Detroit Lions Draft Countdown: Making the Case for Aaron Donald

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Detroit Lions Draft Countdown: Making the Case for Aaron Donald
Keith Srakocic

Wide receivers are so early 2000s. Defensive tackles are the "it" position now.

And Aaron Donald is hoping to play out the role of Calvin Johnson instead of Mike Williams. 

The coaching staff reigned over by Jim Schwartz may be gone, but general manager Martin Mayhew is still at the helm. With two defensive tackles taken in the first round over the past four years, there isn't much need to establish the Detroit Lions' willingness to grab interior defenders high in the draft.

However, it's unlikely fans will be too enthused about making a seemingly luxury pick with holes sprinkled throughout the roster when Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley are already entrenched as the starters. But that doesn't mean they're right.

 

The Defensive Tackle Situation Could be Fluid

The Suh trade rumors that started swirling last week are likely overblown, but it does leave the door slightly open for Suh to exit stage left. Personally, I don't see it happening, and most of Detroit's beat writers would confirm that suspicion, as MLive.com's Kyle Meinke did on my podcast (Lions Central Radio). 

Ann Heisenfelt

Additionally, Fairley's future in the motor city is certainly in peril after Mayhew declined to pick up his fifth-year option. Even if Fairley uses the "snub" as motivation, what are the odds that Detroit would be willing to offer big money to a guy who has only put in effort when he stands to profit?

And let's not rule out the idea of Fairley being dumped off to move up in the draft or to grab another pick. If the front office doesn't trust him, it could be the catalyst to move him now instead of having him and his contract situation affect the locker room.

 

The Other Options Aren't Nearly as Appealing

If the Lions don't trade up, as I advocated strongly last week, the options laid out before the Lions might not be as enticing as they appeared over the past few months.

For starters, plenty of people have finally started to see the light that a cornerback in the top 10 might not be wise. Darqueze Dennard and Justin Gilbert don't represent enough value, and I'm not sold that the Lions need another corner. If Chris Houston's toe injury lingers into training camp, then that last statement will look pretty foolish. But for now, the Lions need to see what they have in Houston, Darius Slay and Bill Bentley. 

Safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix has been a popular pick as of late, and it's easy to see why. He's big (6'1", 207 pounds), physical and adept in coverage. But there are plenty of other safeties that could fill that niche for Detroit, most notably Deone Bucannon in the second round. 

Linebacker Anthony Barr doesn't fit the defense as it's currently constituted, although that could be changing. And you can probably forget about Sammy Watkins or Mike Evans being available this late.

So what's left?

 

With the 10th Pick of the 2014 NFL Draft, the Detroit Lions Select Aaron Donald

Just start saying it to yourself. After reviewing the facts, there's a strong chance that's what you hear somewhere just after 9:30 ET next Thursday. 

And it will be OK. In fact, the pick could be great.

Donald has built up draft momentum like a train, slowly chugging along until his stock became an unstoppable force barreling toward the top 10, which is the exact opposite of his playing style.

When you turn on the tape, Donald's first step explodes off the screen like him firing off the line. He's already making a move or has his hands into the opposite offensive linemen before they are out of their stances.

There is a concern about his non-ideal frame (6'1", 285 pounds), but Detroit has favored the penetrating defensive tackle in the past. He'd fit in nicely alongside the gap-shooting Suh.

Plus, he put up the second-most bench reps (35) among defensive ends, albeit surely aided by his shorter arms. And his ridiculous 4.68 40-yard dash and 7.11 three-cone performance were the best at his position and should comfort those worried about a couple inches or pounds.

Well, that and his 11 sacks in 2013. Those numbers would be a welcome addition to a defense that posted just 33 sacks last season, good for the fifth-worst pass-rushing attack in the league.

If given the opportunity, the Lions should still trade up for one of the bona fide playmakers. But if the price is too steep and the occasion does not arise, Aaron Donald should be a Lion. And the team will be better for it.

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