For many teams a 2012 Mock Draft will encourage the fan base that its team can go from bad to better. For the Lions this offseason the fan base hopes it can go from growl to roar. The 2012 NFL Draft will be a critical component of that effort.
The bottom line is that the Lions finished the regular season 10-6, made the playoffs and exceeded all expectations (at least the reasonable ones). They are continuing on their swift and steady upward arc as an organization. The NFL Draft is the fundamental foundation of an organization's ultimate success or failure.
The Lions will draft 23rd, 54th and 86th in the first three rounds of the draft.
Here are the team needs and some potential players for the Detroit Lions in each of the first three rounds and some prospects who may be targets to fill needs in the later rounds (4th-7th).
Offensive Line—This unit has problems everywhere. Jeff Backus is adequate but aging, and in the playoff game he suffered a torn biceps tendon. Dominic Raiola is scrappy but too old and too small. Stephen Peterman just plain isn't very good and won't get better.
Safety—Maybe someday Amari Spievey will be a bona fide NFL starting safety, but for now he takes bad angles, misreads plays and gives up far too many big plays.
Linebacker—Stephen Tulloch and DeAndre Levy are both 2012 free agents. Linebacker makes the list not for dire need but for uncertainty.
Cornerback—Eric Wright is slated to be a free agent. Aaron Berry is too often injured and Chris Houston only has one more year on his deal. You can never have too many quality cornerbacks when the goal is to dethrone the Packers and Saints.
Peter Konz, C, Wisconsin—This guy is the consensus best center available. Given the success of recent first-round centers like Mike and Maurkice Pouncey, Nick Mangold, Alex Mack et al...this is a no-brainer. Don't be surprised if this guy quickly supplants Scott Wells as an NFC Pro Bowl center.
Zack Brown, OLB, North Carolina—Watching the Lions' final two games, it's clear that the Lions don't have a linebacker who can cover, well, anyone. Brown is a gifted athlete and would be the Lions best linebacker in coverage before the ink is dry on his rookie contract.
Trade down—Philadelphia and New England remain strong possibilities in this scenario with two second-round picks each. Detroit could ship its first-round pick in a package of picks to net a couple of extra picks.
Vontaze Burfict, ILB, Arizona State—If the Lions want to roll the dice, Burfict is a high-risk, high-reward player. If the Lions don't plan on bringing back Stephen Tulloch, this could also be a need area. Burfict has NFL elite-level athletic ability but may be a headcase.
Nate Potter, LT, Boise State—Potter is a longtime starter at left tackle for the powerful Boise State football program. Potter isn't considered as an elite athlete but has shown himself to be highly skilled and have a great compete level. He may never make a NFL Pro Bowl but could be a productive and steady starter over his career. Potter may need a year to be NFL-ready at LT.
Ben Jones, C, Georgia—Jones began his season on a really rough note versus Boise State. After that game, he had a solid season. Jones has leap-frogged Mike Brewster as the second-best center available in the 2012 NFL Draft. He is an immediate starter and a upgrade for the Lions.
Casey Hayward, CB, Vanderbilt—Heyward doesn't come from a big-time program but has underrated skills. He had five interceptions in 2011 and could have had a half-dozen more if not for drops. He has good size and speed. He fits Lions coach Jim Schwartz's preferred style of aggressive and tough-against-the-run corners.
Markelle Martin, S, Oklahoma State—In many ways Martin is the anti-Amari Spievey. He has top-notch instincts and is outstanding as a center fielder. I am not sure that the Lions will be as quick to run out of patience with Spievey as I have, so Martin may not even be on their radar.
Ryan Miller, G, Colorado—Miller may not be around when the Lions select in the third round. They may even need to trade up a few spots to get him. But he is worth it. He was a standout on an unremarkable team. He will make a quality NFL guard. Many scouts believe he has the feet to be a quality RT. This versatility makes him a fantastic asset.
Mike Brewster, C, Ohio State—If the Lions aren't able to add Peter Konz in the first round, they will need to look for a center later. Brewster had some ups and downs his senior year, but he fits the Lions offense well and could be a solid starter his first year. Brewster is not a heavyweight but he is tall (6'5") and can add some bulk to his frame. Maybe the Lions could keep Dominic Raiola on at a lower cap number as a mentor.
Donnie Fletcher, CB, Boston College—Fletcher has good size and decent speed. He probably isn't going to come in and start as a rookie but he would be the third-best corner on the roster on day one. He fits Jim Schwartz's style of CB. The Lions aren't desperate at corner and shouldn't be afraid of a player who may take a season or two to step into a starting role.
Matt Reynolds, OT, BYU—This senior three-year starter has been a dominant player. He is older (25) than most college graduates, but that didn't hurt Danny Watkins (G, Baylor) last year at all. Teams aren't sure if he will have the talent to be a starter at LT in the NFL, but his great versatility will allow him to play RT or either guard position. If he turns out to be an NFL-level LT, someone will get a steal.
Danny Trevathan, OLB, Kentucky—Trevathan was a stud on a dud team. Because he didn't play at a traditional powerhouse school, he might not go as high as he deserves. Trevathan made big plays, and four of those were interceptions, just what the Lions need. A linebacker who can cover is very tempting for the Lions at this point in the draft.
Sammie Lee Hill is a quality depth player for the Lions. He represents what the Lions will be looking to accomplish in Rounds 4-7 of the 2012 NFL Draft.
Here are some prospects who may represent outstanding value for the Lions on Day 3 of the 2012 NFL draft.
Omar Bolden, Arizona State—He suffered two serious knee injuries in college. He is fast and talented, but his injury risk will drop him in the draft. He is also an excellent kick returner. On the plus side Bolden has no off-field issues.
Isaiah Frey, Nevada—Frey has the size that the Lions like at CB (6'0", 190lbs). He plays the ball well and his five INTs and 16 pass break-ups are a testament to that. Isaiah is a project pick but few corners have his ball skills, and that is worth the effort.
Mike Ryan, OT/G, UConn—Ryan is a project player who may fit at tackle or guard. He is a long-term project similar to what the Lions have attempted with Jason Fox. Hopefully Ryan can stay healthier than Fox has.
J.B. Shugarts, G, Ohio State—Shugarts was tackle at Ohio State but might make a better guard at the NFL level. His athleticism and size make him the type of guard that offensive coordinator Scott Linehan prefers. Coming from a traditional power team in a power conference will help make his transition to the NFL more smooth.
Brandon Washington, G, Miami—Washington played out of position as a senior (at LT). He has a chance to be a pretty good NFL guard. The bad tape this season will not serve his draft status well, but his talent will get him a roster spot.
Terrell Manning, OLB, N.C. State—Manning came out too early. He has speed and at the least could be a quality special teams player. He lacks bulk and experience so if he hopes to become an NFL starter he needs to add both. He probably should have stayed in school.
Neiko Thorpe, FS, Auburn—Last season Thorpe was a corner. His transition to safety went fairly well. On a subpar defense he managed nearly 100 tackles and three interceptions. He is more of a coverage safety than an in-the-box player.
Eddie Whitley, S, Virginia Tech—Whitley is a much better against the pass than the run. He needs to play more by instinct and think less. He has good physical tools but needs confidence in order to produce at the NFL level. Even if he doesn't become a starting NFL safety, he can upgrade special teams.
A.J. Jenkins, WR, Illinois—Jenkins was the most productive receiver in the Big Ten this past season. He isn't the fastest, biggest or strongest but he does everything well. Jenkins also has a propensity for the big play.
DeVier Posey, WR, Ohio State—Posey only played in two games this season. He has talent, but it may be overlooked due to the OSU scandal that he was involved in and the lack of a senior season that it caused. Where he goes will depend on how he performs at the combine.
Jermaine Kearse, WR, Washington—Kearse hasn't been the most productive college player. With Jake Locker at QB, he had his most productive year. He tends to have lapses in concentration, but if he can sort that out he has real potential to develop into a quality No. 2 WR in the NFL.