The Detroit Lions are in win-now mode with Calvin Johnson squarely in his prime. Finding someone to start opposite him—or in a few other notable spots like linebacker and safety—will be the key to the 2014 NFL draft since the salary-cap situation is anything but helpful.
General Manager Martin Mayhew landed seven rookies last year (including undrafted free agents) that started at least one game. Such cheap labor is the key to success when your team is paying three highly drafted player from the last collective bargaining agreement a king's ransom.
Can he get as lucky this season? Time will tell. Click through to find out seven new prospects who could start Week 1.
All salary cap and contract numbers are courtesy of spotrac.com.
This is a dream scenario for Detroit that has a seed firmly planted in reality. With so many teams that need quarterbacks, it's entirely possible that Sammy Watkins could fall this far.
In fact, Mike O'Hara of Detroitlions.com envisioned such a scenario in his latest mock.
Watkins has the size (6'1", 205 lbs), speed and hands to perfectly complement Johnson. There's no reason to think he can't have the same type of impact as DeAndre Hopkins briefly did in Houston opposite another Johnson before the quarterbacking situation went to a dark place.
New offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi would be free to unleash a new kind of hell on the league with Johnson, Watkins, Joseph Fauria, Reggie Bush and Joique Bell. It might even be enough to make his former employer a little jealous.
Now, for the consensus consolation prize: Texas A&M wide receiver Mike Evans.
But that doesn't mean you should write him off. Evans is a monster.
At 6'5" and 225 pounds, Evans will tower over the biggest defensive backs, giving him a huge advantage in traffic and getting off the line. Plus, his ability to high point the ball gives quarterback Matthew Stafford another jump-ball weapon who can keep defenses occupied downfield.
If you need anymore convincing that "settling" for Evans isn't a bad thing, think about this red-zone lineup: Johnson, Evans, Fauria and maybe Brandon Pettigrew. Stafford will be able to find the one in single coverage and let him use that big body to shield off a passing lane.
Offensive guard isn't a position of need for Detroit.
However, when there are comparisons to Larry Warford, it's at least worth a visit to the tape. And what I saw on film backed up NFLDraftGeek.com's bold assertion that another potential Pro Bowl guard would be available outside the first round.
Coincidentally, in the first tape I found (vs. Kansas State), the video replayed a scene three times where he was beaten badly. It's safe to say that Richardson didn't enjoy that moment as he pancaked two Kansas State Wildcats on the next play.
Just like Warford, Richardson doesn't stop at the first block. He'll look for someone to hit. Even the casual Lions fan should be able to remember at least one play Warford extended this season with his hustle. So adding another guard with that type of ability helps the offense generate big plays.
Richard won't be taken at No. 10. However, drafting another dancing bear late to pair with Warford would help ease the salary-cap burden since the Lions would be free to cut Rob Sims and save about $2.5 million.
Plenty of people will dismiss this pick based on the belief it was done solely for publicity. Just click play above.
Does Michael Sam sound like somebody the Lions could use?
Sam has been projected between Day 2 and 3, meaning Mayhew could find a serious value player in a later round. While he might not be a solid fit as a 4-3 defensive end, he could fill a hybrid role from a stand-up position.
Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin has stressed that he wants to bring pressure from a bunch of different looks. Sam won't be a "starter" in the traditional sense, but he can immediately contribute on special teams and as a situational pass-rusher.
While Sam may be available late, Khalil Mack might not even be in the green room when the Lions are on the clock. The Buffalo linebacker is that nasty.
Mack is a solidly built tackling machine who has a knack for making plays. He would only bolster an already scary run defense and give defensive coordinator Austin another guy who can get after the quarterback.
The Lions relied on the nickel and dime packages quite often last year. In fact, Ashlee Palmer, the guy who Mack would replace, notched 700 fewer snaps than middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch. With Mack, the Lions would be much more flexible and have a true pass-rushing threat at the second level.
There's a real possibility that the Lions shy away from a cornerback, especially in the first round. Chris Houston is owed too much guaranteed money and is entrenched at one side. With young guys like Darius Slay and Bill Bentley holding down the next two spots, Mayhew may feel comfortable passing on guys like Justin Gilbert or Darqueze Dennard.
But safety might be a significant position of need. With Louis Delmas a likely cap casualty thanks to his $6.5 million hit, Detroit will be looking for someone to step into the lineup right away.
And that someone could be Washington State safety Deone Bucannon. He can add the same physical presence that Delmas brought, but with hopefully a higher tackling percentage. Plus, he has the ability to make plays on the ball down the field, freeing up the corners to attack the short game.
I'm circling back to wide receiver to pound this point home: Detroit needs another receiving weapon. But he doesn't have to be of the hulking Alshon Jeffery type.
Stafford just needs a reliable weapon. Someone who can help him move the chains as well as make teams pay for focusing on Megatron.
Oregon product Josh Huff can do that. He's been climbing draft boards because of his wrecking-ball style. He's at his best taking short passes and turning them into long gains. And that will bring safeties just a yard or two forward, leaving more room for Johnson to operate.
Besides, it's the Lions. Of course they're drafting a wide receiver. So he might as well be a good one.