Detroit Lions: Pros and Cons for Each Top NFL Draft Option
All 32 teams go into the NFL draft with a game plan. They know what players they want on their team, and with a month to go until the draft, they have an idea of who to select with their picks, especially in the first round.
That doesn't stop mock drafts from trying to figure out precisely what each team's game plan is, though. While they are an interesting look at what is to come, at the end of the day it's not about who fits best on a team, it's about which players are both available and likely to be selected.
The Detroit Lions are in a good spot with the 10th pick. They can get the best player available, address a major need or trade down and gain more picks if the player they want is available later, and every one of those options makes a deal of sense.
So, what are the pros and cons for each player projected to land with the Lions?
Projected players are in alphabetical order, selected due to appearances in major mock drafts. Any stats are from ESPN.
Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
Anthony Barr is an intriguing prospect, since this selection would be reminiscent of what the Lions did last year. They drafted raw but highly productive pass-rusher Ezekiel Ansah in 2013, and Barr is as close to that story as you will get in this year's draft.
Barr is a highly productive pass-rusher that has been compared to DeMarcus Ware. He has the right combination of speed and athleticism, as well as having productivity and upside. Chris Burke has Barr going to the Lions in his latest mock draft for that reason.
He could end up as the best pure pass-rusher in the draft when all is said and done, given that he's a pure 3-4 OLB and would thrive in such a defense. Barr and Ansah as a pass-rushing duo would make the Detroit front seven far better moving forward.
Barr may have been productive at UCLA, but he's still raw. Taking on one raw prospect with upside is one thing, but taking on two can be dangerous, especially if neither pan out, making this a risky move at best for Detroit.
Furthermore, Barr would thrive in a 3-4, but Detroit had a 4-3 defense last season. New defensive coordinator Teryl Austin is implementing a modified defense from last year, but that adjustment for the current players combined with a raw player could cause even further problems.
Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
The Detroit Lions need a cornerback sooner rather than later in the draft, and the best cornerback could easily be available at the No. 10 spot. Sports Illustrated's Doug Farrar has the Lions taking him 10th due to a combination of need and talent.
Darqueze Dennard went to Michigan State, so being a hometown pick will warm him up to Lions fans quickly. Beyond that, he is able to stop the run, cover wide receivers and make a few interceptions for whatever team drafts him.
More importantly, his ball-hawk ability and awareness give him a high floor as a cornerback. The Lions simply need someone who can be reliable in the secondary, and Dennard is the safest cornerback in the class in that regard.
That being said, Dennard does not have elite athleticism, so if the Lions are looking for a shutdown corner to lead the secondary as opposed to a merely reliable one, he's not going to be their guy.
Of the picks on this list, Dennard may be the safest selection since the Lions need secondary help, but that doesn't necessarily mean it would be the right one, especially if they like another cornerback better.
Aaron Donald, DT, PIttsburgh
In every team's mock drafts there's one player that, on the surface, makes no sense. For the Lions, defensive tackle Aaron Donald out of Pittsburgh is that player. The Lions already have two defensive tackles in Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh, so why Donald?
Both Don Banks and Dane Brugler mocked Donald to the Lions recently. Banks noted that Donald could be good enough to surpass Fairley and turn defensive tackle into a major position of strength, while Brugler noted that this selection could keep defensive tackle strong in case anyone leaves for free agency.
In terms of acceleration, Donald is one of the best the draft has to offer. He "comes off the snap like he's shot out of a cannon," according to the CBS Sports' scouting report, and he was highly productive, putting up big sack numbers at Pittsburgh.
Donald is a bit undersized, especially compared to Fairley and Suh, so he might be limited in the NFL with what he is able to do in the trenches. Besides, the defensive line is one of Detroit's strengths as it stands, and a first-round pick would be better used on a position of need.
If Detroit did go with Donald, it would be a surprise, especially with the move to a modified defense. Then again, if Detroit thinks he can turn the defensive line into a force and make it a strong position, it is one way to build up a team, and they do need to use the pick on defense rather than offense.
Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
The Lions have two cornerback options in this draft: They could go safe, or they could pick a boom-or-bust guy. Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert falls into the latter. He's currently the popular player in mock drafts for Detroit, with Rob Rang, Pete Prisco and Pat Kirwan all selecting Gilbert for the Lions.
Justin Gilbert is among the best athletes in this year's draft class, and aside from being agile, he has enough size and tackling ability to be disruptive at cornerback on both fronts.
Aside from his raw ability, Gilbert was highly productive at Oklahoma State with seven interceptions last season. The Lions badly need a cornerback that can force turnovers, so this selection makes a great deal of sense on that front.
While Gilbert is a physical cornerback, there are times when he can get overly aggressive and bite on play fakes. He is also less productive in the run game than other cornerbacks, but for the NFL that's not much of an issue, nor was it when he played in the Big 12.
The selection of Gilbert is one that makes more sense the closer you look at it. The Lions need a productive, physical corner, and that's precisely what Gilbert is. Dennard may be a safer player to draft, but Gilbert would nonetheless be a smarter selection.
Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
This is a particularly tough one to note. The Lions signed Golden Tate to be the No. 2 receiver, but talk of Watkins going to Detroit has not gone away entirely. In fact, CBS Sports' Will Brinson had the Lions trading up and acquiring him with the second pick in his latest mock draft.
The biggest plus for this move is Watkins' talent. In my mind, he's the best wide receiver to come out of college since A.J. Green, and his body control and footwork are among the best of any wide receiver out there.
He's able to run multiple types of routes as well, so Calvin Johnson and Tate can stick to what they do best, as Watkins can be placed in any wide receiver role. For that matter, a Johnson-Watkins combination could end up being an all-time wide receiver duo.
The main con is that the Lions have greater needs elsewhere. Using a top-10 selection on a wide receiver doesn't make sense when they could potentially get the top cornerback in the draft with the 10th pick. Even trading down and getting the best safety would be a better use of the pick in terms of value.