NFC North: Detroit Lions NFL Draft

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.

Kiper mock 1.0 reaction: Lions

January, 15, 2014
Jan 15
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There are two areas of major need for the Detroit Lions entering the 2014 draft -- wide receiver and cornerback -- and the team will have to take care of remedying one of those issues in the first round this May.

Colleague Mel Kiper Jr. has the Lions Insider taking Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert with the No. 10 pick in his first mock draft of the year, potentially solving at least one of Detroit’s issues.

Receiver Sammy Watkins from Clemson would be the obvious choice for Detroit, but the chances of him still lingering at the No. 10 pick -- especially when he might be the most talented player in the draft, period -- is unlikely. So after Watkins, the Lions need to weigh draft depth and who might be available to them in the second round as much as the first.

And that’s where taking a cornerback would be the potential smart choice here, especially if there is no corner in free agency that they are able to land. That could be difficult considering the Lions are in a tough salary cap spot right now.

So Kiper has the Lions taking Gilbert in the hopes that he’ll be a good cornerback to pair with last year’s second-round selection, Darius Slay, in the future.

“Has put together a great season after a subpar 2012,” Kiper wrote in his initial analysis of Gilbert. “Has short-area quickness to adjust to routes and the open-field speed to run with (or past) any receiver. Has the size to jam at the line and can then flip his hips and run; he rarely allows much separation. Good ball skills and hands, evident both in coverage and the return game. Squarely back into the mid-first-round mix.”

Gilbert had 42 tackles and seven interceptions last season. He’s also a 6-foot corner and weighs 200 pounds, which is decent size on the outside.

He would be brought in to try to improve a defense -- likely with a new defensive coordinator -- that was 23rd against the pass last season (246.88 yards per game) and 19th in yards per pass attempt (6.91).

Should Detroit draft Gilbert, the question is: What happens to the rest of the Lions cornerbacks? Chris Houston signed a five-year deal before last season, but had a very inconsistent 2013 and ended up being the Lions’ second cornerback instead of the No. 1 corner they had hoped.

Detroit’s top corner last season, Rashean Mathis, is an unrestricted free agent and made 47 tackles last season. He is 33 years old, but told ESPN.com he intends to try to play for one or two more seasons after he showed he was healthy this year.

The Lions also have a plethora of other young cornerbacks besides Slay: nickel Bill Bentley and reserves Jonte Green and Chris Greenwood. All have shown potential but none have shown they could be a consistent starter.

So if the Lions do select a cornerback in the first round, it could mean one or two of the cornerbacks from last season could be playing somewhere else in 2014.
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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