Throughout the offseason, there has been a clear favorite for the Detroit Lions' first-round pick: Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert. At least nationally, the perception has been that the Lions' biggest need is at cornerback, and Gilbert is viewed by most as the top cornerback in the 2014 NFL Draft. With this in mind, most mock drafts have penciled in Gilbert as the 10th overall pick.
On a more local level, the perception surrounding the Lions' cornerback situation has been a bit different. There's a definite need for better play at the position -- no one is arguing that -- but it's not like the Lions are lacking bodies. They have Chris Houston, Rashean Mathis, Darius Slay, Bill Bentley, Jonte Green and Chris Greenwood, among others, and really they just need improvement from that group. That's easier said than done, of course, but if Houston bounces back, Slay takes a step forward and one of the other young guys makes a leap as well, the Lions would have a pretty solid group of cornerbacks.
Based in part on the idea that the Lions like the potential of their group of cornerbacks, I've consistently written off the idea of Gilbert ending up in Detroit. The Lions' need for cornerback help has seemed overblown, and it's not like taking Gilbert would exactly fit with their win-now mentality. It takes time for young cornerbacks to make a positive impact in the NFL, and Martin Mayhew and company don't exactly have the luxury of being patient. Quite simply, the Lions need to win now for Mayhew to keep his job going into 2015.
Essentially, the Gilbert-to-Detroit idea has always seemed a bit too popular in my view. I've never fully closed the door on it simply because Gilbert could end up being the best player available on the Lions' board, but the idea of the Lions gambling on Houston, the young guys and perhaps a pick in a later round has always seemed to be the likeliest course of action. I still believe that to be the case, but perhaps I should open up the door a bit more to the Gilbert idea. Why? Well, certain things have come to light, namely with Houston.
A couple have asked why Gilbert b/c I've been adamant Lions won't take him: they're legit worried Chris Houston is done b/c of foot issue— Jeff Risdon (@JeffRisdon) April 29, 2014
Just last week, Houston wasn't even at the Lions' voluntary minicamp because of what is believed to be a toe injury. What's more, when asked about Houston's ability to bounce back in 2014, Jim Caldwell admitted that he's "not certain" about what will happen. Houston had a miserable 2013 on the field, and injuries seemingly played a big role in his struggles. If injuries continue to be a problem in 2014, the Lions may be in a situation where Houston is no longer even in the picture at cornerback despite the fact that he's under contract through 2017.
Now, just because there are concerns about Houston's future doesn't mean that the Lions will for sure take Gilbert. Mathis seems capable of starting for at least one more season, and the hope is that Slay will become a starting-caliber player this year. And if additional injuries happen, the Lions could likely at least get by with Bentley, Green and Greenwood. That's not to say that cornerback will be anything other than a weakness yet again for the Lions, but with or without Houston, there's at least enough depth already in place to field a somewhat competent pair of starters.
The other factor here is the Lions' view on Gilbert. He needs to be the best player available for the Lions to take him, and according to Detroit Lions Draft's Jeff Risdon, that would be more likely if the team trades down in the first round.
3. Justin Gilbert at 10 has legs, but it has a lot more legs in the 13-16 range. Multiple sources tell me DET convinced he's legit #1 CB— Jeff Risdon (@JeffRisdon) April 29, 2014
If the Lions stay at 10 and have a shot at a top wide receiver or outside linebacker, for example, I can't imagine that Gilbert will be the pick. However, if the top nine picks don't go the Lions' way or if they move down, I guess it wouldn't be a big surprise at this point if Gilbert is their guy. By no means am I suddenly warming up to the idea of a cornerback in the first round, but given the uncertainty surrounding Houston, Gilbert does look like a more realistic possibility than originally thought.