The Detroit Lions have a few real positions of need in this draft, and those are clearly the offensive line and the secondary.
However, they also need to add depth at other positions, and defensive end falls into this category.
Plenty of mock drafts have the Lions making a move for a pass-rusher in the first round, with Courtney Upshaw and Whitney Mercilus both being mocked at No. 23. The Lions probably will have more pressing needs and more valuable players available in the first round, so I do not think the Lions will really take one of them.
However, in the third round it will be a different story. The Lions will have dealt with some needs in the earlier rounds, and may even have two third-rounders if they trade back in the first or second round.
With a third-round pick, the ascending Tyrone Crawford will probably be ready to be picked, and he would be a great addition to the Lions' defensive line rotation.
In the following slides I will run through his strengths and weaknesses, and give the reasons why the Lions should definitely target him aggressively in the middle of the 2012 NFL draft.
Tyrone Crawford put forth an impressive performance at the 2012 NFL Scouting Combine. He made waves at the weigh-in when he was measured at 6'4" and 275 lbs. His 34" arms were also among the longest of any defensive ends at the event.
During the workouts Crawford put up solid numbers. He managed 28 repetitions in the bench press and showed some explosiveness with his 33" vertical leap. He also showed surprising agility with his 7.09-second time in the three-cone drill. Finally, at his pro day he improved his 40-yard dash to 4.78 seconds, the same time as Quinton Coples.
Crawford also impressed scouts in the positional drills, where he showed his athletic ability. However, he also showed his raw technique.
Don't get me wrong: Crawford will never develop into a Cliff Avril-style pass-rusher.
However, he has the tools to become a very solid one nevertheless. He has good lateral agility, good burst for a player of his size and a powerful style. He plays with great leverage, has a non-stop motor and a powerful and effective bull rush that lets him abuse finesse pass protectors.
Despite these strengths, at this point in time Crawford is not much of a pass-rusher. He has no pass-rushing moves other than the bull rush and was not effective at Boise State when trying to beat offensive tackles to the corner.
However, most of his issues as a pass-rusher come from his lack of experience and development as a footballer, rather than any physical deficiencies. Therefore, Crawford should develop into a solid pass-rusher if his work ethic is a strong as it is reputed to be.
This is the real strength of Crawford's game coming out of Boise State, and what he could really influence early in his career.
He has the frame of an elite run-stopper, and the length to excel in that area as well. He also has great functional strength.
Crawford is also very developed in this facet for a player of his experience. He sheds blocks very efficiently, can control offensive tackles to set the edge and plays with such great leverage that he was never overpowered in his senior season at Boise State. He also has good range when closing on outside runs and is a sure tackler.
In reality, Crawford is one of the top two or three defensive ends when it comes to defending the run. If that ability was not so marginalized by teams in their drafting priorities, then he would be a much higher draft pick.
However, it is a valuable skill to have and will guarantee him playing time in his rookie season in games when teams try to take advantage of the aggressive Lions defensive line.
If the Lions get hold of Crawford, he is likely not to see the field much in his rookie season. The combination of his lack of experience and raw technique with the depth that the Lions have at defensive end should see to this.
However, as mentioned earlier, he is a very good run defender, and this should give him a place in a defensive end rotation that his heavy on pass rushing.
Crawford's main responsibility would be to learn how to play the position, and he has an ideal mentor in Kyle Vanden Bosch.
KVB has made his career by working harder than his opponents, and this is a similar mentality to the one that Crawford shows. Crawford plays with a similar non-stop motor, and is reputed to be one of the best Boise State players when it came to work ethic and the putting effort into classroom work.
If all Crawford does as a rookie is learn the playbook, get stronger and shore up his technique, then it will be a successful season.
However, he would probably do more. He will probably make a couple of big plays against the run late in the season, and if he gets a chance will probably bring some heat as a pass-rusher.
Here is my prediction for his stat line: 25 tackles, two sacks, one forced fumble.
This is what I see Crawford becoming once he develops as a pro. Mind you, his eyes might have a different tint.
Vanden Bosch is on his last legs as a pro, and when he leaves the team the Lions will need a defensive end to contain the run and take advantage of the double teams that players like Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley and Cliff Avril create.
Crawford should be able to do this job better than KVB ever did for the Lions. His length, athleticism and power allow him a physical advantage over most defensive ends, and once he refines his game he could very well be a Pro Bowl talent, especially on a defensive line like the Lions.
Once he establishes himself, I see no reason why Crawford could not average eight sacks and 50 tackles a season. This would be a valuable return on a third-round pick.
In summary, I believe that Crawford has the potential to become a quality starter for Detroit if it selects him. He is already steady against the run, and once he develops as a footballer he should also be able to bring it as a pass-rusher.
Currently, he is predicted to be selected at the end of the third round of the start of the fourth round in the 2012 NFL draft. This is perfect for the Lions, who should be looking to improve their depth at defensive end by that time. I just hope that the Lions have the inclination and option to take him there.