Detroit Lions 2012 Mock Draft: 7-Round Predictions, Free Agency Edition
In a week and a half, the Detroit Lions have done enough in free agency to wreck any and all previous mock drafts.
And all they did was keep their own players.
Well, that's alright. The draft is still more than a month away, so that just means it's time for some new mocks.
In previous mocks, I was trying to account for the potential loss of key free agents like Cliff Avril and Stephen Tulloch.
Defensive end is only taken care of for the 2012 season, but with the middle linebacker position set for the next five years, the odds of the Lions jumping for a player like Dont'a Hightower in the first round have diminished drastically.
How else does the Lions' quietly brilliant offseason affect their draft strategy? Not much, I would wager. They probably knew what they were doing long before the dominoes fell.
But it will certainly alter my mock draft strategy, as I try to keep up with a group that should be getting GM/Executive/Coach of the Year consideration in the very near future.
Dean's previous mocks:
First Round (23rd Overall): Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama
Previous pick: Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College
My previous pick gets wrecked because the Lions pulled off the impossible by re-signing Tulloch and Avril.
Kuechly could become a great player in the NFL, but Tulloch already is, and he's entering his prime in a defense that suits his strengths.
At this point, the only position on defense where the Lions are lacking a long-term solution is cornerback.
Chris Houston is a free agent again next season, Aaron Berry is a good player but not a likely starter (he fits better at nickel corner) and new signee Jacob Lacey has plenty of upside, but not much in the way of NFL accomplishments in his first three years.
While the Lions already have a fair amount of youth at cornerback, they haven't invested much at the position. Amari Spievey was a third-round pick in 2010, but he was converted to safety after about two weeks of work.
Aside from that, the Lions haven't drafted a cornerback at all during the current regime. If Dre' Kirkpatrick falls to the Lions at 23, the Lions can take the best player available and still fill a major need.
Sure, it's unlikely that Kirkpatrick falls that far, but it was equally unlikely that Nick Fairley and Prince Amukamara fell to the Lions at 13 last year. Rule nothing out.
Second Round (54th Overall): Zebrie Sanders, OT, Florida State
Jeff Backus is a Detroit Lion for at least two more years, and that's a good thing.
But he'll be 35 this season, and his successor is not yet on the team. That's a bad thing.
What Backus' re-signing buys the Lions time. They have systematically (and effectively) built a great offense around an aging, just barely effective offensive line over the last three years, and they now have enough pieces in place to put up points behind even a sub-par offensive line.
But now, there can be no doubt. The offensive line is the position that needs the most help, both next season and in future seasons. The Lions can't make the excuse that they are "building for the future."
The future is now. The offensive line isn't just a need this year, it's going to be a huge need (and a growing one) from now until the time that the Lions find the next generation. And left tackles are like quarterbacks: it's impossible to find a good one in free agency without taking the hammer to the piggy bank.
In fact, most high-level left tackles don't even make it to free agency in the first place. Teams find them in the draft, or not at all.
Frankly, I'd rather the Lions find a new left tackle in the draft, rather than not at all. Backus remaining with the team for two more years gives the Lions time to take a new kid in the second or third round and coach him up, rather than throw him into the fire immediately.
Zebrie Sanders has left tackle ability, but might not be ready to step into the role immediately. Perhaps he will push Gosder Cherilus at right tackle until he has enough NFL experience to replace Backus.
Third Round (86th Overall): Cam Johnson, DE, Virginia
Previous pick: Doug Martin, RB, Boise State
You might be a little surprised that I would suggest the Lions draft a defensive end in the top half of the draft, considering Cliff Avril is under contract for the 2012 season.
But with the way contract talks have been going, it seems to me that the Lions might be in this exact same position next season, and if Avril doesn't come down on his contract demands, the situation might end with Avril leaving town after all.
On the open market, it's entirely possible that Avril gets the kind of money he's looking for, since his greatest skills—rushing the passer and forcing turnovers—are the kinds of marquee abilities that get paid big money.
If it comes to that, why not bolster the pass rush with another third-round DE (like Avril himself was in 2008)? Johnson may not be the same explosive pass-rusher that Avril is, but he's bigger and stronger against the run.
Even if Avril is able to work out a deal with the Lions, Kyle Vanden Bosch has only two years left on his contract, and injuries and age have slowed him in recent years. The bottom line is that the Lions are going to have to replace somebody at defensive end very soon. They may as well get a jump on it.
Fourth Round (117th Overall): LaMichael James, RB, Oregon
Previous pick: Billy Winn, DE, Boise State
The Lions have already brought LaMichael James in for a pre-draft visit, and Jahvid Best is still not medically cleared to return to football action (though he has been cleared to resume workouts).
Even if Mikel Leshoure turns out to be healthy and fully recovered by the start of the 2012 season, as he claims he will be, Best provides a dimension to the offense that Leshoure simply doesn't have. Best's game has more in common with Darren Sproles, in that he is just as effective as a receiving target out the backfield as he is a pure running back.
Though James was effective as a between-the-tackles running back at Oregon, his skill set matches Best more closely than anyone else. He doesn't have quite the explosive speed and playmaking ability that Best does, but Best was drafted in the first round of the 2010 draft.
In the fourth round, James is a steal, and the Lions don't need to feel bad about drafting their fifth running back in five years.
Fifth Round (150th Overall): Keenan Robinson, LB, Texas
Previous pick: Leonard Johnson, CB, Iowa State
Yes, the Detroit Lions were able to re-sign Stephen Tulloch. So yes, they have an effective linebacker core for 2012.
But as things stand, Tulloch is the only starting linebacker the Lions will have at the start of 2013. DeAndre Levy and Justin Durant are both set to be free agents in 2013, and even if last year's project, Doug Hogue, is ready to step into a starting role, who mans the other side?
Perhaps the Lions will re-sign one or both of their existing starting linebackers next season, but if Robinson falls to them here, he's too good of value to pass up—especially for a team that could be lacking key depth without Bobby Carpenter.
Seventh Round (from Seattle, 202nd Overall): Josh LeRibeus, G, SMU
Previous pick: Kirk Cousins, QB, Michigan State
In my defense, I predicted Kirk Cousins to be available in the seventh round before he blew up the Combine and his Pro Day.
At this point, I'd be surprised if Cousins was still around in the third round, never mind the seventh.
The Lions need to start a youth movement at all positions on the offensive line, and although they're going to need to invest more at the position than seventh-rounders, Josh LeRibeus is good value and a decent project pick.
With Jason Fox, Corey Hilliard, and Johnny Culbreath, the Lions have plenty of project players at tackle. What they don't have is so much as a legitimate backup guard. That may be all LeRibeus can realistically aspire to be, but for a seventh-round pick, even a solid reserve player is a good outcome.
Seventh Round (212th Overall): DeAngelo Peterson, TE, LSU
Previous pick: Jerry Franklin, LB, Arkansas
And why not?
I'll be the first one to admit that tight end falls somewhere near the bottom of the list of the Lions' needs.
But the Draft isn't really about filling needs, remember? And even if you disagree with that mantra, the seventh round of the draft is really not about filling needs. The seventh round is about "Which of these guys do we expect to still be playing football three years from now?"
Peterson may never be an NFL superstar, but he could be a solid player. He has a bit of experience playing H-back, so he could be a natural replacement for Will Heller after his latest one-year deal is up.
Alternatively, he could just be the team's fourth TE for a season or two until the Lions shrewdly deal him off to another team, a la the Dan Gronkowski-Alphonso Smith trade.
See, in the seventh round, it's not just a question of whether the Lions have a use for the player, it's whether anyone does. Peterson has value, and at this point in the draft, that's all you're really looking for.