Jeff Risdon, DLD Editor
This mock focuses strictly on the Detroit Lions and their picks as of December 20th. There is still quite a bit of variability in where the Lions will pick in each round. They can pick no higher than 3rd and no lower than 14th in any round, but where each pick winds up depends on how the final two games play out. I tried to give a method to the madness behind each pick here, and be forewarned that my draft philosophy does not necessarily square with Martin Mayhew’s draft ideas.
1st round, #5 overall:
The Lions will have options with the 5th pick. Texas A&M DE Damontre Moore, Florida State DE Bjoern Werner, Alabama CB Dee Milliner, Georgia DE Jarvis Jones, and perhaps Notre Dame LB Manti Te’o figure to be the most desirable options, as the team is set at quarterback and defensive tackle and doesn’t figure to take an offensive lineman in the first round two years in a row.
For our purposes here, we’re eliminating Jones from consideration. He projects best as a 3-4 OLB and has a significant medical flag for spinal stenosis. Despite that he is also the most likely of the players listed to get drafted above where the Lions pick. There is very good corner depth in this draft and the Lions have two rookie keepers in Jonte Green and Bill Bentley, plus Chris Greenwood from the 2012 draft class. Even if Chris Houston departs–something neither side wants at this point–the need and value at corner is best addressed later, thus ruling out Milliner through no fault of his own talents. Taking a linebacker in the top 10 that isn’t a pass rusher has proven perilous (Rolando McClain, Aaron Curry, Keith Rivers, AJ Hawk, Ernie Sims), so as much as I like and respect Te’o, I’ll pass at this point.
That leaves the two defensive ends, Moore and Werner. Moore has a higher ceiling as an all-around player but carries some risk that he won’t be a great pass rusher in the NFL. Werner, while being a very good all-around end, is more likely to be an impact pass rusher but doesn’t have the dominant upside potential. Moore is a converted outside linebacker and brings the option of schematic versatility. Werner reminds me quite a bit of an in-his-prime Kyle VandenBosch, which is ultimately whom this pick is replacing.
The pick: Damontre Moore, DE, Texas A&M
2nd round, #36 overall:
Going DE with the first pick means the Lions will be looking at three other primary areas of need for the next two rounds: secondary, linebacker, and wide receiver. This looks to be the range where the top safeties will come off the board, but there could be some intriguing wideouts and linebackers available as well. This is sort of a dead zone for corners, as the top talents (Milliner, Johnthan Banks) will be long gone and the next tier (Jordan Poyer, Xavier Rhodes) will probably have to wait another handful of picks before being strongly considered. Poyer could rise to this level, however.
My realistic priority wish list for this slot includes Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas; Matt Elam, S, Florida, CJ Mosley, LB, Alabama; Kevin Minter, LB, LSU; and Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia. All are pretty consistently rated in the 30-40 overall range by most respectable pundits. Of that group, Austin is the least likely to still be on the board. I would love his game-breaking ability in the slot and working out of the backfield as a Darren Sproles-like weapon, but I sense other teams will see that and take him higher than this.
Vaccaro is intriguing because he brings both size and proven aptitude in coverage. He has the ability to play the heavy nickel spot, being a free safety in the base defense and sliding to outside corner or matched man-up with a tight end in nickel and dime sets. Elam is a better run defender and is more of a playmaker with the ball in the air, but he’s not as big and isn’t as consistent in deep coverage as Vaccaro. Assuming Louis Delmas is back, and I’d put that probability extremely high, Elam is a little more redundant with him skill-wise, so Vaccaro would be the safety.
But the linebackers are also worthy. Minter is a very solid, very consistent all-around backer with no real holes to his game. He’s not a dominating presence in terms of racking up sacks or TFLs, but he is almost never out of position and is as sure of a tackler as any player in this draft. His instincts and football IQ are fantastic, and that holds very high appeal to me. Mosley is a little more athletically gifted, and he’s a very good backer in coverage. Both come NFL-ready from programs that are proven providers and developers of defensive talent, and the difference between the linebackers here and those available later is greater than the same divide at safety.
The pick: Kevin Minter, LB, LSU
3rd round, #67 overall:
My philosophy at this point in the draft is to get the best possible value. Every position but quarterback and offensive tackle, where prospects who fall almost always have fallen for good reason, is on the table. Need becomes secondary to me here, and that change increases as the rounds progress.
This is a range where the tiers are important. If the bottom of the second tier of corners and wideouts is still around, this is where I pounce. That includes receivers like Quinton Patton of LaTech, Cobi Hamilton of Arkansas, Kenny Stills of Oklahoma, and Markus Wheaton of Oregon State. The corners would be Desmond Trufant from Washington, SDSU’s Leon McFadden, Ryan Lacy from Utah, and Blidi Breh-Wilson of UConn. I think the glut of defensive linemen and the cluster of RBs in the 40-60 range push some of those guys down, perhaps all of them. It might even wind up being too high for some if they don’t have a great workout season.
The players I like most for the Lions specifically of those listed are Stills and Breh-Wilson. Stills is everything the Lions needed Titus Young to be, a sure-handed, savvy #2 receiver with some downfield ability but just as comfortable on intermediate routes and combo routes with his old teammate Ryan Broyles, who will be back in the slot. Breh-Wilson brings great size at corner, and he can play both in zone and man coverage. He’s aggressive and alert in coverage, though he lacks great speed and has some injury history. I think it’s easier to find a functional corner deeper in the draft than a wideout, however, and that tips the scales.
The pick: Kenny Stills, WR, Oklahoma
4th round, traded. The Lions traded this pick to move up last year and acquire LBs Tahir Whitehead and Travis Lewis. Both have played almost exclusively on special teams as rookies, though the coaching staff remains quite high on Lewis moving forward. I do not share their optimism.
5th round, #131 overall:
It’s all about value in this range. My personal philosophy is to take a lesser-known player on the rise than a more prominent player that is perceived to be falling down draft boards. Last year the Lions took Chris Greenwood in this range, and the athletically freakish CB from Albion fits the bill even though he missed his rookie season with injury. It’s also where the Seahawks picked stud safety Kam Chancellor with a pick acquired from the Lions (we got Rob Sims and Willie Young, which greatly eases the sting). I am looking for a late blooming prospect with a high football IQ and strong love of the game, even if the athletic measurables aren’t ideal. Among those who look to be available here include BW Webb, CB, William & Mary; Brandon Williams, DT, Missouri Southern; Mario Benavides, C, Louisville; and Manase Foteki, T, West Texas A&M. Benavides is undersized but scrappy and bursting with football intelligence, the top center-only on my board.
The pick: Mario Benavides, C, Louisville
6th round, #164 overall:
In reality this pick will likely be in the 190 overall range because of the compensatory picks from rounds 3-5. Here I am looking for a player with developmental upside that has enough to offer right now to contribute on special teams or substitution packages to merit being on the 53-man roster and not the practice squad. I like to target players who have one definable NFL attribute but enough potential to develop into more than just a one-trick pony. This is where the Lions unearthed Jonte Green, who has been a pleasant surprise even as he struggles with extensive playing time. At this point I’m thinking pass coverage at the back end to replenish the depth chart, and a savvy player with great size and instincts but limited athleticism fits the bill.
The pick: Brandan Bishop, S, North Carolina State
7th round, #197 overall:
Even though the Lions desperately need to find a punter, as well as facing the inevitable day when Jason Hanson is no longer kicking, I staunchly scoff at the notion of drafting a specialist. But a positional player with kick return ability better than Stefan Logan would be nice. I like the Joique Bell/Mikel Leshoure tandem at running back but I’d like to see a speedier third back in the mix. Kill two birds with one stone.
The pick: D.J. Harper, RB, Boise State