The Detroit Lions haven’t had a defense to write home about in years—not since the vaunted 2014 defense was wreaking havoc in backfields week after week, led by the likes of Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley, and Ezekiel Ansah.
Of course, the commonality among those names is where they lined up together on a football field. Detroit’s defense line, even after applying the franchise tag to the aforementioned Ansah and adding Sylvester Williams in free agency, is in dire need of adding an impact player in this year’s draft.
For Detroit, that’s going to be difficult to come by when they’re on the clock at No. 20. Many are hopefully a player like Harold Landry, one of the premier pass rushers in the draft whom the Lions met with this past week, will slide his way on down the draft board—but that seems unlikely. Perhaps someone like Vita Vea, Maurice Hurst, or Taven Bryan could be sitting there for Detroit to nab with their first-round pick, but there’s only so many quarterbacks and offensive skill players worthy of being taken before the Lions make their pick, meaning the top-tier defensive talent just isn’t going to be there... unless they make a move.
As always, I’m using FanSpeak.com’s “On the Clock” tool to accomplish this mock draft.
Round 1, Pick 20: Traded to CLE
After selecting UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen with their first pick, the New York Giants took Saquon Barkley with the second pick in the draft. With Barkley off the board, the Cleveland Browns were willing to move back in the draft to continue accumulating future draft capital.
- Cleveland trades No. 4
- Detroit trades No. 20, No. 51, 2019 first-round pick, and 2019 third-round pick
It’s admittedly a steep price for the Lions to pay, giving up their second-round pick in a draft where they only have six picks total, as well as their first and third round picks in 2019, but if Detroit wants an impact player on defense—and arguably the best one in this draft—this is what it’s going to cost.
Round 1, Pick 4: EDGE Bradley Chubb (North Carolina State)
After moving up sixteen spots, Bob Quinn atones for the sins of former general manager Martin Mayhew, who should have selected Aaron Donald when the Lions were facing the impending free agency of Ndamukong Suh. Detroit’s current situation at defensive end isn’t as dire as some might make it out to be, but it’s certainly far from a certainty. Kerry Hyder Jr. is returning from an Achilles injury that cost him the 2017 season, Anthony Zettel showed a ton of improvement in his sophomore season—but needs to show he can be a contributor all season long—and Ansah has to prove his consistency from a production and health standpoint at this point in his career.
Adding a player like Chubb is an insurance policy for the potential loss of Ansah to free agency next summer, but he’d also be an immediate upgrade to play opposite of Ansah in 2018, while simultaneously allowing Zettel and Hyder to flourish in rotational roles.
Chubb’s production in college speaks for itself and would be a welcome addition to a defense that struggled to apply much of any pressure to opposing quarterbacks, ranking 28th in pressure percentage in 2018 according to Pro Football Focus:
Bradley Chubb put forth quite the performance last year pic.twitter.com/gavWWXcYHh— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) April 12, 2018
Round 3, Pick 82: RB Kerryon Johnson (Auburn)
Beyond the signing of LeGarrette Blount this offseason, it’s been well-documented how Quinn is “absolutely” looking to improve their running game. In the third round, Kerryon Johnson, a player the Lions have met with during the pre-draft process, has earned comparisons to Le’Veon Bell for his patience and burst.
Kerryon Johnson cracks on Top 100 board as our No. 8 RB pic.twitter.com/8GQKaedqsT— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) April 13, 2018
Our own Alex Reno wrote about the running backs available in this year’s draft and had Johnson ranked as the fifth-best fit for the Lions:
Johnson would be an immediate upgrade to the Lions’ rushing attack, but I would have liked to have seen him make better decisions consistently. He’s a three-down back that’s capable of breaking out for some big chunk plays with his glide and slash running style. I expect Johnson to see his named called early on Day 2.
Round 4, Pick 117: DL R.J. McIntosh (Miami)
In addition to needing a pass rusher off the edge—something taken care of with the selection of Chubb in the first round—the Lions are still looking for an answer along the interior of their defensive line to help push the pocket. At pick No. 117, the Lions would be hard-pressed to find a more talented player than Miami’s R.J. McIntosh.
McIntosh earned a spot on the “2017 First-Team All ACC Defense” for Pro Football Focus his junior year after racking up 52 tackles—12.5 for a loss—2.5 sacks and seven pass breakups.
Detroit could also go interior offensive line, safety, or tight end with this pick, but McIntosh represented the most value. Again, the lack of interior linemen who possess actual pass-rushing skills may push McIntosh up further in the draft, potentially into the Day 2 range. Still, some scouts aren’t convinced McIntosh made the right decision to enter the draft after his junior season with the Hurricanes:
Should have stayed in. He needs to keep growing into his frame and get a lot stronger. You don’t want to come out until you know you’re ready to do battle against grown men and I don’t think he’s there yet.
Round 5, Pick 153: LB Genard Avery (Memphis)
Avery spent his four seasons at Memphis playing both inside and outside linebacker, excelling as a pass rusher with the Tigers; in his senior season, Avery earned first-team All-American Athletic Conference by posting some truly eye-popping numbers: 80 tackles, 22 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks, and two forced fumbles.
At the next level, Avery projects to play outside linebacker due in part to his aptitude as a pass rusher, but also due to his glaring deficiencies in pass coverage. That withstanding, his athleticism and ability to contribute day one on special teams should make him a target for Detroit as early as the third round.
Genard Avery posted an elite #RAS at the Combine with a sub 7.00 second cone time.— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) April 15, 2018
A solid day 2 prospect, Avery has flown well under the radar largely due to his size, but should be a day one contributor. pic.twitter.com/MTfjbiUrYn
Round 7, Pick 237: OG Matthew Gono (Wesley)
It was unfortunate I didn’t find the right value for a guard until the last round of the draft, but Matthew Gono is an interesting prospect, who posted some absurdly athletic scores at his school’s pro day.
Our own Kent Lee Platte thinks, at a minimum, he’s undoubtedly a priority free agent after the draft concludes, but with the interest he’s generating from teams—both the Lions and Bears have scheduled official visits—Platte thinks Gono could hear his name called some time on Day 3.
“As a versatile, athletic, and durable starter who is known for being a strong pass blocker,” says Platte. “I would put him very firmly on the back ends of any mock for the Lions between now and April.”