Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama
At this time last year the NFL draft was the last thing on the minds of Detroit Lions' fans. At 7-4 the playoffs were a real possibility, so there were more important things to discuss. This year, not so much. The Lions are 4-7, the playoffs are a distant memory, and the NFL draft offers a light at the end of a very dark tunnel.
How the Lions finish these last five weeks will determine just how dark that tunnel is.
Obviously they need help. They're not where they want to be, but what position is their top priority?
The answer to that question might not matter.
That's because Lions' general manager Martin Mayhew favors a best-player-available approach. He won't target a specific player or position.
With that in mind, here are five players that make sense for the Lions in Round 1 of the 2013 NFL draft (in no particular order).
He might not be the highest rated pass-rusher in the draft, but he might be the best one available when the Lions select.
Jarvis Jones, Damontre Moore and Barkevious Mingo are all rated higher, however, Werner is still projected to be a first-round talent.
The Lions certainly have a need at DE. The future of Cliff Avril and Kyle Vanden Bosch are up in the air—Avril because of his contract and KVB because of his age—so depth is needed.
Werner could provide it. He has got above-average skills both in the pass rush and against the run, and according to ESPN:
He has a businesslike personality where he leads by example. Quiet, even-keeled and mature. Married to his wife Denise Werner. Hard worker both on the field and in the weight room.
They also say that he plays with a "lunch-pail mentality."
Is anyone else getting a Chris Spielman vibe here? This guy not only has the talent, but also the demeanor that Detroit fans love.
Two-thirds of the Lions' starting linebacking corps will be free agents this offseason, so Manti Te'o should be high on the Lions' draft board.
Justin Durant and DeAndre Levy are two solid linebackers who are having great years. However, there's no guarantee the Lions will retain both of them.
Te'o has the ability to take over for either one of them.
He's one of the best linebackers in the nation and the undisputed leader of Notre Dame's defense. Particularly strong against the run, he has also shown a knack for making big plays in pass defense as well—seven interceptions on the season according to ESPN.
He's also athletic enough to cover a tight end in those two TE schemes that are all the rage in the NFL right now.
For the Lions his leadership would be just as important as his talent.
With a roster full of problem-child personalities (Ndamukong Suh, Titus Young and Nick Fairley) Te'o is the kind of player the Lions need. His work ethic is undisputed and they wouldn't have to worry about him being a magnet for controversy.
Maybe his approach to the game would rub off on some of those aforementioned players.
Despite their surprisingly strong play, the Lions' makeshift secondary will face big changes this offseason. That's because everyone but John Wendling and three rookie cornerbacks will be free agents.
The Lions also had difficulty keeping their best players on the field due to injury. At the safety position, Louis Delmas and Amari Spievey have proven unreliable.
For that reason, targeting a safety in Round 1 would make sense. Historically, that might be considered a stretch, but two safeties were taken in the first round last year—Mark Barron at No. 7 and Harrison Smith at No. 29.
If the Lions followed suit in 2013 they would select Kenny Vaccaro out of Texas. He's an outstanding player with good size, speed and durability.
According to nfldraftscout.com, one NFL scout thought he would've been a first rounder last year if he came out.
He didn't, but this year the projection is the same.
For good reason. He has the best cover skills—for his position—in the draft and in Detroit he'd pair nicely with Delmas or Ricardo Silva who are staunch run-stoppers.
Jones and Warmack ready to do battle against Michigan.
The Lions solidified the left tackle position when they drafted Riley Reiff in the first round last year. The rookie has not disappointed, and with Jeff Backus succumbing to injury, the starting job might be his for good.
They can't stop there though. They have one of the oldest offensive lines in football and they need to replace veterans who are on their way out.
Dominic Raiola and Stephen Peterman will be free agents in 2014, and both are over 30 years of age.
Alabama teammates Barrett Jones (C) and Chance Warmack (G) are the highest-rated players at their respected positions, and would be smart picks in the first round.
It goes without saying that both are talented and intelligent players, but Jones might have a slight edge because of his leadership and versatility. According to ESPN, he played all four OL positions at Alabama and moved to center his senior year.
The Lions could use him at guard or right tackle before he's ready to take over for Raiola.
Warmack has only played guard, but ESPN characterizes him as a, "classic OG tough guy":
"both physically and mentally. Keeps chopping away at defenders every play. Fights hard to regain leverage if he loses it initially. Not satisfied until he buries the defender. Plays hard for four quarters. Takes pride in his craft."
Clearly the Lions could do no wrong selecting either one of them in Round 1.
Milliner shows he has got a nose for the ball.
As stated previously, the Lions could lose a number of players in their secondary due to free agency this offseason. Chris Houston is their best cornerback and if they can't re-sign him they'll be in trouble.
They drafted three corners last year so they have some depth at the position. However, no one should be surprised if Martin Mayhew targets one in the first round this year.
Dee Milliner is the best cornerback in this year's draft and he might be the best player available when the Lions pick.
He's arguably Alabama's most consistent defender and he's a finalist for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, for the nation's best defensive player.
With Milliner, Bill Bentley, Jonte Green and Chris Greenwood, the Lions would have a group of talented young cornerbacks to build their defense around for years to come. Getting Houston under contract is still key, but they'd finally have adequate depth—and talent—at the position.