5 Biggest Draft Needs for the Detroit Lions
The long nightmare is over. Fans can take the paper bags off their heads and put the Rolaids away. The Detroit Lions' disasterous season has finally ended. Now everyone can move on to more positive things—namely the 2013 NFL Draft.
The Lions have many needs to address this offseason and the draft will surely be one of the most anticipated in recent memory. That's because they aren't looking to rebuild. They had a disappointing year, but blowing this team up and starting over would be a mistake.
Continuity is essential to build a winner in the NFL and the Lions need to keep their nucleus intact as best they can.
Despite what ESPN's Chris Mortensen reports, that means the coach and general manager too.
They do need to improve the talent that surrounds Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson though.
That will be the challenge of the offseason. With over 20 players, mostly on defense, entering free agency the Lions will have some hard decisions to make about who to keep and who to let go.
That's where the draft comes in. They need to stock their cupboards with talented youngsters as always, but they're also looking for players who could fill in for departed free agents and contribute immediately.
Here are the five biggest draft needs for the Lions in 2013.
5. Kick Returner/Running Back
Stefan Logan has fumbled and bumbled his way out of the return job in Detroit. Joique Bell returned kicks against the Chicago Bears last Sunday.
If Jim Schwartz's confidence has finally run out on Logan than his value is minimal and he won't be around in 2013. He's had chances running the ball and catching passes out of the backfield but he's had little impact.
Bell is not a returner. He hasn't mastered ball security yet and he lacks the break-out speed to be truly dangerous.
The Lions need to get a burner back there to give their special teams a boost. Lord knows they need it.
According to ESPN they were ranked 31st in the NFL in average kickoff return yards and 22nd in punt return.
They can do much better than that and they might find Logan's replacement in the draft. The University of Michigan's Denard Robinson has elite speed and athleticism and could excel in the return game.
He might even prove to be a suitable change-of-pace back to run reverses or screen passes.
Drafttek predicts Robinson will go in the third round and that could be a steal for such a dynamic player.
4. Wide Receiver
When Brian Robiskie and Kris Durham are getting major minutes for Detroit, it's hard to deny that receiver is a big need.
With that said, many fans might spontaneously combust if the Lions spend a draft pick on a receiver again—particularly a high one. It's an unfortunate response to past Millen-related trauma.
The fact remains that Detroit needs someone to provide a threat opposite Calvin Johnson. Titus Young couldn't do it and neither could Nate Burleson. Chances are those two won't even be back.
Ryan Broyles will return from another knee injury but it would be a mistake to count on him at this point. The Lions simply don't have enough quality players at the position. They need impact players who can make defenses pay when they double team Johnson.
They're entire offense is based on the pass so why scrimp on talent?
Mike Wallace, Greg Jennings and Dwayne Bowe are free agents and any of them would form a deadly combo with Megatron. Yet Lions' general manager Martin Mayhew would be more apt to grow a mohawk than sign any of those high-profile guys.
He'd probably target someone like Josh Cribbs or Danny Amendola. They're free agents too.
Even more likely is that Mayhew will target a receiver in the draft. He selected Young in Rd. 2 in 2011 so why not do it again.
The crop of receivers aren't as talented as in previous years, but a need is a need. There will be several top-tier prospects on the board when the Lions select. Potential targets would be Cordarrelle Patterson, Terrance Williams and Aaron Dobson.
All are bigger receivers with speed who could compliment Johnson while Broyles returns to the slot.
After selecting three corners in last year's draft it's hard to believe this position would still be a priority. Yet injuries robbed the Lions' of any kind of consistency in the secondary, once again.
Chris Houston is a free agent and he'll undoubtedly be a priority signing. He's the best they have and without him they'd really be in trouble.
Besides Houston, the Lions' will have second-year players Dwight Bentley, Jonte Green and Chris Greenwood. Only Green avoided injury and contributed meaningful minutes in 2012. He proved to be a solid depth guy, but not someone to pencil in as a starter just yet.
Martin Mayhew assembled a make-shift secondary with veteran castoffs from around the league and Nostrodamus himself doesn't know who he'll keep in 2013. For that reason drafting a young corner early wouldn't be a bad thing.
Several weeks ago ESPN's Todd McShay predicted the Lions would select cornerback Dee Milliner with the seventh pick. He said, "....corner is the Lions' biggest need and Milliner has the potential to be an immediate starter."
He also said:
"He's not an elite cover corner but good enough to hold up in man coverage, and he is very good in zone. Milliner is also strong in run support, and simply a good all-around player."
We now know that the Lions will actually pick fifth. So Milliner should be available to them if Mayhew decides to go in that direction.
Whether he drafts a top prospect or goes after solid free-agent veterans like Tracy Porter or Quentin Jammer, it's time Mayhew gets serious about the ongoing issues in the secondary.
It's a liability every year and if he doesn't solve the problem, it will ultimately cost him his job.
2. Defensive End
Kyle Vanden Bosch is a warrior and a vital on-field leader for the Lions' defense. He was a big part of their success in 2011 and his never-say-die attitude rubbed off on more than one his younger teammates.
With that said, KVB doesn't deserve to start another game in Detroit. He can still contribute, and he certainly still has the fire, but his body has betrayed him.
It shouldn't be a surprise to anyone. He's 34 years old and will enter his 13th NFL season. He just had one of the worst seasons statistically of his career, and clearly his worst as a Lion.
Defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham and head coach Jim Schwartz can't be blinded by their love of the man, they have to look at his production.
He's had a great career as a starter but it's time for him to take a back seat.
That's why the Lions need to be thinking DE in the draft. They have back-ups—Willie Young and Lawrence Jackson—that could take over for KVB but neither of them have proven to be dominant rushers.
However that's exactly what the Lions need.
Especially since there's a good chance Cliff Avril will depart for greener pastures. The Lions' contract negotiations with him this offseason won't be any easier than last.
With the fifth-overall selection, Detroit will have their pick of the best defensive ends in the draft and it's a particularly strong year for that position. ESPN has three of them ranked in the top ten overall—Damontre Moore in the second position, Barkevious Mingo at number six and Bjoern Werner at number eight.
Add Dion Jordaon to that list (No. 12 overall in ESPN's rankings) and the Lions can realistically target three of the top four defensive ends in the draft.
It seems like a foregone conclusion that the Lions will franchise Louis Delmas in 2013. It's the perfect solution to the conundrum that is the Lions' oft-injured safety.
He's the heart and soul of their defense and they perform better with him on the field. Unfortunately for them he can't stay on it and that fact is the fly in the ointment, so to speak.
To make matters worse the Lions really don't have anyone else to pair with Delmas when he is healthy. Amari Spievey might be on his way out of the league due to multiple concussions and Ricardo Silva, while he performed admirably filling in, is simply too raw for them to rely on for an entire year.
Safety is a huge question mark for 2013 and Martin Mayhew would be wise to treat it like he did the cornerback position last year by drafting multiple players.
Kenny Vaccaro and Eric Reid are potential first-round targets while Tony Jefferson, Matt Elam and T.J. McDonald could be had in later rounds.
If Martin Mayhew wanted to swing for the fences via free agency he could pursue San Francisco 49ers free agent Dashon Goldson. He's only 28 years old and is quickly becoming one of the best safeties in the league.