I’ll be the first to admit this isn’t the most prominent blog on the internet. That means that if you’re reading this, you’re obsessed with the NFL draft. You scour the internet for every piece of opinion and info you can find, you read every mock by every pundit imaginable, and then scrape the bottom of the barrel and ask for more. And then you stumble onto my blog. I used to be like you. There are parts of me that very much still are. Whether it’s in season or not, I read more about the Detroit Lions than just about any other topic. Send me a link to a good article on twitter and chances are that I’ll read it (or I already have). But I am far less obsessive over the draft than I used to be. Perhaps that’s because the last few games of the regular season are now all about the race for the playoffs and not the race for the #1 overall pick. Perhaps it’s because I’m older and wiser than I used to be. Anyway, I used to be different.
April 2006. I say that year and it sounds like it was yesterday. But by now it’s 7 years ago. That year’s draft came a month before my high school graduation and by now I’ve slogged through the majority of grad school. That draft came 3 months after the hiring of Rod Marinelli. I remember the optimism I had back then. Marinelli showed up to his press conference with a sharp suit and a mantra of pounding the rock. He was a stark contrast to Mooch, the guy who played favorites, lost games, and looked every bit of the TV personality he has since become. Rod Marinelli looked like a football coach. He looked like the man to lead us back to prominence (did I say back? I don’t think we were ever actually there). So I channeled my optimism into the draft. I was in between high school and college. What else was there to do? I remember planning each draft pick, filling each of the Lions’ holes, one by one. I mapped out free agency too. I was big on Simeon Rice as a free agent, and in the draft, it was Michael Huff or bust. I remember just a few days before the draft, everyone started raving about Ernie Sims. He was like a guided missile. You could watch his college highlight reel all day long. As he moved up draft boards, people wondered if he could go as high as 15. I was devastated when the Raiders took Huff, but Sims was my 2nd choice and the Lions nabbed him at #9…
I would be a horrible GM. None of these players have produced a whole lot since 2006. I can look back now and laugh about them, but my picks would have been horrible. And that’s why mock drafts don’t mean anything. It’s because these picks aren’t made by guys that get their info third hand (well, maybe in 2006, a certain Lions GM probably did). Trust me, you really shouldn’t care what my draft picks would be. If you really want to know who the Lions will pick, you should think about…who the Lions will pick. By saying that, I didn’t actually tell you anything, but think about it. Do I care if Mel Kiper thinks the Lions still need a corner? Do I care if some analyst says that good teams are built from the trenches out without any proof? You should concern yourself with the Lions drafting philosophy, offensive and defensive schemes, and take a look at team needs from a long-term perspective.
If you’re a fan of this blog, you might remember that I took a more in-depth look at the Lions draft philosophy last year. The Lions draft the best guy available, without regard for short-term injuries or minor character issues. Given the state of some of the Lions’ recent draft picks (looking at you, Jahvid Best and Titus Young), you can begin to wonder whether the Lions might get a little gun-shy on this aspect of their philosophy.
You can look at their past drafts and see how they deal with need. Did they need an offensive tackle last year when they picked Riley Reiff? Not with Backus and Cherilus holding down both ends. Did they need a defensive tackle when they took Nick Fairley in 2011? Not with Suh, Corey Williams, and Sammie Lee Hill on board. Are they relying on those guys to step in and fill big roles this year? Absolutely. The draft isn’t just a short-term, one year thing. The Lions draft guys at positions that might not be a need right away and look for them to step up in the years to come.
You can look at the Lions’ schemes and see that they value guys that can rush the passer and explosive offensive weapons. They’ve already invested 2 first round picks in pass rushing defensive tackles. Last year, they spent $10.6 million to franchise Cliff Avril. On offense, they’ve sunk high picks into Stafford, Pettigrew, Best, Young, and Leshoure, signed Calvin Johnson to the biggest WR contract ever, and signed Reggie Bush to exploit the space created by CJ.
So with all of this in mind, you start to get a picture of what the Lions might do with the 5th overall pick. But do you know who the Lions will pick at #5? No. Because you don’t know who the first 4 guys will be. With that in mind, I’m going to make a big board, albeit as a guy that only reads 3rd hand accounts of the strengths and weaknesses of draft prospects. With some of these guys, I’d love to see them in a Lions uniform. With some of them, I’d be mortified. Without further ado, here’s my best approximation of Martin Mayhew’s big board.
#1 – Eric Fisher – LT
Since the Senior Bowl, there has been much ink dedicated to discussing whether Eric Fisher or Luke Joeckel is a better prospect. A lot of people have Luke Joeckel as the best player in the draft, and maybe he is. But from the Lions’ perspective, I think Eric Fisher fits what the Lions do better. These guys are both great pass blockers, but Eric Fisher has better athleticism and foot speed, which allows him to get to get to the 2nd level more easily when run blocking. The Lions offense utilizes a lot of screens, traps, draws, and misdirection-type plays. They’re putting a renewed emphasis on getting big plays this year. So it would make sense that they’ll need guys who can get downfield and block linebackers and safeties. This offseason, they brought in Curtis Modkins from the Buffalo Bills as their running backs coach and run game coordinator. Buffalo Rumblings (SB Nation Buffalo Bills blog) had a nice breakdown of the Bills running game under Modkins. Essentially, they try to take advantage of the space created by their passing game to use a lot of zone blocking and misdirection plays that require their linemen to get out and move. Sound familiar?
#2 – Luke Joeckel – LT
Let’s be honest. Putting Eric Fisher 1st was nitpicky. These guys are both great. I would say that they’re 1A and 1B, but I really hate it when people say that because B comes after A and is therefore just a nicer and dumber way of saying 2. Luke Joeckel is a prototypical left tackle and a better pass blocker than Fisher. Considering the Lions pass 90% of the time (I didn’t look this stat up, but I’m 90% sure it’s true), they could use a guy that will keep Stafford from separating his shoulder for the rest of his career. If either of these guys is still there at #5, the Lions will be glad they sacrificed Titus Young and Jahvid Best to the draft gods for their consideration.
#3 – Tavon Austin – WR
Whaaaaaaaaaat?!?! Yep, I went there. I tried to put other guys in this spot. I really did. I wrote down 3 other names before I settled on Austin. Get this straight. The Lions are not afraid to draft a wide receiver. If he is the best guy on their board, he’ll be the pick, without a doubt. I’ve been reading scouting reports on these guys for days, weeks. The one that keeps getting me excited is Tavon Austin because he’s a perfect fit for what the Lions like to do. He has elite speed (4.34 official 40 time), but also elite quickness. He can be guys over the top or absolutely eviscerate defenses when he gets in space. He’s small, so he’s not going to be a guy that you throw jump balls to. But why would you even bother with that when you have CJ on the other side. The biggest thing missing from the Lions last year were impact offensive weapons outside of CJ and impact plays on defense. Imagine Tavon Austin alongside Reggie Bush and Ryan Broyles. That’s almost scarier than having to deal with CJ. Almost. I’d have to think that no matter what happens with the offensive line or running game, this would put the offense over the top.
#4 – Sharrif Floyd – DT
I know. This one hurts. This is not a pick that I would like to see. I told you that this is not a mock draft of what I would do, but what I believe Mayhew would do. I’m being serious with this. The guys that I considered here all have big question marks when it comes to their fit within the Lions scheme, their level of polish (like the stuff you put on shoes or furniture, not people from Poland. Although, there are a severe lack of Polish people in this draft), or their value at #5. Sharrif Floyd is a high-motor, disruptive pass-rushing defensive tackle best suited to play the 3 technique in a 4-3 defense. Sound familiar? That’s because it’s the exact same profile that fits both Ndamukong Suh ( I still have to look up how to spell this) and Nick Fairley. There’s no doubting that Floyd fits what the Lions look for in a tackle. There’s also no doubting that the position is currently filled. But that’s not to say that there will never again be a vacancy at DT. Justin Rogers at Mlive.com broke down the contract situation the Lions and Suh are now facing heading into 2014 and 2015. The Lions owe Suh $21.41 million dollars in 2014 if he doesn’t sign a restructured extension. If they want to franchise him in 2015, it would cost $25.7 million. That’s an obscene amount of money. The Lions salary cap troubles in recent years have brought the issue to the forefront that most of the Lions’ cap money is tied up in Stafford, CJ, and Suh. I hate to say it, but only one of those players has a penchant for stomping players on national television. Sharrif Floyd would be able to step into the rotation immediately, just as Nick Fairley did in 2011 and be able to take the reigns in 2015. This would not be a popular pick, especially with me, but I don’t think the Lions would be afraid to do it.
#5 – Dion Jordan – LB/DE
Another unpopular pick, I know. He’s simply not a 4-3 DE at this point. He stands at 6’6″ and weighs 248 lbs. He’ll need to add 20-30 lbs before he can become an effective 4-3 DE. But here’s the thing. He’s an incredible pass rusher. There’s a reason 3-4 teams are salivating over him. He makes plays. He has incredible athleticism. He can even cover slot receivers. He is a defensive playmaker, first and foremost. Here’s a quote from Martin Mayhew entering this offseason:
“We have a lot of guys, who are good guys, that line up right, they know what their job is, but they don’t impact the game. We need interceptors, guys that can sack the quarterback, we need guys that cause fumbles, that make plays on third down. Those are the kinds of guys that can change the game for us.”
The Lions defense played admirably this year. They held their own, played better than expected, and allowed a lot of points. You look at the Lions defense and it’s easy to say they should have been better against the run or better in coverage, but what they really needed was to get off the field. Dion Jordan is a rare athlete that knows how to get after the QB, functions very well in space, and has about as much upside as anyone in the draft. I’m of the opinion that he’d fare better in the wide 9 than in a traditional 6 or 7 technique. The wide 9 is predicated on getting the pass rushers out in space. They need to be able to beat the tackle to the corner or use their quickness to beat their man with a counter move to the inside. From what I’ve read, these sound like by far the biggest strengths of Dion Jordan’s game. And while he’s spending time gaining weight, you could just go ahead and line him up at slot cornerback.
#6 – The Shocker
When do the Lions ever go by the book? Did you know who Gosder Cherilus was before his name was announced with the 17th pick in the 2008 draft? Did you expect to hear Riley Reiff or Ryan Broyles or Nick Fairley or Titus Young? The Lions are never predictable. One of the 5 names I listed will be available when the Lions come up onto the clock. I fully expect that they’ll pick someone I’ve never heard of, never read about, never wanted on this team. Maybe it’ll be Star Lotulelei or maybe Tyler Eifert. Maybe it’ll be Sheldon Richardson or Jarvis Jones or Barkevious Mingo. Maybe it’ll be Tank Carradine. I know I’ll be watching. I expect I’ll be disappointed. But give me a few days and I’ll come around to the pick. I always do.