Now that the flurry of early free agency signings are over, we have a better idea of what the Lions’ leftover needs will be heading into the NFL Draft. Or do we exactly? Even with the four big signings, while the Lions certainly got much better at big areas of need, nearly all of those positions addressed in free agency could still be major points of focus early on in the NFL draft. Perhaps the only drastic change comes with the recent move of cutting guard T.J. Lang, which immediately creates a massive hole on the interior line.
The Lions still need another tight end or two, perhaps a TE1 with newly-signed TE Jesse James being painted as more of a No. 2 than a No. 1.
With the signing of edge rusher Trey Flowers, the Lions get one of the top names on the market at arguably their biggest area of need, but they could still use some extra depth there, as well as a possible upgrade to their off-ball edge rusher role behind Flowers.
Former Seattle Seahawk cornerback Justin Coleman was another great signing. There is some recent uncertainty of where exactly he will play in the secondary, whether it’s primarily as a slot corner or on the outside. Regardless, the Lions still have an extra starting spot at CB up for grabs and desperately need some extra talent to back up their current starters.
Last but not least, before free agency had even started, the Lions went out and nabbed former Patriot, Danny Amendola on a one-year deal worth up to $5.75 million, but I wouldn’t exactly lock him in for their long-term plan. It’s probably less likely that the Lions will grab a wide receiver in the top couple of rounds of the draft due to less available snaps, but it’s surely not out of the question.
Despite all of their recent signings, I don’t think the Lions’ plan for the upcoming draft has changed much at all. They still have a lot of holes to fill up on both sides of the ball, and if you think you have a good idea of what the Lions’ approach will be heading into late April, then you might be lying to yourself.
Enough of that, though. Let’s get right into our post-free agency (sort of) seven-round mock draft for the Lions.
1st round (8): T.J. Hockenson, TE, Iowa
Before I get into my explanation, I will preface it by saying that I made this pick for variety’s sake instead of choosing Brian Burns over and over, who is currently my favorite option for the Lions at No. 8 overall. The Lions can do much, much worse with their first-round pick than selecting a tight end, and I believe it sets themselves up very nicely for addressing other areas of need on Day 2.
I’m a big Noah Fant guy, and while he is my top graded tight end, I think Hock is not far behind and one can argue that Hock is both the better tight end and a better fit for the Lions. Hock is far more advanced as a blocker than Fant and is no slouch when called upon as a pass catcher.
With the addition of Hockenson, the Lions have now addressed possibly their biggest need this offseason by adding a quality TE in both free agency and the draft. Despite coming in as a rookie, I’d expect Hockenson to immediately step in as the No. 1 tight end over Jesse James, who projects to be TE2.
2nd round (43): Julian Love, CB, Notre Dame
Love measured in at just a shade under 5-foot-11, but is physical and lengthy enough to play on the outside. Though he is at his best in man-coverage, his quick feet and elite click-and-close ability suggests that he is capable of playing in just about any scheme you throw him into.
Where Love struggles is with his hesitancy in run support, as he often fails to get off blocks due to his lack of size. When playing off the receiver, Love is prone to peaking into the backfield and getting burned occasionally on double moves.
With the uncertainty of newly-signed corner Justin Coleman’s role, Love gives the Lions some flexibility to move both Love and Coleman around the secondary.
Love is currently projected to hear his name called on Day 2 of the draft.
3rd round (88): Anthony Nelson, EDGE, Iowa
Anthony Nelson posted an elite #RAS at the #2019NFLCombine with great size, good speed, great explosion, and elite agility. Nelson broke 7.00 in the 3-Cone drill despite weighing in at 271 pounds, which is huge.— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) March 3, 2019
*Splits Projected* pic.twitter.com/0HtNcQfHK3
One of my favorite edge rushers in this class, Nelson’s draft stock has finally skyrocketed up draft boards and is forcing some to go back to the tape. What you’ll see with Nelson’s tape is a large, athletic individual with great hand usage sprinkled in with elite strength and high effort play.
Nelson has sneaky good bend and tested as much during the combine, but he doesn’t always show his burst and flexibility on tape, somewhat like Montez Sweat. Nelson’s value should end up near the Day 2/early Day 3 range. For the Lions, Nelson fits as a down DE, much like Ezekiel Ansah’s old role.
4th round (111): Stanley Morgan Jr., WR, Nebraska
The good news for the Lions is that if they decide not to address the wide receiver position in the first two days, there’s likely going to be plenty of talented receivers left for them by the time they’re on the clock at the top of the fourth round.
Morgan is one of many that could fall in the draft due to how stacked the WR class is in the early-mid rounds. He is an underrated prospect that suffered at times from poor QB play, but did more than enough to showcase his versatility and elite route-running ability.
Though the Lions did sign Danny Amendola to a one-year contract in free agency, that shouldn’t deter them from thinking long-term and improving the position. Morgan can step in Day 1 offering his services as either an outside or slot receiver and has a good chance at earning some reps as a rookie.
5th round (146): Devine Ozigbo, RB, Nebraska
The Lions are presented with another Cornhusker in the fifth round and arguably a top back in this class that manages to fall right into their laps. Ozigbo’s tape is an exciting watch, and it makes you wonder why he was not invited to the NFL Combine. At his pro day, Ozigbo tested well in nearly every category, setting him up for an elite RAS score.
Ozigbo is tough to bring down and fights hard for extra yards. He’s a fluid runner and does a wonderful job of maintaining his speed when making cuts. Though Ozigbo does offer capability as a pass protector and pass catcher, I don’t necessarily consider him a change of pace back to Kerryon Johnson. Think of him as a Kerryon-lite and you’d be getting two very effective runners with elite burst as your one-two punch out of the backfield.
6th round (184): Gardner Minshew, QB, Washington State
Adding a late-round quarterback to challenge for the backup spot behind Matthew Stafford has become a popular and very realistic option for the Lions, and Gardner Minshew may have the most upside of all the projected late-round QBs in this draft.
Though his accuracy has been known to be very erratic at times, Minshew offers a cannon for an arm and has a pretty good feel for the pocket around him. If he can improve on what’s between his ears and get a better feel for throws outside the hashes, Minshew could develop into a high-end backup and potential starter in the NFL.
6th round (204): Sheldrick Redwine, S, Miami (FL)
In the sixth round, we add a safety with top-end athleticism and promising Name Bracket potential. Redwine is a converted corner with a blend of elite explosiveness, speed and physicality, though his slow trigger when processing will get him lost at times.
Redwine is a bit raw, but his ceiling is sky-high. He’s a versatile safety that can line up in the slot and he can also offer his services on special teams, which will be very attractive for teams looking for players to fill roles and offer some upside in the later rounds.
7th round (224): Alex Bars, IOL, Notre Dame
What Alex Bars lacks in athleticism and length, he makes up for with his football IQ and stable anchor. At Notre Dame, Bars played multiple positions across the line (left guard, right guard and right tackle), though he will presumably be limited to playing on the interior in the NFL.
Bars suffered a season-ending knee injury in 2018 and is likely to go in the later rounds if he is selected. The Lions could use some extra OL depth, and if they’re looking for a mauling-type guard, then Bars could be their guy.
7th round (229): Byron Cowart, IDL, Maryland
If there’s anyone you might want to take a flier on in the later rounds, it’s former five-star and No. 1 overall recruit, Byron Cowart. After committing to Auburn in 2015, Cowart saw some playing time, but never really cracked the starting rotation as an edge rusher and was an extreme disappointment on the statsheet, accounting for 15 total tackles and 0 sacks in three years at Auburn. He would go on to leave Auburn, transferring to a community college and then eventually Maryland for his senior year.
Again, Cowart didn’t light up the statsheet for Maryland this time around either, but he did find some regular playing time and was invited to the NFL Combine for a chance to show why he was once a highly-touted recruit out of high school. His testing was mostly average, but he did well during explosive drills. Cowart weighed in near 300 pounds and projects best on the interior line with the opportunity to use his superior explosiveness as a one-gap specialist.