O'HARA: Defense could dominate first round of 2019 NFL Draft

It’s too early to lock any draft boards in place, but it’s not too early to project how the strength has switched sides in a year.

The top of last year’s draft was dominated by offense, with four quarterbacks taken in the top 10 along with a running back and two offensive linemen.

This year the defense is stepping to the front, with what projects to be a slim crop of quarterbacks, running backs and receivers.

If projections hold, the Lions can add a solid prospect to their improved defense with the eighth pick in the first round April 25. It’s especially deep in the front seven, but there is also talent in the secondary.

“I would agree there is definitely a defensive component at the top of the draft, based on everybody that I’ve seen and the meetings that we’ve had when our scouts came in in December for our first set of draft meetings,” General manager Bob Quinn said at his postseason press conference.

“The key is ... the draft is very junior heavy. We haven’t got the list from the league yet. Once that list comes out, I’ll probably have a better feel of really how heavy it is defensively.

“It’s kind of hard to say. It’s a little bit early.”

The top linemen in some order appear to be edge rusher Nick Bosa of Ohio State, defensive ends Clelin Ferrell of Clemson and Rashan Gary of Michigan and defensive tackles Quinnen Williams of Alabama and Ed Oliver of Houston.

Safety Deionte Thompson of Alabama and outside linebacker Josh Allen of Kentucky are candidates for the top 10.

Under NFL rules, underclassmen have until Jan. 14 to declare to the league their intention to enter the draft. The list of players accepted is made known to the teams on Jan. 18.

In 2018 an all-time high of 106 underclassmen were eligible for the draft. Of the 256 players drafted, 70 were underclassmen and five of them were taken in the top 10.

Based on their needs, wide receiver is one position on offense where the Lions could be most likely to take a player at No. 8. However, there aren’t any receivers this year who rate that high.

The Lions aren’t in the market to take a quarterback high, but they will benefit if Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins leaves school early, as reports indicate he will.

One of the teams picking ahead of them – the Giants at No. 6 or the Jaguars at No. 7 – might take Haskins and leave an extra defender on the board for the Lions to consider.

And if Haskins is still on the board, a team like the Broncos at No. 10 or Bengals at No. 11, might want to trade up with the Lions.

The Lions were 18th against the run, 19th against the pass and 18th overall in 2017. Those numbers improved to 10th against the run, eighth against the pass and 10th overall in 2018.

They had 43 sacks compared to 35 in 2017, and that was done without an individual with double-digit sacks. Ziggy Ansah led the Lions with 12 sacks in 2017. Romeo Okwara, who was claimed on waivers from the Giants before the first game, led the Lions with 7.5 sacks.

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