With the NFL Draft approaching, every team wants to know who their team needs to break into that next tier of excellence. Well, the Detroit Lions are one of the few teams what have a chance to take the leap from playoff contenders to Super Bowl hopefuls. With a border-line elite QB, the best wide receiver in football, and one of the most terrifying defensive lines around, what players could really push this team to the top of the NFL?
Janoris Jenkins: Jenkins is a problemed child and there is little doubt about that. His run ins with the law are well documented, but what gets lost in the shuffle is that if he didn't have these issues he could be in contention with Morris Claiborne as the top man corner in this draft. Jenkins did better than anyone in college football against players like A.J. Green, Julio Jones, and Alshon Jeffery. If that wasn't enough to make him competitive for the top spot, he also was a big part in the run game–whether in recognizing the run and coming up to stuff it or blitzing off the edge.
If the Lions could figure out a way to get him under control off the field, no one could move on the Detroit defense. Jenkins could match up with any WR in the division and shut them down. With that kind of player, the Lions could feel more comfortable sending linebackers on blitzes. Not only could they get more sacks, but they could force opponents to pass at the ball hawk, by doubling up on other WRs and TEs. That freedom, plus a dangerous pass rushing defensive line, the Lions could easily look like the New York Giants did on their path to the Super Bowl in 2011.
Riley Reiff: Many people think that the Iowa product is a lock for the top 12, but don't be so sure. At the scouting combine, Tony Pauline reported that teams had starting moving Reiff from OT to OG. For whatever reason, that could work out perfectly for the Lions. Detroit needs a complete overhaul on the offensive line and Reiff could be a great building block. Whether at OG or OT, he could come in from day one and upgrade the protection around Stafford.
This may not be the sexiest pick, but if it keeps Stafford healthy who cares? Think about this, Reiff is your team's new left tackle and you are playing the Bears. Without him, Peppers gets to the QB in around 3 seconds. With him, however, Stafford gets five seconds and sees that Calvin is about to break open deep. He launches a bomb at 4.6 seconds in. The Lions get the game winning TD and beat a divisional rival. I may be glamorizing the pick a little, but there is nothing in the tape to suggest that R.R. can't be that guy.
Stephen Hill: Stick with me guys, I promise this will make sense. Hill ran very limited routes at Georgia Tech and while he led the nation in yards per reception, that was more the product of how few passes he caught. I believe Hill will be this year's big faller on draft day and will end up falling to where the Lions draft in round 2. If they Lions pick a solid first round pick like Peter Konz or Mark Barron, then this pick could push them over the edge.
Hill isn't the dynamic play-maker Calvin Johnson is, but he is a huge target that is an aggressive blocker and has all physical tools to be special. Opposite Johnson, Hill would thrive and would make it impossible for defenses to have the right personnel on the field. If they have someone small enough to stick with him man-to-man he can beat them with his height. If they put two men on him Stafford can either audible to a run (in which case Hill would dive the corner out of the picture and the safety would likely be out of place) or he could snap the ball and find the mismatch with Pettigrew or another youngster Titus Young.
These picks aren't the only ones that help the Lions obviously, but in today's passing league I think they may be the best options. In the NFL you need to be able to get to the QB (DL+Jenkins), protect the QB (Riley Reiff), and/or create mismatches in the passing game (Hill+Johnson+the rest of the WR/TEs) and these picks all exemplify that. If there are any other players you would like to see leave a comment down below. I would love to hear what the Detroit faithful have to say.
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