Will the Lions fill the remainder of their personnel needs via the draft?

Posted Mar 27, 2013

With the heavy lifting of free agency over and the NFL draft just weeks away, writers Tim Twentyman and Mike O'Hara discuss how the Lions can fill their remaining needs

The free agent signing rush is over, and the first round of the draft is four weeks from Thursday.

Are these the dog days of the NFL's offseason, or is there no such thing?

Mike: I wouldn't call it the dog days. More like take a deep breath, reload and shift the focus to other targets. Teams will still sign free agents, just not as many at once as in the first week. Whoever said that the NFL's regular season is America's No. 1 sport and the offseason is the No. 2 sport was right.

There's a little sag here, but it's temporary. Or am I missing something?

Tim: You're right about there never being a dull moment. While Detroit Lions general manager Martin Mayhew confirmed to us at the NFL League Meetings in Phoenix that the big-money signings are over, free agency certainly isn't.

The Lions are meeting with free agent receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey this week, according to league sources, and Mayhew, head coach Jim Schwartz and president Tom Lewand all said that there's the possibility of more re-signings from players on the roster from last season.

The team also continues to bring in draft prospects in the pre-draft process.

The heavy lifting is over, but the offseason and free agency is a 24-7 job.

What hole left in the roster concerns you the most, Mike?

Mike: There's more than one, and that's not true only for the Lions. Every team is looking to patch spots. But the biggest need is pass rusher. That's where the Lions are light on depth and proven production.

Next in line are cornerback and an established starter at offensive tackle.

Some people might disagree, particularly the ones who believe an offensive tackle is a primary need, but you have to disrupt offenses to win consistently. Nothing does that more effectively than a pass rusher.

Tell me where I'm wrong or misguided – or both.

Tim: We could be here awhile, but I digress.

The Lions do need a pass rusher and will find one in the draft, or maybe the second-tier free agent market.

To think that an established starter at offensive tackle wouldn't have an impact is a bit misguided, in my opinion.

What does it matter if the Lions have all these weapons at receiver, tight end and running back if they can't get them the ball or create lanes for them to run through?

Schwartz and Mayhew seem confident the combination of Riley Reiff, Corey Hilliard and Jason Fox can accomplish the job, but I wouldn't be mad at them if they selected one of the two top tackles – Luke Joeckel or Eric Fisher – at No. 5.

I haven't seen enough of Reiff, Hilliard and Fox to be as confident.

Eric Fisher
T Eric Fisher (Photo: AP Images)

Go ahead, tell me how misguided I am.

Mike: Too misguided for words, but not because of anything you've said about the tackle situation. That leaves you subject to analysis for everything else in your life, but according to the charts, I've only got two or three decades left to live and can't help you fix everything.

You're right about the tackles and their lack of experience. Simply put, until you prove you've done it, you haven't done it.

I'm still set on a pass rusher, but nobody should think the Mayans shifted the doomsday date to April 25 if the Lions draft an offensive tackle in the first round. It isn't the way I'd go, but Joeckel and Fisher are quality players who will help any team that needs a left tackle.

I think you've gotten me back on target. Yes?

Tim: Three decades, Mike, really? Here's hoping it's four – AARP would love it.

I think it's safe to say that neither one of us would be unhappy with a tackle or defensive end at No. 5. Let's just leave it at that.

The Lions have eight picks, how would you like those picks to play out in an ideal world?

Mike: First, thanks. I forgot how to spell AARP.

Assuming we're talking about quality players relative to the draft position, I'd go pass rusher and cornerback at the top, in that order. Next would be offensive line or wide receiver, depending which player on the board has the highest value, with a bonus to a wide receiver who can return punts and kickoffs.

After that, fill out the draft card with athletes – linebacker, defensive back, tight end, and offensive linemen.

If I could hit the first three picks, I'd call it a successful draft.

Tim: If one of the two top tackles is there, I'd go that route at No. 5. Next would be the best available pass rusher.

Now, if Fisher or Joeckel are off the board by the fifth pick, best pass rusher available at No. 5 and then go best secondary player available with the first pick in the second round – corner or safety.

After that, I'd try to find a defensive tackle to add depth to that unit in the third. That might be the deepest position group in all the draft.

After round three it's about finding the best athletes that fit the scheme. An outside receiving threat opposite Johnson should be on the wish list if one isn't found via free agency. The linebacking corps could use a little more depth as could the secondary.

I'll throw a curveball out there. If a kicker or punter with a big leg is on the board in the last two rounds it could make sense for the Lions to draft one. Pro Bowler Blair Walsh was a sixth-round pick of the Vikings last year.

If the Lions hit on three picks they're in business, but having an impact draft like the one they had in 2009 when they got Matthew Stafford, Brandon Pettigrew, Louis Delmas, DeAndre Levy and Sammie Hill should be the goal. They do that and they've really bettered themselves.