The Detroit Lions filled several of their needs in free agency, but many still exist going into the 2013 NFL Draft. That is why this draft is so important for the Lions. They need to come away with at least a few players who can make an immediate impact at the biggest areas of need on the roster.
What exactly are the Lions' biggest needs? To me, you can break down the Lions' needs into four categories. You have the primary needs, which are positions that must be addressed in the draft, and the earlier the better. The secondary needs are next, and they are made up of positions that are in decent shape but could use an upgrade in the depth department. Finally, there is the minimal needs category for positions that are nearly set and the no needs category for positions that are already set going into the draft. Which positions belong in each category? Take a look below and be sure to chime in with your own rankings in the comments.
Defensive end - The Lions currently only have three defensive ends on their roster. One of them is Jason Jones, who is slated to take Cliff Avril's spot in the starting lineup at defensive end. The other two are Willie Young and Ronnell Lewis. Young showed serious potential in 2011, but he didn't do much of anything last year. Lewis also didn't do much of anything last year, as he only had one snap on defense. The hope would be that Young emerges as a starting-caliber player, but there's no guarantee that will happen. That's why the Lions have to come away from this draft with at least one defensive end, preferably one who could step in and start from day one. Because of the lack of depth and talent and the importance of rushing the passer, this is the Lions' top need.
Offensive tackle/offensive guard/center - All three positions on the offensive line are listed here together because selecting a player at one position could potentially eliminate the need at the other two. If the Lions land an offensive tackle in the first round, for example, Riley Reiff could fill their need at right guard. And if the Lions were to take someone like offensive guard Chance Warmack, Reiff could fill their need at offensive tackle. Finally, if the Lions were to take a center, there's a very good chance he would be able to play guard as well. All of these positions are connected, and given that the Lions have only two starters returning, the offensive line combines to check in as their second biggest need. If the Lions didn't have so many potential starters already on the roster (Reiff, Bill Nagy, Jason Fox, Corey Hilliard, etc.), O-line would be their top need.
Wide receiver - It seems like the Lions need a wide receiver every year, and here we are again thanks to Titus Young's meltdown on and off the field. The Lions were counting on him to be a No. 2 type of wide receiver who would take some of the attention away from Calvin Johnson, but the only attention he took away was in the media and of the negative variety. As a result, the Lions have a hole to fill in their receiving corps. Johnson, Nate Burleson and Ryan Broyles make for a solid group when everybody is healthy, but the Lions are missing someone who can stretch the field and force defenses to focus less on Johnson. They have plenty of receivers on the roster right now, but none seem like they will be able to fill this role in the offense.
Cornerback - If you listen to certain analysts, the Lions' secondary is in shambles and they have no depth at cornerback. Quite frankly, that's just not the case. It's true that the Lions could use a No. 1 cornerback to pair with Chris Houston. However, going into the draft, I don't view cornerback as a position that the Lions must address in the first two days. I say that because Houston is back and the Lions drafted three cornerbacks last year. Bill Bentley showed flashes of potential before getting hurt, and Jonte Green improved in a big way over the course of 2012. Add in Chris Greenwood, who may be the most athletic of the bunch, and Ron Bartell, who signed toward the end of last season, and the Lions seem to have some solid depth. That depth is largely unproven, but a rookie will be unproven as well. The Lions shouldn't ignore this need, but it's just not as big as most people make it out to be.
Defensive tackle - The Lions are set at defensive tackle when it comes to their starters. Behind them, things are a bit sketchy. The Lions did recently sign C.J. Mosley to add some depth behind Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, but they could use another player to develop and serve as extra depth. (Think Sammie Hill when he was drafted, except a rookie this year wouldn't be forced into the starting lineup.)
Tight end - The Lions are also set at tight end when it comes to their starters ... for this year. Both Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler will be free agents in 2014, and right now the Lions only have Nathan Overbay and Dominique Curry (yes, he's a tight end now) behind them. They are lacking depth both now and in the future, and the Lions could use someone in the mold of Will Heller to replace, well, Will Heller. He wasn't re-signed, and the Lions are in need of a blocking tight end who can also catch the ball when it's thrown his way. I personally wouldn't be opposed to the Lions going out and finding a really athletic tight end, but chances are they will target one whose top quality is blocking.
Punter - The Lions signed Blake Clingan after a tryout last month, but he's currently the only punter on the roster, and he's never played in the NFL before. The Lions will almost certainly bring in another punter to compete with him at some point; the only question is if they will draft one or simply sign an undrafted free agent. Based on our study from earlier in the offseason on punters, I vote for drafting one.
Outside linebacker - The only reason this is on the list of secondary needs is because the Lions have a vacant starting spot. Justin Durant wasn't brought back, as the Lions decided to give Ashlee Palmer, Tahir Whitehead and Travis Lewis a shot at starting. The reason it's at the very bottom of the list of secondary needs is because the Lions have three guys already on the team ready to fill this spot. Could they use an upgrade in talent over those three guys? Sure, but this isn't exactly a pressing need.
Running back - With the Lions signing Reggie Bush, they appear to be set at running back. With a top three off Bush, Mikel Leshoure and Joique Bell, they have a good amount of talent on the roster. There appears to be only one spot at most open at this position, and the Lions could look to fill it with a speedy running back who has the ability to return kicks and punts. Adding a player in that mold would give them some insurance in case Bush gets hurt, and they could also fill their need for a returner at the same time.
Safety - Similarly, the Lions took care of this need in free agency by signing Glover Quin and re-signing Louis Delmas. Delmas' injury concerns are the only reason I included this on the list of minimal needs, as it's a real possibility that he could miss time in 2013. Even so, the Lions have Don Carey, Amari Spievey, Ricardo Silva and John Wendling behind the starters, so they aren't lacking depth. This is a situation where they could look to upgrade the talent on the bench at safety, but generally speaking, this position appears to be set.
Kicker - After Jason Hanson retired, kicker was one of the Lions' biggest needs. With them signing veteran David Akers to replace him and Havard Rugland as extra depth, no need exists at this position. I was hoping the Lions would draft a kicker to take over for Hanson, and I suppose they still could if they really want to give Akers some competition in training camp. However, the Lions appear to be set with the combination of Akers and Rugland.
Middle linebacker - Stephen Tulloch is the starter here, and he's the quarterback of the defense. Since Levy has the ability to play middle linebacker, he could shift inside if Tulloch were to get hurt. The Lions could also play Lewis inside, so there is no lack of depth and no need at this position.
Quarterback - The Lions have Matthew Stafford locked in as the starter at quarterback, and he is backed up by Shaun Hill and Kellen Moore. Since Moore made the roster last season, I would imagine he will return as the third-string, developmental quarterback this year. The Lions could add an undrafted quarterback as an extra arm in training camp, but I can't see them drafting one unless it's a situation where a highly regarded quarterback somehow dropped to one of the later rounds and they decided to take him as possible trade bait down the road. Even that's highly unlikely, as the Lions aren't really in a position where they can ignore needs for luxury picks like that.