I am beginning to get concerned about the expectations that we are going to place on the rookies we bring in. Yes, I am aware that Mayhew stated recently that his goal for each draft is to find three starters, three reserves and three projects (not direct quote) in each draft. The problem with that philosophy is this: Where are there three positions that you can get the starters for?
Right now, looking at our roster, I can only see a few positions where a rookie could come in and make an immediate POSITIVE impact. Those target positions are: LG/C, LDE, SLB, CB and FS. Lets break these down a little more. Notice I say TARGET, the problem with the draft is that other teams can take these players as well. And most likely will.
First, let me discuss the position I chose not to discuss. Wide Receiver. I am not on the Watkins hype train. While he is a great athlete who can put up some monster numbers, I am a little concerned about his lack of experience in a pro route tree, as well as his ability to get a ball over the middle. His vertical is decent, but not redzone worthy, nor do I see him grasping a complex playbook immediately. Clemson used a lot of screens and 9 routes with him, and while he was good at those, it hurt his development. I just cannot see us wasting an additional pick on a player to move up to grab someone who at best will be our #3 WR this year and next while he learns the playbook, will come out inside the 20 due to us having 4 players over 6-5 with similar verticals, and will not return kicks or punts for us (the investment too high with two players on roster that are proven commodities). Same token with Evans. While he does offer redzone potential, it will take him time as well. OBJ is Tate 2.0. The value at the WR position is in the second round, not in the first. Lee, Benjamin, Robinson, Moncrief, Matthews, Bryant, Adams are all great players that can do the same thing as the top 3 guys this year, for much cheaper.
Now, to the needs I can see.
LG/C I do not see this as a possibility until round 3. At that point, we are most likely left with Richburg, Swanson and Bodine. Martin will probably be gone towards the end of the second. Those three players could push Sims or Dom for his spot this season, and if they do not win out, will be valuable as a swing interior lineman until one of the two retire. Add in Austin who is only 25, and we could have one of the young great OLs in two years. Unless the Lions are high on Martin, or Matthews, Robinson or Lewan fall, I do not see much movement until the 3rd round. Reiff did well this year, Waddle does still exist, as well as Hilliard. The OL is set for impact starters so far, thus not a priority but still a need.
LDE Here is where things can get interesting. The prospects here can include Mack and Barr, as well as Clowney. Both Mack and Barr could play DE for us, while Macks size is not what we have drafted recently, remember that Caldwell did draft Hughes while in Indy as a DE. This is a position of need for us. Jones is coming off an injury, Taylor is still developing, and Tapp is a role player. You always want your best athletes on defense, that has been the case since Pop Warner days. By pure hustle these guys can make plays. If you want to go to the second round, Kareem Martin fits our physical profile, and would offer a great rotation player at that position. This is a position that generally must be addressed in the draft, as elite pass rushers seldom hit free agency at a bargain price. If one of these players is added, we could have a terrifying front four immediately, akin to the NYG defensive line during their Superbowls.
SLB Again we see Mack and Barr, although I am not a fan of Barr in a 4-3, even if it is a hybrid. Really the prospect I am surprised is not being discussed is Ryan Shazier. Both Mack and Shazier are athletic freaks that can disrupt the passer, as well as seam busting TEs and cover slot receivers. The only knocks on Shazier is his size and overaggressive tendencies. With a unoffical 4.36, I will be OK with some hustle penalties that are likely to happen. Essentially, Shazier is a SS that plays LB, and does it well. He could become a Kam Chancellor type player for our D. Now, for a OLB, 10 could be high. The positional value is not there for a 4-3 LB. So unless we are able to make one of them a Von Miller type player, I would say pass (Mack is an exception)
CB We have all heard how the Lions have not drafted a DB in the first round since 1998 with Terry Fair at 20... in 1997 we drafted Bryant Westbrook at 5. Sadly I am not old enough to remember much about these players. Now there is not an "elite" corner in this class along the lines of Peterson, Revis, Haden or Berry (due to his versatility I will count him as a CB since he was mocked there occasionally). Gilbert is close to elite physically, but was not as dominate in college. Lots of off coverage, some character issues, potential NCAA violations, and a lack of tackling ability do not endear me to him. His ball skills are great however, and he does know how to get to paydirt. He also is mainly an outside guy, which could be an issue for us due to the overly physical WRs in the NFC North. Dennard is more polished, going against many pro systems in the Big 10, and playing in a more physical defense at MSU. His tackling ability has never been questioned, solely his long speed. That is an issue for us, as our safeties are not the greatest in shell coverage. Fuller is possibly the most rounded prospect, but is coming off an injury which could hinder his ability to come in immediately at training camp for full contact. The positional value here is right on. Shutdown CBs do not hit free-agency in their prime (Revis situation excepted). If we want one, we need to draft one. My pick here would either be Dennard or Fuller, in no order. Tackling ability, position versatility and character fit our team better than finding one CB who could possibly only play outside, where he would be hard pressed to beat out Slay, Mathis and Houston. Not even mentioning Green and Greenwood. With Fuller and Dennard, the competition starts at nickle, then moves out. It will give them more time to develop to the pro game and endear them to us more when we don't see them getting beat like a drum every series. If we miss out on those players, Jaylen Watkins is my sleeper pick for DBs. He can play all four positions and compete physically as well.
FS I do not see us drafting a FS at ten. There is not an elite prospect here. Both Pryor and HHCD are just guys to me. I have watched a few games from both Bama and Louisville, and neither one really stood out. Pryor popped a little more than HHCD due to his hitting ability. I am just waiting for HHCD to announce surgery for another injury, as most Bama players do. Both are good players, worthy of round 1, but not at 10. The ball skills favor HHCD, the tackling skills Pryor. Both are fluid athletes with some speed and shell coverage ability, but not enough of difference makers to be top 10. Again, Watkins would be a good pickup later to fill this need, as would Brooks, Ward and Bailey. All can be had in the second. If we draft a FS at 10, I will turn the draft off.
After looking at our needs for 2014, as we are in a WIN NOW mode, and the THREE STARTER rule, the best value I can see for us is in DE. If we can draft either Clowney, Mack or Barr, I say we should. That would give us a very, very versatile DL. Imagine the 3-4, 4-3, NASCAR and run stop possibilities, as well as goal line. With Jones we have a guy that can play DT and DE, and his understudy Taylor. We have two great pass rushers in Suh and Ansah with the potential for an additional threat in one of the three prospects. This would make more sense in a trade down for someone looking for OBJ or Gilbert.
Our second option should be CB, taking either Dennard or Fuller and bringing them along slowly at dime back, nickle or win out the starting job (FS as an option for Fuller). Either one could play those positions and excel. This would give us a potential shut down corner, or at least a good starter to help with this new passing attack NFC North.
Either way, I see us going defense with our #10. The game is predicated on getting to the QB or picking him off. Right now we have enough guys that could possibly mature into the second option, but we are thin at the first. I think that DE would be the best option to pick here. If we go for Barr, I predict that we would attempt to move him to SLB in training camp, see that it wont work well, so we will make him a situational pass rusher until the bye, then start him at DE with Taylor taking reps at DE and DT in lieu of Jones.If we somehow land Mack, he will be our starter day one at SLB instead of Palmer, and then rush from the line on obvious passing situations.
After the first round, we join the run on WRs at #45 and grab Robinson, Moncrief, Adams, Bryant or Matthews. Then we go BPA from there on out with a focus on OL depth and adding a kicker.
My eight hour mock draft: 10) DE Barr, 45) WR Bryant 72) C Swanson 111) QB Mettenberger 133) DT Reid 136) CB Davis 189) RB Thomas 227) K Hocker