After a playoff berth two seasons ago, the Detroit Lions disappointed in 2012, winning just four games. However, while disappointing during the season, it does once again place the Detroit Lions in the top five of an NFL draft where they can hope to land a blue-chip player. They also have the option of trading back to get multiple first rounders.
All this will make the offseason much more interesting, and should help plug some of the many holes the Lions' roster.
This mock draft will not include any trades this far out from the draft. Also note that the Lions are without their fourth-round pick due to the trade they made with the Minnesota Vikings last year.
The Lions first pick of the draft has to be a good one, as they are unlikely to be drafting this high again for a while. Therefore, it also makes sense to take a player that is unlikely to be available at the end of the first round, such as a starting left tackle. I know a lot of Lions fans would like to see a cornerback or defensive end here, but those positions offer mid- to late-first-round stars every year.
In this year alone players like Desmond Trufant, Xavier Rhodes, Damontre Moore, Datone Jones and Alex Okafor fit into this category.
Conversely, almost no star-caliber left tackles will fall out of the top 10 on draft day. Therefore, if the Lions want a blind-side protector to take to the bank, they probably need to make the move this year. Fortunately, there are two left tackles in this draft who have Pro-Bowl talent, and it seems likely that one of them will fall to the Lions. That is likely to be Eric Fisher.
Fisher was the darling of the Senior Bowl, where he simply dominated every pass-rusher who challenged him. Importantly, after playing for a small school, Central Michigan, he did this against players from the power conferences. Fisher is a tall and athletic left tackle who still needs to build muscle to be a top-tier NFL left tackle, but in the meantime he combines the foot speed and fluidity to mirror in pass-protection, the mobility and technique to be a good run-blocker and the potential to be the next Joe Thomas. He is a slam-dunk pick who is a safe as they come.
To sweeten the deal, the Lions really do need a left tackle. Jeff Backus has retired after 12 years as a Lion, and Riley Reiff looks like the right tackle now that Gosder Cherilus jumped ship. Fisher would be a first-year starter at left tackle, and would give the Lions possibly the premier pass-protecting offensive line in the NFL is Cherilus is retained.
In the second round, the Lions will be looking primarily for a defensive end or a defensive back to help shore up their porous pass defense. At the moment, there is one defensive player who would be a perfect fit for the Lions who is currently out of action with a torn ACL by the name of Cornellius Carradine.
While Carradine has a few questions surrounding him, such as health and consistency due to getting injured in his only season in D-I football, he has middle of the first round talent that is simply too much to pass up this late in the draft. This is especially true since the Lions seem comfortable drafting players with injury histories—even ACL tears.
Carradine has massive potential as a defensive end, and is one of the few in this draft who project to be great pass-rushers and run defenders. Many draft analysts, including Bleacher Report's own Matt Miller, have anointed him as the most talented defensive end in the draft. While I would not go quite that far, he is without a doubt a steal for a second-round pick. He is a powerfully built athlete with prototypical size, good burst, great power and a non-stop motor.
Carradine is also strong enough to anchor against the run. Although he's not a fully developed defensive end, most of his flaws, such as a propensity to get upright, a lack of pass-rush moves and limited experience against competent double-teams, should all improve with more playing time and the Lions' great coaching staff.
The Lions are also in dire need of a defensive end who can play against the run while not disappearing as a pass-rusher. Carradine can offer this, and for this reason, as well as his All-Pro potential, he is a no-brainer second-round pick if his red flags drop him to Detroit.
Since a big-time pro day could vault him into the middle of the first round, if he is no longer available I would take Larry Warford, the guard from Kentucky. He is an elite power guard who mauls in the run game and is quick enough to shut down pass-rushers, like he did all season in the SEC.
It may seem like double dipping to take two offensive linemen with the Lions' first two picks, but they need more talent at the position, and Warford should carry a first-round grade.
Da'Rick Rogers was supposed to be one half of the Tennessee Volunteers' high-octane passing attack this season, but a litany of off-field incidents led to him playing his ball for small-school Tennessee Tech all season, where he dominated.
However, in the pre-draft process he has apparently put to bed many of the concerns that teams raised about him. That leaves a very good receiver prospect who lacks the tools and technique to be a featured wide receiver, but one that should excel playing opposite a big-time threat (like CJ-almost2K).
Rogers is a talented receiver who, before his suspension, was one of the best pass-catchers in the SEC. He is a good athlete with good quickness, hops and enough deep speed to threaten a defense vertically. His agility test times and vertical were among the best for wide receivers at the 2013 Scouting Combine, and his 4.52 40-yard dash is very good for a wide receiver of his size.
Rogers is 6'2", 217 pounds with long arms, and he uses this to be a force over the middle. He runs good routes, boxes out corners like a tight end and has the running ability to add yards to passes consistently. He is also a very good run-blocker when he stays focused, which could really help the Lions establish more of an outside running game.
Rogers skill set fits perfectly for what the Lions are looking for. He would struggle at the NFL level if faced with shifted coverage and a game plan built to stop him, as he lacks the explosive speed and elite ability to separate needed to dominate against all coverages and opponents.
However, opposite a player like Calvin Johnson who will draw coverage, Rogers could be dominant. He has the size to beat up smaller corner backs, and the savvy to get open on intermediate and short routes. While he does have character concerns, and the Lions do not have a great record with those sorts of players, the fact is that for a team to develop into a championship contender it needs to have a positive locker room that lets a team take risks on talented players who fall in the draft.
The Lions are without their natural fourth-round pick this season due to a draft-day trade in 2012. However, they have been awarded a compensatory pick at the end of the round, and with it I believe the Lions should take Brian Schwenke, the center from California.
Schwenke is a prototypical bad-body lineman who, despite his paunch, can really move. He ran a 4.99 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine, and this speed and quickness translates to the field where he is consistently one of the first linemen to the second level. He also is very technically sound, with great hand placement and leverage which allows him to seal off players in the run game. He also stands his ground against big, powerful linemen.
He is not the greatest pass-protector, and has just one season of experience at center, which shows in his blitz pickup and shotgun snap placement. He was also more of a finesse lineman in college who did not overpower anyone, but he put up 31 reps in the bench press at 314 pounds, so that may be a part of his game that he is developing. Schwenke has also had issues sustaining downfield blocks, but improved over his career in this regard.
I believe Schwenke is a great pick up in the fourth round, primarily because of his potential to be a good starting center, but also his versatility. He has played at guard more than center, and has the bulk and technique to play there as a pro. For this reason, the Lions could use him to fill the vacancy at right guard this season if he performs there while Dominic Raiola plays out his contract.
Also, given his inexperience at center, it would probably behoove Schwenke to spend a year learning line calls and practicing his shotgun snaps before he has to do it for real in a game. However, in the fourth round he has the potential to start sometime during his first season, and could be a 10-year starter and great run-blocker at center if he develops to his potential.
Detroit has a lot of young talent at cornerback, which is why I do not think they need to take an early-round corner this year. However, if a talent like Mathieu falls this far, which he well could due to his character red flags, he would be a no-brainer pick for Detroit.
Mathieu was a stat-stuffing machine at LSU in 2011, where he showed off his quickness, instincts and ball skills to be a difference maker. However, he made a litany of bad choices in college which led to him being kicked off the team at LSU. This has ruined his draft stock, taking him from guaranteed second-day pick to a third-day steal if a team can straighten him out.
Mathieu is an elite athlete with possibly the best burst and agility in the draft. He is not the fastest, and at 5'9" without great leaping ability he lacks prototypical size for a cornerback. Nevertheless, his game speed, change of direction ability and instincts make him a playmaker of the highest order.
Mathieu is raw in man coverage and lacks the length to play outside in the NFL. However, his quickness, zone instincts, elite run defense and blitzing ability make him an ideal candidate for a slot cornerback. This is something the Lions sorely lack on their defense, as none of their current cornerbacks are agile enough to cover slot receivers and stump up against the run. This is what Mathieu offers.
Mathieu is also the most electric return man in the draft, and his ability to elude tacklers and find seams is second to none. His presence would make the Lions much more dangerous on special teams, and for a fifth-round pick it is totally fine if he never becomes more than a fifth rounder.
In summary, Mathieu has the talent to be great, and even if he never gets out of his developmental basement he will be an elite return man. As long as Jim Schwartz and Co. can keep him out of trouble, I see no downside in this pick.
Mike Catapano is shown here in a suit and tie because, as a Princeton graduate, that is how everyone expects to see him for the rest of his life. However, Catapano has looked like a legitimate footballer throughout his career at Princeton, and was the best player at the East-West Shrine game. While he will never be a quality starter in the NFL unless he has a lot more in the tank than everyone currently sees, he has the all-around skill set and enough athleticism to become a very valuable rotational end in a wide-9 scheme.
Catapano stands 6'3" with 34" arms, and weighs in at 270 pounds. He also has shown impressive quickness out of the snap and strength to shed blocks. His physical skills and solid technique made him almost unblockable at the East-West Shrine game practices, and he was a playmaker against both the run and the pass.
He will not be able to exert his will like this in the NFL against a much higher caliber of offensive tackle, but his skills are developed enough that you can envision him seeing a decent number of rotational snaps in his rookie year without embarrassing himself.
For such a late pick, I really cannot see any downside in taking Catapano. He does not have the freakish athleticism to develop into an NFL star, and he has only played as a defensive end for four years at Princeton. He also has not faced any really talented pass-protecting tackles yet in his career, so an NFL training camp could be a real shock. However, he is a hard worker with great intelligence, a good skill set for a rotational defensive end and the motor to make players work hard to block him. He also has that innate "it" factor that makes him hard to block throughout a play. Also important to note, he's not the sort of player to get into trouble off the field.
The Lions need more bodies at defensive end after gutting their previously full stocks over the last few off seasons. They currently have just Jason Jones, Willie Young and Lawrence Jackson on the roster at the moment, and Jones' only previous experience at defensive end was a very disappointing season in 2011.
Therefore, the Lions could do with adding at least two defensive ends in the draft, and a solid late-round player like Mike Catapano would go down a treat.
Nick Kasa is a raw tight end prospect from Colorado who has played less than two years at the position after being a big time defensive line prospect beforehand. However, he has the tools to become a very interesting player who could develop into a solid contributor on offense in a few years.
He has enough flaws and questions about him to drop him far below where his athletic gifts should put him.
Kasa is a very big and athletic tight end who put on a show at the Scouting Combine. At 6'6" and 269 pounds he still ran a 4.71 40-yard dash and also put up 22 repetitions on the bench press. At the Colorado Pro Day he also performed well in the agility drills, as both performances would have placed him in the top 10 for his position at the Scouting Combine.
Although Kasa is athletic, he needs a lot of coaching to become NFL ready. He is not a polished route-runner at all, and his hands are still suspect. He is also not well versed in the nuances of getting open. He lacks some blocking technique, although his experience as a defensive lineman has certainly imbued him with the aggression and experience battling one-on-one with big uglies to show up well as a blocker.
All in all, Kasa is the epitome of untapped potential. He may never develop and become more than a goal-line blocking tight end, but he potentially could be an every-down starter who can run and block.
With this in mind, the question is how he will be available in the seventh round, especially with a clean off-field record. As well as being a project, during the combine more than one NFL team reportedly questioned Kasa on his sexual orientation. While this is obviously out of bounds, it does indicate that NFL front offices have reason to believe he may be homosexual, and this could have an impact on his draft grade.
Chris Culliver made a stir with his anti-gay remarks, and showed just how hard it would be for an openly homosexual player to fit in an NFL locker room. Team chemistry is always a big concern for a GM when adding players, and the attention that Nick Kasa will draw will be substantial for a late-round pick. Many teams with concerns about how a homosexual player would fit in the locker room may simply take him off their draft board, as disappointing as that is to admit. This could lead to a draft-day free fall, and with Kasa's true value still as more of a fifth- to sixth-round pick, going in the seventh might not be all that surprising.
However, I like to believe that the Detroit Lions would not do that, and in the seventh round Kasa is of great value. The Lions also need to add another tight end to push Brandon Pettigrew to work on his game.
This pick is purely about need.
The Lions need a new punter and kickoff man, and with the future of Jason Hanson in doubt, they may need a new kicker as well. Also, I have always been a believer in spending a late draft pick on a specialist rather than a position player. While late-round position players are often practice-squad players or on the back end of the 53-man roster because they lack the athleticism or technique to be picked earlier in the draft, kickers and especially punters that could start can be taken simply because the position is not valued very highly.
Sharp is also a very versatile player who was the punter, field-goal kicker and kickoff specialist for Oklahoma State, and is blessed with a very powerful leg. This means that he would be able to contribute to the Lions kicking off instead of Jason Hanson in his first season. He also should be able to develop into a very solid punter early in his career, and certainly seems able to be better than Nick Harris in the near future.
The real intrigue with Sharp is his ability to kick from the tee and his hands. If he could develop into a quality punter and kicker, he could fill two roster spots for the Lions and let the team carry another positional player on the 53-man roster. Since teams always have to deal with difficult cuts late in training camp, this could be hugely beneficial. To all of those who say that it is too difficult to excel as a kicker and punter in the NFL, rugby players have been doing both at a level that equals NFL players for the past 20 years.