Detroit Lions: Best and Worst Options for Their 2014 First-Round Draft Pick

Eric VincentCorrespondent IMarch 28, 2014

Detroit Lions president Tom Lewand, left, and general manager Martin Mayhew announce head coach Jim Schwartz was fired in Allen Park, Mich., Monday, Dec. 30, 2013. The Lions made the move Monday, one day after they ended their late-season slide with a loss at Minnesota. Detroit flopped to a 7-9 record this year after a 6-3 record start put the franchise in a position to win a NFL football division title for the first time since 1993. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Paul Sancya/Associated Press

1. BEST, WR Mike Evans - While former Texas A&M teammate Johnny Manziel soaks up all the national attention of the draft, wide receiver Mike Evans floats under the radar as a top-tier prospect for the Lions.

After releasing veteran Nate Burleson and signing free agent Golden Tate, Detroit is in search of one more addition to their group of receivers.

A key reason for Manziel's success and highlights in college is because of his favorite target. Evans is a big-body receiver with great hands and a threat downfield or in traffic. Manziel found his 6'5" receiver to be a reliable option in jump-ball matchups or after scrambling in search of a play to develop. 

Coming out as a sophomore, Evans was a dangerous force in both years for Texas A&M. His freshman campaign ended with 82 catches, 1,102 yards and five touchdowns. His catch total dipped down to 69 last season, but improved with 1,394 yards and 12 touchdowns.  

Detroit has made it a necessity to feed their franchise quarterback Matthew Stafford with targets. Assuming he falls to No. 10, the Lions can form a scary tandem with another 6'5" playmaker on the field. Giant targets like Calvin Johnson, Evans, Joseph Fauria and Brandon Pettigrew, along with Tate and Ryan Broyles underneath could be a game-breaking dynamic for this team.


2. WORST, Trade up for WR Sammy Watkins

One option, who more than likely won't fall down to No. 10, is Clemson star Sammy Watkins. It's been well-documented Detroit is Watkins' ideal landing spot in the draft, but that pipe dream will only happen with the Lions moving up in the draft.

Not saying Watkins isn't worth the move talent-wise, but it's not a must for this offense. With the weapons already in place, Detroit's offense can pose a threat without trading up for Watkins.

Stafford has the potential to be a top-10 quarterback if he learns well from new head coach Jim Caldwell and offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi. With Lombardi and Caldwell's prior success, we could see a significant improvement in the game of their quarterback, meaning less interceptions, a better completion percentage and an increase in yards per completion.

Entering his sixth year, Stafford has never been known to make his targets better. His receivers and options have helped carry him through his struggles. A player like Watkins certainly could help and keep Detroit's trend going.

However, game-breakers like Johnson and Reggie Bush make the secondary targets around them better. The attention they attract will make guys like Tate dangerous in this offense highly productive. Watkins will be a factor no matter what, so there's no need to move up for a value pick when you can sit for a guy like Evans at No. 10 or even wait for another receiver later in the draft.


3. BEST, DE/OLB Anthony Barr 

With the offensive weapons on the Lions roster, very few would've guessed the strong suit of the team would be its defense. Not to say Detroit was as dominant as it should've been defensively, but there was a bigger sense of struggle offensively with drops, fumbles and injuries.

Help is desperately needed defensively. The Lions were victimized, ranking 23rd against the pass and 27th against the run. The defensive line as the focal point underachieved with only 33 sacks ranking 28th in the league. 

Detroit can use an upgrade at outside linebacker next to captain Stephen Tulloch and last year's breakout performer DeAndre Levy. Outside linebacker Anthony Barr could be a much-improved plug for the Lions.

Barr adds a unique skill set as a pass-rushing outside linebacker. Tulloch was the only linebacker to record a sack for the Lions, but only finished with 3.5 for the year and is not known as a pass-rusher. Levy had a tremendous year with 119 tackles plus six interceptions but also doesn't excel as a pass-rusher. 

The Lions lost defensive end Willie Young to the Chicago Bears via free agency and will have veteran lineman Jason Jones back after a season-ending left knee injury. Barr can improve in coverage as well as against the run. But playing in Detroit's front-seven can help him progress accordingly and make the Lions a group to be reckoned with defensively. 


4. WORST, CB Justin Gilbert 

Detroit's secondary has been atrocious for years, mainly at cornerback. Starter and No. 1 corner Chris Houston had a forgetful 2013 season. Young corners Bill Bentley and Darius Slay struggled as well but made slow progression toward the end of the year.

Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert has been mocked to the Lions on many different sites, but landing a corner with the top-10 pick is too risky at that spot.

Detroit ran into that predicament last season when deciding between defensive end Ziggy Ansah and Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner. Milliner struggled early with the New York Jets but found a groove as the season went on. The Lions made the right choice getting a productive rookie year from Ansah with eight sacks. 

Gilbert had an up and down career in college as a shutdown corner. He posted breakout numbers in 2011 as a sophomore with 59 tackles, 10 pass breakups and five interceptions. 2012 was a humbling year, but Gilbert bounced back with an impressive 2013. His overall cover game improved, and he finished with seven interceptions, 42 tackles and seven pass breakups. 

Outside the improved senior year, drafting a cornerback that high is too big of a gamble for the Lions. They're better off hoping for a rebound season by Houston and keep developing Slay and Bentley. Maybe re-signing a veteran like Rashean Mathis or drafting another cornerback late to groom has better value than reaching for a corner like Gilbert or Michigan State defensive back Darqueze Dennard. 


5. BEST, Offensive Line Stability 

It's still hard to believe the Lions put together one of the best offensive line performances last season in the entire league. Tackle Riley Reiff and guard Rob Sims held the left side of the line strong, and Detroit has a budding star in third-round guard Larry Warford.

After constant injuries between tackles Jason Fox and LaAdrian Waddle, the Lions could find a plug in the draft to solidify the right side. Fox has been injury prone his entire career, and Waddle might serve better as a depth guy instead of a full-time starter. 

The No. 1 priority for Detroit is improving Stafford and keeping him clean. First-round prospects like Taylor Lewan from Michigan, Jake Matthews from Texas A&M and Greg Robinson from Auburn could attract the Lions with their No. 10 pick and help with that goal. 

A young top-end tackle could help boost the running game as well. The Lions brought Joique Bell back to team with Bush, and apparently have plans to utilize Mikel Leshoure more next season. A stable first-round tackle on the right side could make the run game that much more effective for Detroit.