The latest NFL Draft news is that Jake Locker, who was a shoe-in as an early first-round pick, will be returning for his Senior year. My gut reaction is that this development helps the Lions.
Right now the Lions look like they are locked into the fourth overall pick of the NFL Draft. Although they could leap Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Cleveland Browns, or the St. Louis Rams if one of those teams wins or if the "strength of schedule" tiebreaker with the Browns moves in one direction or another, the likely result is that the first three picks are some order of the St. Louis Rams, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the Cleveland Browns. Now, at least one of those teams will probably draft a quarterback. Every NFL Draft this decade except for 2000 has seen at least one quarterback go within at least one of those first three picks.
Of the probable top three teams, only St. Louis and Cleveland could take a quarterback because Tampa Bay took Josh Freeman with the 17th Overall pick last year. Thus, there's a good chance that one but only one of those teams could take a quarterback. In this scenario, the Detroit Lions could possibly be sitting at number four with either Bradford or Clausen, the only apparent marquee quarterbacks in this draft, on the board. There are a couple of teams within "striking distance" that could conceivably want to trade up to jump above Washington, which likely will take a quarterback if available (specifically, Buffalo, Oakland, and Seattle, who are all slated to pick in the top half of the draft). Washington might even want to swing a deal to move up one spot to prevent one of those teams from trading up to snag the remaining quarterback.
This scenario is much less likely if Locker had decided to enter the draft. With Clausen, Locker, and Bradford in play, the only way that the Lions are on the clock and only one of those quarterbacks is left is if both St. Louis and Cleveland draft a quarterback. That seems less likely. Only once this decade, in 2001, have two quarterbacks gone off the board in the first three picks (although, to be fair, it happened in both 1999 and 1998).
The one downside to Locker's return to school is that it decreases the chances that the Lions will have a legitimate shot at Nebraska Defensive Tackle Ndamukong Suh (one of those QB needy teams may have drafted Locker over Suh). However, at this point, the Lions drafting Suh is little more than a pipe dream. With a long-term solution at quarterback locked up and problems on defense, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are highly unlikey to pass up a chance at one of the best defensive line prospects in perhaps the decade. Thus, the only way that the Lions could draft Suh is if the Bucanneers beat at least one of Seattle, New Orleans, and Atlanta, and both Cleveland and St. Louis pass him up for quarterbacks. This is not a likely scenario.
Jake Locker's decision to go back for his senior year of college is undeniably reckless. As a near-certain high first-round pick in 2010, he risks millions by going back to school (everything from a disappointing season, a shoulder injury, or a freak shark attack could cause a drop in his draft status). However, if everything breaks just the right way, he may have given the Lions a prime trade-down opportunity.