If it's January in Detroit, it must be NFL draft season. Even though the Lions still do not have a head coach, general manager Martin Mayhew and his personnel team are thoroughly gleaning boatloads of collegians to see who will represent the next draft class for the team.
Detroit will pick 10th in the first round. Due to tiebreaker situations, the Lions will pick 13th in the second round and 12th in the third round.
The Lions do not have a fifth-round pick this year. It was dealt to Jacksonville in 2012 for wide receiver Mike Thomas. That must have seemed like a prudent idea at the time...
As of now, the primary draft needs appear to be:
- wide receiver
- defensive tackle
- outside linebacker
Keep in mind that free agency comes before the draft, so those needs can certainly change. Also, teams often veer away from what are widely seen as pressing needs in favor of best available talent.
Here is one way the 2014 NFL draft could go down for the Detroit Lions.
Southern California wide receiver Marqise Lee should be a strong consideration for the Lions with the 10th overall pick.
The top priority has to be upgrading the receiving talent around Calvin Johnson. In the two games when Johnson was out, the remaining receivers proved beyond any doubt they are not capable of carrying the day.
Adding a premium talent opposite Johnson has proven tricky. With so many recent draft failures at the wideout position, it's easy to understand the apprehension. The names are just too painful to list.
Unfortunately, all those misses have left a void that must be filled. Be they injuries, arrests or just plain lack of talent, the reasons for the failures of others must not be projected onto the future.
That future is Marqise Lee.
He lost some luster this fall, playing on a troubled team and fighting through a nagging knee injury. It's easy to forget the immense promise he brought into 2013. Here's a refresher, courtesy of Mike O'Connor at New York Jets Draft:
Lee is bursting with talent and potential, but he certainly has aspects of his game to work on and could use overall refinement in what will likely be his last year at USC. His game thrives on his athleticism and explosiveness with the ball, and his already near-perfect route running ability. All of these praises are well deserved. Lee is a rocket waiting for launch with his unbelievable acceleration, and can break a play open at any moment with his knack for making the catch and immediately focusing on finding seams in defenses.
Lee demonstrated those qualities in USC's Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl game against Fresno State, as chronicled by Bleacher Report's Brian Mazique.
Teams passed on Keenan Allen in the 2013 draft because of concern over a similar season at Cal. All he did was immediately become the top rookie wideout, helping to revitalize Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers in the process.
Clemson's Sammy Watkins would make a perfectly acceptable alternative, though he might not last to the 10th pick. Keep an eye on Florida State's Kelvin Benjamin too.
One of the ways the Lions could look to add more receiving punch would be to improve the speed and athleticism at tight end.
Jace Amaro from Texas Tech would bring those qualities in spades to Detroit.
Amaro would take over the Tony Scheffler role from his Lions heyday, one that Dorin Dickerson could not. He's a super-sized wide receiver who plays almost exclusively flexed out from the formation.
Here's what Darren Page of Detroit Lions Draft had to say about Amaro:
Not only is Amaro massive, but he’s incredibly smooth as a route runner. He works to the inside and back out with great balance and acceleration on this route.
Amaro is not a great blocker, but that's not what the Lions need. This team needs a seam-stretching receiver to help exploit matchups and bull for yardage after the catch.
He could pair with the rapidly improving Joseph Fauria to form an excellent tight-end duo in Detroit, similar to how the Bengals have Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert.
Also considered here: Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald, Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert and Oregon State wide receiver Brandin Cooks, should the Lions not land a wideout in the first round.
Recently I wrote about why Richburg would be a good fit in Detroit.
Since that time, I've seen another Colorado State game. In the Rams' 52-22 victory over Wyoming, Richburg once again validated his merit as the successor to Dominic Raiola at center in Detroit.
His ability to quickly seize leverage and dictate the action of the defender is something to behold. While he doesn't have overwhelming power, his excellent technique and understanding of how to use his hands and legs in concert make him a force inside.
Adding Richburg would give the Lions four quality young starters on the offensive line. That would give Matthew Stafford time and confidence to get the ball to all his weapons.
Safety is not a pressing need for Detroit. Both Glover Quin and Louis Delmas are entrenched as starters, and both are signed to contracts that dictate they will remain so for at least a couple more seasons.
Yet the depth behind the two starters is marginal. Don Carey played well in spot duty, but he's a free agent and could get a starting opportunity elsewhere. John Wendling is a special-teams specialist, nothing more.
With Delmas' chronically gimpy knee always lingering, adding a competent third safety makes a lot of sense.
Just to add intrigue, Tim Twentyman of the Lions' official website hinted that Delmas might not return:
Terrence Brooks would provide a steadying presence in the secondary. He has enough coverage skills to allow the Lions to play three safeties if they want to present a heavy nickel look, an emerging trend in the NFL. He's talented enough to start, however.
During the season I broke down Brooks for Detroit Lions Draft.
Brooks is the Ryan Clark to Joyner’s Polamalu, to compare them to Steelers. While he’s a little smaller than ideal at a listed 5’11” and 200 pounds, Brooks is a good leaper and has the closing speed desired. He plays well off the playmaker, an underrated attribute that is important for a team with Louis Delmas.
Brooks comes from a top-caliber program and has loads of big-game experience. Detroit could do a lot worse than adding a player of his caliber in this spot. They just might need to.
Here's what happens when a team panics because of injury in the middle of a season. It trades away a future pick for an immediate bandage.
Facing a rash of wide-receiver injuries in the middle of the 2012 season, the Lions sent this pick to the Jacksonville Jaguars for Mike Thomas.
As noted by NFL.com at the time of the trade, Thomas did offer some long-term promise:
the Thomas trade is a depth move. Detroit runs a flurry of three- and four-wideout sets; Thomas has a chance to contribute.
So how much did Thomas contribute in Detroit?
Five catches for 28 yards and a touchdown, plus another 58 yards rushing over nine games. Thomas did not survive the second wave of preseason cuts last summer, nor did he appear in a game for any team in 2013.
Pay attention to whom the Jaguars draft with this pick, for he could have been a Lion. Rip that bandage off quickly.
Without looking it up, name the last quarterback drafted by the Detroit Lions.
Go ahead, think hard...
If you answered Matthew Stafford, pat yourself on the back.
That's right. The Lions have not drafted a quarterback since the first round in 2009. In fact, the team has drafted just two quarterbacks since 2005, Stafford and Drew Stanton.
Veteran backup Shaun Hill is a free agent and likely won't return. That leaves undrafted third-year player Kellen Moore as the only other quarterback on the roster.
It's time to invest a late pick into a developmental quarterback. South Carolina's Connor Shaw fits the bill.
Currently rated as the No. 13 quarterback at CBS Sports, Shaw showed considerable development as a senior.
He went out with a bang, eviscerating a pretty good Wisconsin defense in the Capital One Bowl. As noted by Chris Johnson at Sports Illustrated, Shaw's college coach Steve Spurrier (a former Washington Redskins coach) raved about his NFL potential:
Given the league's emphasis on finding mobile quarterbacks who can make short, accurate throws, it's not out of the question. "Connor will play a lot more football," Spurrier said. "I'm sure the NFL guys were watching today."
Shaw could quickly surpass Moore on the depth chart with his superior arm strength and mobility.
If you watched the Poinsettia Bowl between Northern Illinois and Utah State, No. 93 for the Huskies likely impressed.
Defensive tackle Ken Bishop picked off a pass in that game, and he also notched two tackles behind the line.
He's an active inside presence with good quickness and a nose for the football. What stands out is how many plays Bishop makes, notching 36 solo tackles for NIU as a senior according to cfbstats.com.
Here's a pretty accurate scouting report on Bishop, courtesy of NFL Draft Insider:
Measuring just over 6-foot, 1-inch and tipping the scales at 308lbs, he’s a hard charging interior lineman with deceptive athleticism and strength. Watch as Utah State double teams Bishop in the middle of the line and count how many times he gives up an inch or is off his feet. It would be surprising if the sum is greater than one. Bishop is a prototypical defensive tackle who could line up in the 3-technique and he’ll be a solid rotational player at the next level. 7th Round
Bishop would fit in nicely as a reserve tackle in Detroit, bringing energy and some range to the front line.