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The Detroit Lions’ top needs going into the 2019 NFL Draft

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The Lions have holes to fill, so let's look at where they should start.

NFL: Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

The 2019 NFL Draft is only a couple weeks away and teams are beginning to finalize their boards. As we get ready to finalize our own, it's time to take a look at what the Detroit Lions need the most entering the draft, weighted against the strengths of this class. To that end, we're taking a look at the top needs for the team and a few ways they may address each in the upcoming draft.

Pass rushing help

The signing of Trey Flowers was the big free agency splash for the Lions, as it immediately filled their biggest need on defense. The addition of Devon Kennard and Romeo Okwara improved a defensive front that was nearly talentless last year, but despite gaudy sack numbers from each, they were rated as two of the worst pass rushers in the NFL. This necessitated improvement in free agency, but it also signaled that there was a ton of work left to do in the draft. Whether it’s an outside/inside pass rusher similar to Flowers, like Michigan’s Rashan Gary, an interior rusher that you can move around like Houston’s Ed Oliver, or a pure edge threat like Florida State’s Brian Burns or Mississippi State’s Montez Sweat, Detroit needs more than just Flowers to threaten opposing quarterbacks.

A quality interior lineman

The Detroit Lions brought in Kenny Wiggins to add depth behind starting guard T.J. Lang last offseason. In 2019, the team brought in a similar quality player in Oday Aboushi, but the position still needs some serious work considering there is no starter ahead of Aboushi, Wiggins, and former mid-round pick and swing lineman Joe Dahl.

The Lions have made generating a rushing attack a priority, and going into the season with Wiggins (you’ve seen him) and Aboushi (one of the lowest rated run blockers of the past several seasons according to Pro Football Focus) seems less than ideal.

The team is unlikely to draft a player at eighth overall, but if they manage a trade back they may look to North Carolina State’s Garrett Bradbury or Boston College’s Chris Lindstrom, each of whom are likely gone by the time the Lions are on the clock in the second round. If they miss on the first couple, it’s possible they look to Oklahoma’s Dru Samia, who they have showed some interest in, or Charlotte’s Nate Davis. Both could start as rookies.

A tight end who can threaten

After rolling through 2018 with the worst group of tight ends in the NFL, the Lions decided an overhaul was in order. Luke Willson left to join the Raiders, Levine Toilolo was never going to return, and while Michael Roberts is still on the roster, his current spot is still at TE3, only this time behind two new signings.

The team signed former Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Jesse James early in free agency, but James was never a true receiving threat for Pittsburgh. He should provide a reliable outlet for Matthew Stafford, but isn’t a true threat to force defenses to adjust to his presence or position on the line. If the Lions can find a true, athletic weapon at the tight end position either by taking a player like Noah Fant or T.J. Hockenson early or by taking a less versatile but still has potential in a specific role like Caleb Wilson or Jace Sternberger on Day 3, it could really open the offense. More likely, the team targets someone like Drew Sample from Washington, who they’ve met and was rated as the best run blocking tight end in the draft per PFF, or LSU’s Foster Moreau on Day 2.

More than a band-aid at cornerback

2019 was not a great showing for the Detroit Lions defensive backfield. Darius Slay had what many would consider a down year, though it was still Pro Bowl quality, but after him it was a steep cliff to the next best cornerback, Nevin Lawson. Lawson is now in Oakland, leaving the Lions with an even steeper dropoff to 2017 second-round pick Teez Tabor and 2018 undrafted free agent Mike Ford.

With no credible depth at the position and only one starting caliber player, the Lions went out and signed former Patriots and Seahawks cornerback Justin Coleman, who has the versatility to start either at the nickel or outside corner spots. Not content, they also brought in former Raiders and Colts starting corner Rashaan Melvin, who the team tried to acquire in 2018. Neither of these signings should preclude the team for continuing the search, either by taking someone like Amani Oruwariye from Penn State or Julian Love from Notre Dame on Day 2 or picking up a very risky but high upside pick like Greedy Williams with their top pick.

A longer-term answer at wide receiver

The Lions were stacked at receiver coming into 2018 with Golden Tate in the slot, Marvin Jones Jr. on the outside, and Kenny Golladay ascending. They even had what was considered quality depth in TJ Jones. Now, the team has Kenny Golladay starting, but Marvin Jones Jr. is coming off a serious injury and was misused greatly in the offense last season, while Golden Tate is in New York. The depth of the team is undrafted free agents playing behind of injured 33-year-old Danny Amendola, who is on a one-year deal. The Lions could look to target a receiver on Day 2 with Deebo Samuel, referred to as an ‘assassin’ from the slot, or someone like A.J. Brown or Hakeem Butler to shore up the outside. In the later rounds, Jakobi Meyers or Keelan Doss make likely targets to provide the depth the team currently lacks at the receiver position.

Other needs

Running Back - Lions signed C.J. Anderson to a short-term deal, but looking for a long-term running mate for Kerryon Johnson should be a priority. I suspect that the Lions looked at this draft class and, much like I did, decided to punt.

Quarterback - Nabbing a better backup than Connor Cook shouldn't be hard, nor should finding a higher upside developmental prospect. Until you dig into the class and realize just how hard it can be.

Linebacker - The Lions do need a linebacker to start once Christian Jones departs, but this class is super deep with elite athletes at linebacker, so they should have no trouble addressing this position in the later rounds since it's not as immediate of a need.

Tight end depth - Why not double dip? Michael Roberts hasn't developed into even a reliable rotational role, so it wouldn't hurt to pick up another and hope to build long term.

Offensive line depth - The Lions only have one hole on their offensive line right now and it's a big one. More are looming on the horizon, however, and if Crosby goes the way of Dahl and only develops into depth then the team will need more of that, but with potential to start eventually.