Detroit Lions Draft: The Best Fit for the Lions at Every Position
The Detroit Lions have almost no positions on the roster that don't need either an upgrade or an improvement in depth.
Therefore, there are almost no positions that couldn't be targeted in next week's (!!!) NFL draft. Likewise, there is at least one player at each position that is a perfect fit for the team's needs right now.
Of course, picking the right player at the right position isn't just as simple as "pick the best player at each position." There are other things to consider, like the fact that the Lions won't pick a quarterback (amongst other positions) in the first round.
So then, by position, here is the most appropriate player for the Lions at each position, taking into account the current construction of the roster and at what point they might look for certain positions. As such, each slide will include not only the player, but the approximate range the Lions could draft him in.
Some of these may surprise you, and not just because of what players, but where the Lions might draft them, round-wise. If that's the case, feel free to sound off in the comments, or elsewhere.
As usual, all combine numbers and stats used courtesy of NFL.com.
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Landry Jones, Oklahoma (Fifth round—UDFA)
If there was one position in which the Lions are least likely to draft a player, it would have to be quarterback. Not only is Matthew Stafford firmly entrenched as starter, but they have one of the most stable, reliable backups in the league in Shaun Hill.
Kellen Moore is a question mark, as someone who made the team last season almost as a formality, but he now has a year of experience under his belt, which will almost certainly make him more valuable than a low-drafted QB prospect.
But then, Moore has a Chad Pennington-like ceiling. His lack of size and arm strength are apparent, so all the Lions can really do is coach him into a reasonable backup. Moore's greatest assets are that he won a bunch in college, and he's intelligent and poised in the pocket.
Landry Jones is the opposite. A strong-armed quarterback with NFL size, Jones has some reasonable upside, but he has bouts of inaccuracy (especially downfield), seems to have trouble reading complex defensive looks and loses all poise while under pressure.
If Jones could be coached out of some of those bad habits, he's likely a better overall prospect than Moore, but the Lions aren't looking for a long-term answer at anything other than backup.
It might also help Jones to work with his old teammate Ryan Broyles.
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Kerwynn Williams, Utah State (Fourth-Seventh Round)
With the signing of Reggie Bush and the existence of Mikel Leshoure and Joique Bell on the roster, it's tempting to think the running back position is all set, and there's no need for anyone else.
Of course, that's not true. The Lions will need at least a fourth running back, if only to safeguard against injuries. They don't need to invest heavily in the position, though, since they already have a second-round pick (Leshoure) and a well-paid free agent (Bush) on the roster.
So enter Kerwynn Williams, the former backup to Robert Turbin at Utah State, whose game is extremely similar to Bush's. Williams has decent speed (he ran a 4.48 40-yard dash at the combine), and is effective both as a receiver and a kick returner.
Williams won't be highly sought in the draft because he's small and lacks explosive speed. But should the Lions get him in the later rounds, he could potentially solve two problems: A speed option to back up Bush and a return specialist.
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Justin Hunter, Tennessee (Second-Third Round)
Justin Hunter is the final skill player piece for the Lions offense.
They're now at a point where they have enough talent to function, but they are still, as they have been since 2008, looking for a downfield threat to take the double and triple-teams away from Calvin Johnson.
Hunter sports good straight-line speed and a 6' 4" frame, which means he can take the top off the defense and beat safeties deep. He needs to improve his strength and route-running, and he won't break many tackles, but he's an effective downfield threat.
The problem with Hunter is that he tore his ACL in 2011, which not only makes him an injury red flag, but also means he has limited snaps and experience. But the Lions showed last year that they have no issues with taking an injury risk at receiver as early as the second round, as they took Ryan Broyles of Oklahoma.
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Travis Kelce, TE, Cincinnati (Third-Fourth Round)
The biggest reason Travis Kelce makes sense for the Lions is because whoever drafts him is likely to get him as a value pick. He suffered an injury late in the 2012 season that has made him unable to participate in the Senior Bowl or combine, and that will slide him down some draft boards by default.
Kelce was a productive player at Cincinnati, especially in his senior season when he caught 45 passes for 722 yards and eight touchdowns.
But the Lions will also want a tight end who actually values blocking. Ertz is an effective blocker, especially in the run game, and that will make him valuable to the Lions, who need as much run-blocking as they can get (and may also be looking for a powerful run-blocker who can play H-back).
This is a deep draft for tight ends, which means the Lions should be able to grab a future starter in the middle rounds. Kelce could be that guy, and it would give the Lions a lot more leverage with Tony Scheffler and Brandon Pettigrew entering their free-agent years.
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Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M (First Round)
Most Lions fans have their hearts set on Eric Fisher of Central Michigan when they think about an offensive tackle in the first round, and that's not wrong.
That mindset is borne mostly of the (accurate) assumption that Luke Joeckel will be off the board by the time the Lions get to draft.
Still, the Chiefs have yet to commit to Joeckel as their top overall pick, and there are some draft analysts, most notably Mike Mayock of NFL.com, who now have Fisher listed higher than Joeckel. So while it's unlikely that Joeckel falls to the Lions, that doesn't change the fact that he's the best scheme fit.
Fisher and Joeckel are both elite-level talents, but at present, Joeckel has slightly better footwork and has more power as a run-blocker. For the Lions, who are trying to develop their line into one capable of power-run blocking, that should give Joeckel the edge, thought the team would undoubtedly be happy with either one.
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Larry Warford, Kentucky (Second Round)
While I have some misgivings about the Lions taking a guard in the second round, I feel much better about it than if they took one in the first.
All considered, Warford might be the best fit for the Lions, anyway. He fits in a power-man scheme, and unlike Chance Warmack, he doesn't suffer from mental lapses in pass protection.
As much as the Lions need to upgrade their interior run blocking, it is a much larger priority to keep interior pass-rushers off of Matthew Stafford. Warford mirrors very well on the interior, and has the lower-body strength to freeze pass rushers at the line of scrimmage.
Though he's hardly one of the most athletic players at his position, he carries his 332 pounds extremely well when asked to pull around to the outside on toss plays, and needs just a bit of technique to become, potentially, the best guard in this class.
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Travis Frederick, Wisconsin (Second-Fourth Round)
Put aside for a moment that Wisconsin consistently puts out some of the best offensive lineman in the draft, year after year.
Even without his pedigree, Travis Frederick makes a whole lot of sense for the Lions, as a replacement for Dominic Raiola is imminent. Frederick is another big-bodied lineman the Lions can use to beef up their run-blocking, and without too serious of an investment.
Like Raiola, Frederick has intelligence and solid technique at the center position. Unlike Raiola, Frederick is 6' 4" and 312 pounds. That is a good thing and a bad thing. While it means he has better presence at the line and can drive block more effectively, he's also less capable of pulling to the outside, as his size belies a relative lack of athleticism.
Still, the Lions can no longer ignore their need for the next generation of linemen; Jeff Backus has retired, and Raiola is most likely next.
It's worth noting that Frederick has already met with the Lions, according to the team's official website, so it doesn't seem like a stretch to say that he's on the Lions' radar.
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Ezekiel "Ziggy" Ansah, BYU (First Round)
Seems like just about every year, some pass-rusher with all the attributes he needs to be successful gets marked down for being "too raw."
In 2011, it was Aldon Smith, who turned out just fine, if I recall. This year, it's Ziggy Ansah, who, despite being reportedly ill-prepared for the NFL, still seems to be the top-ranked 4-3 defensive end in the draft.
What people tend to forget is that college prospects are almost all raw. What's important in Ansah's case is that he is raw because of a lack of time with the game, not the inability to learn it. In fact, the Lions coaching staff was impressed with his instincts and progress during the Senior Bowl.
What is important is not what kind of player Ansah is now, but what kind of player he will be in three to five years. Given the bounds with which he has improved in just three years of playing competitive football, in addition to his off-the-charts athletic ability, it seems reasonable to assume Ansah could be scary good in the Lions scheme, and in a relatively short period of time.
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Star Lotulelei, Utah (First Round)
That's right, first round. Why? Not because the Lions need a defensive tackle in the first round, of course. They have plenty of those.
Rather, it's because the Lions have shown a stubborn commitment to the "best player available" philosophy, and depending on how the first four picks play out, Star Lotulelei might just be the best player available.
There's no question that Lotulelei fits the Lions' scheme. He's a freakishly athletic big man with incredible explosion off the snap, with equal ability as either a solid run defender or a pass-rusher.
The problem, of course, is where to put him. There are trade opportunities for the Lions in this scenario, but there are also expanded opportunities to play around and get creative in the defensive scheme.
The Lions have always wanted to play around with giving Ndamukong Suh some snaps at defensive end. Maybe this configuration makes that more feasible.
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Arthur Brown, Kansas State (Second Round)
Because the Lions don't much differentiate between middle linebackers and outside linebackers (they expect their guys to be able to play all positions), there is little reason to split this into inside/outside guys.
That said, if I were going to pick a middle linebacker and an outside linebacker, both would be Arthur Brown, so it works out.
With the rise of the 3-4 rush linebacker, the 4-3 linebacker is a bit out of style. At the college level, even those who play linebacker in a 4-3 scheme tend to be primarily pass-rushers, anyway (see Jarvis Jones of Georgia).
That means that drafting effective 4-3 linebackers is becoming increasingly difficult, and finding ones with Brown's talent is even more so. Brown is an explosive athlete with the ability to make plays in the run game and in pass coverage.
I'm not altogether sure if the Lions are excited about the prospect of spending a second-round pick on a linebacker, with GM Martin Mayhew's admission that "we kind of want to see" the young linebackers they drafted late in 2012.
But there is no question that the Lions need a starting linebacker with the departure of Justin Durant, and Brown could well be the best player available if he falls all the way to the second round.
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David Amerson, NC State (Third-Fourth Round)
David Amerson has all the tools, and the production to go along with it. He has speed, size, and the kind of physicality that has scouts pegging him for a potential move to safety. All the things the Lions like in a cornerback.
So why would he fall to the third or fourth round? Because his best season as a starter came right before his worst. Amerson was picked on all last season, just after setting the school record for interceptions at NC State.
Amerson has a tendency to gamble. He's aggressive on every play, which is good, but it also makes him predictable and vulnerable. In 2012, teams picked on him, knowing he'd bite on double-moves and fakes.
That part of his game needs to be fixed, and NFL-caliber coaching can do it. If he mixes up his game a bit so he's not so easy to fool, he could be a top-caliber cornerback in just a couple of seasons.
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D.J. Swearinger, South Carolina (Third-Fifth Round)
Like David Amerson, D.J. Swearinger's greatest attribute and weakness is that he's all aggressiveness, all the time.
Also like Amerson, he needs to have that coached out of him, but aside from that, he is a punisher at safety who performed well in positional drills at the combine.
It is tempting to say that the Lions are all set at safety, and so they don't need to draft one this high. But that is (once again) assuming the health of Louis Delmas, which has been folly in the last few years.
Swearinger's game is similar to that of Delmas, with a love of smacking people in the mouth (maybe a little too much, as some 15-yard penalties may be in his future) and defending the run. In this case, Swearinger serves two purposes: His hard-hitting style would make him an effective special-teamer, and his style would make him a solid replacement in the event of another Delmas injury.
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