LAST SEASON Rush Offense - 100.8 ypg (23rd)
Pass Offense - 307.9 ypg (2nd)
Total Offense - 408.8 ypg (3rd)
Scoring Offense - 23.2 ppg (17th)
Rush Defense - 118.1 ypg (16th)
Pass Defense - 223.1 ypg (14th)
Total Defense - 341.1 ypg (13th)
Scoring Defense - 27.3 ppg (27th)
MOST PRESSING NEEDS Offense: Tight end, dynamic weapon (RB or WR) and interior line depth
Defense: Secondary help, pass rusher and outside linebacker
Since drafting Matt Stafford to open the 2009 draft, the Lions have not drafted a single quarterback. Not in any round. Considering the holes on this roster, the lack of a fourth-round selection and the presence of both Shaun Hill and Kellen Moore, it's a safe bet that the Lions will pass on quarterback again during draft weekend. Even if Hill is released in a cap casualty move, the Lions are better served finding a veteran as opposed to drafting a developmental rookie.
RUNNING BACK The Draft Board
5th round Kerwynn Williams, Utah St. (5-8, 195) 6th round Robbie Rouse, Fresno St. (5-6, 190) 7th round Onterio McCalebb, Auburn (5-10, 168)
There's no question that averaging just more than 100 yards per game rushing is a concern. However, in comparison to the issues in the secondary, at defensive end and on the offensive line, running back is down the priority ladder. RB Mikel LeShoure defined inconsistency throughout what amounted to his rookie season, but the Lions expect him to break out in 2013. Backup Joique Bell is a perfect complement to LeShoure, having averaged 5.0 yards per carry last season. Former first rounder Jahvid Best hasn't been cleared to return to the game after myriad concussion issues and there's no way to count on him heading into this season.
Kerwynn Williams sat behind current Seahawk RB Robert Turbin for years at Utah State, but in his one and only season as a starter, he was brilliant. He ran a 4.48 at the combine, and he runs hard. Robbie Rouse is short, but not small. He's a Jacquizz Rodgers clone and he has Quizz's tremendous interior running skills and instincts.
WIDE RECEIVER The Draft Board
5th round Connor Vernon, Duke (6-0, 196)
Aaron Mellette, Elon (6-2, 217) 6th round Rodney Smith, Florida St. (6-4, 225)
Jasper Collins, Mount Union (5-10, 184) 7th round Darius Johnson, SMU (5-9, 179)
One receiver had the greatest single season in the history of the game. One receiver played only six games. One receiver coming off a torn ACL, tore his ACL again. One receiver was booted out of town for focusing too much on himself. Just another ho-hum season for the Lions' receivers, right? All-World Calvin Johnson is back to replicate his record-setting season and that's where the comfort ends. After restructuring his contract, Nate Burleson, who suffered a season ending injury last season, is due to return by OTAs. Ryan Broyles will be a question mark heading into the season after tearing his ACL for the second consecutive season. Narcissistic Titus Young has already been kicked to the curb for being, well, Titus Young.
Reliability and dependability are Connor Vernon's hallmarks. The record-setting Duke star has the best package of receiving skills, but he struggles against physical press corners and may have to make his money from the slot. Rodney Smith sure looks the part, but he never had more than 38 receptions in his career. Jasper Collins was highly productive in DIII and he didn't look out of place at the Shrine Bowl. He's not blazing fast but possesses the quickness to be effective from the slot.
TIGHT END The Draft Board
4th round Gavin Escobar, SDSU (6-5, 254) 6th round Nick Kasa, Colorado (6-6, 269) 7th round Ryan Otten, SJSU (6-5, 230)
Brandon Pettigrew hasn't lived up to expectations and he's entering the final year of his initial rookie contract. Tony Scheffler could be released to save approximately $2.5M on the salary cap. In short, nothing is settled at tight end heading into the offseason. But the Lions have other draft necessities.
Gavin Escobar didn't have a great combine, but his game tape more than makes up for his lack of long speed. Nick Kasa is a former defensive end, which should get the attention of head coach Jim Schwartz, but he's not a natural receiver. He's physical at the point of attack, but needs work on his blocking technique.
OFFENSIVE LINE The Draft Board
1st round LT Eric Fisher, CMU (6-7, 305) 2nd round G Larry Warford, Kentucky (6-3, 332)
C/G Brian Schwenke, Cal (6-3, 314) 3rd round G Travis Frederick, Wisconsin (6-4, 312)
G Dallas Thomas, Tenn. (6-5, 306)
G/T Brian Winters, Kent St. (6-4, 320) 5th round G Jeff Baca, UCLA (6-3, 302) 7th round G Eric Herman, Ohio (6-4, 320)
The Lions spent a first-round pick on T Riley Reiff last year and he impressed in limited time. If unrestricted free agent RT Gosder Cherilus walks, Reiff will slide into the right tackle spot. In some respect, it may not matter what Cherilus does because the team still has to consider the future of LT Jeff Backus. He can't play forever and even if he's willing to restructure, he may not have much left. But, do the Lions want to entrust the key LT position to a rookie? Reiff? Cherilus, if he returns? This dilemma needs to be solved and there is no easy way to handle it. The Lions have questions on the line that the draft won't completely answer, but they have to address as many issues as possible.
If Eric Fisher is still on the board at No. 5, the Lions may jump on the Michigan homeboy and encourage Backus to consider early retirement. Fisher and Reiff would be the bookend tackles for the next eight years. If the Lions draft Larry Warford, the run game can only improve. Warford is a hammer and will rock defensive linemen at the point of attack. He stonewalled Florida's Sharrif Floyd, who is thought to be a lock in the top five of this draft.
DEFENSIVE LINE The Draft Board
1st round DE Ziggy Ansah, BYU (6-5, 271) 2nd round DE Tank Carradine, Florida St. (6-4, 276) 3rd round DE Corey Lemonier, Auburn (6-3, 255)
DE Cliff Avril is an unrestricted free agent one year after having the franchise tag placed on him. Kyle VandenBosch was released back in February. DE Willie Young is a restricted free agent. Those factors will spell trouble even if last year's fourth-round selection, Ronnell Lewis, is ready to step into a starting role. If Avril is brought back, Lewis steps up to a starting role, and Young re-signs, it's not a complete disaster. But, the probability of all three of those things happening is quite low. Consequently, the Lions can't go into the season without pressure players on the edge, especially in the NFC North.
Should Ziggy Ansah go as high as No. 5? Well, he absolutely could. Can the Lions find this type of athlete to rush the edge in later rounds? Not like him. He's more athlete right now than football player, but he's only been playing for a couple of years, so his best football is ahead of him. The Lions' coaching staff worked with him at the Senior Bowl too, so they have first-hand knowledge.
LINEBACKER The Draft Board
3rd round OLB/ILB Sio Moore, UConn (6-1, 245)
OLB Jelani Jenkins, Florida (6-0, 243) 4th round OLB Kevin Reddick, UNC (6-1, 243)
OLB Gerald Hodges, Penn St. (6-1, 243) 6th round OLB Brandon Magee, Arizona St. (5-11, 223)
Both OLB Justin Durant and DeAndre Levy are unrestricted free agents, which complicates the defensive issues for this team. They were second and third in tackles last year, respectively, and it's imperative that at least one of them re-signs. Last year, the team drafted Tahir Whitehead and former Oklahoma star Travis Lewis, but neither one has started an NFL game. MLB Stephen Tulloch is slated to return so a little bit of good news can't hurt, huh? Let's assume that one of the free agents decides to return, along with Whitehead and Lewis. Then the need isn't quite as overwhelming, but it's still a priority item on draft weekend.
Sio Moore has scheme versatility and could play nearly every linebacker position. He'd fit well at either Sam or Will in this defense, wherever the need is most glaring. Jelani Jenkins struggled through injuries last season, so that set him back. But he's an excellent athlete who could be a starter in due time.
SECONDARY The Draft Board
1st round CB Dee Milliner, Alabama (6-1, 200) 2nd round CB Desmond Trufant, Washington (6-0, 190) S Matt Elam, Florida (5-10, 208) 3rd round S Jonathan Cyprien, FIU (6-0, 217)
CB Jordan Poyer, Oregon St. (6-0, 191)
S Phillip Thomas, Fresno St.(6-1, 208) 4th round CB Darius Slay, Mississippi St. (6-0, 192)
S T.J McDonald, USC (6-3, 219) 6th round CB D.J. Hayden, Houston (5-11, 191)
Turn away if you're a bit squeamish because it's about to get ugly. Although the Lions' pass defense was in the top half of the league in 2012, it's hard to believe it can maintain that status with the uncertainty in the back four. CB Chris Houston is an unrestricted free agent, as is S Louis Delmas. CB Jacob Lacey, who started nine games last year, is also an unrestricted free agent. Rookie Bill Bentley was a disappointment. The secondary rebuild must start on draft weekend, but it's imperative that the draft yields a starter at both positions.
It's not the end of the world if the Lions pass on Dee Milliner or if the former Alabama star is off the board at No. 5. But, if he's there, it'd be hard to pass on an all-around cornerback who can play off-man, press-man or zone with his versatility, size and speed. Desmond Trufant might end up being a better cover corner than Milliner in the long run, while Matt Elam is the top safety available. That said, the Lions need a little luck in finding some late-round gems, which is what D.J. Hayden is, as long as his medicals are clean.
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