If the Detroit Lions want to land Central Michigan offensive tackle Eric Fisher or even BYU defensive end Ezekiel Ansah, chances are at least one defensive tackle will have to go in the top four. The perfect scenario for the Lions would be for two defensive tackles to be off the board by the time the fifth overall pick is up, as that would likely push both Fisher and Ansah down to them.
But what if no defensive tackles are picked in the top four? It would be an upset for the top defensive tackle to be on the board when the Lions go on the clock, but at this point in the offseason you have to consider all of the different scenarios that could play out on draft day. Say Fisher, Ansah, Texas A&M offensive tackle Luke Joeckel and Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner make up the first four picks. The best player available in this situation could very well be Florida defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd or Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, but would the Lions legitimately consider either of them?
The Lions do have a need for depth at defensive tackle, but they aren't lacking starters. They are more than set with Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley -- two recent first-round picks -- at the top of the depth chart. The Lions don't really have any depth behind them, so they very well could elect to draft a defensive tackle this year. The expectation is for that need to be addressed on the final day of the draft, though. It would be a huge, huge shock if the Lions spent the fifth overall pick and yet another first-rounder on a defensive tackle regardless of how the top four plays out.
It's really too bad for the Lions that a position like defensive end isn't as stacked as defensive tackle at the top of this year's draft. Floyd has drawn some comparisons to Suh, and Lotulelei is viewed as a top-five pick as well. If there was a defensive end on that level, there would be no questions about who the Lions should take with the fifth overall pick.
Given that the Lions do have Suh and Fairley, defensive tackle hasn't even been considered as a realistic option for the Lions at No. 5. Not only do the Lions have two talented starters at defensive tackle, but they have big needs at other positions that could be filled with the fifth overall pick (see left tackle and defensive end, just to name two of those needs). Taking a player who wouldn't even start with the fifth overall pick doesn't seem like the greatest idea in the world, but should the Lions at least entertain the idea in case they have a shot at taking Floyd or Lotulelei? Believe it or not, but there are some sensible reasons to at least give it some thought.
For starters, drafting Floyd or Lotulelei would help fill the need for additional depth at defensive tackle. While there isn't an opening in the starting lineup, the Lions rotate their defensive tackles quite frequently, so it's not like he would see a limited amount of playing time. In fact, the Lions likely would have the top defensive tackle rotation in the entire league with Suh, Fairley and Floyd/Lotulelei, and the lack of depth behind the starters would certainly no longer be a concern.
Another reason a defensive tackle at No. 5 makes sense revolves around Fairley's injury issues. He missed nine games in his first two seasons, and injuries really depleted the Lions' depth at this position last season. Losing Fairley for an extended period of time this year would be a tough blow with Sammie Hill now in Tennessee, as the Lions don't have a defensive tackle ready to step into the starting lineup. You could say the same thing about Suh, although he is probably more likely to miss time because of another suspension rather than an injury. In any case, having Floyd or Lotulelei around not only would bolster the rotation, but you wouldn't have to worry as much about what to do if a starter were to go down.
The other main reason to consider a defensive tackle at No. 5 involves Suh's future. He is set to become a free agent after the 2014 season, and given his $21.4 million cap number next year, there's no chance the Lions will franchise him. Unless they are able to work out an extension before then, he will become a free agent in 2015, and the Lions will likely have a very tough time re-signing him if he is allowed to hit the open market. They will also have a tough time simply getting him an extension unless they are willing to give him a monster contract, and that would only add to the Lions' future salary cap issues. The Lions certainly don't want him to end up on another team, but if they were to draft Floyd or Lotulelei, they could at least withstand the loss of Suh should he become a free agent.
On paper it doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but you can make a compelling argument for the Lions to at least consider drafting a defensive tackle with the fifth overall pick. The argument against the idea is even stronger, though. The Lions aren't in a position where they can use a top-five pick on adding depth to an already strong position. The Lions need to use that pick on a player who will come in and start from day one at a position of need. Given that this regime is in win-now mode, it would be impossible to justify another first-round pick on a defensive tackle no matter how talented Floyd and Lotulelei may be.
If the Lions were coming off of a playoff run and had the luxury of finding an insurance policy in case Suh departs in a couple years, then by all means go ahead and draft Floyd or Lotulelei. That's not the reality of the situation, though. The Lions are coming off of a 4-12 season that has left general manager Martin Mayhew and head coach Jim Schwartz on the hot seat. While it might be nice to think about adding yet another stud at defensive tackle, the Lions can't afford to ignore the offensive line and defensive end position. Their draft board may say otherwise if Floyd and Lotulelei are ranked ahead of the likes of Fisher and Ansah, but this is a situation where the Lions need the best player available at a position of need rather than simply the best player available.
What do you think? If the Lions pulled off a shocker and drafted a defensive tackle with the fifth overall pick, what would your reaction be?