The NFL draft is just around the corner, with the combine is in the rear-view mirror and university Pro Days currently underway nationwide.
That means everybody has a big board, mock draft and seemingly perfect idea of how their team can win the Super Bowl next February, from fans to NFL front offices.
I don't claim to know when NFL teams start compiling their draft boards, though I'd imagine the process begins a few days after the team's respective campaign ends. However, if they're not all coming together now evaluating prospects, some teams need to fire their scouting departments.
The interesting thing about big boards is how different they are from one team to the next.
Matt Miller has a big board and it's a good one. It won't look the same as the Lions' big board. It may not even look the same as that of any NFL team. It's not because Miller's board is bad, but due to the fact that big boards are dependent on scheme and team needs, which is different than just gauging players based on raw ability.
So, with that in mind, here is what the top of the Detroit Lions' big board may look like, followed by their top five targets at each position (aside from quarterback, tight end and defensive tackle, the positions least likely to warrant a high draft pick) and some sleepers to keep track of in the late rounds.
▲ and ▼ denote a prospect's movement up or the down boards, respectively.
Check back regularly, as this will be updated daily as Pro Days and free agency progress. Bookmark it now!
1. Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M
It seems increasingly likely that Joeckel goes to Kansas City first overall, with the departure of Eric Winston. But, between the impending retirement of Jeff Backus and the Lions' stubborn adherence to the "best player available" strategy, it's hard to imagine the Lions passing on Joeckel if the opportunity arises.
2. Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan
It seems weird to put two offensive tackles at the top of the Lions' draft board, especially when they just took one in the first round of the 2012 draft. But, if we're talking about the two best players in this draft who are appropriate in both scheme and position for the Lions, it has to be Joeckel and Fisher.
03/15/13 UPDATE: Nothing lately has caused a shift in Joeckel and Fisher at the top of the Lions' board, but it's worth noting that Gosder Cherilus' departure in free agency and Jeff Backus' retirement just about carves these two positions in stone. They were the most talented players, and now they arguably correspond with the Lions' biggest need.
3. Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State
One of the most questionable prospects in this draft, Werner didn't show especially well at the Combine, clocking in at 4.83 in the 40-yard dash and bench pressing 25 reps. He faces a number of questions about how his lack of experience will transition to the NFL. He's also a tad bit small for a 4-3 DE, but he's more appropriate for it than other top-10 pass-rushers. The Lions will love his intensity.
4. Ezekiel "Ziggy" Ansah, DE, BYU
Ansah is perhaps the most intriguing player in the 2013 draft. Like Werner, he is an exceptional athlete from overseas who only picked up football recently. Ansah went from completely oblivious to the game of football to having star quality in it in just a couple of years. The Lions got a good look at what a fast learner, which seems to suggest that he not only has a high ceiling, but an attainable one as well.
5. Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama (▲ 2)
Warmack should be at the top of this list in some fans' minds, but it's exceptionally difficult to justify taking a player with as little impact as a guard—even a projected future All-Pro like Warmack—in the top 15, much less the top five. Regardless, this selection would instantly turn the gap left by Stephen Peterman's absense into a strong point. With Warmack and Riley Reiff holding down the right side of the line, the Lions would have a lot more success running the ball.
03/13/13 UPDATE: The Lions lost Gosder Cherilus in free agency but re-signed Chris Houston. Though the Lions have options at RG and RT, it's safe to assume the O-Line just became a bigger need than the CB position.
6. Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama (▼ 1)
It's no secret that the Lions' secondary is in need of an infusion of talent. Milliner showed up big at the combine, running a 4.37 40. This should solidify his status as a top 10 pick. The only question (and the only reason he isn't higher) is which of the Lions talented second-year cornerbacks would they give up on if they drafted Milliner: Bill Bentley, the highest-drafted? Chris Greenwood, the most physically talented? Or Jonte Green, the one with the most starting experience?
03/13/13 UPDATE: With the Lions investing three 2012 draft picks into cornerbacks, and now re-signing Chris Houston to a long-term deal, it seems increasingly unlikely that the Lions will take a CB at the top of the draft, if at all.
7. Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia (▲ 1)
This is a bit of a scheme mix-up, which is why Jones is ninth on this board, and not second or third. Jones played as an OLB in a 4-3 scheme at Georgia, but he was primarily used as a pass-rusher. Where would that leave him in Detroit? He is explosive, but a likely mismatch for the Lions unless defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham starts dreaming up creative ways to use him.
8. Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee (▲ 1)
It seems riot-inducing to think that the Detroit Lions, in the post-Millen era, would draft wide receivers in the first two rounds for three consecutive years. Regardless, it remains a fact that the Lions need a downfield threat to play opposite Calvin Johnson, as they have for half a decade. The Lions haven't had a Johnny Morton-type player since Morton himself played. Patterson could finally be the answer there.
9. Lane Johnson, OL, Oklahoma (▲ 1)
If Joeckel and Fisher are both taken in the first four picks, it's hard to believe that the Lions would take the third-best tackle with the fifth-overall pick in the draft, especially when tackle isn't a glaring, immediate need. Regardless, Johnson's stock has shot into the top 10 after showing stellar athleticism at the Combine.
10. Dion Jordan, OLB/DE, Oregon (Previously unranked)
With the Lions taking care of the starting safety position for next season, Kenny Vaccaro should not even be in the discussion as a potential first-round pick. Therefore Dion Jordan, who would have been roughly No. 11, moves up here. Jordan is certainly a talented pass-rusher, but seems a little too built as a 3-4 OLB for the Lions to get the most out of him. Then again, Cliff Avril was projected as a 3-4 OLB out of college, too. Sometimes projections are wrong.
Previously in the Top 10
Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas (formerly No. 6)
By far, the biggest need for the Lions this offseason will be safety, especially pending the results of Louis Delmas' foray into free agency. Vaccaro is the best available, but this draft crop is deep in safety talent. This may qualify as reaching for need.
03/15/13 UPDATE: The Lions signed former Texan Glover Quin and re-signed Louis Delmas, and that ostensibly sets both starting safety positions for next season. Vaccaro will be a good player, but at No. 5, he would have been a need-based reach. Now that there's no need, there's no reason to reach.
1. Giovani Bernard, North Carolina (2nd Round)
Many of Bernard's accomplishments at North Carolina came serving in the capacity of a feature back, but the Lions would be looking at him as more of Jahvid Best-type back. Luckily, Bernard showed ability as both a receiver (eight games with four-plus catches and five receiving touchdowns in 2012) and a pass blocker at North Carolina (he also returned punts) and is versatile enough to catch or carry the ball wherever necessary. Injury questions about an ACL torn in 2010 drive his grade down.
2. Andre Ellington, Clemson (2nd-3rd Round)
Unlike Bernard, Ellington doesn't project as a potential feature back at the next level. He looks a lot more like a change-of-pace back than a true starter who can carry the load. The Lions aren't looking for a "load-carrying" running back with Mikel Leshoure on the roster, so Ellington makes a lot of sense to fill the Lions' need for a speed back, considering how NFL.com compares him to Jahvid Best.
3. Montee Ball, Wisconsin (3rd Round)
Ball doesn't really fit what the Lions are looking for,except in that he has speed. He was rarely used as a receiving target at Wisconsin, but he has been a highly productive back who can break big plays, and he just ran a 4.46 40 at his pro day (h/t ESPN). The Lions would be unlikely to take him unless he was a huge value, which he would be in about the third round.
4. Johnathan Franklin, UCLA (3rd-4th Round)
Franklin was impressive at the Senior Bowl, and seems to have just enough size and speed to be effective as a three-down back. His acceleration after taking handoffs leaves something to be desired, but he's solid as a receiver.
5. Mike Gillislee, Florida (4th Round)
Gillislee had a slow start to his career at Florida, but had a breakout year once he was finally handed the full-time starter's reins. He's neither a burner nor a highly physical back, but he gets the job done. Whatever teams drafts Gillislee will be betting on his upside.
1. Cordarrelle Patterson, Tennessee (1st-2nd Round)
Patterson would only be a target for the Lions if they were miraculously able to trade down in the first round. He's a reach at fifth overall and he'll be long gone by the second round. Still, the Lions would love to get a player in the fold who draws comparisons to Percy Harvin.
2. Tavon Austin, West Virginia (2nd Round)
Austin likely wouldn't be much of a downfield threat at 5' 8", 174 pounds. He has arguably a similar skill set to that of Ryan Broyles, which may raise questions about where he fits in the Lions' passing game. The versatile, explosive Austin, though, compares favorably to Randall Cobb. The Lions would love to go back in time and select Cobb over Titus Young in the second round of the 2011 draft, but they can't do that, so drafting Austin might be the next best thing.
3. Keenan Allen, California (2nd Round)
There are no questions about Allen's build to be an effective wide receiver. The questions are all about whether or not he has the speed required of a first-round pick. He is widely considered as a first-round talent, which is exactly why the Lions would look his way with a pick at the top of the second round.
4. Justin Hunter, Tennessee (2nd-3rd Round)
It's incredible to think about how many wideouts Tennessee could have at the top of this draft if Da'Rick Rogers wasn't a total headcase. Then again, it was partially Rogers' departure that allowed Patterson and Hunter to thrive in 2012. The Lions have already confirmed their interest in Hunter by having him in for a visit (h/t detroitlions.com), and he does seem like a value pick. All the tools are there, he just hasn't put them together yet.
5. DeAndre Hopkins, Clemson (3rd Round)
Hopkins has just average size for an outside receiver, but has solid jumping ability and straight-line speed. He was a consistent performer at Clemson, and while he still has some holes in his game (like using his hands to block or beat press coverage), he could be a productive player in exactly the role the Lions would want him for.
1. Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M (1st Round)
It stands to reason that the player at the top of the Lions' big board would also be at the top of this ranking. Joeckel is one of the most complete left tackle prospects to come along in years and he proved it all year against SEC pass-rushers.
2. Eric Fisher, Central Michigan (1st Round)
As good as Joeckel was at Texas A&M, Eric Fisher has been matching or beating him at every turn in pre-draft activities. Of course, a solid combine (where each bench pressed 27 reps) alone does not always amount to a solid prospect, but a solid combine, Senior Bowl, and four-year career at Central Michigan just might. Both players are worthy of top five consideration.
3. Lane Johnson, Oklahoma (1st Round)
Lane Johnson was hands-down the most athletic big man at the NFL Combine, posting scores among the top of the class in every physical test other than the bench press, as his 28 bench press reps is one better than Fisher and Joeckel. He ran a faster 40 than Manti Te'o, and posted a better broad jump than Tyrann Mathieu.
4. D. J. Fluker, Alabama (1st-2nd Round)
Should the Lions decide they're in the market for a right tackle, Fluker makes sense as an absolutely massive hulk of a human being. His sheer size (6' 5", 339 lbs.) makes him almost impossible to push back from the defensive end position, and he shows impressive footwork for his size. The question is whether the Lions are interested in a right tackle, with lots of young talent already on the roster looking to fill that role.
5. Kyle Long, Oregon (2nd-3rd Round)
What the Lions really like out of their offensive linemen is versatility. Long has athleticism and versatility, and could reasonably play four positions on the offensive line if asked. Still, at 6' 7", he would likely be entirely too large for an interior position, but that gives him impressive length for a tackle.
*Note: Guards and centers have been combined here, due to the number of players with multi-positional ability and the Lions' affinity towards those players.
1. Chance Warmack, Alabama (1st Round)
On skill alone, Warmack might be the top prospect in this entire class. It's just too bad he plays a position just above special teamers in terms of overall value. Warmack is a once-in-a-generation talent, but he is unlikely to garner much of the Lions' attention because a huge improvement at guard is a marginal improvement for the team as a whole. When is the last time someone talked about a "game-changing" guard?
2. Jonathan Cooper, North Carolina (1st-2nd Round)
In a year without Warmack, Cooper would be the consensus top guard in this class and everyone would be talking about him as the "can't miss" guard who deserves a higher grade than his position will let him have. Unfortunately for Cooper, he's an excellent prospect competing with a near-perfect one. Where Cooper goes likely depends on how quickly Warmack gets drafted.
3. Barrett Jones, Alabama (2nd Round)
The Lions like versatility on the offensive line? Great! Here's Jones, who can play five offensive line positions. As in, all of them. The Lions are a little more stable on the edges of the line than they are on the interior, and they don't yet have a replacement for Dominic Raiola. Drafting Jones would give him a year of tutelage under Raiola, during which time he could also play at right guard and play emergency tackle if necessary.
4. Larry Warford, Kentucky (2nd Round)
Warford is gigantic and has a good build for a guard. During a combine when offensive linemen demonstrated athleticism rare for their size, Warford served as a reminder than 330-pound men are not necessarily supposed to be fast or agile. Still, Warford projects well as a starter at guard, but his wealth of size and lack of athleticism limit his explosiveness off the snap, making him a less-effective run blocker than he should be.
5. Travis Frederick, Wisconsin (2nd-3rd Round)
The difference between Jones and Frederick is minimal. As centers, they're basically numbers 1a and 1b. The key is that Jones has played basically every position and blocked for some of the best running backs in college football. That versatility, along with experience in making the running game work, puts Jones higher on this list, despite the fact that Frederick is comparable in skill, and comes from a program known for producing quality NFL linemen.
1. Bjoern Werner, Florida State (1st Round)
There are a lot of pass-rushing prospects this year that seem to be on the doorstep of "elite," but have some key flaw. Werner is one of those players. Nobody seems to be able to figure out whether he's a top-five pick, or a fringe first-rounder. He draws comparisons to Chris Long of the St. Louis Rams, but didn't show the same athleticism at the Combine. Still, he's a better fit for the Lions than the plentiful 3-4 rush OLBs available.
2. Ezekiel "Ziggy" Ansah, BYU (1st Round)
One of the few players with both the size and ability to play naturally in a 4-3 defense, Ansah could be one of the Lions' top prospects if not for concerns about his experience level. That said, he's so talented and such a quick learner, he might shake those concerns right off. The Lions' coaching staff got an up-close look at him in the Senior Bowl, so they should know exactly how excited they should be about his ceiling.
3. Dion Jordan, Oregon (1st Round)
Jordan is at the top of most draft boards for teams running a 3-4 defense, but his 6' 6" frame suggest that he could put on enough size to become a very good pass rusher in a 4-3. That said, it's a risky thing to draft a guy in the top 10 hoping that changing his body type will make him appropriate for the scheme.
4. Cornellius "Tank" Carradine, Florida State (2nd Round)
Carradine was among the most productive pass rushers in football in his senior year, but he was only a one-year starter, and a torn ACL ended his season prematurely and plummeted his draft stock. He's potentially a first-round talent, but the questions around him will drop him to at least the second. The team that drafts him will be gambling that his best football is ahead of him.
5. Datone Jones, UCLA (2nd Round)
Jones is another player who seems to fit either a 4-3 or a 3-4 scheme. But Jones would fit as a 3-4 end, not a rush linebacker. The Lions might have a bit of the "Andre Fluellen" problem with Jones, trying to figure out whether he fits better at end or tackle, but it could work to their advantage, since Jones is far more talented than Fluellen. If the Lions want to move Ndamukong Suh around the formation, putting him next to Jones could create all kinds of matchup problems.
Note: This will primarily focus on outside linebackers, as Steven Tulloch eliminates the need for a mike linebacker.
1. Jarvis Jones, Georgia (1st Round)
Think of Jones as this year's Jahvid Best. He may be the most explosive, pure athlete in this class, but he carries an injury red flag so big, he's practically draped in it. Still, he has been cleared medically, which should at least quell some of those concerns (h/t NFL.com). He seems like a bit of a mismatch in Detroit's scheme, but his ability to get after the quarterback from the 4-3 OLB position makes him an intriguing possibility for a team that values defensive pressure above all else.
2. Alec Ogletree, Georgia (2nd Round)
Ogletree possesses all the things the Lions need in a linebacker: outstanding athleticism, a motor that runs hot at all times, good coverage skill and just a couple coachable flaws. Ogletree has the athleticism to stick with anybody in coverage, and can run down plays anywhere on the field. He can be overaggressive and overpursue plays at times, but he has so much speed, he covers up and compensates for many of his mistakes.
3. Arthur Brown, Kansas State (2nd Round)
Brown lacks ideal size for a linebacker, and is facing a lingering shoulder injury that has kept him out of the Senior Bowl and most Combine workouts. Still, he draws high grades because he plays a lot bigger than he looks. Like Ogletree, Brown is effective playing in pass coverage and is a sure tackler who wraps up with solid technique. The Lions' defense could use a few more sure-handed tacklers.
4. Khaseem Greene, Rutgers (2nd Round)
Like Brown, Greene is an athletic prospect who makes scouts sigh and lament, "if he were just an inch or two taller, then he'd be a first-rounder." Both Brown and Greene measured at 6' 0", 241 pounds at the combine, which makes both just a little too small to be considered top-tier prospects at the linebacker position. Incidentally, it also gives them very similar builds to Ray Lewis. Food for thought.
5. Sean Porter, Texas A&M (3rd Round)
Unlike Brown and Greene, Porter makes most of his plays with his high football IQ, not his raw athleticism. Porter is the type of player who can't cover for mistakes with pure speed or quickness, so he instead simply doesn't make many mistakes. He can play in coverage, and he's a relatively sure tackler, but he may have trouble matching up against elite NFL tight ends.
1. Dee Milliner, Alabama (1st Round)
Following a sterling combine performance, Milliner solidified his status as, if nothing else, potentially worthy of the Lions' attention at fifth overall. That said, adding more young talent at cornerback isn't going to help the young talent they already have develop into their roles. It's generally a bad idea idea to give up on draft picks before you've had a chance to work them out. Still, Milliner is the only cornerback even worth discussing in the first round.
2. Xavier Rhodes, Florida State (1st-2nd Round)
Rhodes may be the most appropriate cornerback in the draft for what the Lions need. Rhodes is a press man coverage specialist, with the speed to stick with receivers after a strong jam at the line. He has the size that the Lions love in their cornerbacks, and has the ability to effectively cover big, strong receivers. The Lions need that, since they see Brandon Marshall twice a year. Rhodes' big problem is that he is a completely different player (in a bad way) when asked to play zone coverage, he's an inconsistent tackler, and he doesn't project as an effective nickel cornerback.
3. Desmond Trufant, Washington (2nd-3rd Round)
Trufant will become the third of his brothers to play professional football, joining Marcus of the Seahawks and Isaiah of the Jets. Trufant seems to have all the physical skills he needs to be an effective starting cornerback, but displays poor technique and makes a lot of mistakes. If he fixes his mental errors, he's has the ability to be an elite cover corner. His sub-4.4 40 at the combine boosts his stock considerably.
4. David Amerson, NC State (2nd-3rd Round)
Amerson is an interesting prospect who looked like a first-round lock in 2011, but spent most of 2012 getting picked on. He has physical skills, and his aggressive nature in coverage resulted in a lot of turnovers at one point. The problem is that he's aggressive all the time, which makes him easy to predict. In 2012, he spent a lot of time getting beat deep on double moves. If he works that wrinkle out of his game, his big-play ability and physicality make him a good investment at either corner or safety.
5. Johnthan Banks, Mississippi State (3rd Round)
You may remember Banks as the guy who infamously claimed he could "cover Megatron" at the NFL Combine (first reported by AL.com), after running 4.61 in the 40. He's wrong, but it's hard to fault a cornerback for having that kind of confidence out of college. Banks is another guy with good size, but it's only height. Banks doesn't have good strength or speed, and he's not fast or agile enough to play up on the line. He mostly plays off-man to keep from getting beat deep, which might precipitate a move to safety, where he has some experience.
1. Kenny Vaccaro, Texas (1st Round)
The Lions must make solidify the safety position a priority. They don't normally reach for picks and they may not with Vaccaro, but he stands solidly atop the safety class this year, despite an average performance at the combine. If the Lions want to fix their biggest team need with the best player at the position, they'll probably have to reach to do it.
2. Eric Reid, LSU (2nd Round)
Rangy, athletic, and aggressive, Reid only runs into trouble when he displays too much of his attributes. He can be a bit too aggressive in coverage and relies on his athleticism too much when judging pursuit angles. Of course, he would still be a better cover safety than anyone currently on the Lions' roster, even if they retain Louis Delmas. Reid isn't great in run support, but the Lions have enough run-stuffing safeties. They need players that can knock down the deep pass.
3. Matt Elam, Florida (2nd Round)
Matt Elam might end up being the next iteration of Louis Delmas sans the nagging knee injuries. A flashy, vocal player who loves to line up the big hit, Elam has a reputation for firing himself (and his teammates) up after a big play, and he has a career full of them already. However, his motor is questionable and it remains to be seen whether he (like Delmas) will simply bounce off some of the players he tries to lower the boom on at the NFL level.
4. Phillip Thomas, Fresno State (3rd Round)
A potentially career-ending broken leg in 2011 didn't seem to keep Thomas from making plays in 2012, as he posted a great comeback year at Fresno State. He's not the most physically imposing player, especially playing the run, but he shows solid tackling ability and above-average coverage skills against tight ends.
5. Jonathan Cyprien, Florida International (3rd Round)
Cyprien is a pure intimidator. He made his name at Florida International as a big hitter and figures to do the same at the NFL level. As a result, he isn't as much of a deep safety as he a rangy fourth linebacker. He lacks the speed and quickness to be a great coverage guy, though he is adequate when helping over the top. Cyprien will make his money in the run game, and punishing smaller receivers over the middle.
1. Devin Taylor, DE, South Carolina
The Lions have already brought Taylor in for a visit according to MLive, so there's no reason to speculate on their interest in him. Taylor may not qualify as a "sleeper," as he generally carries a grade in the third or fourth round. But the former teammate of Jadeveon Clowney wouldn't make sense for the Lions until the beginning of the fifth round or perhaps the end of the fourth, with a compensatory pick. He's a project who has potential and freakish length, but lacks elite size or speed.
2. Hugh Thornton, OG, Illinois
One of the players who helped Mikel Leshoure to single-season team records in five different rushing categories in 2010, Thornton has already proven that he can be an effective run blocker. He played multiple positions at Illinois, but probably lacks the lateral agility to play tackle in the NFL. He's a little tall for the guard position, and might fit better in a zone-blocking scheme, but he has the bulk and power to do for Leshoure in Detroit what he did at Illinois with some work.
3. Denard Robinson, ATH, Michigan
I would be remiss not to mention Robinson here, though I'm still not sure where he fits in an NFL offense. He certainly boasts explosive athleticism, but he spent it all as a dual-threat quarterback at Michigan. Now he has to learn a new position at the NFL level, which will be difficult, but certainly not as difficult as trying to take the Tim Tebow route.
4. Terron Armstead, OT, Arkansas-Pine Bluff
Armstead didn't exactly make himself a household name by showing blazing speed and outstanding athleticism at the combine. But he did put himself into the discussion by outrunning (4.71 40), outjumping (34.5" and 112" vertical and broad jump, respectively) and even outlifting (31 reps) the biggest names in this year's draft. It's certainly possible that the small-school prospect is simply a workout warrior and that his eye-popping combine performance won't translate to the field. But the Lions aren't going to find many offensive tackle/track stars in this draft. That athleticism alone makes Armstead intriguing.
5. Marquess Wilson, WR, Washington State
This might be the wrong kind of player to bring into the fold. Wilson went the Titus Young route at Washington State last year, having violated team rules and then very publicly ripping head coach Mike Leach, accusing him of abuse. Spokane's Spokesman-Review later published Wilson's "clarification" of those allegations. Because of Leach's history as a coach, it's not unreasonable to give some credence to Wilson, but it's equally possible that he's just another low-effort player with attitude. Still, he has Day 2 athletic potential, which makes him much less risky in Round 7.