Detroit Lions' Top Needs and Fits in the 2014 NFL Draft

Jeff RisdonContributor IJanuary 27, 2014

Detroit Lions' Top Needs and Fits in the 2014 NFL Draft

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    Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

    The Detroit Lions scored paydirt in the 2013 NFL draft, starting at the top with Ezekiel Ansah. General manager Martin Mayhew and his staff tabbed three immediate starters in Ansah, Larry Warford and punter Sam Martin. 

    They also selected two significant contributors in Darius Slay and Devin Taylor, both of whom will challenge for starting roles in 2014. 

    Even better, two undrafted free agents not only made the team but thrived. Joseph Fauria and LaAdrian Waddle are projected starters in 2014 after going undrafted in 2013. 

    Mayhew and his team are now prepping furiously for the 2014 NFL draft. Here are a few players they should consider at several positions of need. 

Wide Receiver: Best Fit, Sammy Watkins

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    Detroit fans don't always agree on everything, but it's unanimous across the Lions universe that the team has to improve the talent level at wide receiver. 

    In fact, many covet more than one wideout in May's draft. And the Lions just might accommodate those wishes. 

    One of the top options for Detroit at No. 10 overall is Clemson's Sammy Watkins. His electrifying Orange Bowl performance against Ohio State captivated fans. It also showcased his speed, hands and route-running prowess. 

    He would make a great fit because of his versatility. He can play in the slot, but he can also fill the role of outside receiver opposite Calvin Johnson. His speed and elusiveness in the open field would represent upgrades over Nate Burleson and Kris Durham.

    His skills are so advanced and coveted that Watkins might not last until Detroit picks in the first round. Many teams could immediately install him as the top receiver. 

    Should he be off the board, Marqise Lee from USC presents a viable option in the first round as well. 

    He was hampered with a knee injury during 2013, which took away from his outstanding burst and explosive cutting. If his knee is sound, he has every bit as much skill as Watkins.

    If the Lions go in a different direction in the first round, Brandin Cooks from Oregon State would make a strong choice in the second round. He's smaller than the others and not as bullish with the ball in the air, but he's just as elusive and dynamic. 

Cornerback: Best Fit, Darqueze Dennard

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    Even though the Lions have devoted numerous draft resources to the cornerback position, it is still perceived as a major need. 

    If they opt to go after a legitimate shutdown corner with the 10th overall pick, the man for the mission is Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard. 

    The physical cover man keyed one of the stingiest defenses in college football in 2013, providing tight man coverage on all comers. He excels at press coverage, jamming adeptly at the line. 

    As noted in the video above, he can be too physical at times. He'll have to learn the five-yard contact rule quickly. But that criticism is true of Richard Sherman, Darrelle Revis and Joe Haden too; the top corners in the NFL all play with Dennard's aggressive style. 

    Detroit can use a player with that kind of successful swagger at cornerback. 

    There aren't any other viable corner candidates for the 10th spot, as Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert has too many rough edges and inconsistencies to merit that high of a pick.

    In the second round, however, a couple of intriguing talents are worthy of consideration.

    Jason Verrett of TCU might be the most naturally sticky cover man in the draft. His instincts in coverage are off the charts. He's smaller than Dennard but plays bigger than his size. 

    Should the Lions opt to roll the dice, Florida State's Lamarcus Joyner is a riverboat gambler with incredible quickness. Despite being undersized, he played all over the secondary for the Seminoles. His best role is in the slot as a playmaking attack dog. 

Safety: Best Fit, Deone Bucannon

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    Safety may or may not be a major need. It depends on the status of veteran starter Louis Delmas, who is a potential salary-cap casualty. 

    If he departs, the need for a safety would go from secondary to pressing.

    In this draft, there does not appear to be a safety worthy of the 10th overall pick. The top-rated safety at CBS Sports is Alabama's Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix, currently sitting at 20th overall. Taking him at the 10th spot is a reach, but he's not going to fall to the second round.

    That makes Washington State's Deone Bucannon the best fit for the Lions in this draft. 

    He has excellent size, measuring in at the Senior Bowl at 6'1" and a sculpted 216 pounds. He has great length as well, but what makes him special is his seek-and-destroy playing style. He also sports an opportunistic flair. 

    Delmas plays that way too, but Bucannon is more responsible with his hitting. He takes better angles, something which Lions fans would welcome. He does a fine job keeping his eyes up and the ball in front of him. 

    After a strong performance during Senior Bowl week, he elevated his stock to where it would not be a reach for Detroit to take him at No. 45 overall. His ceiling is higher than the player to whom he's compared, James Ihedigbo. 

    Another option could be Baylor's Ahmad Dixon. He's not quite as big but plays with the same sledgehammer style. Bucannon is a little rangier in coverage, although Dixon appears better in the short area.

    A third option would be Northern Illinois playmaker Jimmie Ward. He proved during Senior Bowl week that he's capable of playing with the big boys. He has Delmas' knack for coming up with the football, as well as throwing his weight around as a punishing hitter. 

Outside Linebacker: Best Fit, Kyle Van Noy

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    New defensive coordinator Teryl Austin is promising to spice up the aggressiveness, as noted by MLive's Justin Rogers. One way is to bring more pressure via the blitz.

    Right now, the Lions do not have any linebackers who can blitz well. Adding BYU's Kyle Van Noy in the first round would change that overnight.

    Van Noy, who was Ziggy Ansah's roommate at BYU, is an excellent pass-rusher. He bagged 17 sacks in his final two seasons, often playing off Ansah and swooping in to clean up pressures.

    What makes Van Noy a candidate for the 10th pick is his all-around game. He was a terror against the run, registering 39 tackles for loss over the last two years. 

    During Senior Bowl week, his instinctive nature was on full display. He proved he could cover all over the field and break on the ball quickly. He was highly disruptive as an edge rusher, showing great acceleration and the ability to flatten around the edge. 

    Adding him would bring a new dimension to the Detroit defense. He would allow the Lions to stay in base defense in more situations, which cuts down on matchup advantages for the offense. 

    Bleacher Report's Dan Hope assigned Van Noy to Detroit in his latest mock draft. His rationale for the pick is perfectly prescient. 

    Another strong candidate for the 10th spot is Buffalo's Khalil Mack. After dominating the MAC for years, he likely elevated himself above where the Lions pick, however. 

Tight End: Best Fit, Jace Amaro

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    With starting tight end Brandon Pettigrew a free agent whose return is questionable at best, the Lions will need to add a receiving threat at the position.

    Texas Tech stud Jace Amaro offers athleticism and precision as a receiver that shames Pettigrew. He is a dynamic threat over the middle and stretching the deep seam. 

    He has great speed and movement skills for a man his size. He can line up flexed out, adding a dimension the Lions have lacked since Tony Scheffler's brief heyday. Adding a player with his skills would help ease the burden on the struggles at wide receiver. 

    He does have some drawbacks. In the bowl game in 2012, he was ejected for starting a brawl. As the Dallas Morning News reported back in September, Amaro is taking steps to avoid further issues. He's had no incidents since that time. 

    North Carolina's Eric Ebron is a viable alternative to Amaro. He emerged as a downfield threat in 2013, showing litheness and vastly improved receiving ability. 

    If the Lions opt to wait a round on a tight end, Notre Dame's Troy Niklas would look nice in the Honolulu blue and silver. He caught many by surprise in declaring for the draft, and as a result his stock seems undervalued relative to his sky-high potential.