The Superbowl in May, as we Lions fans so affectionately have come to know the NFL Draft. This year is as paramount as ever to perpetuating the Lions' chances at a long overdue playoff run, as well as cementing the new coaching staff in the good graces of fans and the Ford's alike. And so I, macbook in hand, humbly attempt to predict the Lions 8 picks in the 2014 NFL Draft. As much as I'd like to wheel and deal, I've omitted trades, as it is impossible to predict who will actually be willing to be dance partners when the time comes. I've tried to be as realistic as possible, so you will not see Khalil Mack at number 10. So on to the picks, and feedback is absolutely welcome.
Round 1, Pick 10: Anthony Barr (OLB) UCLA
The ideal move would be to trade up and grab Watson, or to move back and settle on one of the top safeties, but that is not an option in this mock. Pettigrew is re-signed, so that rules out Ebron. Taylor Lewan is facing assault charges, and Matthews/Robinson are almost surely not available at this point. Cornerback is not a pressing need, and to some it's not even a need at all. So I was left between Barr, Clinton-Dix, Evans, and Pryor. And I settled on who is, in this pseudo-writer's humble opinion, the best available prospect; Anthony Barr, outside linebacker out of UCLA.
Need Meets Talent
Anthony Barr, 6'5, 255 lbs, and a 4.65 40 time that ranked 6th among linebackers (although note, Barr ran a BLAZING 4.45 40 at his pro day according to head coach Jim Mora). As a senior Barr forced 6 fumbles, and sacked the quarterback 10 times, while facing constant double teams. Anthony Barr is a scary prospect, with a first step quarterbacks have nightmares about. Physical, violent, fast, Barr would be an excellent addition to a Lions defense that desperately needs another difference maker. While Barr is not as polished a prospect as Mack, his upside may surpass any DE/OLB prospect in the entire draft. He reminds me of Ansah, an unpolished physical specimen who excels at rushing the passer. Adding Barr to the Lions will immediately bolster our pass rush and linebacking corp, taking pressure off our woeful secondary. I expect Austin to implement a defense that attacks, far more than Schwartz's vanilla defense did, and Barr would be an absolute weapon off the edge, especially if Austin switches between 4-3 and 3-4 looks. While Barr doesn't possess the athleticism of a Jadaveon Clowney, he may have more upside than even Khalil Mack, considering he has only played the position for 2 years, transitioning to runningback once Jim Mora took over the team. Barr is definitely stout enough to play the 4-3 position, but his best fit may come as a standup 3-4 linebacker who specializes in an edge rush a la Von Miller. Barr isn't exactly fluid in coverage, and he needs to add strength (his 15 reps at the combine were the lowest of his position), as well as develop a bigger repertoire of pass rushing moves, however his immense athleticism and potential, as well as his ability to fill a huge hole in the Lions' defense, makes this pick almost a no brainer.
Round 2, Pick 45: Marcus Martin (C) USC
One thing I love is when you can grab the top rated prospect at a given position, which is exactly what Marcus Martin is. A big (6'3, 320 lbs),barrel chested, powerful center, Martin is the perfect prospect to groom behind Dominic Raiola. Martin, who started for 3 years at a top college football program, is absolutely capable of starting in the NFL day 1 at either guard or center, but the ideal situation would be to learn behind Dom, one of the most intelligent centers in the league, for a year or 2 before seamlessly taking over the reigns himself as the center for the future. He, Reiff, Warford, and Waddle would anchor a young offensive line that has the potential to be one of the most talented in the league with the right coaching. While he isn't a prospect that's going to make a splash year 1, it's a fantastic future move that could pay dividends as early as next year. He needs to work on his aggressiveness and playing as strong as his measurables indicate, but he is a definite pro-prospect, and I'd be excited to have him in the middle of the offensive line.
Round 3, Pick 76: Jeremiah Attaochu (OLB) Georgia Tech
I had to take a good, hard look at Jarvis Landry (WR) here, but ultimately I ruled his skill set was too similar to Golden Tate. I opted for the Lions, much like last year, doubling up at their weakest position, and selecting OLB Jeremiah Attaochu out of Georgia Tech.
Attaochu is a Nigerian-born outside linebacker with a non-stop motor and passion for the game. He's constantly moving towards the ball and does not take a play off. He has a knack for getting after the quarterback and disrupting the backfield as evidenced by his 13 sacks and 16 tackles for loss in 2013. He's fast, he's athletic, he's intelligent, he gets a fantastic burst off the line, and his potential is intriguing (will be a 21 year old rookie). Attaochu has experience in both even and odd fronts, and played with his hand in the dirt as well as standing up, and he has experience with playing coverage against tight ends and running backs. This versatility will be a necessity, especially if you believe (I do) the Lions will make the slow transition to a 3-4 defense. Attaochu could stand to add more bulk, which will allow hiim to get more power into his pass rush, as opposed to just relying on pure effort. His pass-rushing ability is raw, and he will benefit from a couple years on the bench, but ultimately, Attaochu's floor is a pass rushing specialist, his ceiling is an absolute terror of an outside linebacker. Count me in.
Round 4, Pick 107: Craig Loston (SS) LSU
All signs point to the Lions signing a safety to take the place of Louis Delmas. Ihedigbo is 30 (update: Lions sign Ihedigbo), so I thought it prudent to draft another prospect to groom behind the de-facto starter and I settled on Craig Loston, strong safety out of LSU. Craig Loston's greatest attribute is his aggression. Loston is a physical, and he's quite possibly the most hard-hitting safety in the draft. Loston is one that will excel in the box (although he's smart enough and athletic enough to play FS as well). He will force turnovers with his able hands and fumble forcing tackles. He will deliver the jarring hit, yet he happens to be a controlled, able tackler as well, converting over 70% of solo tackles in 2013. Loston is a smooth athlete, and LSU felt comfortable leaving him isolated against receivers, and he actually played more man coverage than zone coverage. One thing I love about Loston is his clear leadership. He's a vocal guy and you can see him taking charge of the Tigers defense throughout the season. Considering Delmas's tendency to do the same, he will make a great addition to the locker room.
Loston isn't without his qualms however; he prefers to deliver the punishing hit rather than going for the ball in coverage, and he doesn't have top flight coverage abilities. He lacks experience and will benefit from a couple years behind Ihedigbo, a safety of similar skillset. But overall, Loston is a more complete prospect than other safeties in this range, and even more attractive than guys like Lamarcus Joyner and Deonne Bucannon, and his versatility will be paramount as it will allow the Lions to interchange Quinn and Loston in different looks. I urge you to watch the highlight video as well, his hard hitting style is just awesome to watch. Loston will come in and be an immediate special teams contributor, as well as fan favorite. And he could develop into a formidable weapon deep in coverage.
Round 4, Pick 133: Brandon Coleman (WR) Rutgers
The first compensatory pick the Lions receive will be spent on Brandon Coleman, WR out of Rutgers. He's a huge receiver (6'6, 230), and he's averaged 22 yards per catch, and caught a touchdown in 1 out of every 5 catches. At the very least he develops into a reliable red zone specialist, at the very best he throws aside his inconsistency issues and uses his huge frame and catch radius to become a formidable number 2 receiver. Needs to work on explosiveness off the line, which he has the potential to do (4.55 40), and he definitely needs some polish, but you can't ignore the potential of this pick.
Round 4, Pick 136: Josh Huff (WR) Oregon
I opted to double up at wide receiver with the compensatory picks, partly because of the depth at wide receiver this year, and also because of the drop off in talent after Golden Tate on the depth chart. So enter Josh Huff, the electrifying weapon out of Oregon at 136.
Huff is shaping up to be one of my favorite wide receiver prospects in the draft. He was used extensively at Oregon; lined up outside, lined up in the slot, in the backfield. Anywhere you needed an explosive weapon, Huff was there. Huff is a prototypical slot receiver who will start day 1 for the Lions in 3 WR sets. He's a tough wide receiver, willing to go over the middle to make the catch, and he has the strength to fend off cornerbacks in press coverage (although he didn't see much press in Oregon's spread offense). Huff's agility and speed are dangerous, corners must respect his ability to burn them off the line, has the ability to find the holes in zone coverage, and with the ball in his hands he's a threat to take a short slant to the house. He's even an elite blocker, who will go out and get his assignment. Huff will be an immediate addition to a Lions offense that needs weapons after Bush and Calvin, and I would be ecstatic to watch him perform in a Lions uni. His speed, strength, agility, hands, playmaking ability, are perfect for a slot receiver, and he will quickly find a niche in this explosive Lions offense.
Round 6, Pick 189: Dontae Johnson (CB/S) N.C State
Dontae Johnson is one of my favorite prospects, and definitely a sleeper to watch, in fact by draft time he may not even be available at this point. He's big (6'2), he's fast (4.44 40), he's long and athletic, and he's versatile (played corner, nickel, and safety). Dontae Johnson excels predominately in zone coverage, where he uses his instincts, awareness, and long limbs to diagnose plays and break them up. He started his career as a backup safety, then moved to nickel corner, and then started at left corner, before moving back to free safety. I think you can attribute his loose mechanics and sloppy footwork to moving around to so many different positions, and once Johnson locks in at corner, he can be an impressive press coverage type player who will bump and run with you. I'd be incredibly excited to have Johnson in the mix as a potential future corner, because he has the size and speed combination that is impossible to teach. He needs to work on his mechanics and strength, as well as performing better against top flite competition (he got bullied by Sammie Watkins), but with the right coaching, Johnson can develop into a corner that is becoming en-vogue throughout the league.
Round 7, Pick 227: Chris Boswell (K)
Cap off the draft by grabbing a kicker with NFL leg strength and shoring up the position once and for all.
Feedback is always welcome!