Detroit Lions fans who consider themselves as draftniks at any level are advised to assume nothing and take nothing for granted in trying to predict who the Lions will draft in any round.
Keep a finger near the delete key on your computer, or write in pencil – with an eraser handy – if you still chart the picks on paper.
Starting with Thursday night’s first round, where the Lions have the 20th pick overall, the only certainty is uncertainty regarding which player and position general manager Bob Quinn will target with the important first pick.
The consensus opinion among most analysts is that the Lions’ top needs are at running back and on the defensive line – either an interior player or a pass rusher.
But there is at least one other position they could target with that valuable first pick. The draft is deep in interior offensive linemen, and Quinn said in his pre-draft press conference last week that he wouldn’t hesitate to take a player from that pool if the right center or guard is available.
Quinn has worked to upgrade the roster’s talent level and add depth across the board since he was hired in January of 2016. That has given the Lions strength in positions such as the defensive backfield, linebacker, wide receiver and throughout a special teams unit that has been one of the league’s best.
Quinn has been consistent with his philosophy of roster building. He will not reach and draft a lower rated player at any position to fill a need.
“I don’t want to isolate any one position or two positions,” Quinn said. “I think with the way the roster is today, I don’t think I’m in a position to reach for any position of so-called need.
“We’re looking for good football players. We’re looking for big, strong, tough competitive guys that are going to help us win. I’m not eliminating any position.”
Where do the Lions go with the 20th pick? Fill an obvious need – defensive line or running back? A guard or center? Trade up in the first round to get a player that Quinn has targeted, or trade down to add picks to the slim six-pack he’ll have at the start? Trade up or down on any – or possibly every – round?
Here are six things to consider in projecting the Lions’ first-round pick and their draft overall: 1. Defensive line – position decision: It’s a need, but it can’t be just any defensive lineman for the sake of drafting one. That’s something Quinn would never do, anyway. The top three prospects are defensive ends Bradley Chubb of North Carolina State and Marcus Davenport of UTSA and tackle Vita Vea of Washington, who is regarded as a clone of Haloti Ngata. Based on most projections, Vea has the best chance – but not a strong one – to still be on the board at No. 20.
Three athletic tackles could be available for the Lions – Taven Bryan of Florida, Maurice Hurst of Michigan and Da’Ron Payne of Alabama. Pass rusher Harold Landry of Boston College is another possibility. It’s a tough call among the four. Bryan’s stock has risen of late, while there are questions – like there always are about prospects – concerning Landry’s ability to make the transition to the pros. It’s hard to pass on a player whose stock is rising late in the process.
2. Running back: The Lions were last in the league in rushing last year for a reason. Adding veteran LeGarrette Blount to the returning cast doesn’t eliminate the need to add a versatile playmaker who can play on all three downs.
If it’s not a given, it’s as close as it can get that the Lions will draft a running back. The only question is when. If it’s in the first round, the most likely possibility to be available at 20 is Derrius Guice of LSU with Saquon Barkley of Penn State off the board early. After that is a group topped by Ronald Jones of Southern Cal, Nick Chubb and Sony Michel of Georgia and Rashaad Penny of San Diego State.
“If we had to go play a football game today, I think we have enough running backs to be competitive,” Quinn said.
The question is whether adding fresh legs would make them better. Running back by committee is a solid philosophy, but there’s no reason a committee can’t have a chairman.
*3. Offensive line: *Don’t expect it. Don’t rule it out. This is a strong year for interior linemen, and adding a top guard or center would lock into place the starting five with talent and depth behind it. It would help the running game, give quarterback Matthew Stafford relief from a career-high 47 sacks last year, and give head coach Matt Patricia a better opportunity to play the control game he prefers.
“If he’s a good football player, and he’s at or near the top of the board, I have no problem taking an interior offensive lineman,” Quinn said. “In this year’s class, there are a number of them. “I think it’ s a well-rounded group – guys that have some position flex.”
4. Wild cards: Anything besides a defensive lineman, running back or interior offensive lineman would be a surprise. But be prepared for surprises. If a big-time player at a position like cornerback drops to the Lions, he could be too good to pass, even if it’s not a priority position in this draft. There are surprises in every draft.
5. Value, choices: A number of qualities separate players when it comes to rating them, and Quinn mentioned two as paramount when asked what he wants out of a first-round pick.
“Playmaking and dependability would be two things,” Quinn said. “You want dependable players in this program. “Obviously, if you’re taking them in the first round they should be good players. I think dependability is something that’s really key, with durability, ability to learn, competitive nature, does he love football? Passion.”
Those boxes were checked in indelible ink by Quinn’s first two first-round prospects – offensive tackle Taylor Decker in 2016, and middle linebacker Jarrad Davis last year. They’re both foundation players. Drafting cornerback Jamal Agnew of San Diego last year was an example of scouts and coaches getting a line on a small-school player who had value as a late-round pick. Agnew was taken in the fifth round. He had two punt returns for touchdowns, was voted first team All Pro, and contributed in situations on offense and as an extra defensive back.
6. Trades: Count on them. With only six picks – tied for fewest in the league – Quinn will be looking to add picks. The way to get them is to trade down in some rounds, and to trade players for picks.
“I’m always in the business of getting more draft picks, if I can,” Quinn said. “I think that’s just good for business. The more you get, the more you’re going to hit on."
With Quinn’s batting average the first two drafts, more at bats would be welcome.