It's pretty amazing how much things can change in just one year. At this time last year, I wasn't thrilled with how the SB Nation NFL writers mock draft started because neither of the top two tackles fell to the fifth overall pick. This led to me taking Ziggy Ansah, who ultimately ended up going to the Detroit Lions in real life.
Fast forward to now and I have that same uneasy feeling about the start of this year's SB Nation NFL writers mock draft. This time, though, it's because one of the top two tackles did fall to the Lions' first-round pick. Thanks to a run on quarterbacks, Texas A&M's Jake Matthews slipped to the 10th overall pick. Unfortunately Sammy Watkins, Jadeveon Clowney and Khalil Mack were all gone, as was Mike Evans, but Matthews was still on the board, leading to quite the conundrum for the 10th overall pick.
Last year, taking a player like Matthews would have been a no-brainer. The problem this year is that the Lions don't actually need a tackle in the first round. They have Riley Reiff in place at left tackle and LaAdrian Waddle set to become the permanent starter at right tackle, and I was originally planning to address a more pressing need by taking outside linebacker Anthony Barr. However, after thinking it over, I instead went with Matthews for the following reasons:
1. Trading wasn't an option
If trades were allowed in this mock draft, I would have tried to move up for Watkins or Mack once they fell out of the top five. Similarly, I would have tried to move down the second Matthews fell to the 10th overall pick. There are some tackle-needy teams right behind the Lions, and I tend to think that somebody would have been willing to move up to grab Matthews. Moving down, gaining an extra pick and still ending up with Barr or another player at a position of need would have been a more preferable resolution to this situation.
2. Talent trumps need
Since I was stuck at No. 10, I ultimately decided to go with the best player available. Matthews is considered by many to be one of the top two or three players in this entire draft, which is saying a lot considering there are some really talented players at the top of this year's class. Outside linebacker is definitely more of a need than offensive tackle, but I think most people would agree that Matthews is more talented than Barr.
3. Adding more talent in front of Matthew Stafford is never a bad idea
In the short term, the Lions would have to make some tough decisions related to their offensive line if they drafted Matthews. Would Reiff move inside to offensive guard? Would this make Rob Sims expendable and a cap casualty? Would Waddle be forced to be a backup after a solid rookie season? Would Matthews' versatility allow the Lions to move him inside? These are all questions that would have to be answered.
In the long run, having an overflow of talent at offensive tackle would certainly be a nice problem to have. In my view, Matthews would step in as the Lions' franchise left tackle, allowing Reiff to either move over to right tackle or inside to guard. Remember, before Jeff Backus retired last offseason, it looked like Reiff might become the starting right guard. Things obviously changed once Backus walked away from the game and the Lions drafted Larry Warford, but that was a real possibility at one point.
Since Waddle performed so well at right tackle last season, I think it would be best to keep him in that spot. As a result, Reiff would likely have to go to left guard, which is Sims' current spot. Sims is in the last year of his deal, and cutting him would create $2.575 million in cap room. It wouldn't necessarily be ideal to shuffle returning starters around like that, but aside from Dominic Raiola, the Lions' starting offensive line would basically be set for years to come with Matthews, Reiff, Warford and Waddle.
Admittedly, I won't be too thrilled if the Lions end up with an offensive tackle in the first round when the actual draft takes place next month. I'd much rather see them trade up for Watkins or Mack or down for an extra pick if Matthews falls to 10. And in all honesty, if I was basing this pick on an actual prediction for who the Lions will end up with in the first round, I would have gone with Barr.
With all that said, having to "settle" for an offensive tackle ranked in the top five overall by many analysts certainly wouldn't be a bad thing. No, tackle isn't a pressing need, and yes, taking Matthews would create some short-term confusion for an offensive line that is currently set to return all five starters from last year. However, for this mock draft, I just couldn't pass on a top talent like Matthews, and I feel pretty good about being able to address a more pressing need in the second round.