It isn’t for certain that the Detroit Lions’ last move in the free agency period will be the signing of safety James Ihedigbo, but all signs point towards that being the case. With that being said, let’s take a look ahead at the NFL Draft.
With the assumption that Ihedigbo will be a member of the Lions in 2014, Detroit addressed two of their three major areas of concern; wide receiver and safety. That means that the cornerback position will be the Lions’ primary focus in the draft.
It’s likely that Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard and Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert will both be available at the 10th-overall selection. If that’s the case, it’s hard to determine who is the outright best corner in this year’s draft. It could easily be the fast and explosive Gilbert, but many make the case that Dennard’s man-cover skills make him the most NFL-ready.
I’ve personally gone back-and-forth between the two, however, Dennard showed great explosiveness at Michigan State’s Pro Day, directing me to lean towards him being the Lions’ first-round pick.
Some (and I’m sure many won’t) see this as a logical argument on the basis that Detroit has yet to address the need at corner, so it only makes sense to take the best corner in the draft. While some (including myself) can make sense of that thought process, that’s rarely the case on draft day and Lions fans are well aware of that.
So let’s take a second to examine three other possibilities. (Remember, this is simply a hypothetical process.)
This one is a no-brainer. The Lions front office wouldn’t hesitate if either of these players were on the board. The signing of Golden Tate doesn’t eliminate the possibility for Detroit to draft a receiver in the first round, especially if that receiver is Watkins. Tate and Watkins both have the ability to play in the slot or outside. If Clowney is available, he would fill the hole that was once occupied by Willie Young.
#2. The top-three linebackers are still on the board.
DeAndre Levy and Stephen Tulloch are great players and are absolutely deserving of their starting roles, but aside from them, the Lions are fairly weak at the linebacker position. Anthony Barr (UCLA) and Khalil Mack (Buffalo) are two pass-rushing linebackers that are ready to make a difference from day one, and Detroit could easily chose either of them. The third linebacker in consideration is C.J. Mosley from Alabama. Although he plays inside linebacker, Mosley would enable defensive coordinator Terryl Austin to tinker with his sub packages.
#1. The Lions top-rated corner is off the board.
If Detroit has Gilbert rated far higher than Dennard, or vice versa, they will most likely examine their other possibilities rather than “reaching” for their second-rated corner. If that’s the case, their first option could be to trade down, which could be more beneficial in the long run. However, if their isn’t a team that is willing to trade, Detroit will most likely draft the best player available, which could be Michigan’s Taylor Lewan.
Whatever the case may be, don’t rule-out the “unthinkable”. At this point, any top-15 prospect could be the Lions’ eventual pick.