The 2014 NFL Draft is nearly upon us after months of projecting, speculating, and wondering. All that ends very soon, when we will all know the names of the newest Detroit Lions.
In most draft seasons, I usually have a very strong idea of what the Lions are going to do. This year, not so much.
The way I see it, from culling sources within Allen Park, agents, and other informed folks, the Lions are going to follow one of four basic roads in the draft. There are some variations within each road, but the basic path remains true.
Here are the roads the Lions are looking at travelling in the draft’s first two days. They are listed in no particular order of likelihood.
Road One: Moving on Up!
This is the road that involves selling out to win now. The Lions would trade up in order to land one of the premium talents in the draft.
I can verify the Lions have indeed made overtures to other teams about trying to move up. That means GM Martin Mayhew has inquired about what it might take to move up to a certain spot; it does not mean they’ve tentatively agreed to a deal.
Who would be the targets?
Two different sources have told me that Mayhew views three players in this draft as “elite” talents. They are Jadeveon Clowney, Jake Matthews and Greg Robinson.
Notice I did not include Sammy Watkins in that grouping. Does that mean Mayhew and the Lions aren’t interested in Watkins? No, but it means he’s atop the next tier, and that is probably not worthy of moving up into the top 4.
Sources have advised me, and I strongly believe it as well, that Mayhew absolutely will not part with the 45th pick, not without getting another second in return. That pretty much precludes Detroit from moving up any higher than 5th overall, in which the 10th pick, 76th pick and first rounder next year could bring back No. 5 and a late-rounder from Oakland.
Because Clowney is going #1 overall, that rules him out. So the moving on up would be for an offensive tackle.
In that case, the second-round pick would be a wide receiver. I know the team is intrigued by both Donte Moncrief and Kelvin Benjamin, bigger receivers taking precedence. There’s a chance both are gone (much better chance that Benjamin is gone in the 20s), in which case availability comes into play. If an outside linebacker like Kyle Van Noy or a safety like Jimmie Ward would likely be the highest-rated player on the Lions board.
Because the third-rounder is gone here, expect the second-rounder to be a more conservative, surefire player.
One of the byproducts here is that the Lions would be free to trade incumbent left guard Rob Sims, hopefully to recoup the 5th round pick that was Mike Thomas. That is not an unreasonable asking price for a solid all-around starter with above-average pass protection skills and an affordable contract for 2014.
Road Two: The Barr is Set
This one comes straight from a person whom I trust with direct knowledge of the Lions’ scouting process. It does involve a couple of conditions, however.
–Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans and Jake Matthews are all off the board
–The run on quarterbacks has not materialized and only one or two are gone
In that case, and assuming the Lions do not get an offer they cannot refuse to move down, the Lions first pick is UCLA linebacker/edge rusher Anthony Barr.
While the team does like both Aaron Donald and Justin Gilbert, Barr’s higher upside at a position of greater importance and lesser supply gets him the nod.
The second and third round picks would be made from wide receiver, safety, and defensive tackle in this case.
Fork A: 45th pick is Terrence Brooks from Florida State or Northern Illinois safety Jimmie Ward, 76th pick is Colorado’s Paul Richardson or LSU’s Jarvis Landry
Fork B: 45th pick is Dominique Easley (the Lions are okay with him missing half a year), 76th pick is WR or safety, best player available. I know they like Jaylen Watkins from Florida and Ed Reynolds from Stanford, though this pick seems a round high for either safety. I vastly prefer Watkins, though in my opinion he’s a NFL cornerback. That BPA could also be USC center Marcus Martin. I wish I could be more definitive here, but the plain truth is that I don’t really know. Nobody does, gentlemen…
Road Three: The Personal Nightmare
Again, this one involves a couple of conditions. The above conditions remain, but Barr is off the board too and the Lions cannot move back from 10th.
In this case, Oklahoma State CB Justin Gilbert is the pick.
Don’t shoot the messenger here, folks; he’s my 7th-rated cornerback in this draft, and I wouldn’t take him at 45 either. Here’s my scouting report on the Cowboy corner.
But I’m not Mayhew, and Mayhew likes him some Justin Gilbert. I see the appeal. He’s long, fast, and can immediately double as a potentially elite return man while he develops as a corner.
The second and third rounders remain the best player available from wide receiver, outside linebacker (Kyle Van Noy back in play at 45), defensive tackle and guard/center. North Carolina defensive end Kareem Martin is also a candidate at 45, though that would mean a lot of higher-rated players are somewhat unexpectedly gone.
Road Four: Falling Back
This seems to be the most popular option with the Detroit fans. It involves finding a taker for the 10th pick and moving back a few spots, picking up an extra pick or two in the process.
There are two scenarios I’ve heard discussed that made credible sense here:
–No. 16 and Dallas, who would move up to get Aaron Donald
–No. 22 and Philadelphia, moving up for (allegedly) LSU wideout Odell Beckham or Anthony Barr depending on who you believe.
The Dallas deal seems more likely. If the Lions move back to 16, the player pool changes quite a bit. Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (if he makes it past Chicago at 14, and he shouldn’t), Beckham, Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier, Virginia Tech CB Kyle Fuller, Louisville safety Calvin Pryor, Oregon State wideout Brandin Cooks, and even Indiana wideout Cody Latimer are potential Lions picks. I’d like to say North Carolina TE Eric Ebron is an option, but I really don’t see that happening after the team signed Brandon Pettigrew for what they did. I listed those in likely order of preference, by the way.
At 22, now it’s wide open. Latimer, Pryor (who could very well go to Green Bay one pick earlier), Ohio State corner Bradley Roby, Cooks, Fresno State wideout Davante Adams, perhaps Van Noy. In short, it’s too variable to predict other than the Lions would have major options. It would also mean they’re adding another second-round pick, No. 54 overall. That opens up a lot of trading back up possibilities too.