Well, you know what time it is. It’s that time of year where we spend an unhealthy amount of time speculating about an event that is essentially a total crapshoot. If you’re like me, you love the offseason, and you love watching college film or reading up on NFL draft prospects and how they might fit with your favorite team. If not, then this probably isn’t the article for you, but that’s okay. We’re going to dive straight into my first seven-round mock for the Detroit Lions this year while we prepare for this year’s NFL Combine.
To generate this mock draft, I’ve used Fanspeak’s On the Clock feature, where you can pick your favorite team and choose who you’d like to select for as many rounds as you’d like. If you pay for their premium subscription (only $9.95 a year), you’ll be able to make trades and create your own big board to use if you’d like. It’s a pretty cool feature, and I definitely recommend it for you hardcore NFL draft fans.
Round 1 (8): Brian Burns, EDGE, Florida State
Some may believe that Burns isn’t a great fit for the Lions, or that he’s too thin (currently listed between 230-240 pounds). While I believe those concerns are legitimate, I think there are cases where teams should swallow their pride, and if you can’t mold your scheme around arguably the best pure pass rusher in this year’s draft, then maybe it’s time to make some adjustments to said scheme.
I believe Burns is a perfect fit in the JACK role and could stand to add more weight to his frame and play the full-time Devon Kennard role as a standup linebacker. The Lions were near the bottom in the league in terms of pass rush last year, and Burns would be a major upgrade to their current pass rush unit.
Round 2 (43): Deebo Samuel, WR, South Carolina
Deebo is one of my favorite prospects in the draft and one player that I believe would be a perfect fit for the Lions. With his smooth release and easy separation, he can start where Golden Tate left off last year before the Lions traded him away and can become Matthew Stafford’s new safety valve on third down. Like Tate, Deebo is a master at creating yards after the catch and can be used in very similar ways to keep Stafford comfortable.
Though he may be limited to a slot-only role, Deebo is one of the best route runners in the class and does a nice job of maintaining his speed through his breaks. He has a great understanding of coverages and does well to pick apart zone defenses. I believe Deebo would be great value if he’s left on the board here and with this selection, Bob Quinn would be living up to his offseason promise of adding yet another playmaker.
Round 3 (88): Justin Layne, CB, Michigan State
Although Patricia’s scheme relies heavily on corners with man and press-man experience, the Lions’ secondary has struggled to field corners that meet that requirement, but that’s exactly what they’d be getting with Michigan State’s Justin Layne.
Michigan State's Justin Layne allowed just 0.74 yards for EVERY snap he spent in coverage this season pic.twitter.com/HpYBGjs2gr— PFF College (@PFF_College) December 14, 2018
Layne is a former receiver turned corner and has impressive athleticism, length and ball skills for his position. In man coverage, he is prone to giving up some cushion on in-breaking routes, but is virtually unbeatable over the top. He’s the physical type that loves to get his hands on you and disrupts routes early. Something that I love to see when watching Layne that can go unnoticed is that he has great recognition of down and distance and does well to bait QBs into throws short of the sticks.
Round 4 (111): Isaac Nauta, TE, Georgia
Nauta is good value here in the fourth round and fills one of the Lions’ biggest needs. He is your prototypical in-line tight end that will be asked to block often and has shown some nice play strength and pop in his hands, especially as a run blocker.
Though he’s not going to blow you away with his athleticism, Nauta has sufficient speed and strong hands to pluck the ball out of the air, and should be a decent passing game option for the Lions, which is all you can ask for out of a fourth-round tight end (not everyone can be George Kittle, unfortunately).
The lowest drop rate among SEC tight ends was a tie between C.J. Conrad from Kentucky and Isaac Nauta from Georgia. Both guys only had one drop ALL SEASON. pic.twitter.com/xv5LuSRg7P— PFF College (@PFF_College) February 9, 2019
Round 5 (146): T.J. Edwards, LB, Wisconsin
With the Lions lacking an instinctive linebacker in the heart of their defense, they nab Edwards here, who has an incredibly high football IQ and has made a name for himself for being one of the best cover linebackers in the country. Despite that, Edwards doesn’t offer much in the athleticism department and may test out to be an average-to-below-average athlete at the combine.
Edwards has sneaky good closing speed and often masks his athletic deficiencies with his ability to quickly read and diagnose plays. He is a sure tackler and simply has a knack for making plays. Getting an instinctive middle linebacker could allow the Lions to move Jarrad Davis out on early downs to drop back into coverage or rush the passer.
Round 6 (184): Ryan Finley, QB, NC State
Now that we’re getting into the lottery rounds, the Lions have a chance to improve the backup QB position—a spot that they’ve struggled to add sufficient talent—but luckily haven’t had to worry too much about it.
Finley had a great career for NC State and is magnificent at moving around in the pocket and getting the ball out quickly. What he lacks is arm strength, however, and isn’t the player that’s ever going to challenge Stafford for his throne, but that’s usually what you’re getting with a sixth-round pick. Finley would likely challenge Matt Cassel (if he’s re-signed) and Connor Cook for the backup QB job and could give the Lions some nice insurance at QB.
Ryan Finley had quite the season for NC State pic.twitter.com/4ywL1aCTCa— PFF College (@PFF_College) December 10, 2018
Round 6 (204): Bryce Love, RB, Stanford
Once thought of as a first-round talent, Love took an unfortunate path after deciding to stay in school for his senior season, which was riddled with injuries—including a torn ACL on the last play of his last game with Stanford. Love will miss this year’s combine, but will hopefully be ready by training camp.
The Lions’ new offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell is going to focus on the run game and may be looking to add another running back for some insurance behind Kerryon Johnson. If they do go the route of adding another RB in the draft, I believe they should look for a speedy home run threat like Love, rather than a bruiser.
On the down side, getting a speedy, smaller back like Love only adds to the durability questions that they already have at running back, so this could be a big risk/reward pick for the Lions.
Round 7 (224): Blake Cashman, LB, Minnesota
Cashman isn’t much of a household name yet, but was invited to the NFL Combine and has a chance to show off his athleticism. I feel that he is closer to a fourth or fifth-round prospect than he is a seventh rounder, but sometimes you’re able to get guys you’re high on later than expected.
Watching Cashman on tape was a pleasant surprise because you don’t see many under-the-radar linebackers that are as athletic as him but also with impressive college production and as many positive traits as you’ll find with him. As a run defender, Cashman doesn’t always diagnose as quickly as you’d like, but when he sees it, he stacks and sheds well and is constantly around the ball to make a play.
Blake Cashman was a force for Minnesota and finds himself in the Elite category. pic.twitter.com/feLyrnxq4s— PFF College (@PFF_College) January 10, 2019
In coverage, Cashman is much better at diagnosing and does a nice job of seeing routes develop in front of him. There are some improvements he can make, such as understanding where he needs to be in zone coverage and doing a better job of driving through tackles when attempting to wrap up, but I don’t see many flaws to his game that can’t be coached up.
Though I don’t believe there are any long-term issues to be worried about, Cashman does have a history with shoulder injuries, so that is something to look out for.
Round 7 (229): Khari Willis, S, Michigan State
With the recent departure of Glover Quin, the Lions could use some extra depth at safety, and as Erik Schlitt of The Lions Wire has pointed out on Twitter, the Lions used a third safety quite a bit last year.
Willis is a versatile prospect that has had experience all over the secondary for MSU, whether it’s single-high, box or in man coverage. As a deep safety, Willis has impressive instincts with good, arguably great range and is expected to run in the 4.5-4.6 range.
As a run defender, Willis is a heat-seeking missile with shockingly good closing speed and will jump from one side of the screen to the other in an instant.
Since the Lions are notorious for adding high-character players to their roster, it’s worth noting that Willis is very involved in his community and loves to help out younger kids whenever he gets the chance.
I’m one that believes the game of football is won in the trenches and this year’s Super Bowl taught us a valuable lesson in that sense. So looking back, I’d have liked to have dug deeper into adding some guys on both sides of the ball in the trenches, but hopefully in this scenario, the Lions have already addressed this in free agency and are looking to add more playmakers in the draft.
In terms of value and addressing needs, I really like what we were able to come away with here. In the first five rounds, I think we addressed our five biggest needs and added some good prospects in the later rounds that can develop into nice role players and will likely contribute on special teams as well.
Let us know what you think and feel free to give us your Fanspeak mock simulations as well in the comments below.