NFC North: Mike Evans


MINNEAPOLIS -- When the Minnesota Vikings finally get on the clock with the No. 8 overall pick, sometime around 9:30 ET/8:30 CT on Thursday night, they'll be in possession of a pick that has seemingly vexed the draft experts for a while now. At No. 8, the Vikings could be too late to take the standout defensive players in the draft (South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney and Buffalo's Khalil Mack), in little need of the offensive tackles at the top of the board (Texas A&M's Jake Matthews, Auburn's Greg Robinson and Michigan's Taylor Lewan) and unsure about the reliability of the quarterbacks they might find there (Central Florida's Blake Bortles, Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel and Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater).

It's part of the reason there's a wide range of opinions in today's final round of mock drafts -- ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. Insider and Todd McShay Insider have the Vikings taking Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald and Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert, respectively, and the rest of the mocks have a wide range of names, from Bortles to Bridgewater to Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and linebacker C.J. Mosley to Texas A&M receiver Mike Evans. The Vikings have enough needs, and the draft is deep enough, that they're not likely to have any shortage of options at No. 8, but in an important draft for Vikings general manager Rick Spielman and the first one for new coach Mike Zimmer, the pick is an important one to get right.

So which direction will the Vikings take? Here's our best guess, in order from most to least likely, about the way they'll approach the eighth pick on Thursday night:

1. Draft a defensive player

The most compelling decision the Vikings could face on Thursday night might happen if the top quarterbacks, such as Bortles and Manziel, are still on the board and the team has to decide whether to pass on one of them to take a defensive player. If presented with that decision, the Vikings will indeed opt for defense, I believe. I had them selecting Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard in our ESPN NFL Nation mock (albeit after trading down one spot), but I could have taken Bortles with the eighth pick and didn't. The Vikings will have enough quarterback options later in this draft, and they were in bad enough need of a talent upgrade on defense, that I think they'll ultimately address that side of the ball if they stay at No. 8. It could be by taking one of the cornerbacks, such as Dennard or Gilbert. It could be by taking Donald (and sorting out where he'll fit with Sharrif Floyd later), or it could be by drafting a linebacker such as Mosley or UCLA's Anthony Barr. Ultimately, though, I believe the Vikings will help their defense first and come back for a QB later.

2. Trade down

My approach in our NFL Nation mock draft was ultimately a hybrid of No. 1 and 2, but I would have moved back further if there had been a market to do so. The Vikings might be able to find that market -- Spielman said on Tuesday he'd already heard from suitors for several of his picks, and moving out of the No. 8 spot would help him reach the sum of 10 picks the general manager likes to have. The Vikings might still be able to get a defensive player that makes sense after moving back several picks, and they'd also have the flexibility to deal back into the first round, like they've done each of the past two years. I had them doing that in our mock draft, moving up to No. 31 to select Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr. Even if the Vikings move back into the first round, they could benefit from extra picks on the first two days of a deep draft.

3. Select a quarterback

If I had to place a percentage on the likelihood of this happening, I'd put it somewhere around 30 or so; as we've discussed, the Vikings could find enough other options later that they'd have to be completely enamored with one of the top QBs to take him at No. 8. Of the top quarterbacks, Bortles seems like the best fit for Norv Turner's offense, though there's been some steam around Bridgewater in the last few days. One Vikings coach told ESPN's Bob Holtzman, though, that it's "highly unlikely we take a quarterback."

4. Find another weapon for the offense

After Spielman mentioned on Tuesday that the mock drafts were missing some names the Vikings could consider at No. 8, we discussed Evans as a possible option. The threshold would have to be high for the Vikings to take a player like Evans (or, if he slides far enough, Clemson's Sammy Watkins) when they still need help on defense, but as we discussed, there's a school of thought that the Vikings could keep adding weapons to their offense, in order to keep up with the three high-powered passing games in their division and make things easier for their quarterback, whether that's Matt Cassel or a young player they eventually draft.

5. Trade up

I just don't see this one happening, unless Mack slides far enough that the Vikings can get him without giving away the better part of their draft; Spielman said on Tuesday that mid-round picks are more valuable this year, because of the quality of the draft, and it seems more likely the Vikings will take advantage of that, rather than dealing away several picks to move up. According to the trade value chart many teams use as a rule of thumb on trades, it would probably cost the Vikings their second-round pick, and both of their third-rounders, to jump from No. 8 to No. 3, where they might need to land to get Mack. A move from No. 8 to No. 5, according to the trade chart, would only require the Vikings to give up their second- and fourth-round picks, but I can't see the Vikings moving any higher than that, and any first-round trade up seems like a remote possibility.
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.
 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.
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)

Analyzing Kiper 3.0: Lions

March, 13, 2014
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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:

Finding help for Megatron

February, 14, 2014
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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.
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.
We're still hashing through the results of the 2013 NFL draft. Mel Kiper Jr.? He's already produced his first Big Board for the 2014 affairInsider.

You'll need an Insider subscription to see the entire post, which lists Kiper's 25 best college prospects after spring practices. From an NFC North perspective, here are a few snippets:
  • If you're wondering about the Minnesota Vikings' options if quarterback Christian Ponder bombs in this crucial year, or about the Chicago Bears if they move on from Jay Cutler, it's worth noting Kiper lists three quarterbacks. In order: Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater, Clemson's Tajh Boyd and Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel. You would have to assume that Manziel, the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner, will be a polarizing draft figure given his willingness to run and his size (6-foot, 207 pounds).
  • If you want the Vikings, Bears or Lions to seek receiver help next year, you should know that there are three among Kiper's top 25: USC's Marqise Lee, Clemson's Sammy Watkins and Texas A&M's Mike Evans.
  • If the Green Bay Packers can get in position to draft an elite left tackle, Kiper projects four among his top 11 overall prospects:: Alabama's Cyrus Kouandijo, Texas A&M's Jake Matthews, Michigan's Taylor Lewan and Tennessee's Antonio Richardson.
  • Finally, if an NFC North team crashes hard enough to claim the No. 1 overall spot, Kiper will be quite upset if it doesn't draft South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.

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