3 Different NFL Draft Decisions and How They Would Alter the Detroit Lions

Jeff Risdon@@JeffRisdonContributor IJuly 3, 2014

From left to right, Detroit Lions president Tom Lewand, general manager Martin Mayhew, NFL football first-round draft choice North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron and head coach Jim Caldwell pose before a news conference in Allen Park, Mich., Friday, May 9, 2014. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Paul Sancya/Associated Press

The Detroit Lions are perfectly happy with their 2014 NFL draft class after two months. The franchise is excited about what impact guys like Eric Ebron can make. 

In fact, the rookies themselves have already formed quite the tight bond, as noted by Pride of Detroit. There is great promise with the class, and Lions fans should be quite excited about the potential.

But sometimes it's fun to think about an alternate world, the proverbial path not taken. 

My kids' favorite TV show is Wild Kratts, where the animal explorers jump into "what if" land and explore the possibilities of being in an alternate world. It's creative and informative, and it allows the mind to contemplate different scenarios.

What if general manager Martin Mayhew, head coach Jim Caldwell and the Lions had made different choices in May's draft? How would those changes alter the subsequent picks, and what impact upon the roster would they have?

Here's an exploration into that fantasy land. These three alternate realities are purely speculative and just for thought-provoking fun.


Anthony Barr Instead of Eric Ebron

This was a very real possibility. In fact, Mayhew and the Lions did a tremendous amount of homework on the UCLA linebacker. How closely was he considered? 

How did #Lions GM Martin Mayhew spend the first day of free agency Tuesday? He was at UCLA pro day watching Anthony Barr.

— Dave Birkett (@davebirkett) March 12, 2014 

That's pretty strong interest, as noted by the Detroit Free Press beat writer Birkett. It was enough to spawn an article on how well Barr would fit with the Lions. 

Taking Barr, of course, would have required a little manipulation; the Vikings took him with the No. 9 pick, one spot before Detroit picked at 10. For our purposes here, let's say the Vikings took Ebron instead to keep it simple.

Barr is the pass-rushing linebacker the team so desperately coveted. His closing speed is exceptional, and he packs power behind his pads. 

Had Detroit taken Barr instead of Ebron, there obviously would be no need to take another linebacker in Kyle Van Noy in the second round. The overwhelming need at receiver would have to take paramount precedence at No. 45, Detroit's original slot in the second round. 

The receiver population offered some intriguing possibilities here. 

Second-Round Wide Receiver Possibilities
PlayerCollegeHeight/WeightWhere drafted
Paul RichardsonColorado6'0"/17545th overall
Davante AdamsFresno State6'1"/21253rd
Cody LatimerIndiana6'2"/21556th

Even though Paul Richardson wound up going 45th to Seattle, he didn't offer much to Detroit other than a field-stretching outside receiver. The Lions could use that to be sure, but others would present more diversity and all-around potential. 

Davante Adams led the nation in receptions, but his primitive route running and lack of breakaway speed were common critiques in scouting reports, including this one from CBS Sports

Taking Adams would not provide the instant wideout production that Ebron offers, even though the actual Lion is listed as a tight end. He would be more of an eventual successor to Calvin Johnson as Megatron's career begins to fade than the Kurri to his Gretzky. 

Cody Latimer is a player who garnered a lot of late buzz in the draft process. His strength and sizzle factor were readily mentioned in his NFL.com draft profile, as well as in the video below.

There are some legit flags, including an inability to work out at the combine because of hernia surgery. Like Adams, he lacks polish with his footwork in routes. The former Hoosier has a higher-end upside, but he is more of a wild card to reach that full potential. 

Another option would have been to put off receiver for yet another round and instead reinforce the defensive line in the second round.

Players like Florida State's Timmy Jernigan or Ego Ferguson from LSU would bolster the tackle spot and provide something of a pre-emptive strike against potential departures by starters Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley after the season. 


Taking Kyle Fuller in the First Round

Some folks advocated that the Lions should ignore other needs and address the lack of a legit No. 1 cornerback.

With Justin Gilbert off the board at the eighth pick, the next viable target would be Virginia Tech's Kyle Fuller. He ultimately went 14th overall to the Chicago Bears

The Lions had reason to consider Fuller at No. 10. He possesses the size, speed and playmaking knack that allow for immediate contribution. His brother Corey was Detroit's sixth-round pick in 2013, though Kyle is a much higher-end prospect than his wide receiver older brother. 

At minimum, Fuller would be the third outside corner behind Darius Slay and Rashean Mathis. With a strong summer, he could certainly usurp one of those projected starters. It would also provide a more cogent long-term answer to what has been a sore positional need for years. 

Taking Fuller would have one primary side effect. The pressing need for another viable receiving option would be paramount.

Because of how highly the Lions valued Van Noy, we'll leave the second-round pick alone. The receivers taken in that range—Marqise Lee, Jordan Matthews and Paul Richardson, who was chosen by Seattle with Detroit's original 45th slot—didn't seem as valued by Detroit.

In the third round, however, the pick would have changed. Instead of taking Arkansas center Travis Swanson, the Lions could have done a little maneuvering and still come away with a wideout.

Detroit held the 12th pick of the third round, 76th overall. In a strange lull, no wideouts came off the board between Jarvis Landry to Miami at No. 63 and Josh Huff to Philadelphia at No. 86. 

Don Ryan/Associated Press

The Lions could have traded back several slots, perhaps acquiring an extra pick or two. 

Let's say that the nifty, tough Huff was the target. Because of his familiarity with Eagles coach Chip Kelly, the man who recruited him and coached him at Oregon, the Lions would have had to make a deal with a team like the Cardinals or Packers ahead of Philly's pick. 

It's tough to trade within the NFC North, so the hypothetical here is that the Lions trade back to Arizona's spot at No. 84 (they took defensive end Kareem Martin). The Cardinals would have to throw in No. 120 overall in the fourth round.

With that new haul, the Lions could have taken Huff or Ole Miss wideout Donte Moncrief in the third round. Moncrief is making positive waves at Colts camp, and he would fit into the bigger receiver role the Lions have carved out for Ebron.

His inconsistency for the Rebels is somewhat troubling, but not any more that fellow SEC stud Mike Evans, who got 40 percent of his 2013 production in just two games. I compared the two back in the predraft process as part of this piece

The extra fourth-round pick produces many divergent options. Among them:

  • Wyoming safety Marqueston Huff
  • North Carolina safety Tre Boston
  • Alabama wideout Kevin Norwood
  • Liberty cornerback Walt Aikens

Those players all went between Arizona's pick at No. 120 (they took Fuller's Hokies teammate, quarterback Logan Thomas) and when the Lions selected Nevin Lawson with the 133rd pick, a compensatory slot that could not be traded. 

None of those fourth-round prospects would project as making much, if any, impact in Detroit in 2014. 


Not Trading Up for Kyle Van Noy

Detroit moved up from No. 45 to No. 40 to select Van Noy. But what if Seattle, who had acquired the pick from Minnesota in the Teddy Bridgewater trade, opted to keep the pick and take the BYU linebacker for itself?

As mentioned above, the 45th pick wound up being skinny Colorado wideout Richardson, a player I did not rate in my personal top 150 at RealGM. Here are the five players who went immediately after Richardson:

 46 Stephon Tuitt  DE  Notre Dame
 47  Trent Murphy  DE/OLB  Stanford
 48  Timmy Jernigan  DT  Florida State
 49  Jace Amaro  TE  Texas Tech
 50  Jeremiah Attaochu   OLB  Georgia Tech

With Ebron still in the den with the first-round pick, that rules out Amaro. The other four picks in the wake of No. 45 all make some sense for Detroit, however. 

Tuitt's hot-and-cold play is a tough sell for a team with the similarly inconsistent Fairley playing next to him. Murphy and Attaochu would both still upgrade the third linebacker spot over Ashlee Palmer, though in different ways than Van Noy.

Murphy is more of a 3-4 outside backer and was drafted as such by a 3-4 team in Washington. He's not the best fit in Detroit. The negatives listed in his NFL.com scouting profile pretty much preclude interest from Mayhew and Austin:

Very average weight-room strength. Underdeveloped upper body. Can be folded and neutralized by down blocks against more physical blockers (see Notre Dame). Cannot square up and play honest vs. top power. Has coverage limitations -- is tight and late to transition. More natural moving forward than in reverse. Coverage limitations show up vs. backs. Can be stressed vs. speed in the open field.

Van Noy he is not. Nor is Attaochu, who is probably the most natural pass-rusher of the trio. He's rawer than Van Noy and showed very little aptitude other than pinning back the ears and chasing down plays in the backfield. 

His ceiling is high, perhaps higher than Van Noy's based on his bigger frame and power. Yet he's likely to be a much more limited contributor in the first couple of years, and the Lions need that flamethrower of a pass-rusher now. 

Kony Ealy, the versatile defensive end from Missouri, is another possible different path the Lions could have taken. He wound up falling to 60th overall, thanks to a curious run on running backs in the middle of the second round. 

Tim Sharp/Associated Press

Ealy would be more of a closed-end line anchor than a pass-rusher, more in the line of what the Lions already have in Devin Taylor. The depth at end is pretty thin, however, so Ealy would have made some sense at No. 45. 

The player I would have really liked here was Colorado State center Weston Richburg, who went 43rd overall to the New York Giants. Selecting him in the second round would have changed the third-round pick from Swanson.

Other options in that range from those previously mentioned include:

  • Rice cornerback Phillip Gaines
  • Pittsburg State wideout John Brown
  • Southern Miss defensive tackle Khyri Thornton

It's hard to fault the decisions the Lions made in the draft's first two days. Still, it's fun to explore what other decisions might have been made. 


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