Draft Preview: 5. Detroit Lions


Protect this man

Draft tumbles can lead to difficult — and in hindsight, sometimes poor — decisions. Often what can result is that the temptation to draft a prospect is far too overwhelming, and other greater needs are disregarded.

This could happen with Dee Milliner and the Detroit Lions. While Milliner is the best cornerback in the draft, if the top five follows the pattern that’s widely expected and one of the top tackles is available for the Lions at fifth overall, Milliner may not be the best pick.

He may be the best player, and he may then fit the classic strategy of drafting the best player available. But sometimes, need has to trump temptation. And in Detroit after the retirement of Jeff Backus and the departure of Gosder Cherilus, this draft could be one of those times.

I talked to Sean Yuille from Pride of Detroit, and he thinks that if either Luke Joeckel or Eric Fisher are still on the board, the pick will be automatic, even with Milliner available.

1. Like most of the teams picking in the top 10, there are multiple directions the Lions could go in the first round. But some teams have a player who feels automatic if he falls in their lap. For the Lions, is Dee Milliner that guy?

A lot of people like to believe that the Lions are in dire need of a cornerback, but that’s really not the case. They re-signed Chris Houston, drafted three corners last year and signed Ron Bartell at the end of last season. Could they use an upgrade in the talent and depth department? Sure. But this isn’t a situation where the Lions are going into the draft without any real talent at the position. And it’s not a situation where Milliner is considered the No. 1 overall pick or something like that. He’s the top cornerback, yes, but he isn’t at the same level as someone like Patrick Peterson a couple years ago.

2. Eric Fisher and/or Lane Johnson may fit that description too. Should the Lions select a tackle during the draft’s opening night, even after a first-round pick was spent on the position last year?

Fisher definitely seems like an automatic pick. So does Luke Joeckel. If one of the top two tackles falls to No. 5, I think it’s safe to say the Lions will take him. While they did just draft Riley Reiff a year ago, the retirement of Jeff Backus and departure of Gosder Cherilus in free agency has made tackle a position of need. Reiff could step in at left tackle, and the Lions are high on Corey Hilliard and Jason Fox. But you don’t pass up on a top-five tackle like Fisher or Joeckel. One of those two players could help solidify the Lions’ line for the next decade, and the Lions would have the ability to move Reiff to guard if they wanted.

I don’t believe that Johnson is at the same level as Fisher and Joeckel, at least in terms of him being an automatic pick. I could certainly see the Lions going with Johnson at No. 5, but it won’t be a situation where you know the pick is coming. It wouldn’t be a surprise, though, because the Lions could certainly use a first-round tackle for the second year in a row.

3. Then there’s also the allure of Ziggy Ansah. If he’s available, should one of the top defensive ends be called upon to replace Cliff Avril? Or are there greater needs elsewhere?

Defensive end is still a major area of concern. The Lions signed Jason Jones to replace Avril, but they are still in need of a replacement for Kyle Vanden Bosch. Willie Young has shown flashes of potential in the past, but he disappeared in 2012. The other defensive end on the roster right now is Ronnell Lewis, a 2012 draft pick who played only one defensive snap last year. The Lions need help in a big way at defensive end.

Is Ansah the answer to the Lions’ problems at the position? He could be, but given how deep the position is in this draft, the Lions likely would be able to land a pretty talented pass rusher at the top of the second round. That doesn’t mean they should pass on Ansah if he’s there, but I don’t view him as the top option at No. 5. I’d say he’s Plan B or C at best at this point.

4. Will we see the Lions draft a wide receiver during in the middle rounds? Nate Burleson will return to provide support alongside Calvin Johnson. But although he’s making progress, Ryan Broyles’ health is a little more uncertain.

It’s a pretty good bet that the Lions will draft a wide receiver fairly early on. It wouldn’t shock me if they use yet another second-round pick on a receiver, as they want to add someone who can be a No. 2 type of outside guy. The Lions need more talent at the position to take some of the focus away from Calvin Johnson, and Titus Young’s meltdown has made this a position of need yet again. Going into the draft, it’s really an expectation that a wide receiver will be drafted by the Lions at some point.

5. What other needs should be addressed?

On offense, the Lions could probably use a developmental running back in the mold of Reggie Bush simply to be a backup and special teams player. They could also use a tight end to go along with Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler, and they need help at offensive guard and center. Immediate starters aren’t necessarily needed, but they need to start building for the future with Dominic Raiola likely gone after 2013.

On defense, the Lions will probably look to add some depth at defensive tackle, linebacker and cornerback. Defensive end is the top need for sure, but they really could use depth at every other position on defense except safety, which is in pretty good shape. (That doesn’t mean it will be completely off the table, though.)

Finally, on special teams, the Lions will likely look for a punter. They aren’t in need of a kicker after signing David Akers and Havard Rugland, but with Blake Clingan currently occupying the only punter spot on the roster, they could use an upgrade there.