Detroit Lions need good draft to keep momentum building

Posted Mar 17, 2013

After a strong week in free agency, the Lions need to look to the draft for additional playmakers

PHOENIX, Ariz. -- Signing running back Reggie Bush, safety Glover Quin, defensive end Jason Jones and cornerback Chris Houston in the first 24 hours of free agency, then going and out and re-signing safety Louis Delmas on Friday, filled five real needs for the Detroit Lions this offseason.

Last's week's haul proves the team is making a strong push for 2013, but it hasn't solved all of their problems. The Lions still need help via next month's draft to push them closer to getting back to being the playoff contenders they were in 2011.

"I've always said that headlines in March are fine, but I'll take the headlines in December, January and February," Lions president Tom Lewand said.

Filling some crucial needs over the first week of free agency has afforded a best-player-available approach to the No. 5-overall pick.

Not that it would have been any different anyway – that's been the philosophy of this regime dating back to 2009 – but next month should be about getting playmakers ... and all playmakers are welcome.

"We need guys that can impact the game," general manager Martin Mayhew said. "We need interceptors, we need guys that sack the quarterback, we need guys that cause fumbles, guys that make plays on third down. Those are the kind of guys that can change the game for us."

Athletic edge rushers make up a good portion of the top of the draft and the Lions have a need for at least one more with Jason Jones, Willie Young and Ronnell Lewis under contract for 2013.

Ziggy Ansah

Ziggy Ansah, Barkevious Mingo and Dion Jordan are considered among the best rushers available, though there's some debate whether they're 4-3 ends with their hands in the dirt of 3-4 outside linebackers.

The Lions know more about Ansah than most teams having spent a week coaching him at the Senior Bowl. A number of mock drafts have the Lions selecting Ansah fifth-overall.

Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner looks to be the only secondary player worth real consideration for the Lions at No. 5. The team went a long way to solidifying the position with the re-signing of Chris Houston last week, though. They also have veteran Ron Bartell under contract and all three rookies from last year's draft – Bill Bentley, Chris Greenwood and Jonte Green – will be fighting for playing time. Milliner could still make sense if they view his ceiling higher than last year's rookies.

Former Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones is an interesting prospect at No. 5. It appears any concerns about his stenosis have grown quieter and the Lions currently have a vacancy for a starting linebacker with Justin Durant still on the free agent market.

Jones is the kind of playmaker Mayhew was describing. Jones led college football with 14.5 sacks last year and also accounted for 24.5 tackles for loss. That kind of production – if the Lions feel good about his health moving forward – will be taken into account.

Then there's the offensive lineman. The top three – Luke Joeckel, Eric Fisher and Lane Johnson – all look to be top 10 picks at this point.

With Jeff Backus announcing his retirement Friday and Gosder Cherilus signing a free-agent deal with the Colts, the Lions are looking at two new starters on the outside of their offensive line.

The team has internal candidates in Riley Reiff, Corey Hilliard and Jason Fox to fill in, but if one of those rookies is there at No. 5 - especially Joeckel or Fisher - it could make sense to add another name to the mix if he's at the top of their board.

The Lions have done well for themselves through the early part of free agency and are a better football team than they were a week ago, but still need a good draft to keep the momentum building.

"I think we've been able to add some players to our team that we expect to come in here and contribute and add value," Lewand said. "We're excited about the guys we signed in the last few days, including our own, but there's a long way to go."