NFL Draft Picks Who Would Be Instant Starters for the Detroit Lions
The Detroit Lions' 2012 draft was an anomaly as drafts go.
The Lions brought in eight new players, but found no opening-day starters. Bill Bentley and Jonte Green made some starts over the course of the season, but Bentley was done after four games, and Green only started out of a sheer lack of options.
As for the others, while they may have taken snaps, the Lions didn't start any of their 2012 draft picks in their rookie seasons. That's less a statement on the quality of those picks, and more about the Lions drafting with long-term strategy in mind.
However, this year the Lions are likely to lose (or cut) a number of veteran starters, which will open the door for not only the 2012 draft class to step into starting roles, but also some 2013 draft picks.
Obviously, whether a player starts in his first year has as much to do with his performance in training camp and practice as anything else, so it's impossible to tell if any of these players are actually of starting quality just yet.
So while there are no guarantees at this stage, these are the players who have, perhaps, the best chance of both being drafted by, and starting for, the Lions in 2013.
Barrett Jones, OL, Alabama
Barrett Jones makes it easy. He would be an instant starter because the Lions could use him basically wherever they wanted.
The Lions have questions on the offensive line, ranging from potential to glaring, from center to right tackle. So why not draft a player who is a potential answer to any of those questions?
Will the Lions cut Dominic Raiola to escape his ballooning 2013 salary and declining play? Jones can step in at center.
Have the Lions finally had enough of Steven Peterman at right guard? Jones can play guard.
Do the Lions have the right tackle position figured out between Gosder Cherilus, Riley Reiff and Jason Fox? Jones can...provide depth at right tackle.
The Lions love strong, versatile offensive linemen, and Jones fits the bill. More importantly, he's likely to be available in the second round, unlike an elite one-position player like Chance Warmack.
Giovani Bernard, RB, North Carolina
There are three things you need to know about Giovani Bernard.
One is that he is a shifty, speedy running back with big-play ability who led the ACC in rushing, scoring and all-purpose yardage in 2012, despite missing two games.
Two is that he doubles as a punt-return threat who also led the ACC in punt-return yardage, notching two touchdowns in the process.
Three is that Jahvid Best's career is over, and the time has passed for the Lions to keep the torch burning in hopes that he can return to the team.
The Lions need a replacement for both Best and kick returner Stefan Logan, and Bernard could be a high-level replacement at both positions.
The Lions have clearly missed Best in the offense since his injury. In the last two seasons, the Lions are 5-0 in games Best finished, and 9-18 since. That doesn't only have to do with Best, obviously, but maybe the Lions should get a speed back in the fold just in case.
Any First-Round DE
I could spend several slides talking about Damontre Moore, Jarvis Jones, Bjoern Werner, Barkevious Mingo, Dion Jordan and even Senior Bowl MVP Ezekiel "Ziggy" Ansah.
I've instead opted to include all of them here in one. Each of the players mentioned above are first-round talents at the defensive end (or rush linebacker, or something in between) position, and any one of them could feasibly start for the Lions.
The Lions are likely to lose one or both of their starting defensive ends this offseason, with Cliff Avril likely to walk off to richer pastures in free agency, and Kyle Vanden Bosch a popular cut candidate after a decline in production and a rising salary.
Even if the Lions keep one of their starters, the fact is the Lions didn't generate much pass rush off the edges in 2012, and that really hamstrung the rest of the defense. Even if free agency and money weren't issues (and they are, in a big way), the Lions should be looking for an upgrade at defensive end this offseason.
Taking one of these first-rounders makes so much sense; given the abundance of them and the Lions' draft position, the Lions almost can't pass.
Which means they probably will. But that doesn't change the fact that any of these guys could start from day one if the Lions did take them.
Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas
Kenny Vaccaro, being the top safety on the board, is looking at a mid-first-round grade.
That means the Lions would have to trade back a great deal to have this pick make any sense. But if they can pull that part off, Vaccaro would make a great pick here.
The Lions are more unsettled, and have less long-term prospects, at safety than they do even cornerback. Helping to fix that with the top safety on the board would not be a bad way to go.
Vaccaro has an ideal size/athleticism combination, and has been a leader in the Texas defense for years. He's not a brilliant on-the-ball defender, but few college defensive backs are. Those skills can be taught, his measurables can't.
Think of this as the Lions drafting a more durable Louis Delmas, but with more experience against top competition.
Of course, it's more likely that the Lions go after a safety later in the draft, rather than dropping down to draft Vaccaro at a point where he isn't a reach. But if Vaccaro made the team, it's hard to envision the Lions having a safety on board that would start ahead of him.
Bacarri Rambo, S, Georgia
Realistically, the Lions don't need to draft the top safety on the board to get a potential instant starter.
The situation at safety is so dire, the Lions would likely get an instant starter from a Day 2 selection.
Baccari Rambo personifies this, as someone who seems likely to fall somewhere in the second or third round, barring a big slip (which does often happen to safeties). It wouldn't be a sure thing, but it seems likely that a promising young safety like Rambo would be able to beat out Ricardo Silva and Amari Spievey for a starting position.
Much like with defensive ends, there are a bunch of safeties I could list here as potential "instant starters," because the Lions are likely to start the next player they find with even an average skill set at the position.
Side note from the "may only amuse me" department: If the Lions were to draft Rambo and re-sign Louis Delmas, they could have starting safeties named Rambo and "The Missile."
Draw your own conclusions.
Terrance Williams, WR, Baylor
It's a stretch to call any college receiver an instant NFL starter.
There's a learning curve at receiver so steep that even Calvin Johnson wasn't the true No. 1 receiver for the Lions until they traded away Roy Williams early in 2008.
But then, the Lions are in a bit of an odd situation at wide receiver. They have Johnson (enough said), followed by Nate Burleson and Ryan Broyles, two players who suffered season-ending injuries that may or may not be fully healed by the time 2013 team activities open up.
A few weeks ago, Titus Young was included in that discussion, but the only likely reason he remains technically on the roster is because the Lions are currently checking to see if the Jets (or someone else, but it's fun to pick on the Jets) have any conditional seventh-round draft picks they'd be willing to part with.
So enter Terrance Williams, a tall, athletic receiver with straight-line speed who can help Calvin Johnson stretch the field. Since Broyles and Burleson are both more suited to slot-type roles, Williams is more of a deep threat, like Young was intended to be, but taller.
Williams doesn't have the agility or experience to run a lot of underneath routes, but his route running should get better with time, and the deep threat is what the Lions really need from a "starter," with Broyles and Burleson ready to eat up the soft underneath coverage.
DeMarcus "Dee" Milliner, CB, Alabama
Milliner goes up here as an acknowledgement that the Lions could go cornerback in the first round, but in all likelihood, they probably won't.
The Lions drafted three cornerbacks in 2012, and adding more unproven depth to the mix isn't necessarily going to make the Lions better at cornerback, it's just going to ensure that they don't get a chance to use their draft picks if they actually pan out.
The Lions (or more specifically, defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham) have a reputation for not wanting to start rookie cornerbacks, but they started Bill Bentley and Jonte Green when all their other options dried up.
But those guys are back, and they're sporting NFL starting experience now. One or both of them is likely to get a lot of playing time, to say nothing of athletically gifted Division III prospect Chris Greenwood.
Milliner might turn out to be a great cornerback in the NFL, but starting him immediately likely means the Lions turning their backs on the development of one of the young corners already on the roster.
That's unlikely, but not impossible. After all, if the Lions think enough of Milliner to draft him in the first round, they would likely think enough of him to start him out of the gate. If there's any cornerback in the draft that the Lions would start immediately, it's him.
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