It's that time, friends. With only one game left to go this season and 30 NFL teams sitting at home, we are fast approaching the point where the NFL draft is best thing we have to look forward to.
If you're not thrilled about a Patriots/Giants Super Bowl rematch, that point has already arrived.
Personally, I love draft talk, even in years like this, when getting a top-10 pick won't be the highlight of the Lions' year.
In fact, draft talk gets a lot more exciting when your team is in the thick of it. Even mildly competent GMs can pull talented players out of the top five every year. It's once a team starts picking in the 20s that you separate the Belichicks from the Manginis or the Mayhews from the Millens.
Of course, Mayhew is already separated from Millen in that he has actually built a team good enough to draft after the 20th pick. But now that he's gotten there, can he keep up this pace? Can he continue to pull impact players, despite falling about 10 picks in the draft order each of the last few years?
And perhaps more importantly, how will he confuse us this year? After months of us trying to get in his head, what kind of curveball will Mayhew throw us this year?
For starters, he might ignore the Lions' biggest team needs and start off the draft with...
Previous pick: Peter Konz, C, Wisconsin
At first glance, the Lions appear to need secondary players and offensive linemen, and nothing else.
At second glance, the Lions will probably need a replacement for Stephen Tulloch this year, and DeAndre Levy is a restricted free agent. That means that, in all likelihood, in 2013, Levy, Justin Durant and Bobby Carpenter will all be unrestricted free agents.
More importantly, Dont'a Hightower is likely to be the best player on the board at this point, or very close to it, and if there is no better player on the board at a usable position, don't be surprised if Mayhew spurns the calls for a franchise left tackle/center/cornerback and springs for Hightower.
If Hightower is anywhere near the kind of stud in the pros that he was in college, he could well be a cheaper, more viable long-term alternative to re-signing Tulloch.
Previous pick: Cordy Glenn, G, Georgia
Kelechi Osemele is big, raw and powerful. He was also miscast at left tackle last year.
Osemele is physically one of the most superior interior line prospects in the draft this year. He falls to the second round because he needs lots of coaching and because he took a step back last year in moving from guard to tackle.
At the NFL level, Osemele projects best to guard, and he should be an early Day 2 pick.
More than upgrading specific units on the offensive line, they need to do whatever they can to improve the running game. That means putting the best road-grading offensive lineman at whatever position they can get him for. And at this point, Osemele should be among the best on the board.
I toyed with the idea of putting Ben Jones (C, Georgia) here, but if the Lions are going to replace mainstay Dominic Raiola with a rookie, that rookie needs to be a dominant run-blocker (this is why I mocked Peter Konz to the Lions last time). At best, Jones looks like a younger version of Raiola.
Jones doesn't generate much push at the point of attack, struggles against bull-rushing nose tackles and provides a solid anchor in pass protection by using leverage to get his man on the ground. That's Raiola to a T.
Raiola still does a fine job in pass protection. He can't effectively run block, and that's what the Lions need. So I give the run-blocking guard the nod here over the pass-protecting center.
The last time the Detroit Lions drafted a big cornerback who wasn't afraid to tackle, he turned out to be a safety.
Granted, Amari Spievey may turn out to be a pretty good safety, but that's not what he was drafted for. The Lions' needs in the secondary are a bit dramatized (people forget they played moderately well when they were all healthy), but they still exist in a big way.
Stephon Gilmore isn't going to come in and make the Lions a shutdown unit, but he could probably start immediately across from Chris Houston as a rookie, which would compensate for the (likely) loss of Eric Wright.
Gilmore has good measurables in size (6'1", 195 lbs) and good tackling form, but he only has average speed and agility. When he makes mistakes, he struggles a bit to catch up, especially considering he's a little stiff in the hips.
That said, Gilmore's instincts are impressive, and he plays well in either man or zone coverage. He needs some work on his ball skills, but so did Chris Houston when he got to Detroit, and he pulled down five interceptions over 14 games in 2011.
Ball skills can be coached. Gilmore's build can't, and it would be rare to get a physical talent like GIlmore in the third round.
Previous pick: Brandon Boykin, CB, Georgia
I have my doubts about Adcock falling this far, but if he does, he's a lock for the Lions, who will find themselves in the advantageous position of filling a major team need with the best player available.
The only problem with Adcock is that he projects better to right tackle than left since his footwork can be slow. But he's mean and can play either tackle position, which makes him exactly the kind of player Jim Schwartz likes: a versatile, powerful bruiser who likes to hit people.
Of course, Adcock may not actually fill a need. The Lions would probably try him out at LOT, but if he doesn't pan out, he'll have to play ROT. And of the offensive line positions the Lions need, right tackle is low on the list.
But is anybody sold enough on Gosder Cherilus to swallow the long-term contract he'll ask for a couple years from now? If Adcock comes in and outplays Cherilus at ROT, does anyone have any qualms with replacing him?
If the Lions get Adcock in the fourth round, he's a good pick regardless of where he plays. He'll be a starting tackle at either position, a solid starting guard, or quality depth. That's good fourth-round value under any of those outcomes.
If he falls there.
Previous pick: E. J. Manuel, QB, Florida State
There are two things we know about Jim Schwartz's staff and their defensive line.
One is that they can never have too many quality defensive linemen.
Two is that they can coach them up from anywhere in the draft.
Malik Jackson is a Day 3 project pick, but so were Sammie Hill and Willie Young. Both were impact players in 2011, and Jackson arguably has a higher ceiling than either of them.
Jackson stands 6'5", 270 lbs, and he plays violently. His physical skills are there, but he needs to work on lowering his pad level and using his hands.
That being said, Kris Kocurek is a quality defensive line coach and a likely candidate to get Jackson's full potential out of him. Most of Jackson's flaws are coachable.
More importantly, with uncertainty surrounding Cliff Avril's contract situation and Kyle Vanden Bosch dealing with age and nagging injuries, defensive end might not be a bad position to start developing for the near future.
In a perfectly Mayhew-esque move that nobody even remembers, the Detroit Lions claimed offensive tackle Tyler Polumbus off waivers in 2010 after his release from the Denver Broncos.
But did they really want Polumbus? No, they were just trolling the Seattle Seahawks and any other player that put in a claim for him. They proved it by trading Polumbus to the Seahawks six days later for a conditional 2012 late-round pick.
Which round? We still don't know, but considering that Polumbus plays for the Washington Redskins now, I'm going to go ahead and project it as a seventh.
Of course, the Lions forfeit their sixth-round pick this year as a result of the seemingly-ancient tampering charges surrounding Jarrad Page and Gunther Cunningham in 2010.
So, therefore, the Lions' next pick should be Seattle's first pick in the seventh round. And with that pick, maybe they'll finally address the center position.
Dominic Raiola has two years left on his contract, and regardless of whether or not they should, I'm not convinced the Lions are ready to replace him just yet.
With Philip Blake, they don't need to. Blake is a project pick with great size and a strong base who needs a whole lot of experience.
He's also 26 years old, which is too old for a guy who needs as much seasoning as he does. But say the Lions grab Blake in the seventh round and he learns the ropes from Raiola, who has one of the highest football IQs in the entire league.
You take a guy with Blake's size and infuse him with some of Raiola's brains and technique? That's an almost ideal NFL center.
Sure, he'll be approaching 30 by the time he gets to that point, but that's why a guy with nearly ideal size and build falls to the seventh round.
Besides, if he turns into a Pro Bowl center at age 29, coming off a seventh-round pick, are you really going to complain?
Previous pick: Xavier Nixon, OT, Florida
You wouldn't know it from this mock draft, but I really don't like Alabama and the SEC in general. But when evaluating the draft, you have to throw biases out the window.
Marquis Maze has everything you expect in a seventh-round pick: moderate production, some physical ability and a whole lot of question marks.
Maze has had a handful of big games for Alabama and has the size and quickness to grow into a sharp slot receiver if he improves his route-running. But his primary value is as a return man.
Maze averaged over 12 yards per punt return in 2011, and while I don't know if those numbers will carry over to the NFL, he's certainly worth a look late in the seventh round.
I expect the Lions are looking to spend Stefan Logan's roster spot on a player who can contribute to the offense, and Maze could be that guy.
But then, it's the seventh round. He could be Tim Toone just as easily.