Well, if there's one thing we can say for sure, it's that we can eliminate Detroit from the "Suck for Luck" sweepstakes.
In fact, for the first time in a very, very long time, we might be able to eliminate the Detroit Lions from drafting in the top 20 of the NFL Draft next year.
Perhaps more importantly, the Lions have played half their games this year, and more people are looking towards the postseason than the offseason. That's a step in the right direction.
But good as this team is right now, there are still very real, very immediate needs on this team. And we all know that the Lions like drafting for the long term, but they are in a position now where the current needs and the long-term needs are starting to overlap.
And yes, I'm talking about the offensive line. But it's just silly to think that the Lions have only one area of need, which is why the Lions' first pick of the 2012 NFL Draft might surprise you (and really, when has it not?).
In this case, my first Lions mock pick of the 2012 NFL Draft season is...
You might be surprised that this isn't an offensive tackle, but consider this an extension of the Lions' tendency to draft based on talent, not need.
Only that's less a hard-and-fast rule now that the Lions approach something resembling a "complete team," and more a general guideline.
In this case, the Lions have needs, more or less, all along the offensive line. The most obvious is offensive tackle. Not only is Jeff Backus aging and ineffective, he's set to be a free agent next season.
That being said, there are two things that keep the first pick off the board from being an offensive tackle. One is Jason Fox, who could possibly succeed Backus in his position next year. The other is Dominic Raiola.
Raiola is under contract until 2013, but as great a leader as he is, he may well be the worst starter on the team in terms of straight production. If you don't believe me, watch what happens the next time a Lions running back tries to pound the ball up the middle.
Peter Konz is a 315-pound road-grader, which is exactly what the middle of that line needs. Though it's early and this will likely change, he is one of the top-rated center prospects on the board.
Better yet, since the Lions are likely to draft somewhere in the late teens or early 20's, taking a top-rated interior lineman isn't by any means a reach, while it might be in the top 15.
Yep, that's a young(er) Matthew Stafford there sporting his Georgia duds.
And behind him?
That's 350-pound guard Cordy Glenn, moving guys out of the way. It might be time to reunite these old friends.
And yes, I am suggesting that the Lions double-dip at interior line early in this draft. Why? Let me put it this way: Quick, name a guard on the Lions' 53-man roster other than Rob Sims and Stephen Peterman!
Technically, there isn't one. Dylan Gandy is listed as a center, and Jacques McClendon is on the practice squad.
And besides, Peterman is atrocious and needs replacement yesterday.
I think it's more the Lions' speed to not go heavy at a single area in one draft (the only time the Lions picked more than one of the same position player in a single draft was 2009, when they drafted TEs Brandon Pettigrew and Dan Gronkowski), but most of the rest of the team is pretty well put-together right now.
Glenn has a first-round grade on him right now. If he slips to the bottom half of the second round (and since the draft is five months away, he could), the Lions will fill that need with talent and give Stafford a familiar face to protect him.
Incidentally, because it is so early in the draft game, it is entirely possible that these first two picks swap positions. Konz could slip to the second round just as easily as Glenn. Alternatively, Konz, a junior, could just not declare for the draft.
But just go with it for now.
So here's the situation as it pertains to the Detroit Lions and the linebacker position. Right now, it's fine.
But Stephen Tulloch is gone after this year. At the very least, he's going to be looking for a very large contract. The Lions are in salary cap hell right now, and Calvin Johnson is enormous contract priority No. 1.
Johnson isn't a free agent until 2013, but with the amount of money he's set to make next season on the final year of his rookie contract (something like a cool $18 million), signing him will be a priority sooner rather than later.
That means, quite possibly, less money and attention for Tulloch, unless he's willing to take the "team loyalty" discount. I doubt that.
The point of all this? The Lions could use a new young stud at linebacker. Doug Hogue has potential, DeAndre Levy is solid, Bobby Carpenter has been a pleasant surprise and Justin Durant continues to quietly have a fine season. But are any of those guys really the do-it-all playmaking linebacker the Lions need?
Kevin Reddick is making a name for himself for being that kind of player, and if the junior linebacker declares, he's good value in the third round.
If nothing else, he's a good reason not to bring back Isaiah Ekejiuba.
Brandon Boykin's stock is on the rise, so there's a good chance he's off the board in the second or third round.
But cornerbacks are absurdly tough to project, so he could still be sitting around in the fourth. If that happens, he's a steal.
The Lions have a better secondary right now than anyone expected, and the path they took to get there is even more surprising. Right now, the major players in the secondary are a pair of mid-low tier-free agents (Chris Houston and Eric Wright), a second-round castoff from Denver (Alphonso Smith) and an undrafted free agent (Aaron Berry).
That being said, Wright is like Tulloch in that he effectively took a pay cut to come to Detroit, and is playing very well on a one-year deal. Though he recently stated his desire to stick around past 2011, he is likely slated to make more money next year than the Lions have sitting around under the salary cap.
If the Lions can't re-sign Wright, the Lions will need someone to plug in across from Chris Houston. It may not be Boykin immediately, but Houston is up for free agency again in 2013, and the Lions may have the same problem again.
This way, Boykin can take some time to get acclimated, and possibly plug in as a starting corner after a year or two. The cornerback situation is good in Detroit now, but far from stable in the long term. It's time to start building it up now, because nobody knows how free agency will work out.
You might be confused here. Don't the Lions already have a quarterback?
Of course they do. In fact, as of next year, they have exactly one quarterback.
Matthew Stafford is under contract for a while longer, but Shaun Hill and Drew Stanton are, barring some intervention, out the door after this season. I think the Lions will re-sign one of them (probably Stanton, whose career appears less important to him than staying in Detroit), but not both.
That means the Lions will be looking for some fresh blood on the depth chart, and the dual-threat junior from Florida State fits the bill.
See, teams with franchise quarterbacks do this once in a while.They'll draft quarterbacks in the late rounds on a whim, have them sit the bench (and the film room) for a while, then either let them grow into solid backup quarterbacks, or ship them off to a team looking for a starter and pull some return on investment.
Now, I'm not a big fan of running quarterbacks, but some teams are. And showing off Manuel's running ability in a preseason game might just be enough to make a team looking for the next Michael Vick (for some reason) trade off a third-round pick for the kid after a couple of years.
If not, the Lions spent a fifth-round pick on a backup quarterback, and what's wrong with that?
I fully expect some resistance to the idea that the Detroit Lions don't draft an offensive tackle until the seventh round. And that's okay.
But the way I see it, 2012 is Jason Fox time. The Lions invested a fourth-round pick into the kid, they let him learn and grow until Jeff Backus's contract was up, and now it's his turn to step up.
If they don't play Fox, then he's a waste of a fourth-round pick. And this is the team that drafted Sammie Hill in the fourth round.
So even with Backus gone (or re-signed on the cheap as a reserve), the offensive tackle position should have two obvious starters.
Gosder Cherilus may never be a star, but I haven't yet given up on the idea that he could settle in and be solid for a while. If I'm wrong, the team is still sporting Johnny Culbreath.
With all that said, I'm not sold on anybody at the offensive tackle position, which is why I think the Lions spend another late pick on another OT. Backus will be gone or irrelevant next year, Cherilus is out of first-round goodwill, Fox is promising but also a question mark on the field, and Corey Hilliard is a stopgap option.
Xavier Nixon isn't necessarily the answer to all this in the seventh round, but if we're looking at the offensive line by position, I can't help but think the offensive tackle position is (somehow) the position of least need.
It isn't that the OT position is necessarily any good, but there is more upside and unexplored potential there than at the interior positions. Nixon can come in and add to that, though he'll need to to add some bulk to his lithe 292-pound frame (Standing 6' 5", he has enough body to pump it up).
Though it's a dangerous proposition (Stafford and the running backs pay the price if it doesn't work), I say 2012 is the year to see if that OT potential flourishes. If it flops, then 2013 is the year of the first-round left tackle, especially if they've already upgraded the interior.