However, it is still far from a sure thing that Eric Foster or Luke Joeckel will fall to the Lions for the fifth overall pick. If the Lions miss out on one of those elite offensive tackle prospects, then there is no real consensus on who the Lions should target.
A lot of Bleacher Report Lions commenters have fallen in love with Ezekiel Ansah as a high-upside defensive end who could turn into the next Jason Pierre-Paul. A lot of other columnists, like Mel Kiper Jr., have taken to mocking Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner to the Lions in the first round. There have even been a few calls to take Lane Johnson at five if the Lions can't trade back (which may be coming from me right now). Recently Dean Holden has laid out an argument for Chance Warmack, the Alabama guard, as well.
However, one player who I think is the next best choice if Fisher and Joeckel are taken and no one wants to move up to the fifth spot in the draft is Florida State's stud defensive end Bjoern Werner.
Werner was the consensus best defensive end in the draft prior to the measurable season, which indicates that when only studying his game tape he looked like the best player available at his position. I have always believed that more often than not players who fly up draft boards only once they start running around with pads off end up being disappointments, and more so, those that fall from the top of the draft to the middle or end of the first round often wind up as steals, since they have "game" that does not translate to the 40-yard dash or vertical leap.
I believe that Werner falls into the later category.
He was great all season against good offensive tackles, and was one of the few defensive ends in college football who showed a complete run and pass game. He also can beat tackles with speed and power, and given his limited playing experience he has more room to develop than most defensive ends. He is not the greatest athlete, although he showed plenty of explosion and power at his Pro Day, and he fights off blocks with his hands as well as anyone in this draft. Admittedly, his ceiling is not as stratospheric as Ansah's, but he was able to dominate the ACC last season, while Ansah failed to make consistent impacts on games playing for BYU.
This is the real fear about Ansah's game.
For all his athleticism and great character, he is a young man with limited football experience who will struggle with the size, quickness and power of NFL linemen early in his career. Also, he is a boom-or-bust pick. While the NFL has been somewhat desensitized to the risks of drafting athletes at defensive end recently due to the successes of Pierre-Paul, Aldon Smith, Chandler Jones and Bruce Irvin, a just as common career path for athletic marvels with little college production is a disappointing bust like Aaron Maybin, Vernon Gholston or Courtney Brown.
While I am not saying that Ansah will fail in the NFL, I believe that Lions fans are too confident in his ability to dominate.
The most common argument I hear for Ansah at five to the Lions is the improvement he made at the Senior Bowl under the Lions coaching staff. That logic contends that if he could turn from a clueless athlete to a playmaker in the space of four days under Jim Schwartz and Co., then imagine what he could do with a full training camp under his belt.
However, this theory glosses over one key point, which is that almost all the offensive tackles that Ansah faced in Mobile are going to be, at best, guards in the NFL because they lack the length and/or feet to play against defensive ends.
Ansah, despite his inexperience in the game, is also an older rookie. According to Tony Pauline, his passport states that he will be 24 a couple of days after he is drafted. While this is not too old, he is already a player who is likely to need a minimum of one full season, if not two, before he is ready to be a starter. The Lions would then be looking at a 26 or 27-year-old player.
When compared to someone like Werner, who turns 23 in late August and is already much, much further along the developmental tree than Ansah, Werner is likely to give a team quality play earlier and for longer. While this may seem trivial to many people, when two prospects have a similar grade, these sorts of issues can create separation.
In conclusion, while the Lions have a bevy of options early in the draft, I believe that Bjoern Werner would be the best choice for Martin Mayhew if Detroit cannot take an offensive tackle at five. He is a very solid prospect with a proven track record, a pro-style game and on-the-field athleticism that exists in spades despite never showing up at the Scouting Combine.
Technically he is superb for a player who did not grow up playing football, and he has the grounded nature that would be a welcome arrival in a locker room that has lived through its fair share of controversy in the past year.
He would be a great addition to the team.
I will leave you with this comment. Just after the college season ended, many mock drafters would not send Werner to the Lions because he was almost certain to be snapped up before their selection was up. Has he really gotten that much worse as a prospect after nailing his Pro Day than he is now not even in with a shot of being considered for by Detroit?