The Detroit Lions may have used their first-round pick on an offensive tackle last year, but that doesn't mean a tackle won't be a consideration this year. In fact, a tackle is one of the most likely picks for the Lions in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft. With Jeff Backus retiring and Gosder Cherilus departing in free agency, a need exists at this position. The Lions are confident that Riley Reiff, Jason Fox and Corey Hilliard have the ability to fill that need, but it would be hard to pass on one of this year's top offensive tackles.
If the Lions do draft an offensive tackle with the fifth overall pick, he will likely be the second or possibly even the third tackle off the board. Texas A&M's Luke Joeckel could be the first overall pick, and Central Michigan's Eric Fisher may go in the top four as well. If he's not there for the Lions, they could potentially draft Oklahoma's Lane Johnson. Yes, it's possible that three tackles could go in the top five picks of this year's draft.
Interestingly enough, Reiff was actually the second offensive tackle off the board in last year's draft. The Lions landed him despite picking 23rd overall, which speaks to how different this year's draft is shaping up to be compared to last year's. There likely won't be three quarterbacks taken in the top 10, and there won't be a running back and wide receiver taken in the top five.
Some of the top players in this year's draft are offensive tackles, and the second one off the board won't have to wait until 23rd overall to be picked. While some of this does have to do with the lack of top-level talent at positions like quarterback, running back and wide receiver, the reality is that this year's top tackles are on a different level compared to the 2012 class. If Reiff were in this year's draft, for example, he would not be the second tackle off the board. He probably wouldn't even be the third tackle off the board, according to former NFL personnel executive and current Senior Bowl executive director Phil Savage. From the Free Press:
"I haven’t seen Riley as a pro, but just knowing him coming out of college, I think he was always seen as a bit of a combination tackle, maybe a little bit more as a functional left tackle starter rather than a Pro Bowl-potential left tackle starter," Savage said. "I think that’s why you saw him go in the 20s. I think he does give the Lions a lot of flexibility in the draft, in terms of they can spin it either way. They play him on the left and go draft a different position, or they move him to the right and play one of these guys at left tackle, and now they’ve really fortified their entire offensive line."
This isn't to say that Reiff can't be a long-term starter for the Lions. It's more about how strong the top of the offensive tackle class is in this year's draft. And it's also more about what you should expect out of the fifth overall pick vs. the 23rd overall pick. If you're picking an offensive tackle fifth overall, he should have the potential to be a perennial Pro Bowler.
To me, the best-case scenario at No. 5 overall for the Lions continues to be Fisher. He could come in and immediately start at left tackle, allowing Reiff to start somewhere on the right side of the line. This would help solidify a pair of starting spots for years to come, and it would give the Lions a lot of talent to work with as they transition out of the Backus/Peterman/Cherilus era. There will almost certainly be hiccups along the way with there being so many new starters, but being able to plug in a top talent like Fisher and last year's first-round pick in Reiff would help ease the transition process in my mind.