Jeff Risdon, DLD Editor
Since the last version, several things have changed. Reggie Bush, Glover Quin, and Jason Jones have been added in free agency, filling major needs. Jeff Backus has retired, opening a huge hole at right tackle. Louis Delmas and Chris Houston returned to the Lions, keeping two critical starters in the secondary in place. DeAndre Levy also re-signed, while starters Justin Durant, Cliff Avril, and Gosder Cherilus plus key reserve Sammie Lee Hill have left the Lions in free agency.
These picks represent what I would do with the given picks and not necessarily what I believe Martin Mayhew and the Lions will do, though I am trying to incorporate their team-building philosophy into my decision making process.
Note that my pick numbering differs from the actual pick number because I still include the two forfeited 2nd round picks in my numbering. The Lions picks in the 3rd-7th rounds are all actually two picks higher than the number listed here, e.g. the 3rd round pick will be the 66th player taken, not 68th as listed here.
1st round, #5 overall:
The two most pressing needs, both short and long term, are at left tackle and right defensive end. Those are two of the biggest premium positions in the NFL today. They also happen to be two of the strongest positional groups in the 2013 draft. The chances of landing a legit impact talent at either position with this pick are very high. I expect Luke Joeckel to be gone by the time the Lions pick. Geno Smith will also be one of the top 5 picks, leaving two other players that will be off the table. Among the names that could be called include CB Dee Milliner, DE Ezekiel Ansah, OLB Dion Jordan, OLB Barkevious Mingo, T Eric Fisher, DT Sharrif Floyd, and perhaps DT Star Lotulelei. That’s a lot of uncertainty, almost unprecedented for this time frame; with just over a month until the draft there are as many as nine players in legit consideration for the top 4 picks.
The best the Lions can hope for is that the two defensive tackles, Floyd and Lotulelei, are the other two picks taken ahead of them. It’s not likely but not inconceivable. The more likely scenario is that one DT goes and the other pick is either Ansah, Fisher, or Jordan. Those happen to be the three players I want the most with the #5 pick.
I am a big believer that it’s harder to acquire an impact pass rusher than it is to find a great left tackle. Also, I strongly believe that having a top-shelf pass rusher is more important than having an All Pro-level left tackle. So as much as I like Fisher, I feel better about my tackle options later in this draft than I do about the pass rushing potential. I’m quietly optimistic that either Jason Fox or Corey Hilliard can at least play at a Backus-like level for a year or two. That’s not great but from 2009-2011 Backus was the best left tackle in the NFC North and look what that got the Lions in the grand scheme of things. The point: I’m going defense.
Ansah and Jordan are both interesting in that they are arguably better at other facets of their position than they are at rushing the passer. That is indeed troubling. Because Ansah is so undeveloped, I think he has a better chance to emerge as a legit 12+ sack a year talent, while I’m not sure Jordan will ever be much more productive than Avril and his 9-11 sacks a year. Jordan strikes me as a better fit for a 3-4 defense, though I do believe he can play SAM backer in the 4-3 and slide to rush end in passing situations. Mingo has that ability as well, but I’m higher on Jordan. I’m also considering another player here: Tank Carradine from Florida State. In fact, if you could guarantee me that his knee injury is fully healed and Carradine returns to 100% of his old self, he would be my choice. But with this team and the litany of injured high picks we’ve suffered lately, I’m not comfortable taking that risk.
The pick: Ezekiel Ansah, DE, BYU.
If he’s gone, put me down for Tank Carradine.
2nd round, #36 overall:
With defensive end resolved, my focus here is on best player available at a host of positions. This is a grey area for left tackles, unfortunately, so that makes taking one like Menelik Watson here a real reach. This is prime value area for wide receiver, cornerback, and perhaps offensive guard, defensive tackle, and outside linebacker depending on how the 10 or so picks in front of this one play out.
Wide receiver is very tempting. I do believe that Nate Burleson will have a strong bounce back season, and I still like Ryan Broyles even though his mounting injury issues make him unreliable. But the Lions clearly need a stronger complement to Calvin Johnson that projects longer than Burleson, who figures to be gone after 2014 at the latest. Several attractive candidates could be in the mix: Keenan Allen, Quinton Patton, Nuke Hopkins, Robert Woods.
Defensive tackle is an important spot to consider here as well. With Hill and Corey Williams both gone, there is next to nothing behind Suh and Fairley. Johnathan Hankins is the havoc-wreaking sort of interior defender Coach Schwartz likes, and he could still be on the board. Kawann Short fits that bill as well, while Jesse Williams is more of an anchor type like Hill.
If Jonathan Cooper from North Carolina, who can play either guard or center, is still around he is absolutely in the mix. I doubt he falls to 36, however. Larry Warford merits consideration, but I’m not sure he would have the impact on the team that other spots can provide.
A playmaking linebacker sure would be nice. Alec Ogletree brings character flags and a troubling softness to interior run defense, but he has freakish sideline-to-sideline range and a knack for procuring the football. Arthur Brown lacks height but is the best all-around backer in this draft. Both could (should?) be gone, so if they fall, the Lions must consider them.
Of the players I listed, Arthur Brown is the highest rated player on my board. He’s the dream pick but it’s almost certainly a pipe dream; I expect him to be gone by the 25th pick. I like Keenan Allen a lot but his potentially malingering knee injury gives me pause. Every time he’s supposedly cleared for full running, the knee acts up and sidelines Allen for another month. I consider that a bigger flag than most do, but it’s enough to turn my attention to Patton or Hopkins. My educated guess is that one of them will be Houston’s 1st round pick (if they don’t take EJ Manuel) and the other will still be on the board. If it’s Hopkins that is available, he is my pick. I like his long speed and the fact he consistently made plays against a higher level of competition than Patton.
The pick: DeAndre “Nuke” Hopkins, WR, Clemson
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Tags: Brandon Williams, Deandre Hopkins, Earl Wolff, Eric Fisher, Ezekiel Ansah, Jamal Miles, Josh Evans, Nathan Stanley, Phillip Steward, Reid Fragel, Sammie Lee Hill, Tank Carradine, Terron Armstead