Detroit Lions Mock Draft: Instant Contributors Lions Can Find in Every Round
General manager Martin Mayhew didn't fill out the Detroit Lions roster through free agency, leaving the 2015 NFL draft as the only avenue to finding a few more instant contributors. Luckily, this mock draft has him covered.
Obviously, Lions fans know that not every draft pick pans out immediately. Cornerback Darius Slay didn't contribute much his rookie season before finding himself in 2014, and Eric Ebron, last year's top pick, will be under heavy pressure to significantly ramp up his production in his sophomore campaign.
But we've got a month to sort through the late bloomers and those that can contribute in Week 1. This particular mock focuses on the latter.
Round 1, Pick No. 23: OL La'el Collins
Now is not the time to debate the value of cornerbacks. The Chicago Bears' Kyle Fuller was the exception to the rule that cornerbacks take at least a year to develop into consistent contributors. The position doesn't have a place in the instant-contribution discussion.
As for running backs, there are two first-rounders that have the ability to be Day 1 starters. However, there's no guarantee that Todd Gurley bounces back right away from his ACL tear, and Melvin Gordon struggles with ball security (six fumbles lost last season).
Therefore, the best route is a versatile offensive lineman who can start right away, and fellow Bleacher Reporter Ryan McCrystal thinks that guy is La'el Collins. I agree.
La'el Collins - Immediate starter at G and possible a very good one. Capable of playing in any blocking scheme. http://t.co/YFppd5Lpr3— Ryan McCrystal (@Ryan_McCrystal) March 23, 2015
Collins is the exact type of player the Lions need up front. He's a strong run-blocker who will drive a defender to the second level. He will instantly make the offensive line edgier due to his nasty streak, and if you're concerned about his pass protection, just see what he told NFL.com's Chase Goodbread:
I feel like I played him as good as anybody. He definitely made me better. When you go back and watch my film against him, he's a top-five pick and I feel like I held my own. If you have any questions about my pass blocking, just go watch my tape against Florida.
Florida State's Cameron Erving would be a solid pick here as well. But Erving's best position is center, and Detroit plans on playing Travis Swanson there. This pick will let Detroit put the best player available in the best possible position.
Round 2, Pick No. 54: RB Duke Johnson
The Lions don't need a top-tier running back. They could get by with Joique Bell, Theo Riddick and a cheap free agent or a late-round pick. Yet most in the front office would likely welcome one into the pride with open arms.
There are a few that would make sense here. Tevin Coleman and Ameer Abdullah are two Big Ten options, but the former could burn himself out with his aggressive running style and the latter might be better suited as someone else's Theo Riddick.
David Johnson from Northern Iowa has gotten some play in this spot lately, but the right call is the other D.J.—Miami's Duke Johnson. Marlowe Alter, in a piece for the Detroit Free Press, summed up the former Hurricane well:
At 5-9 and 207 pounds, Johnson is small in stature but exudes a fearless running style. He was an excellent schematic fit for Miami's outside zone run game, where he could run laterally towards the edge before finding a seam and using his elite burst and electrifying agility to slash upfield. Johnson also offers valuable versatility with his receiving abilities and as a dangerous kick returner.
Johnson's experience with zone blocking will translate well to offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi's system, where the stretch play was second only to the dive in the rushing playbook.
Miami's all-time leading rusher accelerates quickly after making one cut. His 4.54-second 40-yard dash at the combine, per NFL.com, wasn't indicative of what this guy can do when he hits the open field. Johnson's speed, quickness and ability to rip off long runs would make him the perfect complement to the team as currently constituted.
Round 3, Pick No. 88: DT Xavier Cooper
If this were next year, the proper pick might be Mario Edwards. The soon-to-be former Seminole is a Jason Jones clone that can stuff the run from the inside or outside, but Jones still has one year remaining on his contract, making Edwards unnecessary.
That's why the Lions would turn to Xavier Cooper. And don't worry if you have trouble keeping him separate from Xavier Proctor from the Lions practice squad. You're in good company.
Cooper stands 6'3" and weighs 293 pounds, per NFL.com. But those aren't the measurables that matter for him since he isn't a block-eating run-stuffer. Cooper is a penetrator, as Chandler Miller of Football Savages explains:
Watched Xavier Cooper. Explosive, good 1st step. Strength is penetrating a single gap. Sniffs out screens well. 3rd rounder as a 3T IMO— Chandler Miller (@CM_Draft) March 26, 2015
The Lions do need another gap-filler to keep the linebackers clean and allow Haloti Ngata to rest. However, the Lions also need another interior pass-rusher beside Tyrunn Walker, and it's unclear if Caraun Reid will be able to fill that spot.
But Cooper could fit the bill. He's an ex-basketball player that explodes off the line quicker than some offensive linemen can react. That skill set would do wonders in Detroit's gap-attacking scheme.
Round 6, Pick No. 199: WR Kenny Bell
This isn't the first time I've mentioned Kenny Bell as a sixth-round target. It won't be the last. Bell is too good of a fit.
He's quick enough to give defensive backs fits trying to account for his cuts, and Bell transitions well to running after the catch. His wiry frame is worrisome, yet he's strong enough to shrug off tacklers and isn't afraid to mix it up physically.
Kenny Bell ladies and gentlemen. 6-1 WR, 41.5" vertical, 4.3 speed, and oh yeah, he can block. https://t.co/wAuALWXuXE— Matthew Chastain (@MattChastain_) March 27, 2015
And Bell is a very effective run-blocker. The above hit is the highlight, but he engages cornerbacks on the outside and stays in front of them, giving his running back a chance to pick up a few extra yards.
He might not be able to overtake Corey Fuller or T.J. Jones on the depth chart, but Bell and the 4.37 speed he displayed at his pro day, per NFL.com, could beat out Jeremy Ross as the return man. He handled those duties in college, leading the team in receptions and kick return yards in 2013.
Round 7, Pick No. 231: LB Taiwan Jones
You're going to have a tough time finding guys this late who can come in and make an impact. Heck, you'll have difficulty just finding players who can make the final roster. And to make matters worse, Taiwan Jones doesn't play a position of need.
Yet he still made this mock for a few reasons.
First, Jones is a great fit for the Lions locker room. Head coach Jim Caldwell places a premium on character, and Jones was the leader of Michigan State's defense last season.
Additionally, the kid has better speed than anticipated, according to Tony Pauline of DraftInsider.net:
Early report from Michigan State pro-day: Taiwan Jones/LB mid to low 4.7's forty. Significant improvement from combine.— Tony Pauline (@TonyPauline) March 18, 2015
The Lions don't have much of a need for a backup middle linebacker this year, but churning the bottom of the roster to better the talent is a smart endeavor. Plus, Jones's speed and instincts could bolster the special teams coverage units that faltered as the year went along.
Round 7, Pick No. 240: FB Joey Iosefa
We've tried to base this mock in some sense of reality. It's highly unlikely that Jalston Fowler would have been available to Detroit at a pick where his value would have been justifiable to the selection. More than likely, the Alabama fullback will be taken in the late fifth or early sixth, meaning Detroit would have to burn a third-round pick on a fullback to secure his services. That isn't happening.
That leaves Detroit to choose between undersized athletes who can't deliver the pop necessary to move linebackers off their spot and Joey Iosefa. While the Hawaii product might not have the proven agility of Connor Neighbors or Tyler Varga, he does have 25 pounds on them (6'0", 247 pounds) and could be quicker than first realized, according to his agent:
The only fullback left on the roster is Emil Igwenagu, who is anything but a lock. Iosefa would at least be given a shot to compete for Collins' old job considering his size, power and catching ability.
All combine statistics are courtesy of NFL.com.
Brandon Alisoglu is a Detroit Lions Featured Columnist who has written about the Lions on multiple sites. He also co-hosts a Lions-centric podcast, Lions Central Radio. Yell at him on Twitter about how wrong he is @BrandonAlisoglu.