It’s almost here, Detroit Lions fans. The 2018 NFL Draft is in just a few days. We’re that much closer to having football back in our lives again and that much closer to understanding what the 2018 Detroit Lions are going to look like.
But if you’re like me, these times are interesting. While I love football and I write about it too, I have a major weakness in my game, and it’s the draft. Always has been and always will be.
There’s a lot going on during this time, and with my ADHD brain, I find it incredibly difficult to focus on all the moving parts of draft season. There are all the different games to focus on like the Senior Bowl. There’s the NFL Combine, which, to me, is just a bunch of guys working out while old guys watch them. Then there’s all the film. Who has time to watch all this film and decide that so-and-so should go to the Lions in the seventh round?
I don’t think I’m alone here. In fact, I know I’m not. So what I want to do today is provide some context for the fans that are like me and just don’t have the eye for all of the draft stuff in the world. Today, we’ve got all of our draft experts from Pride of Detroit, and myself, here to tell you guys about our two favorite prospects, and why, in the simplest of terms, the Lions should draft them. Let’s jump into it.
20th pick selection: Vita Vea, defensive tackle, Washington
You’ve no doubt heard of Washington’s Vita Vea. He’s by far and away the consensus No. 1 defensive tackle in the draft. And that’s exactly why the Lions should pick him if he’s there at 20.
I know there’s a pretty small chance Vea ends up at 20. Some mock drafts have him going as high as 13, but this is, in my opinion, the kind of talent you trade up for. And the reasons couldn’t be more simple. The Lions desperately need a defensive tackle that can stop the run like Haloti Ngata did or get after the passer like Ndamukong Suh used to. I’m not speculating that Vea can walk in and do it like those guys right away, but he gives the Lions a better shot out of the gate than the guys the Lions currently have on the roster.
With Ezekiel Ansah and Anthony Zettel already holding down the defensive end spots, and the Lions seemingly wanting to stick with the running back group they have now, an interior defensive lineman has to be the way they go.
Middle to late round dream pick: Jaylen Samuels, tight end, NC State
For me, the thing that always catches my eye in a player is not just the one thing he does exceptionally well, it’s the plethora of things he can do. I am a big fan of the Swiss army knife type of players, which is why I was so drawn to Cleveland Browns fullback Danny Vitale before the Browns ruined him.
This is also why I’m in love with Jaylen Samuels. He’s listed on NC State’s roster as a tight end, but he’s so much more than that. The Wolfpack used Samuels at a tight end, receiver, running back, fullback and even a quarterback at times. Samuels is capable of it all... except quarterback. He’s not that great at that. Here, take a break and watch his highlight reel.
He’s currently mocked to go somewhere around the fourth round, but I just can’t see a team waiting that long. If the Lions don’t decide to take a running back in the first two rounds, they have to go after Jaylen Samuels in the third or the fourth if he’s still there. Honestly, I think they should draft him even if they do get a running back.
20th pick: Harold Landry, defensive end, Boston College
Harold Landry is a top-10 talent in the draft, who played through an ankle injury last year and saw his play suffer as a result, eventually missing the final four games of the season. However, his 2016 tape is arguably the best you’ll see out of an edge rusher from this year’s class. He is an elite athlete with an exceptional first step and outstanding burst off of the snap. Landry has been projected to go near the Lions’ 20th overall pick, and if he happens to still be on the board by the time they have to turn their card in, they’re going to regret picking anyone other than the top available edge rushing pick in the draft. It’s a near no-brainer to me. You have to pick Landry if he’s there.
Mid-to-late round pick: Richie James, wide receiver, Middle Tennessee State
There are plenty players to choose from, but my biggest draft crush this year (not named Nick Chubb) is Richie James, the receiver out of MTSU. James is an exceptional athlete, and at 5-foot-10, 183 pounds, is likely to play slot receiver in the NFL and could potentially fill the role of Golden Tate, should he leave Detroit in a year.
James is likely to go in the later rounds of the draft, so you don’t have to worry about missing out on a prospect at a greater position of need, and I could see him battling with T.J. Jones for a spot on the roster right away.
Kent Lee Platte
20th pick selection: Isaiah Wynn, offensive guard, Georgia
The Lions have been trying to fix their offensive line since Bob Quinn was hired as general manager, and there’s only really one hole remaining. Wynn played left tackle for the Bulldogs, but measuring in under 6-foot-3 makes him pretty firmly out of the discussion to play outside in the NFL. Wynn is one of the most technically sound blockers in this entire draft class, and indeed one of the best in that area in the past few drafts. There is some projection to his game, since he’ll be switching positions and coming off injury, but he’s an ideal left guard and would be an immediate starter between Taylor Decker and Graham Glasgow. It’s an intriguing option to fix one of the biggest holes on the team, as no player currently on the roster has positive tape starting at guard.
Mid-to-late round pick: Genard Avery, linebacker/defensive end, Memphis
I’m cheating a bit since I feel Avery could very well be a Day 2 pick. Avery would be very undersized as a pass rusher, but he comes packaged with a phenomenal athletic profile and is one of the smoothest players in the class. The Lions showed that they’re going to be asking a lot of their linebackers after signing Devon Kennard to play in Matt Patricia’s multiple defense, and Avery is the type of guy who can move all over and do anything asked of him. There’s a bit of a learning curve coming out of Memphis into a more complicated scheme, but Avery possesses elite traits to make him a likely part of the rotation early in the season if not immediately.
20th pick selection: Marcus Davenport, edge, UTSA
Outside of quarterback, there is no position more impactful in the NFL than an edge rusher. Getting to the quarterback is the defense’s number one job, and if a team has a guy who can consistently do it, it can change the entire trajectory of the team’s defense.
Marcus Davenport is far from guaranteed to be that guy, but with a phenomenal athletic profile and a season and a half of dominance in the college ranks, there is certainly a good chance Davenport grows to be that guy.
The Lions’ defense has needed a shot in the arm for years now, and with Ezekiel Ansah’s future in the air, it’s time for the Lions to get that game-changer. His lack of good competition makes him a risk, but if the Lions hit on the lottery here, it could be franchise-changing.
Mid-to-late round pick: Shaquem Griffin, linebacker, Central Florida
This isn’t just me being a sucker for a great storyline—although this is a great storyline. Griffin was an extremely talented player at Central Florida, racking up 33.5 tackles for loss and 18.5 sacks during his college career.
The Lions still have a need for a linebacker, and if he can help rush the passer too, that’s even better. Griffin, who lost his left hand due to a medical condition, has been all over draft boards this offseason. Some think he could go as high as the second round, while NFL.com has him as a fourth or fifth-round product. I would have no problem with the Lions taking him late Day 2 or early Day 3.
20th pick selection: Taven Bryan, defensive tackle, Florida
Of all the cases being made for who should be the pick at No. 20 for the Lions, one truth has emerged: if there’s one position where Detroit is essentially devoid of talent, it’s along the interior, and more specifically, a three-tech defensive tackle who can get after the passer.
To say the Lions are in desperate need of talented defensive linemen who have a knack for causing havoc in the backfield is an understatement. Should Bryan be available at 20, he’d be a perfect complement to the run-stuffing defensive linemen Detroit already has on their roster in A’Shawn Robinson and Sylvester Williams. There are concerns about his lack of statistical production while at Florida—just 5.5 sacks in his three-year career—but his potential to be great is something tangible given his incredible athletic ability. Take a look at his RAS score—both as a DT and a DE—courtesy of the aforementioned Kent Lee Platte:
With the lack of athletic pass-rushing talent in this draft, a prospect like Bryan isn’t going to hang around for long, and considering the need Detroit has at this position, picking 20th may be a perfect match of value and need for this Lions defense.
Mid-to-late round pick: Marcus Allen, safety, Penn State
Once the Lions address their outstanding needs in the draft, it will be time for them to turn their attention towards getting their roster primed and ready for two and three years out. One of the less-publicized needs for this Lions team going forward is safety, and Detroit could earn themselves a great contingency plan should Penn State’s Marcus Allen be available late Day 2, early Day 3.
Allen plays with the mentality and attitude of a linebacker while providing solid coverage skills underneath. A true box safety, he’s going to make a living in the NFL playing close to the line of scrimmage, but under the right tutelage, Allen has the physical attributes to line up and cover tight ends—he’s 6-foot-2, 215 pounds.