Now that the dark days of the Matt Millen era are behind us, Lions fans can look forward to the NFL Draft with hope and high expectations.
They can also realize it is no longer a foregone conclusion that we will use our first round pick on a wide receiver.
We can take solace in the fact that we will no longer have more draft busts than victories every year.
Yes, things are looking up for the Lions faithful.
In 2008, the Lions' winless season, this team was terribly devoid of talent and depth at almost every position.
After that season, Martin Mayhew and Jim Schwartz took over. They have done a tremendous job of rebuilding the team, drafting well and providing us with quality talent and depth at most positions.
It has shown on the field.
The way the Lions played down the stretch last season and the infusion of young talent has some fans whispering a sacred word in Detroit, one that is pretty much foreign to Detroit fans: "playoffs."
I am 21-years-old and have lived in Michigan my whole life. You want to know how many playoff games I am old enough to remember?
It has caused me to become an unmitigated pessimist about Lions football, realizing that every time I have allowed hope to creep in my mind, it gets crushed.
And you know what? Even I am hopeful that this team will make the playoffs in the next two seasons.
I never thought I would say that.
But another solid draft and the Lions will be in a great position to become playoff contenders for the foreseeable future. Here are the positions the team must address this draft to continue their quest to be a playoff team:
Cornerback: The pass defense made strides last year, finishing in the middle of the pack as far as pass yards allowed per game.
Part of the reason this was possible was because of their pass rush and defensive line's improvement. I would like to see the team use a first or second round pick on a corner.
If Prince Amukamara is available at #13, the Lions must take him. Not only would he be one of the best players available, but he fills the team's biggest position of need. Amukamara has ideal size for a corner, moves well laterally, is physical, and plays the ball well while it is in the air. He projects to be a very good corner at the next level.
If he is gone, the team may explore other options at corner with this pick. I could see them targeting Jimmy Smith, an impressive physical specimen out of Colorado. While watching his tape, you can see his natural ability and athleticism. He runs well and has great size, but is somewhat raw as a corner. I don't think he would be a reach at #13, but may take a little while to make an impact on the field. Another player who projects as a first round pick is Aaron Williams out of Texas.
If Amukamara and Smith are both gone, I do not want to see the Lions reach for Williams or another corner. If they can trade down to the late first round and grab Williams while stockpiling some more picks, yes, do it. If not, I would like to see them target an offensive tackle at #13.
There are some free agents who can make contributions at corner, such as Champ Bailey and Antonio Cromartie. One thing is for certain: they need to address this position during the off-season. Whether that means spending a high pick on a corner, or bringing Cromartie and his nine illegitimate children to Detroit, they must add an impact player.
Offensive Tackle: Jeff Backus has been the Lions' long-time left tackle and is not only getting older, but also mediocre.
If Amukamara is not there in round one, Mayhew should give serious consideration to drafting an offensive tackle. There are two players worthy of such a high selection, the first being Nate Solder. He has all of the measurables you would want at left tackle. At 6'8", he has long enough arms and great feet. He moves incredibly well for a player his size. He needs to be more physical, and could improve his run blocking, but Solder has the potential to be a very good tackle. What alarms me about him is that he doesn't seem to have any 'nastyness' in him. After watching his tape, I never saw him plow someone over, and he does not embrace physicality. This is fine while he is trying to keep speed rushers at bay, but he needs to get mean and hit some people in the run game. Also, it seems like he is capable of adding more weight to his frame.
The other player who the Lions need to look at is Tyron Smith. is an impressive physical specimen out of USC and has the athleticism to be a left tackle in this league for a long time. He is very light on his feet, but is a little undersized. He needs to add some weight to tap in to his potential.
As a longtime Lions follower, I have no idea what it feels like to have a long-term solution at left tackle. It would feel great to finally address this important position that has always been a question mark.
Outside Linebacker: Deandre Levy seems to have a home in the middle of the Lions defense for a long time. However, Julian Peterson is getting older and the team needs to start looking for contributors at outside linebacker.
You can find them at this position in the middle rounds of the draft, and the team needs to do that this year.
Lance Briggs and Lamarr Woodley were picks in the second round, and a guy I really like is Mark Herzlich.
He battled through injuries and health problems during his college career, but miraculously was able to play his final season. He was very productive in his career at Boston College when he was healthy. His motor is constantly running and he is a good pass rusher. If he can add some strength, I could see him being a productive player for a long time. If he is there in the second or third round, the Lions should target him.
Power Running Back: In today's NFL, pretty much every team employs the two running back system. There are very few who have a 'feature back', or one guy who carries over 75% of the work load.
Last season, Jahvid Best battled through turf toe to show us flashes of his playmaking ability. You could see his explosiveness around the edges on outside runs. However, he was not very effective running between the tackles. Combine that with his durability issues, and the Lions desperately need to add another running back, preferably a power runner who can pick up first downs in short-yardage situations.
A player who fits this mold perfectly is John Clay out of Wisconsin. He is a big, lumbering runner who is a load to bring down. With so many teams looking for a player like him, I think he will go earlier than expected in this years NFL draft. If the Lions can grab him in round four, he would be a steal. He is a decent value at round three, but Detroit has too many other positions to address, and you can find short-yardage backs a plenty in free agency.
Some other names to keep an eye on are Stevan Ridley, Jamie Harper, and Anthony Allen.
With all that in mind, here is my ideal draft:
1. Prince Amukamara
2. Nate Solder
3. Jimmy Smith
4. Tyron Smith
-If they did not pick a corner in round one, pick one here. If not, try and grab a quality OLB or OT. Gabe Carimi, Derek Sherrod, Herzlich, and Martez Wilson are all possibilities here. If they stay away from a CB in round one, look for Brandon Harris or Ras-I Dowling to be the selection.
-When it gets to this point in the draft, it is prudent to take the best player available.
-If Clay is there, grab him. If not, find another power runner.
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