Detroit Lions Day 1 2014 NFL Draft Primer
You made it. You've waded through months of rumors, clicked on more mock drafts than you care to admit and gotten so lost in the speculation that you might have lost sight of the forest for the trees.
But that's why the management at Bleacher Report have entrusted me with providing all of you a draft-day primer that covers everything Detroit Lions.
Can't remember who left via free agency? I've got you covered.
Would you like a handy big board breaking down the Lions' top targets? Again, I'm all over it like Jim Schwartz and an enthusiastic handshake.
This is the long way of saying you don't need anything else besides this article as you finish your last preparations for the 2014 NFL draft, including one final mock. I just couldn't help myself.
All stats, rankings and grades are courtesy of Pro Football Focus and require a subscription.
Departures and Additions
The Lions needed a wide receiver so they got themselves a wide receiver. They lost a starting safety so they signed one of those too.
It was a satisfactory haul for the Lions, but only the signing of Golden Tate really moves the needle.
Fan favorite Nate Burleson was cut due to his $5.5 million price tag and his lagging production. Injuries and age took their toll, leaving Detroit no choice with their early offseason cap issues.
Offensively, the Lions didn't lose any other starters, parting with only offensive line reserves Jason Fox and Leroy Harris.
The defense took more of a hit. Starting safety Louis Delmas was allowed to join the Miami Dolphins and defensive end Willie Young signed with the Chicago Bears. Adding to the loss at defensive end was Israel Idonije's departure, but it's likely that only Young's absence will be missed in any quantitative way due to his 48 quarterback hurries in 2013.
Detroit wasn't going to be a major player this offseason with most of their money already tied up in the current roster. But that didn't stop them from making a semi-splash.
Tate adds a sure-handed threat opposite Calvin Johnson and is someone who can make plays after the catch. He was a huge addition to a much-maligned receiver corps.
Otherwise, Detroit stuck mostly to those they knew. Aside from safety James Ihedibgo (who has experience with both head coach Jim Caldwell and defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, the Lions brought back running back Joique Bell, tight end Brandon Pettigrew and center Dominic Raiola.
A few smaller additions for depth purposes rounded out the roster with the signings of defensive end Darryl Tapp, safety Isa Abdul-Quddus and fullback Jed Collins.
Despite Tate's arrival, the Lions still need to add another viable receiving threat if they are going to keep Matthew Stafford happy. Last year's group would disappear with the exception of Johnson and led the league with a staggering 58 dropped passes. Kris Durham and Kevin Ogletree need to be pushed further down the depth chart and explosive return man Jeremy Ross hasn't proven himself yet.
The Lions aren't finished with this position.
Ashlee Palmer is a nice utility player who can be plugged in when an injury occurs. Unfortunately, he's a starter. To be fair, he posted a close-to-average minus-1.5 PFF grade but played only a third of the snaps as the team's other starting linebackers. If Austin's defense is going to create pressure from different places, finding an explosive rusher who can also drop into coverage should be a priority.
I don't agree that the Lions should address this need early in the draft. However, it's hard to ignore Chris Houston's lingering toe injury. Darius Slay and Bill Bentley could end up being solid contributors, but blindly banking on their contributions isn't in the team's best interest. Yet, like I said, that doesn't mean they should grab a guy early unless the value is too much to pass up, which it won't be at No. 10.
Dominic Raiola enjoyed a career resurgence last year. He finished the season as PFF's second-highest rated center and few would argue that he was instrumental in holding together a transitioning and surprisingly effective offensive line. But the old dog is 35 years old. His football future could very well consist only of the 2014 season, meaning Detroit would be wise to find his replacement now instead of scrambling for one next year.
The Lions boast a lot of talent in the front four with three first-rounders. However, that hasn't translated to many sacks. The Lions finished near the bottom of the league last year with just 33. Don't be surprised if Detroit burns an early pick in an effort to stimulate the pass-rushing effort.
1. Wide Receiver Sammy Watkins, Clemson
In case you haven't read or heard a single thing about this draft, the Lions have expressed an interest in trading up for Sammy Watkins. Actually, the level of their intrigue probably rises to a Squints-Wendy Peffercorn level. Watkins is widely considered the best wide receiver in this draft and would instantly make Detroit a candidate for the best offense in the league.
2. Linebacker Khalil Mack, University of Buffalo
With Detroit's willingness to move up, don't count out Khalil Mack. The outside linebacker is everything Detroit needs to transform the defense to meet Austin's vision. Mack can play the running game, rush the passer and drop into coverage. If he falls a few picks, expect general manager Martin Mayhew to work the phones looking for a deal.
3. Wide Receiver Mike Evans, Texas A&M
I didn't include Jadeveon Clowney or offensive tackle Greg Robinson because Clowney won't get past the first pick, and Detroit isn't going to make a bold trade to land a tackle. They will, however, entertain the idea of moving up a few spots for Mike Evans if need be. Evans stand 6'5" and, with Calvin Johnson, would give Detroit a 1-2 outside receiver punch that would rival the Chicago Bears.
4. Defensive Tackle Aaron Donald, University of Pittsburgh
There's a definite chance either Nick Fairley or Ndamukong Suh isn't a Lion in 2015. We all know that Mayhew loves defensive tackles, given that he's picked two in the first round in the last four years. Aaron Donald isn't as big as the preceding two, but he has the same type of penetrating, attacking style that could be the pass-rushing stimulant that the defense needs.
5. Safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama
Safety isn't nearly the need it was now that the Lions have added the aforementioned Ihedigbo. But it's unknown whether the 30-year-old safety will be able to perform at a high level for an extended period of time. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is a rangy safety who would probably allow Glover Quin to play closer to the line of scrimmage.
What Are the Experts Saying?
Apparently, I'm not the only one who likes to do mock drafts.
Who knew? So, just for fun, let's take a look at whom the experts see the Lions taking Thursday night.
Mel Kiper, Jr.: WR Odell Beckham Jr. (via ESPN)
If their board looks at all like mine, I think both corner and safety (both needs) could be a slight reach here and (A) they really do need another receiver, and (B) Beckham could develop into a star here, even with Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate around. He's explosive with the ball in his hands, but you don't have to simply force easy catches, because he's a very good route-runner and will create space.
Kiper is right on the money about this pick being a little too high for a defensive back, but I'm not sold on Beckham being worthy of such a high slot either. Although, his explosiveness is very intriguing.
Todd McShay: CB Darqueze Dennard (via ESPN)
I had North Carolina TE Eric Ebron going here in version 5.0, and he would definitely provide the Lions with another weapon in the passing game. But their biggest need is at cornerback, and Dennard is our top-ranked corner in this class. The Lions haven't taken a defensive back in the last 15 drafts, but Dennard is a solid value at this point in the draft. He has outstanding instincts and is willing in run support.
Again, I don't agree with taking a cornerback this high. Dennard is a solid player who could grow into a worthy professional, but this feels like a reach for a team that has a lot of money and draft picks already invested in the position.
Matt Miller: CB Justin Gilbert (via Bleacher Report)
Some will say Rashean Mathis, Chris Houston, Bill Bentley and Darius Slay are good enough at cornerback, but are they? Slay has good upside, but neither Mathis nor Houston is a true No. 1 corner. Gilbert would be just that within his first few seasons.
Gilbert seems to have more upside than Dennard and fits Austin's want of a big corner at 6'0" and 202 pounds. However, I still don't see the value or need. Let the young guys on the roster develop before throwing another high-profile asset at the problem.
Mike O'Hara: LB Anthony Barr (via DetroitLions.com)
He has measurables – a little over 6-4, 251 pounds, a 4.46 best in the 40 – and production to go with it. He had 40.5 tackles for loss and 23.5 sacks at UCLA. There might have to be some adjustments to fit Barr into the Lions’ 4-3 scheme. One of them would be to point him at the quarterback.
If only it were as simple as point and shoot when it came to rushing the passer in the NFL. Barr has plenty of raw ability, but it's hard to understand how well he will fit into Austin's scheme. For now, a tweener isn't the right guy at No. 10.
Latest Rumors, Reports & Analysis
How Serious are the Lions About Moving up?
In a word: very. Detroit has been slobbering over the prospect of adding Sammy Watkins since somewhere around June 14, 1993 (presumably).
From talking with Sammy Watkins today: The #Lions have made it clear to him they are very serious about potentially trading up for him.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) May 6, 2014
It's one thing for a team to leak that they're looking to make a move to either gauge interest from other teams or to put people off the scent of their true intentions. It's a completely other animal to tell the target of their affection that they are in trade talks to acquire him.
Personally, I'm on board with this idea, if you didn't pick that up from my big board a couple slides ago. The trio of Johnson, Tate and Watkins would put such an immense amount of pressure on a defense that it would be almost impossible not to crack. So long as Stafford can put the ball within five yards of any of these guys, he could complete 70 percent of his passes easily.
Will the Lions Trade Down?
With all the time leading up to this draft, it seems that the entire discussion has been about moving up. But there is also a strong legion of media members and fans who would rather see Detroit pick up a few extra picks in a deep draft.
But if all the stars align, if the Lions get super lucky, there will be a long run of quarterbacks taken in the top 10, the Lions will trade down and take one of these cornerbacks in the middle of the first round and watch a few talented receivers slip into the second round.
That's the dream, anyway.
- Jeff Seidel of the Detroit Free Press and Pioneer Press
It's not the worst idea in the world. The Lions have plenty of holes sprinkled throughout the roster that could use a plug. If the Lions can't move up without giving up the farm, trading down is certainly the second-best option.
Would the Lions Really Take Another Defensive Tackle?
Brace yourself, Detroit. There's a very high likelihood that Mayhew bolsters the defensive line with yet another first-round defensive tackle.
'So that's where I'd be a little surprised,' Kiper said during a conference call. 'I mean, he's a heck of a player and there's nothing wrong with taking a real good player. I don't have a problem with that. But at some point you've got to look at some of these other spots and fill it.
'Now, if that's the way you want to go, I have no problem with the player. The player deserves to be in that top 10 to 15 discussion. Aaron Donald had a great year, great Senior Bowl week, great combine and he gets into the backfield, he gets after the quarterback and can wreak havoc.'
- Mel Kiper, Jr. quoted by Carlos Monarrez of the Detroit Free Press
What do I think? Well, I could drone on and on, or you could just click through to the final slide.
Detroit Lions 7-Round Mock Draft
Round 1, Pick 10: DT Aaron Donald
See why I made you wait?
You're welcome. In all seriousness, Donald would be a great addition to a front line that has lacked the devastating pass rush despite the talent that composes the unit. Opposing offensive linemen would never receive a break and would certainly be run down by the final quarter, making it easier for their fresher counterparts on Detroit's D-line to get after the quarterback during critical fourth-quarter drives.
Round 2, Pick 45: S Deone Bucannon
What are you looking for in a safety? A guy who can hit? Deone Bucannon racked up 220 tackles the past two years. You need a guy who can make plays? Bucannon recorded six interceptions last year while opposing offenses tried at all costs to avoid him since he was the only real defensive threat on Washington State's squad.
Round 3, Pick 76: WR Kevin Norwood
For my mock draft, I didn't want to go through the thorny mess of anticipating what assets the Lions would give up to get Watkins. So we're keeping it simple and getting the Lions the receiver they need in the third round. Kevin Norwood is a team-first guy who never posted crazy numbers at Alabama, but did whatever it took for the team to win. He also has great hands and solid size at 6'2".
Round 4, Pick 111: C Marcus Martin
The successor to Raiola is coming in the third round. Marcus Martin is a mountain of a man, checking in at 6'3" and 320 pounds. He played only one season at center, but would be able to take the first year slow and learn under the long-time veteran Raiola.
Round 4, Pick 133: OLB Jordan Tripp
The small-school prospect from Montana will get a legitimate shot at starting in his rookie year. He might need another year of schooling and weight training before he's ready to wrest Palmer's job from him, but his athleticism means he can contribute on special teams and as a situational pass-rusher.
Round 4, Pick 136: DE James Gayle
You know Mayhew can't help himself. If there is a defensive lineman on the board and he's anywhere near the best player available, Mayhew will pull the trigger. James Gayle won't be an All-Pro, but he can find a niche as the fourth defensive end on the roster.
Round 6, Pick 189: CB Shaquille Richardson
You can exhale now. I've got your cornerback, but I did it at my own pace. In the sixth round, Shaquille Richardson could prove to be a great value. His big body (6'3") is exactly what Austin wants and with veterans like Chris Houston and Rashean Mathis on the roster, Richardson will have time to develop.
Round 7, Pick 227: K Chris Boswell
The seventh round is for taking fliers or for finding specialists. In this case, it's both. Chris Boswell has struggled with his accuracy the past couple years, but has a strong enough leg to warrant a chance. Perhaps he can regain his groove inside the windless dome of Ford Field.