Last year was a little odd heading into the draft. Normally free agency is winding down, and an NFL team knows what areas he still needs to fill with their draft picks. Due to the lockout, the draft came first and the NFL needed free agency to fill in the holes. This year, with the holdout over, we are back to the way things were. This offseason, the Lions did more in terms of retaining their free agents than bringing in new players. In fact, the only starter that was lost from last season was CB Eric Wright. So now, with the 2012 NFL Draft about a week away, I want to touch on the areas the Detroit Lions still need to address.
- Cornerback- This is a position that seems to be brought up as a draft need every year for the Lions. As mentioned above, the Lions lost starter Eric Wright in free agency to Tampa Bay. The Lions other starting cornerback, Chris Houston, is in the last year of his contract. The Lions did bring in free agent CB Jacob Lacey from Indianapolis, and they still have players on the roster that can contribute- Aaron Berry, Don Carey, Alphonso Smith, and Ross Weaver. Fast forward to the draft, and there are some very good prospects this year: Dwight “Bill Bentley (Louisuana-Lafayette), Morris Claiborne (LSU), Stephon Gilmore (South Carolina), Dre Kirkpatrick (Alabama), Janoris Jenkins (North Alabama), Trumaine Johnson (Montana), and Josh Robinson (Central Florida). Claiborne is the top prospect and should be long gone by the time the Lions pick at #23. Gilmore and Kirkpatrick are both very good prospects and could also off the board, but either one could just as easily slip done to the Lions. Jenkins is a top-15 talent but has had many off-field problems including drug use, and the Lions have stated that they will not take a chance on him. Bentley, Johnson, and Robinson might all be reaches at pick 23 but could be an option for the Lions in the 2nd Round should that they still be on the board. A few more players that I think could deserve a look in the later rounds are: Omar Bolden (Arizona St.), Brandon Boykin (Georgia), Cliff Harris (Oregon), Casey Hayward (Vanderbilt), Coryell Judie (Texas A&M), Josh Norman (Costal Carolina), and Keith Tandy (West Virginia).
- Offensive Tackle- Yet another position that seems to be brought up every year. Jeff Backus has been an ironman at left tackle since being drafted in the 1st Round in 2001. During that span, Backus has never missed a game. At the same time, Backus has never been an elite left tackle in the NFL and could be near the end of his career. Gosder Cherilus was drafted in the 1st Round in 2008 to play right tackle. When healthy, Cherilus has done a pretty good job at the position. Cherlius has not always been healthy however. Jason Fox was drafted in the 4th Round in 2010 as a developmental player that could eventually take over for Backus at left tackle. Fox, like Cherilus, has also had trouble fighting off the injury bug. Last year the Lions drafted Johnny Culbreath in the 7th Round as a developmental player. Culbreath will need some time to develop before he will be ready, but he also could have to serve a suspension this year after being arrested this some for possession of marijuana. The Lions also have Corey Hilliard, who has split time with Cherilus at right tackle and done a nice job. Looking at the draft, there are some very good prospects at this position as well: Mike Adams (Ohio St.), Jeff Allen (Illinois), Matt Kalil (USC), Bobby Massie (Ole Miss), Jonathan Martin (Stanford), Kelechi Osemele (Iowa St.), Riley Reiff (Iowa), and Zerbie Sanders (Florida St.). Kalil and Reiff are the top two offensive tackles in the draft and both should be off the board by the 23rd pick. With the Lions probably looking more for a left tackle, Massie is probably not going to be the pick as he is considered more of a right tackle. Martin and Adams could still be on the board with the Lions 1st pick if they wanted to address this position in the 1st Round. Allen, Osemele, and Sanders would all receive consideration more in the 2nd Round or later. A few more players that I think could deserve a look in the later rounds are: Tony Bergstrom (Utah), Andrew Datko (Florida St.), Matt McCants (Alabama-Birmingham), Brandon Mosley (Auburn), Nate Potter (Boise St.), and Bradley Sowell (Mississippi).
- Running Back- After drafting Mikel Leshoure in the 2nd Round last season to pair with 2010 1st Round pick Jahvid Best, The Lions assumed this would be a position that wouldn’t need to be addressed for a little while. Unfortunately, Leshoure ruptured his Achilles tendon during preseason workouts and was lost for the season. This summer, he was arrested twice for possession of marijuana and could have to serve a suspension to start the season. Best was lost for the last six games of the season due to concussions. That leaves a lot of uncertainty at the position. Kevin Smith was re-signed halfway through the season and did a fantastic job as the starter until he suffered an injury…he was re-signed again for this season. The Lions also have Joique Bell, James Bryant, and Keiland Williams at the position. In the draft, there is only one prospect guaranteed to be picked in the 1st Round- Trent Richardson (Alabama). Richardson will be one of the first five players off the board. There are good prospects that could potentially be drafted at the end of the 1st Round and into the 3rd or 4th Round: Dan Herron (Ohio St.), LaMichael James (Oregon), Doug Martin (Boise St.), Lamar Miller (Miami FL), Isaiah Pead (Cincinnati), Chris Polk (Washington), and David Wilson (Virginia Tech). A few more players that I think could deserve a look in the later rounds are: Jonas Gray (Notre Dame), Jonathan Grimes (William & Mary), Alfred Morris (Florida Atlantic), and Tauren Poole (Tennessee).
- Linebacker- The Lions have a nice starting unit in Justin Durant, DeAndre Levy, and Stephen Tulloch. Durant and Levy both have had durability issues, and there lies the problem. The only other two linebackers on the team are special team standout Ashlee Palmer and 2011 5th Round pick Doug Hogue. Bobby Carpenter signed with the New England Patriots as a free agent this offseason. The Lions need depth and youth at the position. Looking at the plenty of good prospects at both inside linebacker and outside linebacker. The top prospects at inside linebacker are: Vontaze Burfict (Arizona St.), Donta’ Hightower (Alabama), Mychal Kendricks (California), and Luke Kuechly (Boston College). Kuechly is the top inside linebacker and will most likely be gone by the Lions first pick. Burfict has the talent to be the top inside linebacker, but he is too reckless on the field and hurts his team with unnecessary penalties (unsportsmanlike penalties and such). Hightower really fits more as an inside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. Kendricks is an interesting prospect due to his speed and his versatility of experience at both inside or outside. A few more prospects to take a look at in the later rounds are: Tank Carder (TCU), Audie Cole (N.C. St.), Jerry Franklin (Arkansas), and Chris Marve (Vanderbilt). The top prospects at outside linebacker are: Zach Brown (North Carolina), Lavonte David (Nebraska), Demario Davis (Arkansas St.), Ronnell Lewis (Oklahoma), Terrell Manning (N.C. St.), and Shea McClellin (Boise St.). Courtney Upshaw could also be included in this group as he could play outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense, and he should be a 1st Round pick. David is probably the best true outside linebacker. Look for David and McClellin to possibly slip into the end of the 1st Round.
- Safety- The Lions drafted Louis Delmas in 2009, and he has done a nice job when healthy. Amari Spievey was drafted in 2010 as a cornerback and eventually moved to safety. Spievey has had his moments but has been inconsistent as he is still trying to learn the position. Erik Coleman was brought in last year to solidify the safety position, but he broke his leg 4 games into the season. The Lions also have Ricardo Silva and John Wendling, but both players are more backups and special team contributors than starters. There are a few nice players in the draft that could be looked at in the first two rounds: Antonio Allen (South Carolina), Mark Barron (Alabama), and Harrison Smith (Notre Dame). Barron could very well be gone by the 23rd pick, and Allen and Smith are both considered to be 2nd Round picks. A few more players that I think could deserve a look in the later rounds are: Winston Guy (Kentucky), Delano Howell (Stanford), Jerron McMillian (Maine), Phillip Thomas (Syracuse), and Eddie Whitley (Virginia Tech).