One of the Detroit Lions' biggest needs this offseason is at cornerback. While this position improved greatly last season with an entirely new cast of players brought in, there is still a need for an infusion of talent.
The problem the Lions are facing in the 2011 NFL Draft is that there may not be a top-tier cornerback available at pick No. 13. LSU's Patrick Peterson is the clear top corner in the draft, but he's expected to be a top five pick. Nebraska's Prince Amukamara is considered the next best cornerback by a wide margin over anybody else, but most expect he will be off the board before the Lions go on the clock. (Side note: Tom Kowalski brought up a scenario where Amukamara would be available for the Lions. Let's hope it comes true.)
With Peterson and Amukamara both likely being off the board before the Lions get to use their first-round pick, would there be another cornerback worthy of the 13th selection? Talent-wise, one of the main cornerbacks being talked about as a mid-first-round pick is Colorado's Jimmy Smith. The problem with him, however, is that off the field stuff drops his value quite a bit for teams that take character issues seriously. Because the Lions are one of those teams, Smith may not even be a realistic option for them.
His brushes with the law came in his first three years at Colorado. They mostly involved alcohol. He was caught with a beer before his 18th birthday. He was also cited for being a minor in possession of alcohol his freshman year.
"I was a true freshman and it was the first day out of camp," he said. "I walked outside (of a bar) with a red cup. It had nothing in it, but walking outside with a red cup is not OK in Boulder and I got popped. Just a lack of judgment."
He was caught in a police raid on a campus bar in his junior year, when he hadn't yet turned 21. There was also four positive drug tests.
Aside from the scrapes with the law and positive drug tests (how many strikes does a player get at Colorado?), there are also concerns about his football attitude, as outlined by Kowalski.
The biggest issue about Smith is his football character - and here's where I think the Lions have their greatest concerns. The Lions want players who have passion for the game and a laser-like focus on football, work ethic and teammate accountability.
The Lions aren't looking to collect a bunch of Cub Scouts; they have a tolerance level for players who have had some struggles and made some bad decisions early in their career. However, they don't have tolerance for players who aren't showing enough movement away from the attitude that led them down that road to legal problems and failed drug tests.
Kowalski believes that the Lions will not select a cornerback with the 13th pick if Amukamara isn't available, and I tend to agree with him. I also am starting to think a linebacker is unlikely because only Von Miller is worth a pick this high, and he will be gone way before the Lions are on the clock. This would leave them with the option of taking an offensive tackle, a defensive lineman or going in an unexpected direction.
If Amukamara isn't there, I personally think Martin Mayhew will try to trade down. An offensive tackle could end up being the pick, but with all of the top guys so close talent-wise, I think the Lions could move down and still get a guy they want. I know some have suggested trading up for Amukamara, but with only five picks in this year's draft that seems unlikely. Trading down, however, would give the Lions an extra pick or two and give them a chance to move around later in the draft. Just something to consider.