One hundred days remain until the event that has become the highlight of the Detroit Lions' year: The NFL draft. This will be the first of a series of features to highlight players, philosophies, or strategies leading up to the draft.
On the heels of two historically bad defensive seasons, it should be no surprise to see the Lions begin to build a defense through the upcoming draft. Nebraska defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh, Oklahoma defensive lineman Gerald McCoy, and Tennessee safety Eric Berry appear to be the most likely candidates to wear the Honolulu blue and silver in 2010.
Unfortunately, the list of needs far exceed the number of draft choices at the Lions' disposal. Martin Mayhew and Jim Schwartz will have to create an identity for the team going forward or run the risk of turning the season into just another turn on the Detroit Lions rebuilding merry-go-round.
My view from 100 days out: This team and city need a championship-caliber defense.
Jim Schwartz ran a great defense in Tennessee. That defense was made great, in large part, because of the disruptive play of defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth. It might be unfair to label either Ndamukong Suh or Gerald McCoy as future Albert Haynesworths but drafting either man No. 2 overall would be a step in the right direction for the Lions.
The benefit of drafting near the top of the second round is that first round talent is always still available—good news for a franchise devoid of talent. Assuming the Lions address the defensive line in the first round, they may be tempted to use their second round choice on an offensive player, perhaps a running back.
Unless a cornerback with shutdown potential is still on the board, drafting a defensive end with solid pass rushing skills is my choice. Brandon Graham is a name of local interest that may get some consideration. The secondary gets immediately better when a defense can mount an effective pass rush.
DeAndre Levy was a good find in round three a year ago. Levy brought versatility and depth in 2009 and projects as a starter as soon as next season. The Lions will need to find players that bring similar qualities in rounds three through five in this draft. Drafting the highest rated player remaining at either wide receiver, running back, guard, cornerback, or safety will yield that biggest dividends. Kick and punt return skills will definitely be valued here as the Lions failed to find consistency in that area in 2009.
Sixth and seventh round picks are always crap shoots. It is possible to find a Tom Brady or Terrell Davis but most late draft picks end up on the practice squad or as depth players. As cliche as it might sound, the Lions should look for guys that just love playing football and will "bring it" every day. Zack Follett became a fan favorite with this sort of attitude after the Lions drafted him with a seventh-round pick last year. The Lions will have to rely on effort to overcome a lack of talent for at least one more season.
Feb. 24-Mar. 2: NFL Scouting Combine
Mar. 5: Free Agency Begins
Apr. 22: NFL Draft Round 1
Apr. 23: NFL Draft Rounds 2-3
Apr. 24: NFL Draft Rounds 4-7