In the first round of the 2014 SB Nation NFL writers mock draft, I selected Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews for the Detroit Lions. No, there isn't a big need for help at tackle, but I just couldn't pass on a talented player like Matthews.
In the second round, I turned my focus to the defense. I was hoping to land BYU outside linebacker Kyle Van Noy or Northern Illinois safety Jimmie Ward, but both players were selected just in front of the 45th overall pick. As a result, I had to go in a different direction, and I went a bit outside of the box by taking Georgia Tech defensive end/outside linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu. Here's why:
1. Pass rusher is one of the Lions' top needs
The Lions finished 28th in sacks last season, and Jim Caldwell recently made it quite clear that the team could use a "flamethrower" type of pass rusher. The best-case scenario would be to add a pass rusher who can also serve as an upgrade over Ashlee Palmer and become an every-down type of outside linebacker. That's why I was hoping to land Van Noy, who would have filled that role quite nicely.
Admittedly, Attaochu is not necessarily an ideal fit as an outside linebacker in a 4-3 defense right now. He's better suited for that role in a 3-4, which was Georgia Tech's base defense for his first three years in college. Last year, Georgia Tech actually shifted to a 4-3 defense, and as a defensive end, Attaochu set a career high in sacks with 12.5. Over the course of his entire career, he set a Georgia Tech record with 31.5 sacks. He proved that he can get to the quarterback as both a 3-4 OLB and a 4-3 DE, and for the Lions, he would immediately step into that "flamethrower" type of role as a pass rusher.
2. Attaochu is a versatile player
Attaochu got off to a slow start as a 4-3 outside linebacker at the Senior Bowl. However, he improved as the week went on, suggesting that he could pick up the position over time. As a rookie, he might primarily be a situational pass rusher from the defensive end position for the Lions, but as he gets more comfortable with the defense, perhaps he could get more work as an outside linebacker, especially if we see more 3-4 looks under the new defensive coaching staff.
It's important to keep in mind that we don't know exactly what the Lions' new defense will look like. If Teryl Austin intends to mix things up with different fronts and move players around, having a versatile player like Attaochu could really come in handy. It's worth noting that Darryl Tapp is listed as a "DE/LB" by the Lions, so it's possible that Attaochu could come in and get work at both positions as well. He might be more of a pass rusher right now, but over time he could be molded into a more balanced player.
(One other note on Attaochu: I've seen some mentions that he's not big enough to be a 4-3 defensive end in the NFL since he's only 6'3 and 252 pounds. You know who was also that exact size coming into the NFL? Cliff Avril. He's playing at 260 pounds now, but he had 39.5 sacks in his five seasons in Detroit and 8.0 sacks last season in Seattle. I would take that from a player like Attaochu, especially since the Lions' only returning defensive ends are Ziggy Ansah, Jason Jones and Devin Taylor.)
3. Other top needs can wait
This mock draft is only two rounds, but if it were longer, I would be turning my focus to positions like wide receiver, center and safety. The Lions have four total picks in the next two rounds, and there is still a lot of talent on the board at those positions. I didn't necessarily want to wait around to find a pass rusher, though, and I was really lucky that Attaochu actually made it to the 45th overall pick.
Unlike last year, when I came away with Ansah and Larry Warford in this mock draft, I don't feel nearly as confident about the Lions actually taking Matthews and Attaochu next month. For starters, I don't think Matthews will actually fall to the 10th pick, and I have a feeling the Lions are going to make a trade out of the 10th spot anyway -- and not for an offensive tackle. And as for the second round, I don't necessarily expect Attaochu to be there at 45, and if the Lions make a trade up, it's possible they may not even have a second-round pick anyway.