Jeff Risdon, DLD Editor
I’m going to lay out a couple of presumptions to help stage the picks. Luke Joeckel, Geno Smith, Sheldon Richardson, and Star Lotulelei (not necessarily in that order) will all be off the board by the time the Lions pick at five. I actually feel boldly confident in that statement despite it still being before the Combine. This scenario also is based on my guess, and it’s just a guess, that free agents Cliff Avril, DeAndre Levy, and Louis Delmas will be back but Chris Houston, Gosder Cherilus, and Justin Durant will not. That is just my idle speculation, and anyone who advises you that they know who will be back and who will not is simply guessing at this point as well; I talked to the agent of one of those players over the weekend and he advised me he has yet to talk to ANY team about his client beyond an assurance from one team (not the Lions) that they will talk about him while at the Combine.
This reflects my personal choices and does not intend to predict what decisions the Lions staff will actually make in April.
1st round, #5 overall
My candidates: Bjoern Werner, Dion Jordan, Ezekiel Ansah, Dee Milliner, Eric Fisher, Barkevious Mingo, Damontre Moore.
The quick thought process: The highest rated player on my board here is Moore, but that doesn’t make him a slam dunk choice. I think Werner has a higher floor and offers a more reliable level of production over time, and he has room for improvement. I also believe that Ansah could be the best defensive player in this draft class three years from now, and my draft philosophy at the top is for long-term over short-term. I really like Jordan’s versatility; I think he can play SAM backer in the base defense and slide to rush end in passing downs. Mingo offers that same ability with less length but more speed. Milliner is a playmaking corner with good length and unflappable confidence, an attribute I want increased in the Lions secondary. Fisher is NFL-ready to start at left tackle, keeping Reiff where he belongs at right tackle and giving the Lions a potentially dominant set of bookend tackles for the next 5 years.
I think this slot is a little too high for Milliner, Jordan, and Fisher. If a trade offer presents itself to move back a couple of spots, then they are certainly in play. I want no part of Jarvis Jones. Aside from his medical complication, I feel he is being vastly overrated by too many people who should know better, something I will write more in depth about sometime soon. Mingo’s inconsistency worries me, though some of his lack of production was LSU Coach Les Miles’ oft-bizarre schematic chicanery. That leaves the defensive ends.
I would be very happy if Martin Mayhew selected any of the three of Ansah, Werner, or Moore. There are valid selling points to each. Moore is the most likely of these players to bust, but he offers the best match of desired skills to the current coaching staff. He can rush the passer inside and outside, he has a relentless motor, and he plays the run like the linebacker he used to be.
The pick: Damontre Moore, DE, Texas A&M
2nd round, #36 overall
Because the pass rushing ends are now set with Avril and Moore, my focus now is getting the best possible impact player over the next 4-5 years at another key position. I consider that to be corner, safety, wide receiver, and offensive tackle. The Lions are set at QB and the defensive line at this point in terms of starters.
There are three players here that I would take without hesitation: Xavier Rhodes, Keenan Allen, and DeAndre Hopkins in that order of preference. I highly doubt any of those three falls to 36, however. This is a bit of a no-man’s land for wideouts and offensive tackles; the top guys are gone and it’s stretching high to put the next tier here, save for Tavon Austin. I do like North Carolina guard Jonathan Cooper in this range, so he gets factored in the mix even though guard is not an impact position. It is a pressing need both short and long term for Detroit, and he will rank at or very near the highest graded player on the board.
Yet I cannot overlook the secondary talent. This is a very good safety class, and this is the range where I expect they really start to fly off the board. Jonathan Cyprien, Matt Elam, Philip Thomas, Tony Jefferson and perhaps even Eric Reid are going to come off the board between picks 28-50. I’m not an Elam guy. He fits the NFL of Steve Atwater and Carnell Lake, not the current NFL of seam-stretching tight ends, 4-wide formations, zone-busting vertical routes, and emphasis on protecting defenseless players. I love Philip Thomas in coverage but his tackling and run awareness are disappointing, to be charitable.
The cornerbacks in this range also intrigue. Desmond Trufant could go above here, but he’s certainly an option as an aggressive, physical playmaking corner. Jordan Poyer is a corner who can play outside in zone or press-bail coverage but also slide inside and press the slot if needed. Logan Ryan is under the public radar now, but he’s got some very impressive game tape and is an absolute stud against the run a la Antoine Winfield. The Lions haven’t had a competent corner with his style in a long time.
In the end, I narrow it down to three players: Cooper, Trufant, and Cyprien. I lean towards the Florida International safety for two primary reasons. First, he has excellent range and very natural cover skills for a safety. Second, he is a high school friend and workout partner of Louis Delmas and they share the same agent, Drew Rosenhaus. I think the communication and fluidity of those two playing together at the back end would be a huge upgrade, the sum of which is better than their pretty strong individual talents. I would even consider trading a late pick to move up a handful of spots to secure him if needed.
The pick: Jonathan Cyprien, S, Florida International