LIONS INSIDER

Twentyman breaks down what he considers to be the Lions' five greatest needs heading into the draft

Posted Apr 23, 2013

Detroitlions.com lead writer Tim Twentyman looks at how draft prospects could fit in at his top five positions of need for the Lions

The Lions targeted three players in the first hours of free agency last month. Each filled very specific needs. They got all three of their men in running back Reggie Bush, safety Glover Quin and defensive end Jason Jones.

The re-signings of cornerback Chris Houston and safety Louis Delmas filled additional holes.

That was a good start to the 2013 season, but the Lions still have needs to address. They’ll get a chance to fill a number of them via the NFL Draft, which begins Thursday at 8 p.m.

"You don’t have those seven immediate, impact starters that change your franchise at the top of this draft," Lions general manager Martin Mayhew said last week. "You have a bunch of good quality players.

"We didn’t give as many first-round grades this year as we normally give. This draft goes deeper into the second round this year - we call those red grades. Goes a little deeper into the second."

The Lions are hoping to get four starters out of this draft.

It would certainly benefit them to get starters at some remaining positions of need.

Here are my top five positions of need for Lions:

Alex OkaforDE Alex Okafor (Photo: AP Images)

1. Defensive end

This is undoubtedly the biggest need for the Lions with only Jones, Willie Young and Ronnell Lewis currently on the roster.

The Lions are likely to add a defensive end in this draft; it’s just a matter of when.

Jones is a solid addition. He hasn't started since 2011, but the Lions love his versatility as a three-down rusher and he has the potential to excel playing alongside Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley in the Lions' scheme.

On the other side, it’s time for Young, who’ll be entering his fourth season, to step up and be a bigger contributor. He showed flashes in the preseason last year, but it didn't translate into the regular season. The former seventh-round pick did not record a single sack in 15 games last year. He has to fill some of the void left by the departures of Cliff Avril and Kyle Vanden Bosch.

Lewis, like Young, has to play a bigger role in 2013. A fourth-round pick last year, Lewis played just one defensive snap as a rookie.

How the draft might help: The draft is deep with athletic rushers, especially at the top, but there are question marks surrounding some of those players.

When is raw too raw to immediately help when it comes to Ziggy Ansah?

Can Dion Jordan put his hand in the dirt and play the traditional 4-3-edge rusher role?

The Lions might actually find more value -- and fewer question marks -- in the second round with players like Alex Okafor (Texas), Bjoern Werner (Florida State) and Sam Montgomery (LSU), who could potentially be there for the Lions with the No. 36 pick.

2. Offensive line

The most immediate need is right guard, but selecting one of the top tackles could help all the pieces fall into place.

If the Lions take one of the top left tackles at No. 5, there’s the potential to move the versatile Riley Reiff over to right guard and solve two problems with one pick.

If the Lions don't get a left tackle, Reiff will be the favorite to start there in 2013.

Bill Nagy, whom the team claimed off waivers from the Cowboys before last season, could be the player that fills the right guard spot. He'll also compete at center.

Currently, it's projected that Nagy, Rodney Austin and Dylan Gandy will all compete for the right guard spot.

The Lions could also be on the lookout for a center in the draft, too.

How draft might help: The draft could offer the Lions some immediate help at right guard via Alabama’s Chance Warmack or North Carolina’s Jonathan Cooper in the first round.

Chance WarmackG Chance Warmack (Photo: AP Images)

Other players to consider in the first few rounds at guard would be Kyle Long (Oregon), Justin Pugh (Syracuse), Larry Warford (Kentucky), Travis Frederick (Wisconsin), Barrett Jones (Alabama) and Brian Winters (Kent State).

If the Lions decide to take a tackle and move Reiff over to right guard, the two players that make the most sense are Luke Joeckel (Texas A&M) and Eric Fisher (Central Michigan). Oklahoma's Lane Johnson is a bit raw to expect immediate impact in 2013.

3. Wide receiver

Not a popular thought, considering the resources the Lions have invested at the position over the last few years, but injuries and other issues have left them in need of a receiver once again.

The ideal fit for the Lions would be an outside threat that can stretch the field opposite Calvin Johnson.

Basically, they’re looking to replace Titus Young.

Nate Burleson said he’s ahead of schedule in his recovery from a broken leg and he can play both inside and outside, though he’s probably a better fit in the slot.

Ryan Broyles is recovering from his second torn ACL in as many years. When he’s ready to return to the slot is still unknown.

Kris Durham, Patrick Edwards, Devin Thomas, Chastin Westin and Brian Robiskie will all compete for a roster spot on the outside, but the Lions will want to add another impact player who can immediately step in and make a difference.

How might draft help: The Lions brought in a number of players during the pre-draft process who could fit. All four players – Cordarrelle Patterson (Tennessee), Justin Hunter (Tennessee), Robert Woods (USC) and Tavon Austin (West Virginia) – have tremendous speed and upside.

Austin is particularly interesting because of what he brings to the table in the return game. One NFL talent evaluator told me he’s the best return man he’s seen entering the draft in the last 10 years. He might project more as a slot receiver, but he certainly fits the definition of stretching the field ... wherever he lines up.

Austin won't be around at pick No. 36, so the Lions would have to take him at No. 5 (unlikely), trade down and take him, or move back into the first round after picking at No. 5.

Some other players who might fit in the first two days of the draft are: Keenan Allen (California), Terrance Williams (Baylor), DeAndre Hopkins (Clemson), Markus Wheaton (Oregon State), Quinton Patton (Louisina Tech) and Da’Rick Rogers (Tennessee Tech).

4. Cornerback talent/depth

But Tim, didn’t the Lions draft three cornerbacks last year?

They certainly did, but you can never have too many athletic, young cornerbacks on a roster. Historically, the position is the most injured in football. The more depth a team has there the better off they’ll be.

Bill Bentley is coming off shoulder surgery and Chris Greenwood missed all of 2012 after he had surgery to repair an abdominal tear. Bentley’s shoulder worries me a little because he’s a smaller cornerback.

Drafting a corner offers some competition for the right cornerback spot and also inside at nickel. When is that ever a bad thing?

It’s been a long time since the Lions had a starting-caliber cornerback just waiting for his turn on the field.

How might draft help: Alabama’s Dee Milliner could be there for the Lions at No. 5. He fits the size profile (6-0, 201) and has tremendous speed. He’s not as polished as Patrick Perterson was coming out of LSU a couple years ago, but he projects to be a starting-caliber corner right away.

Darius SlayCB Darius Slay (Photo: AP Images)

This draft is filled with a lot of big cornerbacks. Some other names that could be an option in the first two days of the draft for the Lions would be: D.J. Hayden (Houston), Desmond Trufant (Washington), Xavier Rhodes (Florida State), Darius Slay (Mississippi State), Jamar Taylor (Boise State) and Johnthan Banks (Mississippi State) ... just to name a few.

5. Tight end

The Lions are still looking for a No. 3 tight end to fit that H-back role in their offense. The team has yet to bring back last year's No. 3 tight end Will Heller. Riley Reiff, who filled the H-back role for Scott Linehan’s offense last season, is likely to start somewhere along the offensive line this year.

Let's not forget both Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler will be free agents after this season.

The Lions garnered over 100 catches and 1,200 yards of production from their tight end position last year, but only five touchdowns. If there’s an athletic, all-around tight end available in the middle portion of this draft, it makes sense for the Lions for 2013 and the long term.

How draft might help: Travis Kelce is an interesting prospect in day two. He’s got the combination of skills the Lions are looking for and was also one of their 30 allotted pre-draft visits.

Maybe someone like Dion Sims (Michigan State) or Mychal Rivera (Tennessee) could fit a little later.

Honorable mention: Special teams

I’m talking punter, return man and tackling extraordinaire, specifically.

Don’t be surprised if the Lions use a late-round pick on a punter. Currently, only former Central Florida punter Blake Clingan is on the roster as a punter.

The Lions brought in Sam Martin (Appalachian State) for a pre-draft visit and there are a couple big-leg punters in Brad Wing (LSU), Jeff Locke (UCLA) and Josh Hubner (Arizona State) in this draft.

The Lions would be more than happy if any receiver or running back they draft would have some return skills, as well.