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10 Draft Prospects Every Detroit Lions Fan Should Know About

Chris MaddenAnalyst IIFebruary 18, 2013

10 Draft Prospects Every Detroit Lions Fan Should Know About

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    Detroit Lions' fans have always enjoyed draft day. That's because their team is usually in a position to select an elite talent. Historically the Lions have been so bad that top-five picks are nothing new, and once again they're in a position to get an impact player with the fifth pick in the 2013 NFL draft.

    While that might be true, the Lions aren't exactly bad anymore. Yes, 2012 was a letdown, but they are still a very dangerous team capable of making a big jump in the standings with only a few upgrades.

    They were a playoff team one year ago for crying out loud.

    With players like Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson and Ndamukong Suh the Lions can never be counted out. If they add the right combination of leadership and depth to complement that trio, the Lions can make the playoffs once again in 2013.

    That will be the goal of this year's draft: to add young talent that can make an impact now and push the Lions over the top.

    There are clearly a number of players that make sense for the Lions and here are 10 of them that every fan of the Lions should know about.

    I've narrowed this list down to include two players from the four biggest positions of need: cornerback, safety, defensive end and offensive line. The last two spots I split between running back and wide receiver.

    *Draft info provided by ESPN, Walterfootball.com and Drafttek.com.

10. Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas

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    As every Lions' fan knows, they are a mess at safety. Louis Delmas and Amari Spievey are young players, both drafted within the last four years, who were supposed to be the backbone of their secondary for years to come.

    Unfortunately injuries derailed that plan. Delmas' long list of maladies is legendary, as is the time he's missed because of them, and Spievey's had lingering concussion issues for the last 12 months.

    Needless to say the Lions need to add talent at the position.

    The top-rated safety in the draft is Texas' Kenny Vaccaro and ESPN characterizes him as, "an excellent blend of height, weight and top-end speed."

    Here's a quick summary of his skills (ESPN): 

    Versatile and doesn't have many limitations. Quick-twitch athlete that can stay with most slot receivers in man coverage. Has a second gear and above average recovery speed. Covers a lot of ground and has enough range/length to play a centerfielder-type role. Plays with an edge. Has the length and body control to provide a reliable last line of defense and make plays in the open field when plays under control. Flashes the ability to deliver the big hit. 

    Clearly it sounds like Vaccaro is the real deal, and he is. He'll be a very good pro. However, only five interceptions in three years makes one wonder about his ball-hawking skills. 

    Regardless, the Lions could do much worse than him, but No. 5 is too early. I haven't seen him predicted to go earlier than 10 but that could all change after next weekend's NFL combine.

    If Vaccaro impresses there, his stock will rise and he'll shoot up draft boards. 

    Given their need at the position, the Lions could also trade back into the first round and try and target him with a mid-to-late pick.

9. Matt Elam, S, Florida

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    The more probable scenario is that the Lions wait until Round 2 to target a safety. Although general manager Martin Mayhew has made his best-player-avalaible draft philosophy well known, there's evidence he considers team need as well.

    He drafted three cornerbacks last year, need I say more?

    Matt Elam is the second-rated safety in the draft according to ESPN, and he will likely be on the board early in the second round. In fact DraftTek predicts he'll be selected by San Diego at No. 45.

    If he's still there when they pick the Lions won't pass him up.

    Says WalterFootball.com:

    Elam is a natural in the deep part of the field in pass coverage. He is smart and judges the ball well. Elam shows good speed to cover a lot of ground and is able to pick up speed receivers running deep downfield. In zone coverage, he has a quick first step and doesn't get caught out of position. He is also a hard hitter who punishes receivers when given the opportunity. 

    He's the kind of player that Mayhew and Jim Schwartz love, and he's similar to Louis Delmas in his hard-hitting style of play. Elam's not afraid to sacrifice his body to make a hit.

    If the Lions target him, they'll certainly hope he's more durable though.

8. Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama

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    Dee Millner is everyone's top-rated cornerback in the draft, but unlike Vaccaro he is a legitimate top-five pick.

    In fact, ESPN ranks him as their third-overall prospect in the entire draft with a score of 96 and predicts the Philadelphia Eagles will select him with the fourth-overall pick. In their latest mock DraftTek predicts the Lions will select him with the fifth-overall pick.

    Obviously he's a real possibility for the Lions even though they just selected three cornerbacks in the draft last year. Given his talent level, he'd fit Mayhew's best-player-available plan regardless of the Lions' situation in the secondary.

    Then again, considering their ongoing troubles in the secondary, can they ever have enough quality corners?

    Especially with Chris Houston's status up in the air. The Lions' top corner is a free agent and no one knows if they will/can re-sign him. Even if he stays, Detroit will have good reason to draft Milliner.

    Bill Bentley won the starting job opposite Houston last year, but he only lasted a couple weeks before he was lost for the season following a shoulder injury. For that reason he's an unknown commodity. Jonte Green was impressive in fill-in duty, but that's because he was a sixth-round pick who carried little expectations. He's not ready to be a full-time starter.

    Chris Greenwood is the other cornerback drafted last year and he's yet to don pads. He's got a ton of potential, but he's never been a full participant in an NFL training camp much less a regular-season game.

    If selected, Milliner would be an instant upgrade and he'd challenge anyone for the starting job, even Houston.

7. Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State

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    The Detroit Lions might have tipped their hat a bit when, last December, defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham told MLive.com's Justin Rogers that his offseason wish list would include bigger, stronger defensive backs.

    If that's what they want, then they're not going to find many bigger ones than Xavier Rhodes. ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. has the 6'2" 215-pound Rhodes ranked second only to Milliner and predicts he will be a first-round pick.

    DraftTek follows suit and projects that he'll go No. 27 to the Houston Texans. However, with Jordin Poyer and Desmond Trufant's stock on the rise, Rhodes could fall to the second round and the Lions could nab him.

    He's exactly what Detroit wants in a cornerback in terms of size, strength and speed. That combination would give the Lions flexibility in the secondary. Like Greenwood, Rhodes could be used as a safety as well.

6. Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia

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    The Lions are looking for two things on offense: Speed and more speed. They had a player with elite speed that was a threat to break off huge runs every time he touched the ball. That player was Jahvid Best and he was equally dangerous as a runner and receiver.

    The Lions are now without Best, but they are also without Titus Young. They thought he would develop into the field-stretching threat they needed opposite Calvin Johnson, but that never happened.

    Now the Lions are without both their speedsters and scrambling to find Plan B.

    Tavon Austin is a player that could fill both roles, even though he's extremely undersized. The Lions have hopefully learned their lesson on how to utilize undersized players and won't run him between the tackles.

    They also won't have the 5'8" 175-pound Austin go across the middle too often.

    Instead they would use him as a receiver from anywhere on the field. He'll turn short passes into big gains and deep passes into even bigger ones. He's got NFL-elite speed, explosiveness and separation skills that make him a big play waiting to happen. He's exactly the type of player the Lions' offense needs to perform at their highest level.

    Mayhew already admitted that the Lions were not prepared to go the whole year without Best in 2012 (MLive). The offense's inconsistent play was a testament to that. They were missing a key piece and Austin could fit the bill.

    His size will scare some teams away, which is good news for Detroit who won't use a first or second-round pick on a receiver. Drafttek predicts he'll go early in the third and the Lions will be right there to snatch him up.

5. Kerwynn Williams, RB, Utah State

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    The Lions have two running backs already that, barring a disastrous injury, will be one and two on the depth chart to start the regular season in 2013. 

    The Lions are set with Mikel Leshoure and Joique Bell for now, and that's why they won't sacrifice a high pick on another running back. That doesn't mean they don't need one though, particularly one with speed.

    As I mentioned in the previous slide, the Lions' offense is missing a player with elite speed and, like Tavon Austin, Kerwynn Williams could fill that role. He's versatile enough to line up in the slot or out of the backfield.

    Either way he's a speedy runner and dangerous receiver who has the breakaway speed to go the distance.

    He's also a player the Lions could get in the fifth or sixth round. 

4. Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan

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    Despite the popular opinion of many Lions fans, offensive line hasn't always been an area of need for Detroit. They've had one of the more solid, if not spectacular, lines in the NFL for several years.

    Consistently good enough is a good way to describe them.

    They're getting old though and their performance is starting to slip. Stephen Peterman is already gone and Dominic Raiola and Jeff Backus are likely entering their final year in Detroit.

    In other words it's time for the Lions to restock. They started last year by selecting Riley Reiff in the first round and he looks to be a very solid building block. They can't stop there, though.

    Offensive tackle Luke Joeckel is universally considered the top prospect, but he'll be off the board when the Lions select in the first round. Eric Fisher will not.

    He'll still be available, and after a very impressive week at the Senior Bowl, Fisher's stock soared. He's now considered a close second to Joeckel. His skills at pass protection and run-blocking are equally as good, but it's his other characteristics that should stand out to Detroit: 

    From ESPN:

    Accountable and possesses very good work habits.  Handles his responsibilities on and off the field.  Possesses an outgoing personality and a good sense of humor. Not a natural leader but well-liked and respected by coaches and teammates.  Smart, comprehends and applies coaching well.

    Fisher would also give the Lions another versatile player to build their new-look offensive line around as he, like Reiff, is capable of playing both guard and tackle positions.  

3. Barrett Jones, C, Alabama

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    I mentioned the versatility of Eric Fisher in the previous slide, but Barrett Jones has him beat.

    Jones is best known for starting at center for the national-champion Alabama Crimson Tide last season, but in four years he played three different positions for Bama: RG, LT and C.

    That type of versatility is valuable in the NFL, particularly when a team such as the Lions are in the process of revamping their line.

    Jones isn't the top-rated prospect at any one position, but he is projected to be a very consistent performer at all three. He's also an intelligent player on and off the field as well as a natural-born leader.

    He's not predicted to be a first-round pick so if the Lions don't select an offensive lineman on Day 1, no one should be surprised if they call Jones' name on Day 2.

2. Damontre Moore, DE, Texas A&M

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    The defensive end position is arguably the Lions' biggest position of need. In 2012 they were ranked near the bottom of the league in sacking the quarterback, according to ESPN. To make matters worse they're on the verge of losing their best pass-rushing threat: Cliff Avril.

    Especially if he's looking for Mario Williams-type money as he alluded to in this article from nfl.com.

    Avril's good, but not that good, and the Lions won't pay that sum to keep him. He'll be gone if they can't re-sign him to a realistic number. Combine that with the loss of Kyle Vanden Bosch and the Lions could be without both starting DEs next season.

    They could also lose Lawrence Jackson, a valuable backup, to free agency.

    Needless to say defensive end is a priority and Damontre Moore is almost universally considered the top-rated prospect. Most people believe he'll be selected as a top-five pick.

    Walterfootball.com reported that longtime NFL writer Russ Lande recently Tweeted that, "he hasn't talked to an NFL scout who has graded Moore as a first-round prospect." However the website goes on to say that every NFL scout they've spoken with has Moore rated as a mid-to-high first-rounder.

    There's always going to be doubters. What is clear is that Moore put together an impressive enough junior year to warrant top billing. He's got the physical attributes and the combination speed and power to be a highly successful pass-rusher at the next level.

    Barring a terrible showing at the combine this weekend, Moore's name will be linked with the Detroit Lions from now until his name is finally called on April 25.

1. Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State

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    For the Lions, it really might be a toss-up between Moore and Bjoern Werner. They're both predicted to go high first round and they're both talented pass-rushers.

    Moore might be the more impressive physical talent while Werner is a consistently solid performer. He's the kind of player that has obvious talent, but because of his effort and work ethic he is able to be truly dominant.

    The German-born Werner is described by ESPN (subscription required) as quiet and even-keeled with a lunch-pail mentality, and they say he's a hard worker both on the field and in the weight room.

    Isn't this the kind of player the Lions need? Particularly in the wake of the Titus-Young fiasco.

    Instead of talking about how great he is, Werner will keep his mouth shut and do what's asked of him. If he's asked to start, he's got the talent to do so. If not, the Lions will have a very good player waiting in the wings to eventually take over.

    Either way he won't be someone to cause friction or tear the locker room apart. 

    Werner would be a smart pick and a great fit for the Lions. He has many similarities to another player that was quiet but hard working and who found great success in Detroit: Chris Spielman.

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