Looking at the Lions’ roster, they appear to have more talent than you’d expect for a team that has won just 11 games in the last two seasons. There are holes on this roster, but they’re not the kinds of gaping holes that will take years to fill. They’re more like the kinds of holes that can be filled with one good draft.
Detroit has all its picks except the fifth rounder (thanks to a bad decision to send a pick to Jacksonville in a trade for receiver Mike Thomas, who caught all of five passes before the Lions cut him), and the Lions also have two compensatory picks in the fourth round. Here’s a look at the positions they most need to address:
Cornerback: It seems like cornerback is a need for the Lions every year. When they were a good team in 2011, the cornerbacks’ inability to stop a good passing offense got them bounced out of the playoffs in New Orleans. When they were a bad team the last two years, the cornerbacks were a consistent problem.
The Lions have tried to address their cornerback issues in the draft, but without great results. They drafted cornerback Darius Slay in the second round last year and cornerback Bill Bentley in the third round two years ago, but they’ve both been inconsistent, and as of right now the projected starters at cornerback are a couple of older veterans, Chris Houston and Rashean Mathis.
If the Lions could draft a cornerback who can start immediately and upgrade the defense, that would make a huge difference. If they stay put at No. 10 in the first round, Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard could be an option. Virginia Tech’s Kyle Fuller (whose brother, Corey Fuller, was a sixth-round draft pick of the Lions last year) or Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert could also be options to address the Lions’ most glaring need.
Safety: The Lions’ two starters at safety, James Ihedigbo and Glover Quin, are reliable veterans who look like good fits in the defense run by new coordinator Teryl Austin, who previously coached Ihedigbo in Baltimore. But there’s not much depth behind Ihedigbo and Quin, and the Lions could use some depth, both for the sake of improving the secondary and because they’ve struggled in kick coverage, and young backup safeties are typically strong special teams players.
Some mock drafts have the Lions taking the best safety in the draft, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix of Alabama, with the No. 10 pick. But it might make more sense for the Lions to address their need at safety later in the draft, with someone like Deone Bucannon of Washington State or Lamarcus Joyner of Florida State.
Kicker: We rarely list kickers among our draft needs, but it’s a real issue for Detroit, where the two kickers under contract (John Potter and Giorgio Tavecchio) have combined to make three field goals in the NFL. Lions General Manager Martin Mayhew used a fifth-round pick on a punter last season, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him draft a kicker this season. Chris Boswell of Rice, who drilled 13 field goals of 50 or more yards during his college career, could be a late-round option. (In addition to those 50-yard field goals, Boswell kicked the sneakiest onside kick you’ll ever see.)
Quarterback: Matthew Stafford is firmly established as the Lions’ starting quarterback, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see Detroit draft a young quarterback who can serve as a backup, and perhaps some day be groomed as a starter if the Lions’ front office decides that Stafford’s contract was an expensive mistake. The Lions probably wouldn’t look at a quarterback until Day Three of the draft, and among those who could be available then, keep an eye on Aaron Murray of Georgia, who visited the Lions and looks like a good fit for new coach Jim Caldwell’s offense.
Wide receiver: The Lions’ best player is receiver Calvin Johnson, and their biggest free agency signing this offseason was receiver Golden Tate. And yet Detroit might decide to draft a young receiver as well, someone who could take the field with Johnson and Tate in three-receiver sets. There’s been plenty of talk that the Lions are smitten with Clemson’s Sammy Watkins and want to move up to get him. That would be a huge move, and a move that the Lions may not have the ammunition to make. If you’re looking for a sleeper receiver the Lions may want to draft on Day Three, consider John Brown of Pittsburg State, who’s small but fast enough to make plays in the slot and as a return man.