The Detroit Lions had a solid draft in 2012, but they still have some pressing needs, especially on the offensive line and on defense. They still lack a No. 1 wide receiver who can take away top wide receivers, a safety to pair with Louis Delmas, a defensive end to replace Kyle Vanden Bosch and some maulers all over the offensive line.
With this article, I will give an overview of five offensive players whom I believe the Lions could be targeting in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft. As this is early, these rankings could change drastically, as they did in my year-out prediction of the 2012 NFL draft. Also, I am predicting the Lions will be picking at the end of the draft after making another playoff appearance.
In the first round in 2013, the Lions will hope that another talented player will fall to them late in the draft like Riley Reiff did this year.
One candidate to fall in the draft is Barrett Jones, the current Outland Trophy holder for the best college offensive lineman. While he has been a great college player, he lacks the elite athleticism or defined position to be a top-10 pick and could drift in the middle rounds like David DeCastro because he is not a real tackle prospect.
However, the Detroit Lions, who need to get better in the interior of their offensive line, would be sure to snap him up.
Jones has played every position on the offensive line in his time at Alabama, and this versatility would be great value on a Lions line that has very few "set" positions.
Jones is an extremely technically sound blocker who has decent athleticism and short arms. These flaws will probably stop him from protecting a quarterback's blind side as a pro, but the rest of his game screams mid-first-rounder. Jones is at his best in pass protection, where his quick feet, technique and footwork let him mirror pass-rushers and deal with the bull rush. If not for his short arms, he would be in contention to be a left tackle.
In the run game, Jones does not play with quite the same authority. He still maintains great leverage, has the strength to stick to his blocks and rarely whiffs. However, he lacks real explosion at the line, which limits his ability to dominate one-on-one against strong defensive players. However, he is a great puller who can get in front of plays and dominate at the second level.
Personally, I see him as a right tackle in the NFL for a passing team. He will not dominate as a run-blocker, but his assured pass protection would be very valuable, and his mobility and consistency would let him win his fair share of battles in the trenches. If he falls to the Lions, he would be a great tackle to pair with Riley Reiff as 10-year bookends to the line.
The Lions need to find a replacement for Dominic Raiola soon, and as a free agent next year he is unlikely to be re-signed. Therefore, a priority in the draft could be finding his heir, and Holmes is by far the best man to do that.
Holmes will have been a two-year starter at center by the time the 2013 NFL draft comes around and has also played right guard. He currently stands 6'3" and 310 lbs. and has the power to deal with nose tackles and also the agility to block linebackers. He is solid in pass protection, and was a key part of the USC offensive line in the run game. He can struggle at initial contact to get on top of his man, but his strength and leverage allow him to not lose many matchups and create lanes for runners.
The biggest strength of his game is his smarts. Holmes is one of the best pre-snap centers in college football,and in the USC pro-style offense makes the line calls to keep Matt Barkley clean.
Holmes is a very good center prospect who may have been the best in the 2012 draft if he declared. While he will never be a Nick Mangold-type performer as a pro, he is a big man who can deal with power and keep Matthew Stafford upright. He would be a good value pick who should definitely be on the board at the end of the first round.
Ricky Wagner appears to be a clone of 2011 first-rounder Gabe Carimi. Like Carimi, he has a tall and well-built 320-lb. frame. Like Carimi, he is a powerful run-blocker who can smother defensive players and drive them off the line. Like Carimi, he is an underrated pass-protector who has the long arms and solid technique to allow him to deal with most pass rushers. Like Carimi, he projects as a right tackle as a pro who can be a All-Pro at the position.
Wagner does have his struggles, especially against smaller speed rushers who can get around him. He also lacks a elite movement skills, which is why he should not be a left tackle in the NFL. As a right tackle though his technique and strength should be able to let him deal with most of the pass-rushers that come his way.
Wagner will also fall in the draft as Carimi did because he is not a left tackle. This will make him a great value pick late in the draft when the Lions are picking.
Aboushi is not a terribly big name at the moment, and because of this he will probably not be taken early in the draft as he should. However, he has the skills to be the best pass-protecting offensive tackle in the 2013 NFL draft, and for this he would be a steal for the Lions in the first round.
Aboushi plays for the Cavaliers and has shown real poise protecting the blind side there. He is a long player with decent bulk and solid mechanics who has a knack for eliminating pass-rushers. He is also a very good athlete who has no problems blocking in space, yet can also deal with power. In short, he is the complete pass-protector coming out of college.
However, his run blocking leaves a lot to be desired. He often struggles to block guys in line, and because of his length can struggle with leverage in the run game, which takes away his power. He also has a relatively passive demeanor when going forward, and this is a real hindrance to his development in this area.
Despite these flaws, Aboushi is the prototypical modern left tackle who can protect the quarterback and at least hold his own against defensive ends as a run blocker. However, unless he irons out the major flaws in this regard he will drop on draft day and give the Lions a real steal.
This may seem like a surprising pick for the Detroit Lions, given that Brandon Pettigrew was taken in the first round not that long ago.
However, Eifert will almost certainly be the best player on the board when they pick, the NFL is quickly moving towards a two-tight end set given the success of the Patriots last season, and I don't want a list with five offensive linemen in it.
Eifert is a better tight end prospect than Rob Gronkowski was and has the all-around skills to be the next Jason Witten. Eifert may lack elite speed and athleticism, but he is still a very dangerous receiver because of his route running, awareness to find holes in coverage and extremely safe hands. He also has a good get-off off the line and out of breaks, which allows him to get separation.
Even if he is covered, his 6'6" height, long arms and 250-lb. frame (which he could fill out more) allows him to box out defenders and make the catch. He also has the skills to split as a slot receiver, much like Jermichael Finley does for the Green Bay Packers.
The part of the game that makes him stand out is his run blocking. Unlike many good receiving college tight ends, Eifert is aggressive and powerful when blocking. He plays with leverage, and uses his long arms and strong legs to drive defenders away from the ball. He falls off blocks too much, but as it stands he is an elite blocking prospect who could develop into a two-way star on offense.
Eifert may not fill a need, but he would be a talented pass-catcher to add to the Lions offense. He can be used as a mismatch chess piece, is a great blocker and is a great safety blanket for quarterbacks. Look for him to be one of the safest picks in the 2013 draft.