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Detroit Lions Position Battles: Previews and Predictions

Yahoo Contributor Network

COMMENTARY | Minicamps and OTAs have begun, and training camp is beginning to appear on the horizon. So it's time to determine who is going to win the most pivotal positional battles for the Detroit Lions.

But let's take it a step further. Let's not just preview and predict who will win them, but let's rank them by intrigue.

Too much? I say not. We must find a way to fill the void of the NFL's short-but-barren offseason (end of the draft until the eve of training camp).

5. Defensive end: Ezekiel Ansah vs. Willie Young, Jr.

Young is a nice complementary player. That type of description can result in a lengthy career, but it won't earn a starting spot. Young failed to take a step forward with increased opportunities last year (zero sacks in 337 snaps), so his ceiling has likely been reached.

Ansah is the polar opposite. He's a guy with unlimited potential (Jason Pierre-Paul-type impact is on the table), but it's unclear if he can contribute immediately. However, his freakish nature (6'5", 271 lbs, 4.63 40-yard dash) will ultimately land him the job. Especially since his deficiencies will be hidden in the Wide 9 scheme, which relies on defensive ends exploding forward to disrupt plays in the backfield.

4. Outside Linebacker: Ashlee Palmer vs. Tahir Whitehead

The loss of Justin Durant to the Dallas Cowboys leaves a couple unproven players vying for the weakside linebacker position. Regardless of who wins, the Lions should continue to mine the waiver wire for possible replacements.

Veteran Ashlee Palmer has the initial jump on Tahir Whitehead by virtue of filling in last year. Palmer is a fifth year veteran of the NFL and has been with the Lions for four years. He's comfortable in the scheme and understands what his role will be.

Yet, Palmer doesn't have the natural athleticism of his chief rival, which is why Whitehead could wrest the job from Palmer's clammy grip. Martin Mayhew gave up a 2013 fourth rounder to grab Whitehead in last year's fifth round, mostly because he couldn't pass up his speed (4.7 40-yard dash) and agility (4.37 20-yard shuttle).

Despite Whitehead's physical prowess, Palmer is more likely to land the job due to his reliability and versatility (he's played all three linebacking spots). But this one is far from certain, and should be ongoing until late in the preseason.

3. Second Wide Receiver: Nate Burleson vs. Ryan Broyles

Burleson might be competing for more than just the honor of starting opposite Calvin Johnson; he might be fighting for his job. He accounts for $4 million against the salary cap this year, but that number rises to $7 million in 2014. According to Spotrac.com, the Lions could cut him prior to next season and only take a $2 million hit.

Conversely, Broyles is the more explosive player and he's cheaper, but he's coming off his second ACL injury in as many years. Broyles didn't feel completely healthy until Week 5 of last season, and his most recent ACL injury occurred two weeks later in the season than the prior one.

At this point, Burleson is likely to enter the season as the No. 2 receiving option, with Broyles taking over somewhere near midseason.

2. Cornerback: Darius Slay vs. Dwight Bentley

Bentley has the advantage of system familiarity, but he struggled with injuries last season, only accumulating 177 snaps. And, unfortunately, none of them were that impressive. According to ProFootballFocus.com (subscription required), he made 16 tackles and missed five.

Conversely, Slay is a solid tackler. He doesn't mind getting dirty, as his 64 tackles in two years at Mississippi State attest. Slay played press-man coverage and zone in college, meaning he can adjust to whatever Gunther Cunningham decides to run.

Slay is also a playmaker, grabbing six interceptions in his only year as a starter. The Lions failed to create many turnovers in 2012 (17 takeaways), and sorely need another difference-maker to emerge in the secondary. Slay gives them a much better opportunity to change games, and his speed (4.36 40-yard dash) means he can take it to the house if he gets a chance.

Experience aside, it's difficult to see Bentley trotting onto the field with the first unit against the Minnesota Vikings.

1. Right Tackle: Jason Fox vs. Corey Hilliard

Neither man has distinguished himself during their brief careers. Opportunities have been limited as the starting lineup has been consistent for the past couple seasons. However, Fox has all the tools and the education to prevail.

Hilliard's versatility means that the Lions have used him all along the offensive line. This will actually work to Fox's advantage since he spent all of his time learning from Jeff Backus and preparing to be a tackle. That's they type of edge you look for when projecting a starter from two players who have five career starts between them.

Brandon Alisoglu is a Michigan native and has been covering the Detroit Lions for two years. He has been published at Bleacher Report and other websites.

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