May, Detroit Lions general manager Martin Mayhew will run the team for his sixth NFL draft. He'll have been involved with the team's personnel decisions, at that point, for 10 seasons.

While Mayhew's first draft as the team's actual general manager took place in 2009, he had been working with the team since the middle of the 2004 season as the Lions' assistant general manager. He did not make final decisions when it came to the draft in those first few years -- Matt Millen was still the general manager then -- he was certainly part of the group that helped influence what happened with the Lions.

For that reason, we start our first round review with the year 2005, the first draft Mayhew would have been intimately involved in with the Lions. Over the next two weeks, we'll look at the first round picks in each year for the Lions, who else would have been available and whether or not that pick ended up being a good call.

The pick: 10th

The player selected: Mike Williams, WR, USC

The player's credentials at the time: Williams was a star at USC. At 6-foot-5, 230 pounds, he had 176 catches for 2,579 yards and 30 touchdowns in two seasons with the Trojans. He tried to declare for the NFL draft after his sophomore season and hired an agent after a lawsuit by Maurice Clarett seemed to abolish the rule where draft-eligible players had to be out of high school for three seasons. When the initial ruling was overturned, Williams tried to be reinstated to USC for his junior season and the NCAA denied that petition.

Still, Williams was one of the top players in his class and one of the top wide receivers in the country. Yet Millen apparently didn't want to draft Williams in 2005, as his son said during the NFL Network's “A Football Life” special on Millen.

Who else was available at the pick: DeMarcus Ware, LB, Troy; Shawne Merriman, LB, Maryland; Aaron Rodgers, QB, California; Heath Miller, TE, Virginia.

Did the pick make sense at the time: If the Lions wanted to construct a dynamic offense, yes. Williams was a freakish athlete with immense skills and could have caused major headaches for opposing secondaries -- think what Chicago has now with Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. But as Millen's son said in "A Football Life," his father also liked Ware, who was a pass-rusher with his own set of freakish skills.

Did it end up being a good pick: No. Not even close. Williams had 127 catches for 1,526 yards and five touchdowns in his five seasons in the NFL, less numbers than he put up in his two seasons at USC. He had more than 500 yards receiving in a season only once -- 2010 in Seattle -- and that was the only year where he caught more than one touchdown pass. For a top 10 pick, Williams did not pan out at all for Detroit or anyone else who signed him.

Who should the Lions have taken: While hindsight would have said Rodgers would have been the obvious player to take, the team was still committed to Joey Harrington after drafting him with the No. 3 pick in 2002. He had also come off his best statistical season, throwing for 19 touchdowns and 12 interceptions -- the only time in his career where he would throw for more scores than picks. But Harrington appeared to be slowly improving.

Millen would have been correct in taking Ware, who has made 576 tackles and had 117 sacks since being drafted by Dallas with the No. 11 pick in 2005 -- one slot after the Lions passed on him. Ware made seven Pro Bowls, was named first-team All-Pro four times and was the NFC Defensive Player of the Year in 2008.

What can Detroit learn from this: This draft could actually provide a smart blueprint for Detroit in regard to May's draft. The Lions are flirting with taking a wide receiver -- perhaps Texas A&M's Mike Evans -- to pair with Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate in hopes of creating a dynamic offense. But the Detroit defense is full of positions in need of upgrades, and if there is a player who can make an impact on defense -- like linebacker Anthony Barr from UCLA, defensive tackle Aaron Donald from Pitt or cornerback Justin Gilbert from Oklahoma State -- available at No. 10, upgrading the defense should be the priority over adding to the offense that early. If the Lions had taken Ware, the team's entire last decade might have changed.
DETROIT – Over the past week, the Detroit Lions draft needs have changed a little bit.

The team brought in Golden Tate to be the No. 2 receiver and re-signed Brandon Pettigrew as the team's tight end. While the signings don't mean those needs have evaporated for Detroit – the Lions need receivers still and could use a stretch-the-field tight end – it made both of those spots less important to draft in the first round.

It also gives Detroit some flexibility, as does not have to draft a quarterback.

The Lions would potentially consider trading up in May's draft or dropping back from the No. 10 slot in the first round. Team president Tom Lewand and general manager Martin Mayhew recognize that every option needs to be available.

"It always sounds good on paper to trade up or trade back. The old adage is it takes two to tango and sometimes opportunities present themselves for trades on draft day or outside of draft day and sometimes they don't," Lewand said Monday night at the MGM Grand in Detroit. "Our position is we always have to be ready to improve our team in whatever way is possible.

"Sometimes we search those things out and they don't materialize and sometimes they are presented to us and we take advantage of them. We have to be ready, no matter what the opportunity is, if there's a chance to improve the defense by trading up or trading back, we'll look at that and if it makes sense, we'll do it."

May's draft offers some intriguing opportunities there. But who would be worth the Lions making a move from No. 10 -- either up or back -- for? That depends somewhat on how the draft falls and somewhat how the Lions final board ends up being set up.

This also focuses mostly on defense.

WORTH MOVING UP:

Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson: Watkins is the top receiver in the draft and the only offensive player that would be worth making a move higher into the Top 10 for, although even then, it would be questionable how much Detroit should be willing to give up for him. Watkins is a special talent, but having grabbed Tate in free agency, that alleviated receiver from being the No. 1 need. But if Watkins ends up still on the board at No. 8, it might be worth exploring jumping over Buffalo to ensure Detroit grabs him.

Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina: Just putting him here in case the inexplicable happens and he drops beyond the third or fourth pick. If he does, the Lions should trade whatever possible to go and select him. But it would be very, very, very unlikely to happen.

Khalil Mack, LB, Buffalo: Mack may be the best non-Clowney defensive prospect in the draft and for a little while, it appeared he might end up falling to No. 10. If he did, Mack would almost be a no-brainer selection for Detroit as long as Watkins was no longer available. If Detroit determines Mack is the best player in the draft, it could be worth investigating a move higher for a linebacker that could end up being an All-Pro.

STAY PUT IF THIS PLAYER IS HERE:

[+] EnlargeAnthony Barr
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsThe Lions should address their needs on defense by taking linebacker Anthony Barr in the first round.
Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA: The Lions are clearly intrigued by Barr, who has extreme athleticism and could improve a good but not great linebacker group immediately. Mayhew was out at his Pro Day to watch him perform. His speed/size/frame combination makes him extremely intriguing.

Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M/Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina: They are both options for Detroit at this spot, but both positions are deep in this draft and are no longer massively pressing needs due to the signings at the top. But if Mayhew and Lewand wanted to go offense, these would be two likely targets.

IF THIS IS THE TARGET, TRADE DOWN AND TAKE A CHANCE:

There are teams below Detroit with needs and other than the defensive backfield, there is not a major pressing need for the Lions in the first round. So the Lions could make a smart play depending who is available and who is interested and try to trade down to stockpile picks in a deep draft. These four potential targets could merit a trade down.

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama: He has already come in for a visit with the Lions and is one of the top safeties in the draft. He is rated as the No. 16 overall player and has long, rangy arms. He'll almost definitely be available at No. 10, but if the Lions covet him, they could probably drop down a few places and still nab him.

Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville: Similar situation to Clinton-Dix. He's a little bit shorter than his Alabama counterpart at 5-foot-11, but he was listed as 6-foot-2 in college. He's rated one spot ahead of Clinton-Dix as the No. 15 overall player and should be available at No. 10, too. For either safety, Detroit could probably trade down as low as No. 14 or No. 15 and still be able to take either player.

Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State/Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State: The top two cornerbacks in the draft are both of first round value and should almost definitely be available when Detroit is picking. If the team decides corner is the area they want to go in the first round, they could drop a couple of places and select one of these players.

IF PICKING TODAY, I'D TAKE:

Barr. Offense may be sexy, but the Lions need to focus on and improve their defense from back to front. They have two strong running backs, two dynamic wide receivers and can add in the draft. But to find an impact starter in the first round, Detroit would benefit from going defense with its first pick and Barr could be the best available. (Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press agreed with this earlier this week)
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- It has been a long, long week for the Detroit Lions since the last Mailbag.

The Lions' owner, William Clay Ford Sr., died Sunday at age 88. Then there was free agency, where the Lions kept Joique Bell, Brandon Pettigrew and Kevin Ogletree, along with bringing in wide receiver Golden Tate and a pair of rotational defensive ends.

So the team has been a bit busy with some more moves, and then the draft should be just as lively.

Let's get right to your questions. Remember, the Mailbag is only as good as the questions you ask. Either tweet #LionsMailbag with any questions you have or email michael.rothstein@espn.com.

 



Kris asks over email: Jason Jones was signed by Jim Schwartz as a DE, but do you see Jim Caldwell moving him to back to DT with Mosley as the Relief for Suh and Fairley?

Kris, that's an interesting proposition, and if the Lions had been able to re-sign Willie Young, that might have happened. But without Young and Ziggy Ansah and Devin Taylor -- the best two defensive ends on the roster at present -- moving Jones inside would make little sense with Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley and C.J. Mosley able to be a three-man rotation now. The Lions also brought in Corvey Irvin from Detroit and have two practice squad guys from last season -- Xavier Proctor and Jimmy Saddler-McQueen -- that could end up as the fourth option.

Analyzing Kiper 3.0: Lions

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The Lions might have signed Golden Tate and Kevin Ogletree already this week, but that hasn't stopped Mel Kiper Jr. from predicting Detroit will go wide receiver again in the first round of May's NFL draft.

Kiper is tabbing Texas A&M receiver Mike Evans with the No. 10 pick to Detroit, and while it would make sense for the Lions to pick up another receiver, considering who else is available on Kiper's board still at No. 10, it might be a stretch.

Based on Kiper's latest mock draft, the Lions would have their pick of Evans, linebacker Anthony Barr, tight end Eric Ebron, safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and cornerback Justin Gilbert. All, in one way or another, have been linked to Detroit early in the process.

And considering the team's needs at the present moment -- safety, cornerback, tight end and defensive end -- it would be surprising to see Detroit go with Evans if this were the way it were to shake out.

Of course, a lot can shift between now and May, or even a week from now, when most of the quality free agents will have likely been scooped up. And if Detroit addresses some of its other needs, then Evans becomes a potential value/best player available pick and could give the Lions a dynamic receiving corps.

Here is Kiper's take on why he would still go with Evans:
"After the Lions signed Golden Tate, the obvious reaction is to think they go another direction here. I'll counter and say that the Lions didn't just need one wide receiver, they needed two, and I'd also say that while Tate is a nice addition, he doesn't do much to ease the worry of what this offense looks like when Calvin Johnson isn't healthy. The Lions shouldn't be done at this position, and I think Evans is too good to pass up here. Tate's presence doesn't mean this is no longer a need."


There is definitely logic there, especially if offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi believes Tate will be more effective in the slot than on the outside or wants to get super creative and use Johnson in the slot more often. But depending on what Detroit needs, it might not be the best use of such a high draft pick.

Kiper's Mock 3.0: Lions

March, 13, 2014
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The Detroit Lions have never been bashful about one of their priorities this offseason -- finding a wide receiver to complement star Calvin Johnson.

Detroit solved some of that issue Wednesday afternoon, signing Golden Tate to a five-year contract that all but assures he will be the No. 2 receiver of the future for the Lions. But considering Detroit has to remake a good chunk of its receiver corps as the team transitions to an even more vertical offense, wide receivers are never a bad thing.

Sammy Watkins, who is unlikely to be available when the Lions pick at No. 10, and Mike Evans are the two players most often tied to Detroit when looking at offense.

And on defense, peeking at safeties, cornerbacks and linebackers are three areas the team is clearly investigating -- including a report that general manager Martin Mayhew was out at UCLA on Tuesday watching linebacker Anthony Barr.

Detroit should have options for all of these positions when it picks in the top 10 yet again.

Check out ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr.'s Mock Draft 3.0 Insider to see who he sees the Lions going with and what positions they might target.
Since the end of the regular season, and certainly since the release of Nate Burleson, one of the main priorities for upgrading the Detroit Lions has been centered on the wide receivers.

Entering free agency and the draft, the position is Calvin Johnson and a bunch of complementary players with some question marks. Can Kris Durham take another step or is his production as a good depth receiver and plug-in starter? Can Jeremy Ross become more than a return man?

Will Ryan Broyles recover from his third straight season-ending injury?

This will lead Detroit to make plays at the position both in free agency (beginning Tuesday) and potentially in the first round of a receiver-rich NFL draft. While Clemson’s Sammy Watkins likely isn’t going to be around at No. 10, Todd McShay’s pick for the Lions at No. 10 in his third mock draft should be.

Texas A&M’s Mike Evans offers a massive complement on the opposite side of Johnson and would give Detroit three huge targets for Matthew Stafford between Johnson and Evans on the outside and 6-foot-7 tight end Joseph Fauria over the middle and in the red zone. That could turn the Lions’ offense into an explosive group between the size on the outside and over the middle and the speed/strength combination between running backs Reggie Bush and Joique Bell on shorter routes and running the ball.

If Evans is available at No. 10, Detroit will need to take a long look there, provided Watkins is unavailable.

The interesting thing with McShay’s latest mock is the Lions would have to make an actual decision at No. 10. In his draft, UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr, Louisville safety Calvin Pryor and Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix would all be available to be taken.

McShay goes with Evans – I’d likely do the same – but if the right trade offer was around, I’d look to drop down a few spots and possibly grab one of the safeties or Barr in Round 1 and nab a receiver and tight end in the second and third rounds.

But if the Lions were to stay at No. 10, with the options available, Evans should be the pick at this point. Of course, there are still around two months to go until the draft.
Good Morning and RROOOOAAARRR!!!!!

Over the past week, the Detroit Lions set a somewhat large premium on finding wide receivers to join star Calvin Johnson and complementary receivers Ryan Broyles, Kris Durham and Jeremy Ross as potential pass-catchers.

And after talking to a ton of receivers over the weekend -- almost every top receiver at the combine said they had meetings with the Lions -- the receivers were finally able to work out Sunday for coaches, scouts and general managers.

Here's a quick look at how receivers did at Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday (all numbers from NFL.com):

40-yard dash: Top performer -- Brandin Cooks (Oregon State) 4.33. Others of note: Paul Richardson (Colorado) 4.4; Martavis Bryant (Clemson) 4.42; Odell Beckham (LSU) 4.43; Sammy Watkins (Clemson) 4.43; Jordan Matthews (Vanderbilt) 4.46.

Bench Press: Top performer -- Cody Latimer (Indiana) 23. Others of note: Matthews 21; Bryant 16; Cooks 16; Watkins 16; Jeremy Gallon (Michigan) 15.

Vertical jump: Top performer -- Tevin Reese (Baylor) 41.0. Others of note: Bryant 39.0; Allen Robinson (Penn State) 39.0; Beckham 38.5; Marqise Lee (USC) 38.0; Richardson 38.0; Mike Evans (Texas A&M) 37.0.

Broad jump: Top performers -- Donte Moncrief (Mississippi) and Reese 11 feet, 0 inches. Others of note: Lee 10-7; Robinson 10-7; Watkins 10-6; Bryant 10-4; Richardson 10-4.

3-cone drill: Top performer -- Damian Copeland (Louisville) 6.53. Others of note: Beckham 6.69; Cooks 6.76;

20-yard shuttle: Top performer -- Cooks 3.81. Others of note: Beckham 3.94; Robinson 4.00; Lee 4.01; Bryant 4.15.

60-yard shuttle: Top performer -- Cooks 10.72. Others of note: Beckham 10.93; Robinson 11.36; Shaq Evans (UCLA) 11.51; Evans 11.58.

And now, some Lions news from around the Interwebs:

The week that was and will be

February, 17, 2014
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If you happened to take an Internet break over the past seven days -- and let's face it, at some point everyone could use a break from information -- you missed a lot when it comes to the world of the Detroit Lions.

You also happened to come back at the right time, as prospects, agents, media and representatives from every NFL team will be making their way to Indianapolis this week for the annual scouting combine, where workout legends are made and players are routinely overrated and underrated every year.

So here's a quick look at what you might have forgotten about or glossed over from the week that was and what to expect for the week to come.

Let's start with transactions. The Lions finally managed to push themselves under the cap, but it meant the release of veteran wide receiver Nate Burleson and starting safety Louis Delmas, both of whom had high cap numbers and one year left on their contracts. The releases of Burleson and Delmas mean a definitive leadership shift in the Detroit locker room for 2014, as the two players were often viewed as the emotional centers of the Lions' offense and defense.

Those releases plus the establishment of center Dominic Raiola's 2014 cap number of $1.5 million likely gives Detroit a little more than $3 million in cap room heading into the new league year on March 11.

[+] EnlargeNdamukong Suh
AP Photo/Ross D. FranklinWill the Lions work to extend Ndamukong Suh's contract and reduce his $22.4 million cap figure for 2014?
Chances are, there will be more maneuvering from Detroit between now and then, either in contract restructures, player cap casualty releases or perhaps that long-sought Ndamukong Suh long-term extension.

Speaking of that extension, this week could be a big week for it. Everyone is in Indianapolis and discussions about free agents and prospects are sure to take place. The wrinkle with Suh is he may or may not have hired an agent after firing Eugene Parker and Roosevelt Barnes, and no one from the potential agency, Roc Nation Sports, has been commenting about who his representation actually is.

Suh has a $22.4 million cap figure for 2014 and how soon the team can remedy that will severely impact how the Lions can improve areas they need to for 2014.

In Indianapolis, Detroit will be focusing on a bunch of different position groups, although the wide receiver corps and secondary will receive the most attention.

The Lions need to find complements for Calvin Johnson and now a replacement for Burleson in the slot. In the secondary, Teryl Austin has said his team can never have enough cornerbacks and add that to the release of Delmas, and improving the secondary is paramount entering Austin's first season as a NFL defensive coordinator.

So who might the team look at? This receiver class is unbelievably deep, so this could give the team some room to trade down from No. 10 if it wanted to or stay put if there is a receiver they like at that spot. Clemson's Sammy Watkins, the top receiver in the draft, isn't expected to be available at No. 10, so the team will have to make a decision whether Texas A&M's Mike Evans or USC's Marqise Lee, among others, are worth the No. 10 pick. This week will really push forward that evaluation process. But with 14 receivers in ESPN's Top 100 players and 22 in the Top 150, the Lions will have some options to consider. A sleeper name to watch -- Watkins' teammate, Martavis Bryant. He has the size and speed that, if available in the third round or later, could be a steal.

If not receiver, then secondary is an area the team could address. Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix went from a luxury to potentially a priority at safety and both Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert and Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard will get looks. All three of those players could be ideal candidates for Detroit even if it were to trade down a few slots.

Expect Detroit to also look heavily at center -- Oklahoma's Gabe Ikard could be a target -- tight end, defensive line and linebacker throughout the draft. A quarterback could also be in play, but that likely wouldn't come until the third day of the draft considering the team's other needs and investment in Matthew Stafford.

A week from now, a lot of Detroit's plans over the next handful of months could become much clearer.

Finding help for Megatron

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Calvin JohnsonJoe Sargent/Getty ImagesLast season showed how much the Lions rely on Calvin Johnson to make their offense go.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- His knees ached all season. His finger was busted, too. He practiced less than he ever had, and there were times last season when Calvin Johnson, he of superhuman ability, couldn’t be his usual self.

Even after Johnson's 329-yard game against the Dallas Cowboys in October, former Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz indicated Johnson was not completely healthy. He probably wasn’t for the final three months of the 2013 season.

He even missed two games in 2013, something that has happened only once before in his career. In the two games he missed -- and in others in which he was obviously limited because of his multiple injuries -- the Detroit offense stagnated. This is something the Lions can’t let happen in 2014, regardless of Johnson’s health.

"You always have to be aware of the wear and tear of this game on your players," new Lions offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi said. "It’s something that, you know -- I don’t want to call it a pitch count -- but you’re always cognizant of how much are these guys running in practice, how many hits they are taking, who is coming across the middle to catch this pass that is going to possibly get him hit.

"So, you know, I think that’s always -- regardless of how old a player is -- you’re always aware that this game is a tough game played by tough men. By the end of the season, everyone’s got a little something, so I think that it’s a good point that you have to be aware of those things."

The Lions were all too aware last season of what happened when Johnson didn’t play. Detroit was held under 300 yards of offense three times last season. One of those games was in a snowstorm in Philadelphia. The other two were the games Johnson didn’t play in. This left the Lions with an obvious problem to fix and a somewhat easy problem to solve.

Detroit needs an outside receiver to complement Johnson. Even though Johnson is only 28 and in his prime, that same receiver could also become an eventual replacement for Johnson, especially if those knee injuries he dealt with last season begin to slow him down. After Thursday's release of Nate Burleson, the team's only other true veteran receiver, the Lions are almost certainly going to be heavily targeting both the slot and outside positions in the next few months.

Detroit has two options for how to go about finding these complements for Johnson. One is to draft a receiver in hopes he learns from Johnson and takes pressure off him, giving defenses yet another problem to worry about besides Johnson and running backs Reggie Bush and Joique Bell.

[+] EnlargeMike Evans
Thomas B. Shea/Getty ImagesThe Lions might look for a receiver in the draft, like Texas A&M's Mike Evans, to pair with Calvin Johnson.
The other option is to go into free agency and emerge with an established receiver. This could be trickier with Detroit’s salary-cap issues -- the team is slightly under the expected 2014 cap with free agency less than a month away.

That adds to the challenge as Detroit attempts to find another speed/size wide receiver to line up opposite Johnson. Not surprisingly, Lombardi said he would have to evaluate every player individually when asked whether he wants a tall or fast receiver to line up opposite Johnson.

"I’d like big and fast," Lombardi said. "But, listen, if I was going to give a stock answer, I know what Calvin can do, how he can stretch the field, what his strengths are. I don’t really know what his weaknesses are right now, but, I’m sure, maybe there’s something.

"So you would say, 'Well, someone to work underneath.' You know, that would be an easy answer, but if that guy exists and there’s someone better that maybe does a little something, I’d rather have the better guy."

If they go the free-agency route, they could end up going with someone who is coming off an injury and could present a risk, like the Philadelphia EaglesJeremy Maclin, or someone who is close in age to Johnson, which would fix Detroit’s immediate complementary problem but not the succession plan the team will eventually need to implement.

So the draft, with a very deep and talented receiver class, might be the way to go to find a replacement. Johnson, the only true veteran receiver on the roster, can spend time mentoring any potential draft selection. It is a spot at which the Lions could look early in the draft, depending on who is available at No. 10, and then again in the second round. The obvious selection, if he were around, would be Clemson’s Sammy Watkins. The early entrant has the makeup of a special receiver and would force teams to not focus so much of their coverage on Johnson.

Beyond Watkins, there are a lot of talented options in what could be one of the more talented receiver drafts in recent memory. Of the top 100 players in ESPN.com's draft rankings, 14 are wide receivers; eight receivers are in the top 50.

As Lombardi figures out what he would like, his boss, head coach Jim Caldwell, has previously liked tall receivers in the slot and outside. Almost every receiver he has had as a starter in Baltimore and Indianapolis has been at least 6 feet tall. In this draft, among those top 14 receivers, 10 are at least that tall -- including Watkins and the Nos. 2 and 3 receivers listed, Texas A&M’s Mike Evans and USC’s Marqise Lee.

So after a season that confirmed the Lions desperately need a partner for Johnson on the outside, it looks like the team should have ample options to find one.
One is going offense. One defense.

There is not one major need for the Detroit Lions in this May's draft, there are two -- and each of our draft analysts has hit on one of those needs in their second mock drafts of the year. No matter the order, wide receiver and cornerback are the spots the Lions are likely going to focus on with their first two picks.

Mel Kiper Jr. went with defense Insider, selecting Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert for Detroit with the No. 10 pick.

Gilbert, at 6-foot, possesses the size quotient that new Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin has traditionally shown he likes in his cornerbacks. Gilbert is also considered the best cornerback in the draft, just a hair ahead of Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard.

"Gilbert has some competition to be the first corner taken, but I expect him to put up some pretty impressive numbers at the combine," Kiper Jr. wrote. "He should prove to be a pretty big draw in a league where big corners who can battle at the catch point, but also have elite speed and quickness are coveted. Detroit should get some development at corner on the current roster, but also could face some turnover. They need to place a bet on another young corner or two."

Kiper Jr.'s counterpart, Todd McShay, stuck with offense Insider and went with a player who is more of a project, but an intriguing talent, in Mike Evans from Texas A&M.

Evans fits the mold of what new Lions head coach Jim Caldwell likes at receiver, and is someone who can line up on the outside opposite Calvin Johnson. It would also give Detroit three tall red-zone threats for quarterback Matthew Stafford with Johnson, 6-foot-7 Joseph Fauria at tight end, and Evans, who is 6-4.

Unlike Gilbert, who is likely to be the first cornerback taken, Evans would be a stunning pick as the first receiver taken. If Clemson's Sammy Watkins fell to Detroit, the Lions would likely send rugby star Carlin Isles -- he's the fastest man in rugby and on the Detroit roster right now -- zooming to the podium to make the selection.

But Watkins will likely be gone, so Detroit could go with Evans, who is great when the ball is in the air.

"Evans still has some developing to do as a route runner, and yes, he has some immaturity issues and a tendency to get overly emotional," McShay wrote. "But he is an absolute pitbull on the field, and there is no reciever in this draft who is more dangerous when the ball is in the air. Both the tape and the advanced metrics support the case that he is the most proven down-the-field pass-catcher in the 2014 class. The Lions need a difference-maker opposite Calvin Johnson, and Johnson's leadership and experience could be just what Evans needs to avoid early career pitfalls."

A lot of things will start to have more direction in a couple of weeks, when the NFL has its annual combine in Indianapolis later this month.
Two of the major college all-star games took place last Saturday. The Senior Bowl happens this Saturday with practices all week.

Many of the players selected in May’s draft will come from these three games or from underclassmen who decided the time was right to turn professional. Over the next two weeks, pairing with our position outlook series, we’ll take a quick preview look at some names to become familiar with over the next four months as the NFL draft process crawls along.

Today continues with wide receivers, one of the biggest positions of need for Detroit heading into this offseason. It is plausible to see two receivers taken by the team in this draft if things line up correctly.

Previous looks: Quarterbacks; Running backs.

NFLPA game:
  • Isaiah Burse (5-10 3/8, 183, Fresno State). Caught four passes for 50 yards in the game. Had 99 catches for 1,026 yards and six touchdowns this season. No. 71 receiver from ESPN.
Shrine Game:
  • Jeremy Gallon (5-8 1/4, 189, Michigan). Had four catches for 55 yards in the all-star game. The slot receiver had 89 catches for 1,373 yards and nine touchdowns this season.
  • Chandler Jones (5-8 1/2, 175, San Jose State). Had seven catches for 73 yards in the game. Grabbed 79 catches for 1,356 yards and 15 touchdowns this season.
Senior Bowl prospects:
  • Jordan Matthews (6-3, 206, Vanderbilt, No. 87 South). The possible first round pick (No. 4 receiver overall) had 112 catches for 1,477 yards and seven touchdowns last season after 94 receptions, 1,323 yards and eight touchdowns his junior year.
  • Mike Davis (6-2, 195, Texas, No. 1 South). Had 51 catches for 727 yards and eight touchdowns. No. 22 wide receiver.
  • Jalen Saunders (5-9, 157, Oklahoma, No. 8 South). Had 61 receptions for 729 yards and eight touchdowns. No. 24 wide receiver.
  • Shaq Evans (6-1, 204, UCLA, No. 80 North). Had 47 catches for 709 yards and nine touchdowns this season. No. 30 wide receiver.
  • Jared Abbrederis (6-2, 190, Wisconsin, No. 84 North). No. 16 wide receiver. Had 78 catches for 1,081 yards and seven touchdowns.
  • Kevin Norwood (6-2, 195, Alabama, No. 83 South). Had 38 catches for 568 yards and seven touchdowns. No. 40 wide receiver.
Others not in major all-star games:
  • Sammy Watkins (6-0 1/2, 205, Clemson). Had 101 catches for 1,464 yards and 12 touchdowns. No. 1 wide receiver in the draft.
  • Marqise Lee (6-0, 195, USC). Had 57 catches for 791 yards and four touchdowns last season. Standout sophomore year, where he had 118 catches for 1,721 yards and 14 touchdowns. No. 2 wide receiver.
  • Mike Evans (6-4, 220, Texas A&M). Had 69 catches for 1,394 yards and 12 touchdowns. No. 3 wide receiver.
  • Kelvin Benjamin (6-4 3/4, 233, Florida State). Had 54 catches for 1,011 yards and 15 touchdowns. No. 5 receiver.
  • Allen Robinson (6-3, 210, Penn State). Had 97 catches for 1,432 yards and six touchdowns. No. 6 receiver.
  • Paul Richardson (6-1, 170, Colorado). Had 83 catches for 1,343 yards and 10 touchdowns. No. 7 receiver.
  • Bruce Ellington (5-9, 196, South Carolina). Had 49 catches for 775 yards and eight touchdowns. No. 19 receiver.
  • Martavis Bryant (6-5, 200, Clemson). Had 42 catches for 828 yards and seven touchdowns. No. 15 receiver.
  • Brandon Coleman (6-5 1/4, 220, Rutgers). Had 34 catches for 538 yards and four touchdowns. No. 13 receiver.
A coach has been hired. A staff is being filled out. The Detroit Lions' offseason and planning for the 2014 season is officially here.

To start that process, we will look at each position group over the next two weeks, analyze what worked and what didn’t before projecting what could happen between now and training camp in 2014, which is only a mere seven or so months away.

Today the series continues with wide receivers.

Previous positions: Quarterbacks; Running backs.

2014 free agents: Kris Durham (restricted free agent); Kevin Ogletree; Micheal Spurlock; Jeremy Ross (exclusive rights)

Johnson
Burleson
Burleson
The good: Calvin Johnson had another standout season, catching 84 passes for 1,492 yards and 12 touchdowns in 14 games. He finished eight yards shy of being the first receiver in NFL history to post three straight 1,500-yard seasons. He also had the second-highest yards after contact per reception rate in the league, behind Seattle’s Golden Tate. In nine games, Nate Burleson had 39 catches for 461 yards and showed he can still play at age 32. He also caught 73.6 percent of the passes Matthew Stafford threw to him -- the second-best mark among qualifying receivers in the NFL. Both Kris Durham and Jeremy Ross emerged in different ways. Durham showed he could be a contributor on the NFL level, catching 38 passes for 490 yards and two touchdowns. Ross only caught five passes, and had three touchdowns -- one receiving and two on special teams. He also became a dynamic returner who could be a long-term option both in the slot and returning punts and kicks.

The bad: Start with the drops. Lions receivers dropped 21 passes -- second worst in the league ahead of Cleveland, with 24. The receivers also had a 6.0 percent drop rate, second worst in the league. Their reception percentage of 55.2 was seventh worst in the league, although that has to do with Stafford as much as the receivers. Durham’s 45.2 reception percentage was third worst among qualifying receivers in the league, better than St. Louis’ Chris Givens and Cleveland’s Greg Little. Durham’s drop rate of 7.1 percent was tied for sixth worst among qualifying receivers -- but ahead of Denver’s Wes Welker.

The money (using 2014 cap numbers from Roster Management System): Johnson is third on the team when it comes to his cap number at $13,058,000 -- 10.49 percent of the team’s cap right now. Burleson is entering the final year of his contract at a cap number of $7,531,645, but that is almost assuredly coming down after he said he would be willing to restructure his deal to stay with the Lions. Ryan Broyles has a cap number of $1,003,227. Combined, the three players are at $21,592,872 -- or 17.35 percent of the Lions' cap. This does not include projected cap numbers for Ross (likely the three-year minimum) and Durham if they choose to retain them. Detroit will be adding rookie numbers to this as well after the draft.

What Caldwell might favor: In his three seasons as a head coach in Indianapolis and last season as Baltimore’s offensive coordinator, Caldwell did not have a single receiver that contributed on the roster under 6-foot. In those four seasons, he only had one short receiver -- in 2010, Brandon James was 5-foot-7 -- and James only played in three games. Just something to keep in mind when Caldwell assembles this roster. Another thing to look at: Caldwell has typically kept four receivers active on his rosters throughout his tenure at Indianapolis and Baltimore. This year’s Lions team usually kept between five and six receivers and finished the season with three receivers on the practice squad.

Potential cuts: Burleson should be sticking around as long as he and the team can come to terms on a restructured deal. He had a good enough season and reliable enough season that he should be back. Broyles could come down to his health. He is rehabbing a ruptured Achilles -- the third straight season his year has ended with an injury.

Draft priority: High. Very high. Depending who is available at No. 10, it is very possible the Lions use their first pick on a wide receiver. If Clemson’s Sammy Watkins falls to them, the Lions should sprint to the podium to draft him. Other early options include Texas A&M’s Mike Evans and USC’s Marqise Lee. If the Lions go a different direction in the first round, it is possible Florida State’s Kelvin Benjamin, Penn State’s Allen Robinson or Vanderbilt’s Jordan Matthews could be available. Clemson’s Martavis Bryant, at 6-foot-5, could be an intriguing option as well beyond the first round. Depending on what happens with Burleson, Detroit could also look at a slot receiver at some point and South Carolina’s Bruce Ellington, Oklahoma’s Jalen Saunders, UCLA’s Shaq Evans and Michigan’s Jeremy Gallon could be intriguing later-round options, although Ellington (5-foot-9) and Gallon (5-foot-8 1/4) don’t fit the profile of what Caldwell has looked for in the past in terms of height.

Numbers in this post were culled from ESPN Stats & Information and Roster Management System.
Good Morning and ROOOAARRRR!!!!!

While a lot of the attention around the Detroit Lions in this space has been about the coaching search -- and rightfully so -- we've also tried to mix in some of the beginnings of what the team will look for in May's NFL draft.

And colleague Kevin Weidl, a former scout with the Jets, broke down the draft needs of the NFC North recently Insider, including the Lions. Weidl agrees with what I've written before. The Lions need help at wide receiver, cornerback and weakside linebacker -- although in my opinion the linebacker situation could be dictated by the defensive scheme of the new coach.

Weidl's concern -- and it is a valid one -- is that as of now there are no surefire elite cornerbacks in this draft. The closest would be Justin Gilbert from Oklahoma State, as I wrote about the other day. Darqueze Dennard from Michigan State has the chance to be a riser as well, but isn't there yet.

Weidl also says if Sammy Watkins, the receiver from Clemson, is available at No. 10, Martin Mayhew should take a strong look at selecting him. Agreed here.

Whether he is there or not is the issue. Todd McShay has Watkins at No. 4 on his latest Insider Top 32 and has USC'S Marqise Lee at No. 9 and Gilbert at No. 10. Also, he has linebackers Khalil Mack from Buffalo and C.J. Mosley from Alabama (not the C.J. Mosley who is a defensive lineman already on the Lions) as in his Top 10. Considering the quarterback needs at the top of the draft, at least one of those players should fall to the Lions.

For what it's worth, if the Lions end up with the linebacker Mosley, writers and editors everywhere will have to figure out a Mosley system for notation in stories after first references.

Meanwhile, Mel Kiper Jr. moved Watkins up to No. 6 on his Big Board Insider with Lee at No. 14 and Mike Evans from Texas A&M at No. 15. Gilbert is No. 16 and Dennard is No. 19.

Those are the names to watch for now, but that will surely change over the next four months until the draft.

And now a search around the Interwebs for Lions news:
The NFL draft is still almost four months away and the Detroit Lions are still without a head coach, a known staff of assistants and have not gone through any free agency yet.

But there are obvious needs for the Lions heading into this offseason, most notably on the outside of the field at both wide receiver and cornerback. Detroit desperately needs a spread-the-field option opposite star Calvin Johnson at receiver.

And the secondary has been a mess for a few years now. While the Lions have faith in 2013 second-round pick Darius Slay and some of Detroit’s other cornerbacks showed flashes of potential, the Lions don’t have a clear No. 1 cornerback at this point.

By the end of last season Rashean Mathis was the team’s top cornerback, and the veteran is a free agent. Detroit still has Chris Houston, but he struggled with consistency last season, having some games where he flashed potential to be a top cornerback and other games where he had so many issues, the Lions benched him.

So with corner and receiver two of the team’s top needs, here are some potential options for Detroit with the No. 10 selection in May’s draft.

WIDE RECEIVERS:
Sammy Watkins, Clemson: He is the best receiver in this draft and a special overall talent. He may not have the height of some of the NFL’s top receivers like Calvin Johnson, A.J. Green and Larry Fitzgerald, but he is still over 6-foot tall and has the speed and production Detroit would want as a complement to Johnson. The ESPN draft profile of him lists his production and height-weight-speed combination and big-play ability as exceptional and his separation skills, balls skills and competitiveness as above average. This season, he had 101 catches for 1,464 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Marqise Lee, USC: Behind Watkins, Lee might be the best receiver in the draft. His numbers are down from this season compared to the prior two, but he also missed three games and didn’t have Matt Barkley throwing to him anymore. With Barkley throwing to him, Lee had 118 catches for 1,721 yards and 14 touchdowns as a sophomore. He is essentially the same height as Watkins. His production, intangibles, separation and ball skills are exceptional and his height-weight-speed combination, big-play ability and competitiveness are all listed as above average.

Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt: After Watkins and Lee, there is more of a question of who comes next between Matthews and Texas A&M’s Mike Evans. I like Matthews a bit more than Evans at this point, mostly because he was the clear top option for the Commodores in every game this season and managed to still grab 112 balls for 1,477 yards and seven touchdowns, including nine 100-yard games this season. He has more height than Watkins or Lee. That’s more consistency than Evans, who had five 100-yard games with a better quarterback, but also had two 250-yard games.

CORNERBACKS:
Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State: At 6-foot, Gilbert has good size for a cornerback in the NFL and is rated as the top cornerback in this year’s draft. His ESPN draft profile has him with exceptional height-weight-speed and durability along with above average production, cover skills, ball skills and in run support. Gilbert had 42 tackles, seven interceptions and seven pass breakups in 2013 for the Cowboys.

Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State: Dennard won the Jim Thorpe Award this season and was a consensus first-team All-American. He had 62 tackles this season with four interceptions, two forced fumbles, five quarterback hurries and 10 pass breakups. He is a little smaller than Gilbert at 5-foot-11 but has excellent instincts and can be a really strong cover corner at the next level.

Loucheiz Purifoy, Florida: He didn’t have the numbers of Gilbert or Dennard and is probably a step down from the two of them in terms of talent. He had 24 tackles, two interceptions and seven pass breakups this season. His size is comparable to Gilbert and his cover skills are listed by his ESPN draft profile as exceptional. He is rated just below his Florida teammate, Marcus Roberson, on the Scouts, Inc. big board, but Roberson’s injuries last season pushed Purifoy ahead in my mind. Neither one would be in the top three if Oregon’s Ifo Ekpre-Olomu had chosen to head into the draft instead of staying in school.

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