While the action in the free-agent market dies down, the focus of the NFL now shifts to the upcoming draft.
The Detroit Lions arguably had one of their most productive free-agency periods in the history of the franchise. Here’s the key moves on the defensive side of the ball:
James Ihedigbo, safety
Vaughn Martin, defensive tackle
Darryl Tapp, defensive end
Willie Young, defensive end
Louis Delmas, safety
The 2014 NFL Draft will take place May 8-10. Detroit was awarded two compensatory picks, both in the fourth round, which brings the Lions to eight total picks in the draft.
Here’s a breakdown of the Lions’ needs on defense and where they should look to address them in the draft:
The Lions’ defense recorded the fifth-least sacks in the league last year (33) and Stephen Tulloch was the only linebacker to record a sack (3.5). Even with losing Willie Young, Detroit still has one of the most talented defensive lines when it comes to rushing the quarterback but they need to get more pressure (and sacks) from the linebacker position.
First Round: Khalil Mack (Buffalo) and Anthony Barr (UCLA) are two guys that can get after the quarterback and would be worthy of the Lions’ first pick. Not only can they both rush the passer but they can easily emerge as a starter alongside Tulloch and DeAndre Levy.
Late Rounds: Ronald Powell (Florida) and Kevin Pierre-Louis (Boston College) are players who can be mixed into the linebacker rotation right away. They both have quality pass-rushing abilities and are fifth-round projections. Howard Jones (Sheppherd) is an under-the-radar guy who could become a great pass rusher at linebacker and/or defensive end.
It will be hard for Tapp and Devin Taylor to fill the hole that Young left so I believe it is necessary for the Lions to draft another end to throw into the rotation.
Middle Rounds: Demarcus Lawrence (Boise State) and Will Clarke (West Virginia) are slated to be drafted in the 3rd or 4th round. Lawrence is a player who shows good technique and played a variety of positional roles. Clarke on the other hand is a more raw and explosive end.
Late Rounds: In 2010, Young was drafted by the Lions in the seventh round out of N.C. State. Two players who I find similar to Young that Detroit could find in the seventh round are Larry Webster (Bloomsburg) and Chidera Uzo-Diribe (Colorado). Both guys rely on their explosiveness and straight-line speed to harass opposing quarterbacks.
There are plenty of fans who do not believe that the Lions should draft a corner in the first two rounds, either because of the transitional period or they believe Detroit is set at corner. However, I am not one of those people.
The Lions only had one corner who recorded an interception last season, Chris Houston (2). Rashean Mathis, who is no longer with the team, was arguably Detroit’s best corner and made the most starts at that position (13). The Lions gave up the fifth-most passing plays of 40 or more yards (15) and the tenth-most passing yards per game (246.9).
Detroit needs help at corner.
Others argue that it takes too long for rookie cornerbacks to see the field and be successful, not always true. Desmond Trufont (Atlanta Falcons) and Johnthan Banks (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) were two early-round picks that started all 16 games and had solid production.
Darqueze Dennard and Justin Gilbert are two highly-skilled corners that could help solidify this defense. I’m not saying they need to be thrown into a starting role from day one but they could easily emerge as starters after the first quarter of the season.