2012 was a year that the Detroit Lions will want to forget. A season full of underachievement, disappointment and close losses led to a 4-12 record just a year removed from the playoffs.
Fingers have been pointed at just about everyone not named Calvin Johnson, and deservedly so. Detroit lost games as a team last season, getting beat on offense, defense and special teams.
There were many moments of despair throughout 2012, but there was also evidence of a good team buried beneath the struggles. While Detroit was only able to come out victorious four times, there were a few nail-biting losses that showed potential. Had it not been for Jim Schwartz’s stupidity in throwing the challenge flag, the Lions may very well have beaten the Houston Texans. They lost by just eight to the eventual NFC champion 49ers, and had their hearts torn out on the final play against a playoff team in Indianapolis.
But potential doesn’t win games.
Looking ahead to the NFL Draft that begins Thursday, April 25th at 8:00pm on ESPN, the Lions have several holes to fill. Defensive end Cliff Avril is gone to Seattle, making DE a must-have for Detroit. Defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham has made it very clear that he hates to blitz, so the Lions defense is useless without an elite front
With the fifth overall pick, the Lions must go with a defensive end unless cornerback Dee Milliner is available. Milliner is too good of a talent to pass on at a position of need like corner. If he’s there, my money is on him becoming a Lion.
If Detroit can’t get Milliner, the top DE on my board is BYU’s Ezekiel Ansah, who fits the Lions’ 4-3 scheme well. I also like Dion Jordan from Oregon and Georgia’s Alec Ogletree. Although Ogletree, while a physical freak, has little experience playing DE in a 4-3 defense. But with some experts now predicting Damontre Moore to fall into the second round, I bet the Lions wait an a DE until day two.
The line on both sides of the ball needs help in this draft. Jeff Backus has retired after a long, workman-like career in Detroit. Backus was never flashy, but always durable and brought his hard hat and lunch pail to the job day in and day out. Center Dominic Raiola will remain a Lion for at least another year, but he is at the end of his career. The Lions went with tackle Reilly Reiff in the first round a year ago, and he will be a starter this season somewhere on the offensive line.
Even with Reiff now a starter, the Lions still must replace Steven Peterman’s vacated position at right guard and with Gosder Cherilus now making bank for the Colts (for reasons still unknown) the Lions must find a new right tackle as well.
This means that Detroit must help the offensive line early in this draft. I don’t like the idea of an O-lineman such as Eric Fisher in the first round, but I do believe they should take multiple linemen in this draft, and as early as the second round.
If Detroit does elect to take a tackle in the second round, Kyle Long is a guy they should look at. The son of NFL-great Howie Long, Kyle has pedigree and skill to go with it. Long excelled at Oregon despite playing just one year on the offensive line, leading a fast and effective rushing attack that ranked 3rd in the country at 315 yards per game.
If the Lions wait until the third or fourth round to take a tackle, I like Louisiana Tech’s Jordan Mills, who had a nice performance at the Senior Bowl. Arkansas Pine-Bluff’s Terron Armstead had a solid combine and is another OT the Lions could target in the third round.
Somehow, the Lions continue to find themselves thin at wide receiver. Despite drafting one after another over the past decade, Detroit still has just three legitimate receiving threats, assuming Ryan Broyles is healthy. Should he miss time early in the year recovering from ACL surgery, the Lions are down to Johnson and Nate Burleson, who is coming off a broken leg that cost him much of last season.
The Lions must go with a wide receiver with one of their picks this year, but which one? I think a late-rounder would be best, but if Martin Mayhew sees value in the third, he’s proven that he isn’t afraid to draft the best available talent.
If Detroit does go with a receiver in the third, West Virginia’s Stedman Bailey would be a steal. Should they wait until the later rounds, speedster Marqise Goodwin from Texas would be an intriguing pick considering his 40 time of 4.27 seconds.
If the Lions don’t have Milliner, they must also take a corner with one of their now eight picks (two compensatory picks were awarded to Detroit). The secondary was weak last season, and while they were able to bring back their best corner in Chris Houston, they lack depth. Bill Bentley showed signs of promise before being injured, but Jonte Green didn’t get the job done and needs to be replaced as the team’s nickel back. This draft is very deep at corner, and should the Lions pass on Milliner to take Fisher or someone else, they can find value at CB in the later rounds.
Safety is another position of need, as Louis Delmas can’t be counted on to stay healthy. His talent is as good as any, but he only plays six games a year, making depth a necessity. I really like the addition of Glover Quin to play opposite Delmas. He is a solid cover safety whose playing style will complement Delmas’ hard-hitting attack.
If, and that’s a big if, Delmas stays healthy, the Lions will have one of the top safety tandems in the league.
To round out the draft, I can see the Lions taking a linebacker and possibly a kicker. Linebacker depth is key both defensively and on special teams, and although the Lions took two last year in Tahir Whitehead and Travis Lewis, neither has panned out thus far in Detroit.
For the first time on more than 20 years, future Hall of Famer Jason Hanson won’t be kicking field goals in Detroit. Hanson’s retirement prompted Detroit to bring in veteran David Akers, but Akers struggled last season and the Lions would be smart to have a backup plan.
Here’s how I would draft if I were Martin Mayhew.
First round, pick five: Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama
Second round, pick 36: Damontre Moore, DE, Texas A&M
Third round, pick 65: Terron Armstead, OT, Arkansas Pine-Bluff
Fourth round, pick 132: Gerald Hodges, OLB, Penn State
Fifth round, pick 137: Dalton Freeman, C, Clemson
Sixth round, pick 171: Marqise Goodwin, WR, Texas
Seventh round, pick 211: Omoregie Uzzi, OG, Georgia Tech
Seventh round, pick 245: Quinn Sharp, P/K, Oklahoma State
Follow me on twitter @ScottPeceny