The Biggest Questions for the Detroit Lions Heading into the 2013 NFL Draft
Generally speaking, the NFL draft creates a lot of questions.
Will new draft picks become superstars or busts? Will they be starters from day one? What position(s) will they play? Will older players be cut to create room?
There will be plenty of time for that between April and September, though. Right now, there are some pretty serious questions shaping the approach the Lions take into the draft. Some of those questions will be answered because of the Lions' draft picks, and some will have to be answered beforehand.
All of them will have an effect on the Lions' actions in late April in distinctly different ways.
I'm not out to answer these questions for the Lions, merely to pose them and analyze them. The Lions will have to do the answering at some point in the next month.
Where Does Riley Reiff Start?
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The man touted last year as the Lions' "left tackle of the future" is currently being tied far more closely with the right tackle and right guard positions.
There's no doubt Riley Reiff will be a starter in 2013, and there's very little doubt that he'll be a good one. But where, oh where do they want him?
He has versatility, and one career start at left tackle (the only game Jeff Backus ever missed), but his build and reputation as a bulldozing run-blocker seem to speak to him as a better fit at right tackle.
Then again, his stout build and short arms might make him a better fit at guard, though his impact would be diminished there.
Ultimately, this is likely a question that would get answered by the draft itself. If the Lions can get Eric Fisher with the fifth overall pick, then Reiff is almost a lock at right tackle. If not, the Lions may give him a go at left tackle.
Chances are, Reiff doesn't shift inside to guard unless it turns out Jason Fox was the best-kept secret on the roster.
Is the Lions' Second Starting CB Already on the Roster?
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According to Tim Twentyman of the Detroit Lions' website, Chris Greenwood is in line to compete for a starting job at cornerback next season.
You remember Greenwood, right? Fifth-round pick in 2012, Albion College, runs and jumps out of the gym with shocking agility, despite a 6'1" frame?
Greenwood spent the entire 2012 season on the PUP list, spending only a couple of weeks to practice before the Lions shut him down to recover fully from the abdominal tear he had surgically repaired.
The knock on Greenwood—perhaps the only one, in fact—is that he has never faced top-caliber competition. He has the physical tools to do so, of course, but he just hasn't yet. If he shows well in preseason, he could be a very pleasant surprise.
Of course, he's just one guy. The Lions also have Bill Bentley, Jonte Green and Ron Bartell, all of whom sport NFL starting experience. That is a lot of potential, but very little certainty.
The question, then, is with any number of analysts (h/t Tim Twentyman of Detroit Lion's official website) trying to tie Alabama CB Dee Milliner to the Lions in the first round, does that even make any sense? Or is the Lions' CB of the future on the roster and just waiting to break out?
Who Starts in Place of Justin Durant?
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The door has officially swung shut on Justin Durant returning to the Lions, as the veteran linebacker just signed a bargain-priced two-year deal in Dallas.
That means, at present, either Ashlee Palmer, Tahir Whitehead or Travis Lewis are looking at stepping into the starting linebacker position alongside DeAndre Levy.
But are the Lions really comfortable with that? Martin Mayhew has expressed interest and enthusiasm in his young linebackers, but assuming that an untested group of linebackers will produce a starter on Durant's approximate level is risky.
The Lions don't need to figure out which of their players will start in Durant's old role, but they need to make very sure that they are comfortable with one of them.
There are some outside linebackers in this year's draft that sport star potential (most notably Kansas State product Arthur Brown), so they need to be very comfortable with the group of Palmer, Whitehead and Lewis before deciding to pass on those high draft prospects.
What Does the Backup QB Situation Look Like in 2014?
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Right now, quarterback is a stable position. It's set up exactly the way every team dreams of: Solid young starter (Matthew Stafford), consistent veteran (Shaun Hill) and potential-laden project (Kellen Moore).
It's beautiful, really.
But then 2014 rolls around. Putting aside the fact that it's likely to be a contract year for Stafford (unless they work something out between now and then), Hill will be a free agent, and the Lions will have seen enough of Moore to know if he's worth keeping around.
So what happens then? Does Moore take over as Stafford's backup? Do they re-sign Hill? Find a new veteran backup?
Or have they seen enough of Moore already and have it in their heads to look for a replacement? If that's the case, they might have it in their heads to look for a quarterback in the late rounds, with the intention of warming him up to take over for Hill in 2014.
That might be a more attractive possibility if this were a stronger quarterback class, of course. Right now, it's uncertain if even the top prospects on the board can stick with their future teams.
What Is Willie Young's Role?
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If they Lions stay as they are at the defensive end position (they won't), Willie Young will be a full-time starter across from Jason Jones.
So... is that good or bad?
Young spent his rookie year on the practice squad, had an incredibly productive 2011 season with one of the highest ratios of QB pressures per snap taken, then disappeared completely in 2012.
Which one is real? Is Young a promising player with star potential, a rotational player who will wither in the spotlight or just a below-average player who took some guys by surprise in a fluky 2011 season?
The only thing we can be certain of is that Young is likely to see a bigger workload in 2013 than he has in any of his other pro seasons. But are the Lions really comfortable plugging him in as a starter?
If the Lions draft a DE in the first three rounds, the answer is most likely: "No, and now they don't have to."