The NFL draft, the last quasi-meaningful football event before the labor war truly takes over, is still over two months away, but that doesn’t mean we can’t start prognosticating what my Lions are going to do!
For most of the previous season the assumption was the Lions were going to wind up with a top 5 pick and use it on one of the two top cornerback prospects — Patrick Peterson of LSU or Prince Amukamara of Nebraska. Then the Lions had to go and screw that up by ripping off a four game winning streak to end the season and landing the thirteenth pick. By most accounts this puts both of the elite corner prospects — probably the team’s biggest position of need — out of reach. The obvious question then becomes, what now?
To me there is no doubt what the answer to that question is, linebacker. While the Lions’ defensive line might be very good, the linebackers are extremely unsettled. To my way of thinking both starting outside positions are up for grabs — Julian Peterson is gone and the WLB spot was in flux all last season. A big, solid player like Akeem Ayers would be ideal. Alternately, trading down to where the second tier of corners are a better value would be fine too.
Now I’ve seen a lot of push recently from people who know more about football than I do that the Lions should draft an Offensive Tackler, Nate Solder is a popular choice. I think this would be a sub-optimal use of the pick for the simple reason thy the team already has established tackles. I will grant you that Jeff Backus is getting on in years, and isn’t the best LT in the league, but he is far from the worst too. Cherilus at RT isn’t quite as entrenched, but he is still young, next year will be his fourth season, so the upcoming season will probably determine if he can stick.
What I am getting at is that the jump in overall team talent in getting an OT is nowhere near as high drafting a corner or LB. Let’s not forget the Lions did lose ten games last year. This is still not a good team that needs immediate help in the defensive back seven. Drafting a first round OT to groom as Backus’ replacement is a luxury move for a team with a putrid secondary. If they don’t think any defensive players are a good value for the pick then trade down, collect extra picks and use those on OTs to develop at a slower pace. The first pick, however, needs to be a player who can start right away and have a positive impact. The bottom line is the Lions defense is still an enormous work in progress outside of the line, and that is where Mayhew needs to focus his attention in the first round of the draft.