It is fair to say that the Detroit Lions have not had an good start to their 2012 season. They have gone 2-3 through one of the easiest parts of their schedule and not looking good doing it.
However, in the NFL there is always at least one silver lining too underperforming, and that is getting a high draft pick to re-energize the fanbase and shore up weaknesses. This is especially important for a team like the Lions, who while strong in parts have some significant weaknesses on the offensive line and on defense.
A top 10-15 pick (which is what they are looking at at the moment) offers the opportunity for some blue collar cornerbacks, offensive tackles or defensive ends. This would really help the Lions return to the playoffs next season.
This is the dream scenario for the Lions in my opinion.
Milliner has been on fire so far in 2012, and his combination of size, athleticism and ball skills makes him an elite cornerback prospect. The 6'1", 200-lb cornerback is the typical boundary corner; he reminds me of Nnamdi Asomugha for his ability to press wideouts at the line, then turn and run with them and still make plays on the ball.
He is also a willing run supporter, which is important in any defense. Equally important is his performance against top wide receivers from physical big bodied players like Cobi Hamilton, to sleek agile athletes like Cordarelle Patterson and Justin Hunter.
Milliner has been the best cornerback in college this season, and his physical game is perfectly suited for the NFL. What's more, it also meshes with what the Lions do on defense. They like to press receivers at the line to make the most of their pass-rushing defensive line, and a player like Milliner would excel in that style of scheme.
Milliner is likely to be a top-10 pick in the draft, and if the Lions pick up their season he may be gone before they are on the clock.
If this is the case, though, they should think long and hard about trying to work a trade to move up and take him. He has a special skill set that the Lions desperately need to complement Chris Houston at cornerback, and to my mind he is the best cornerback prospect since Champ Bailey.
If the Lions perform well in the second half of the year, Warmack may be the best player available by the time the Lions pick. However, this would not be a bad thing, as Warmack is an elite offensive guard prospect who has the makings of a better player than last year's David DeCastro.
Warmack is the star on a dominant Alabama offensive line, and his play at guard has been incredible. His has great size at 6'3", 320 lbs and immense strength, which has allowed him to dominate opponents and create huge rushing lanes.
He is also quick footed, and will be able to hold his own against the best pass-rushers the NFL can throw at him (just watch him deal with Sheldon Richardson if you don't believe me). His all around game makes him an intriguing prospect, and his starting experience in the SEC means he could start for the Lions right away.
If the Lions are picking around 15 in this draft, Warmack is probably the way to go. He is as can't miss as a prospect can get in this draft and should be able to be a 10-year starter right away.
Also, the Lions running game, while better this year, needs better interior blockers to move the defensive line off the line of scrimmage consistently. Warmack should excel at this, and replacing the aging and inconsistent Stephen Peterman with Warmack should see immediate dividends for the running backs.
The best offensive tackle in 2013 could be available for the Lions if they end up with about the 10th pick of the draft, which could give them an elite bookend of young edge protectors. Like Riley Reiff, Joeckel has the ability to play either tackle position due to his quick feet and power, but he looks to be more of a natural left tackle than Reiff.
Joeckel is currently the best left tackle in the draft after having played very well against SEC pass-rushers. His track record is combined with a player with great size, strength and mobility to make a good left tackle prospect.
He measures 6'6" and currently weighs 310 lbs, but what is so special about him is his ability to mirror speed rushers in space. This is essential for a left tackle in the NFL if they want to be a cornerstone player. Joeckel also is quite powerful, and when combined with his quickness, he performs admirably in the run game for a tall player.
He is especially good blocking on the move in the screen game or at the second level.
The Lions need at tackle appears to be up in the air at the moment. While Jeff Backus will probably be leaving Detroit after this season, Gosder Cherlius is putting up a career year so far in 2012, which could put him in line for a big contract extension to remain the Lions right tackle. If this is the case, taking Luke Joeckel would seem to be a waste, as the Lions already have Riley Reiff, who is currently the left tackle of the future in Detroit.
However, if Joeckel really is the best option when the Lions are drafting, Reiff could always be shifted inside and play guard. While this would be a waste of his athleticism, he projects to be a great interior player because of his mobility to pull block, his quick feet and his well developed run-blocking skills.
Montgomery is currently the most popular defensive end on the market, but his lack of truly elite athleticism could see him passed by teammate Barkevious Mingo and German phenom Bjoern Werner come the combine.
However, Montgomery will probably develop into the most well rounded player of the three, and would be a great addition to the Lions defensive line, which could be light on defensive ends next season.
Montgomery is a prototypically built at 6'5" and 260 lbs, he is a defensive end with long arms and sneaky athleticism. Although he has not been a elite burst rusher in college, part of this could be due to his return from a serious knee injury.
But even with this handicap, Montgomery has still dominated with his power, length and motor. He is one of the best bull rushers in college, and he has enough moves to keep tackles on edge.
The aspect of Montgomery's skill that really sets him apart, though, is his run stopping ability. This is where his strength and length really come into their own—he can control blockers, drive them into the backfield and take down ball carriers.
Despite all this, front offices will almost certainly be wowed by more athletic defensive ends like Barkevious Mingo by the time the draft occurs, and this could mean that Montgomery falls into the early teens, where the Lions are likely to be lurking.
He would be a perfect upgrade for Kyle Vanden Bosch in their wide nine scheme. His ability to play the run would be welcome on a defense where none of the ends on the roster can be forces in that facet of the game.
This may seem a bit high for Vacarro, but he is a player who will likely see a meteoric draft rise much like Mark Barron's due to his versatile and safe game at safety.
While this could possibly push him out of the range of the Lions draft pick, if he falls to them he would be a great addition who could form a lethal back end duo with Louis Delmas.
Vaccaro stands 6'1" and weighs 218 lbs, but it is his cornerback-like movement skills that really make him a special prospect. While Vaccaro has the skills to play the run in the box and cover the deep half with ease, his performance against slot wide receivers this season is what is making GMs salivate.
He dominated his matchups with the lethal Tavon Austin and Ryan Broyles last season, and his agility, speed and technique should let him continue to do this as a professional.
This skill should also extend to receiving tight ends.
Vaccaro should not be mistaken for a cornerback playing safety, though. His frame is well-built for playing the run, and although he does try to knock guys out too much rather than wrapping up, he more than does his role against the run. He is also a good zone cover safety who can make plays when playing the zone and with the range to play cover one.
As any Lions fan is well aware of, the Lions need to improve their secondary, and while cornerback is a more pressing need, Vaccaro would give the Lions defense an element that very few teams have, and that would help minimize the impact that athletic mismatch tight ends and slot receivers can have against a base defense.