The Detroit Lions will assuredly not be part of the playoffs this year. Their latest last-second loss to the Indianapolis Colts put a nail in that coffin. However, the college bowl season is right around the corner and the NFL-draft chatter in Detroit has already begun.
The playoffs might be a pipe dream, but this season has served a purpose for Martin Mayhew and company. It's proven that they're not as good as they thought. Not all of their draftees have panned out.
Particularly on offense.
Titus Young, Brandon Pettigrew and Mikel Leshoure are players drafted in the last three years that, for different reasons, are not where they should be.
The Lions could draft players to challenge any one of them.
Of course the Lions have other needs than on the offensive side of the ball. Their defense is inconsistent and needs playmakers.
So let's get the draft talk started. Here is the first seven-round mock draft for the Lions in 2013.
Te'o knows what round he's going in.
Obviously we don't know the Lions exact draft position, but it's safe to say that it will be somewhere between No. 8 and No. 15.
I wrote this article last week and predicted five possible targets for the Lions in the first round. Of those five, Te'o is the best option.
He doesn't represent their biggest need, nor does he have the biggest upside. However, he is a special talent with great intangibles. His leadership and work ethic are unparalleled and he's the type of guy that will make headlines—for all the right reasons.
This characteristic might be the most important for Detroit. Mayhew and head coach Jim Schwartz have been burned multiple times by drafting players that fit their system while ignoring red flags.
The Lions' offseason was like an episode of The Young and the Restless and they're still dealing with the headache that is Titus Young.
That's why Te'o is so attractive. He could play ILB and back up Stephen Tulloch or make the transition to OLB and make either DeAndre Levy or Justin Durant—two free agents—expendable.
Either way, he'll join the Lions and go about his business the right way.
The Lions drafted an offensive lineman in Round 1 last year—Riley Reiff—but they're not done. Their OL is old and will be rebuilt in the next two years.
They can't simply plug and play waiver-wire pick ups and expect success—like they did with their secondary. They need to rebuild with young, talented players who above all else can pass protect.
Jonathan Cooper is a guard who can certainly do that and much more. He's the second-highest rated guard in the draft behind Alabama's Chance Warmack according to ESPN.
Here's a portion of ESPN's assessment of Cooper:
"Almost always finds a way to get the job done...Very good initial quickness and mobility for position...Not a mauler because he lacks massive size, but does display explosive power for position...Feisty, scrappy interior OL..he's a finisher who plays with an edge. Flashes a mean streak and blocks through the whistle on most downs."
As Michael Schottey at DraftTek pointed out, the right side of the Lions' line has been a problem area all season. Both Gosder Cherilus and Stephen Peterman have been leaky sieves and it's played a role in Matthew Stafford's disappointing season.
Cooper makes sense to take over for Peterman—who'll be a free agent in 2014. He's also capable of playing center, which could prove useful as Dominic Raiola will enter free agency in 2014 as well.
Robinson will have to start tying his shoes in the NFL, or face hefty fines.
I already wrote this about Denard Robinson last week and I'm sticking to it. This will be the "Ryan Broyles" pick of 2013. People will shake their heads—like they did then—and wonder what Martin Mayhew is thinking.
The Broyles pick was a puzzler, but he's proven to be invaluable. Especially with all the Titus Young drama going on. Now fans can see the method behind Mayhew's madness.
By selecting Robinson his method will be more obvious. The Lions have needs that the Michigan superstar can fill. Jahvid Best is done, probably for good, and the Lions need a speedster to assume his role and give their offense a home-run threat.
Robinson could do it and possibly do it better.
He could also fill in nicely as a return man, as Stefan Logan's days in Detroit will be over after this season.
He fits a need, but that doesn't matter if the Lions are truly targeting the best player available. Then again, would it surprise anyone if Mayhew had Robinson this high on his draft board?
I didn't think so.
Whitehead might be ready to make an impact in 2013.
Louis Delmas is not reliable. That might be the most obvious thing I've ever said, but it's true. If the Lions don't pick up a safety at some point in this draft they'll be in trouble.
They need to find a player who can eventually replace him.
Whether they find that in Round 5 remains to be seen, but Devonte Holloman is an intriguing prospect. ESPN ranks him the seventh-best safety in the draft and says he is a "solid prospect."
However, he's a bit of a 'tweener and for that reason could be available in Round 5. He could play linebacker in a Tampa 2-style defense in the NFL, however he's played safety his entire career.
Because of his size he could struggle in man-to-man coverages though.
Regardless, his size and speed are intriguing at the safety position. He's 6'2", 235 lbs and has above average speed for the position (4.65 40-yard dash time). He's also very strong against the run, which would be particularly beneficial if he's forced to cover for Delmas.
He could also make an impact on special teams.
He will need to work on his deep-man cover skills to be successful in the NFL, but what fifth-round pick doesn't have question marks?
Roy Roundtree could be a steal in the later rounds and the Lions will likely need to address the wide receiver position with Nate Burleson and Titus Young on their way out (hypothetically).
Roundtree had a terrific career at Michigan his first two years but the last two have been disappointing.
However with a coaching change and a non-traditional quarterback at the helm his numbers should be taken with a grain of salt.
Roundtree has looked like his old self since Devin Gardner, a more traditional signal caller, replaced the injured Denard Robinson. In his last three games he's totaled 13 receptions, 314 yards and two touchdowns (ESPN).
At 6'0" and 180 lbs he might need to bulk up, but he has the top-end speed to stretch the field and could assume Young's role if the Lions decide to part ways with him.
Long really "flies" to the quarterback.
Travis Long is exactly the kind of player that teams should look for in the later rounds. He's not the most gifted athlete and he won't "wow" anyone with his measurables.
However, he's put together a sensational career at Washington State and has racked up 9.5 sacks this year while lacking the explosiveness of many top-tier recruits.
What he lacks in natural ability he makes up for in effort. Nfldraftscout.com says he has a "terrific motor" and ESPN agrees:
"Tough and plays with an edge. Doesn't back down from challenges and will mix it up. Flashes a nasty side. Motor is good and continues to play hard as games progress. Will chase in pursuit and make plays from the backside."
Long might not be an NFL-ready pass rusher, but he will make an excellent special teamer. Perhaps the kind of player that can take over for John Wendling some day as the Lions' special teams' MVP.