The Lions have a lot of team needs—defensive ends, linebackers and yes even receivers—but one of the biggest issues they face is a lack of talent at cornerback.
At this time, we don't know if they will be able to entice free agent Chris Houston back to Detroit, and beyond him are a lot of question marks anyway. I still like Dwight Bentley even coming off an injury, but nobody else really excites me there and even liking Bentley, I have to concede he's not enough.
So while the first pick can go many ways (I actually assume defensive end or linebacker) they cannot wait for the third round this year—and I wouldn't be opposed to a surprise cornerback pick at No. 5.
As long as some of you are screaming with outrage, let's start there.
1st Round Potential
There are a lot of ways to go with the 5th overall pick, and we'll get into the other options—linebackers, defensive ends, offensive tackles—in the coming weeks. For the purposes of today's exercise, we'll look at cornerbacks and assume this is the need the decide to address.
Dee Milliner, Alabama—Without a doubt, Milliner is the best of the bunch and here's the thing—as much as I like a bunch of corners in this class, there is a steep drop off from him to the next guys.
Milliner is a player does a great job of getting his head turned around and spotting the ball, then batting the ball away before it gets to the receiver. He's disciplined—while not afraid to come off his man and make a play for the ball, he's also not going to bite hard early or ditch his man cavalierly.
This is also a guy who is a good tackler and a solid contributor against the run. When Milliner hits you, you feel it, and he can separate a player from the ball as well. The Lions could use some more turnovers both in terms of interceptions and fumbles.
You can never have too many turnovers.
Milliner lacks elite speed and can get over-aggressive looking for a big hit, especially against the run. He'll also have to work on his coverage skills a bit to compete at the Pro level, but it's a matter of adjustments, not complete tactical restructuring.
This guy has the look of a defensive cornerstone—the type of guy the Lions missed out on when they decided not to try and move up for Patrick Peterson.
I've said it before, but it bears repeating: in this division—in this conference—you will be thrown on a lot. You need great corners to combat this. Milliner looks to be that type of corner.
This guy could be the next Peterson, Casey Hayward or, looking further back, Charles Tillman.
2nd Round Prospects
If the Lions chose to go another direction—and as much as I like Milliner, there are a ton of good linebackers and defensive lineman who could catch their eye—they should definitely draft a cornerback by the end of the second round.
If that means trading back in, or shuffling around other picks to make it happen, so be it. As much as they are in a position to need a wide receiver or running back, both of those classes have a ton of value throughout the draft. If they are looking at a corner in the second, they've grabbed either a linebacker, defensive end or even a left or right tackle in the first.
The Lions should not leave the second round without improving the secondary unless there—for some reason—is just no talent at the position.
However, I find it hard to believe one of these guys won't be there, even if there is a run on cornerbacks (which, frankly, will make this pick even more vital).
Johnthan Banks, Mississippi State—Banks has great hands and does a fantastic job locating and adjusting to a ball in the air. He is not shy about going for an interception and had a Mississippi State record 16 career interceptions.
Banks likes going for the big play, and is very solid in coverage. His confidence and hunger for the game-changing pick can get him into trouble at times, but for the most part, it's a trait you want in a corner.
You're also getting a guy who is fierce in run defense, tough against the run and not afraid to take a hit or, more importantly, lay one himself.
Banks can get caught looking into the backfield at times and will overrun a ball-carrier due to over-pursuit or taking a bad angle, and he does struggle in tackling technique, often too upright when he hits.
At 185-pounds, he's also a tad light in the frame, but that shouldn't really be a big issue.
This is a guy who could come in and have an immediate impact early in his career.
Logan Ryan, Rutgers—Ryan is a very good cover corner, who is great at using his body to get position on a receiver and make a play on the ball. Ryan likes to give an initial hit at the line to try and knock receivers off their route, but doesn't lose a step when he turns to cover.
Ryan does a great job attacking the ball at it's highest point and come down with it or, at the very least, knock it away. He's able to bait the quarterback into throws he can pick off or deflect and plays very aggressively—sometimes too much so, which can lead to getting beat on double moves and vertically.
Since he plays so physically, he has to watch his hands and how he uses them or he'll pull a lot of penalties, and despite his attempts to hit at the line, he can be out-muscled by some bigger receivers.
Ryan can play zone or man coverage and is a willing special teams player though, and he'd contribute in several different packages as well as against punts and kicks for the Lions.
Desmond Trufant, Washington—Trufant could be another guy who sneaks into the first round if he has a good Pro Day and Combine.
Trufant isn't afraid of contact or playing against the run and can play bigger than he measures (6', 186 lbs). Still, he's at a disadvantage against the bigger receivers the NFL has and will have to be careful not to get burned by them.
I'm very interested to see what his vertical is at the Combine, as on tape he does a great job of high-pointing the ball and will muscle it away from bigger receivers.
Trufant is going to have to clean up his technique overall, or at least be more consistent with it. He has great athleticism, but you can't get by on that at the next level.
Xavier Rhodes, Florida State—I like Rhodes and he is absolutely a solid 2nd round value right now. Some have him rated even higher, but more than likely he should be around by the fifth pick of round two.
Rhodes is a very thickly built defender who can be very physical in coverage—sometimes to his detriment—but shows great overall instincts on straight routes as well.
He needs to learn to use his size a little better in blocking out the receiver rather than getting grabby and manhandling the guy as much. A few penalty flags and he will get the hint, if they don't beat it out of him in training camp.
Rhodes has a good nose for the ball and can pick it off, but at times he looks to me like he gets baited on play fakes, which will lead to getting burned too frequently at the Pro level.
If he can get less "handsy," soften the rough edges a bit and be a little more disciplined, Rhodes could become a very good all around cornerback who won't let you down either on passing plays or against the run.
The most difficult part of this for any team—including the Lions—is deciding what they want in a corner. Most of the time, they want playmakers, especially at the top of the draft. A lot of draft analysis is focused on this as well.
So that's what is on this list, because overall, it's what is most highly coveted.
However, National Football Post writer and former safety Matt Bowen said something on Twitter which I wish more teams—and analysts—kept in mind.
Everyone wants "playmakers" in the secondary. But if I'm a coach, I want guys that don't get beat. INTs can be over-hyped.— Matt Bowen (@MattBowen41) February 14, 2013
Think of it this way: Do you want CBs that drive to upfield shoulder, play the ball & secure the tackle or DBs that jump routes & gamble?— Matt Bowen (@MattBowen41) February 14, 2013
Quite often teams (and fans and all of us) get wrapped up in the second and forget how valuable the first is. Charles Tillman was a great cover corner this year, but he's been reliable in all facets of the game in most years, if not highlight reel fodder.
Charles Woodson hasn't been a ballhawk consistently since 2009, but he's still one of the best players in the secondary in the NFL—which is why the team has moved him around to keep him on the field.
For every turnover machine, there are dozens of prospects who get burned on too many downs and were taken high in the draft.
So this is a point worth talking about either in the comments, or in another piece altogether.
Which is more valuable, a ballhawk or a reliable guy who isn't a turnover magnet? Of course a combo is ideal, but if you had to choose, what would it be?
As you can see from the list, in my opinion the NFL seems to lean a very particular way.
Whatever they may value, I contend they should not let the second round—or at least not the second day—go by without upgrading their secondary.
Whether Houston returns or not, they are in desperate need of help.