Before we take a look at who the Lions are going to draft it is a good idea to be sure we understand the positional needs of the team. Unlike many previous seasons I do not see that many places where the Lions need starters There are plenty of opportunities to add depth but those are not the sexy picks that we will talk about in the first few rounds of the draft. So let's take a look at where the Lions can still improve the starters.
On offense the Lions are in pretty good shape in a couple of places. Matthew Stafford is likely to be the starting quarterback for at leas another decade. Running back is well manned with Reggie Bush and Joique Bell. We are not likely to see any major changes at either of these positions.
The offensive line has been retooled and most of the starters have a lot of seasons left to play. The notable exception is Dominic Raiola. Even Raiola looked like he has some gas left in the tank after turning in a fine season in 2013. Still we should look for his replacement before he is about to retire since centers sometimes can take a couple of seasons to learn how to make proper blocking calls for the offensive line but that will not be a starting position in 2014 since Raiola will return.
Tight end is a little up in the air with the pending free agency of Brandon Pettigrew. Still, Joseph Fauria looks like a fine receiving tight end and Michael Williams was drafted because he is an excellent blocker with upside as a receiver. Given Williams' blocking skills I would give him the nod as the starter if Pettigrew leaves.
Calvin Johnson is still the best receiver in the NFL but the rest of the receiving corps is uncertain after that. If Nate Burleson wants to remain a Lion he would have to take a substantial cut in pay. His tendency to be injured has significantly hurt is ability to contribute. Kris Durham still has a way to go in his development. He continues to make mistakes and has not yet reached the point where he can play with full confidence and without thought. Kevin Ogletree and Jeremy Ross have both made some plays and could factor into the future roster. I do believe that Lions need to acquire at least one more receiver as a potential #2 receiver.
The needs on defense are not a lot worse as long as the Lions continue to play a 4-3 front. Most of the defensive line is set and the biggest needs are for depth along the line. Jason Jones played very well before he was injured and will return to one defensive end spot. Ziggy Ansah looked very promising as the other starter at DE. Devin Taylor provides a promising developmental player for depth. If the Lions retain Willie Young then the defensive ends are already set. Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley will continue to start at the tackle spots and C.J. Mosley is a capable backup. If Andre Fluellen returns to fill out the unit then the DTs are also set.
Deandre Levy emerged to finally fulfill his promise. His development reminds us that we have to be patient with young players and give them some time. Along with Stephen Tulloch the Lions have two of the three linebacker spots filled with all-pro potential players. The other outside linebacker spot is one of the largest weaknesses left on the team. Ashlee Palmer should be returned to a backup role where he can fill in capably. The Lions should draft a replacement for him within the first two or three rounds of the draft.
The addition of Glover Quinn helped to upgrade the safety position quite nicely. While Louis Delmas was healthier than he has been in some time I still do not like the way he plays the position. Safety is called that because they are the last line of defense. They have to safeguard against the big plays. Delmas misses way too many tackles to play safety in the NFL and he is not fast enough to play cornerback. Delmas needs to be replaced. Whether we do that through the draft or free agency makes no difference but he needs to be replaced. The only alternative is that Delmas learns to tackle properly and understand his critical role on the team. Don Carey may be able to step up and take that position from Delmas. He actually looked better than Delmas to me.
Cornerback is not a big priority even though some Lions fans may be unhappy with our cornerback play last season. The corners were bad because they are young, not because they lack talent. They need to develop, and like Deandre Levy, that will take some time. We need to be patient with them. Rashean Mathis did a nice job for the Lions and I would like to see him return as a nickel back but even if he doesn't the Lions already have the people they need at cornerback.
The only other real need on the team is a place kicker to replace David Akers, who should not be retained. Sam Martin was excellent as a punter and both Jeremy Ross and Michael Spurlock were capable kick and punt returners. So add a place kicker to the needs list.
The last step is to prioritize the needs. Keep in mind that this is my priority list and you may see it differently.
- Starting outside linebacker.
- Wide Receiver to start opposite Calvin Johnson.
- Safety to start or add depth behind Don Carey (cut Louis Delmas)
- Place Kicker (a high priority that can be filled in a late round of the draft)