It's a new year with fresh challenges and new circumstances surrounding the Detroit Lions, but the goal of my first mock draft of 2018 is the same as always.
Mock 20-1.0 is my first attempt to predict who the Lions will draft with the 20th pick in the first round on April 26 in Dallas.
No matter who coaches the Lions, the primary needs are obvious – a dynamic playmaker in the front seven on defense, and a running back to upgrade a glaring weakness that has been on a four-year downward spiral of bad to worst in the NFL.
One restriction remains the same in my mock drafts: Trades are not projected. Picks are made based on where teams stand today.
However, my Pick 6 analysis of six options for the Lions' first pick includes the possibility – remote at best -- of trading up to get Penn State running back Saquon Barkley.
There's more to come before Draft Day, but this is the start.
As always, feel free to disagree.
1. Browns (0-16): New GM John Dorsey has a blank canvas, with no ties to past mistakes. That means draft a QB in the first round for the third time in seven years.
Pick: QB Sam Darnold, Southern Cal.
Tools are there, need sharpening.
2. Giants (3-13): Another new GM in Dave Gettleman. Offensive line is a primary need, but so is a future franchise QB. It starts with the draft.
Pick: QB Josh Rosen, UCLA.
Eli Manning's understudy.
3. Colts (4-12): Protecting the QB – Andrew Luck or anyone – is a primary issue, but so is beefing up the defense.
Pick: DE Bradley Chubb, North Carolina State.
Pass rush gets instant upgrade.
4. Browns (from Texans): Alabama safety Minkah Fitzpatrick makes sense here, but they say a running back is a quarterback's best friend.
Pick: RB Saquon Barkley, Penn State.
Sam Darnold, say hello to your new best friend.
5. Broncos (5-11): Team president John Elway was a Hall of Fame quarterback, but he hasn't done well drafting quarterbacks. Try again.
Pick: QB Josh Allen, Wyoming.
At 6-5 he fits the NFL QB mold.
6. Jets (5-11): Vet QB Josh McCown gave the Jets more than they could have expected before he went down late in the season. It's time for a fresh, young arm – but not this high. Safety first.
Pick: S Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama.
Jets fans will boo this pick – and cheer on Sunday. Welcome to New York.
7. Bucs (5-11): Defending the pass is vital in a division that forces you to play six games against MVP quarterbacks – Drew Brees, Cam Newton, Matt Ryan.
View the best photos from Detroit Lions player introductions at Ford Field during the 2017 season.
Pick: CB Denzel Ward, Ohio State.
Buckeyes send another top defender to the NFL
8. Bears (5-11): QB Mitchell Trubisky already has RB Jordan Howard for his best friend. Now he needs a receiver.
Pick: WR Calvin Ridley, Alabama.
Immediate upgrade for NFC North's weakest group of receivers.
(Note: A coin flip at the Combine next month will determine the order of the next two picks.)
9. Raiders (6-10): At ESPN Jon Gruden interviewed QBs for the draft. As head coach of the Raiders, he needs to get up close and personal with a defender.
Pick: LB Roquan Smith, Georgia.
Smith and Khalil Mack make a dynamic pair of linebackers.
10. 49ers (6-10): They were the second worst team in the league for the first 11 games (1-10) and the hottest the last five (5-0). They can build on that finish with a good draft.
Pick: OT Orlando Brown, Texas.
Jimmy Garropolo solved the QB problem, now protect him.
11. Dolphins (6-10): The run continues on offensive linemen, with two straight from Notre Dame.
Pick: G Quenton Nelson, Notre Dame.
No surprise if he goes higher.
12. Bengals (7-9): Cincy ended the season with an offensive line put together like random numbers on a lottery ticket.
Pick: OT Mike McGlinchey, Notre Dame.
Foundation player for battered unit.
13. Redskins (7-9): There's some speculation that the Redskins will let Kirk Cousins walk in free agency and draft Mayfield if he's here. A safer bet is re-signing Cousins and adding a safety to the defense.
Pick: S Derwin James, Florida State.
Came back from 2016 knee injury to play well.
14. Packers (7-9): When Aaron Rodgers plays, he makes everyone on offense better. Any pick would make the defense better.
Pick: CB Josh Jackson, Iowa.
Adding youth, talent to a unit in for a rebuild.
15. Cardinals (8-8):Carson Palmer retired, and veteran backup Drew Stanton finished the season injured. New head coach gets new quarterback.
Pick: QB Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma.
College playmaker has to adapt to pro game.
16. Ravens (9-7): The last-minute defensive breakdown against the Bengals that knocked them out of the playoffs does not overshadow the need for a receiver—or two or three.
Pick: WR Christian Kirk, Texas A&M.
Ravens need playmakers and speed. Kirk has both.
17. Chargers (9-7): They started 0-4 and made a playoff run by winning six of the last seven. They don't need much to win the NFC West
Pick: DT Vita Vea, Washington.
Big run-stuffer plugs hole.
18. Seahawks (9-7): Time to find out what Russell Wilson can do behind a solid, healthy offensive line.
Pick: OT Connor Williams, Texas.
Run when you want to Russell, not because you have to.
19. Dallas Cowboys (9-7): Another receiver rounds out the offense for QB Dak Prescott.
Pick: WR Courtland Sutton, SMU.
20. Detroit Lions (9-7): So many choices, so many options.
Pick: DT Maurice Hurst, Michigan.
Here is my Pick 6 – 6 ways the Lions can go, starting with a trade, and why I like Hurst:
1. Trade: Saquon Barkley is a special player whose ability as a runner and receiver would elevate the offense from good to among the elite in the NFL. He would give quarterback Matthew Stafford the dynamic game-breaking ability at running back, that Calvin Johnson provided at wide receiver.
However, the price would be prohibitive. The Lions most likely would have to trade up to the No. 3 spot, at least, and work a deal with the Indianapolis Colts. The Browns are at No. 4 and already have so many draft picks from previous deals that it's time for them to cash in the picks for players instead of adding more picks.
The starting point for the Lions to trade up would be two first-round picks, plus others over a period of the draft this year and next.
It's an intriguing thought, but I don't see it happening.
With that in mind, here are five choices to consider:
2. DT Maurice Hurst, Michigan: A four-year letterman at Michigan, he's built along the lines of Rams star Aaron Donald at 6-2, 282. Hurst gets penetration on the interior. He had 31 tackles for loss with 14 sacks the last three seasons.
Question: Is he quick enough to play outside if the Lions convert to a 3-4 defense from their long-time 4-3 base? I think so.
3. RB Derrius Guice, LSU: He led the SEC in rushing with 1,387 yards and a 7.6-yard average in 2016 while sharing time with Leonard Fournette. Guice ran for 1,251 yards, with a 5.3-yard average in 12 games in 2017. He has not been overworked in college.
Question: Is it worth taking a runner at No. 20? Or is there the same value for a running back in later rounds – like the 2017 draft, when Kareem Hunt and Alvin Kamara were third-round gems for the Chiefs and Saints respectively?
4. OLB Harold Landry, Boston College: He is rated in this range, and perhaps a little lower. Landry is an athletic speed rusher who could get bigger than his listed size of 6-3, 250. He had 22 tackles for loss, with a school record 16.5 sacks in 2016. He dropped to 8.5 tackles for loss with five sacks in 2017. He missed the last four games with an ankle injury.
Question: Can he bring to the NFL what he did in college?
5. DE Sam Hubbard, Ohio State: A versatile athlete who played lacrosse in high school (Cincinnati Moeller). At 6-5 and 265 Hubbard has the frame to play defensive end in the pros. He was a three-year player for the Buckeyes after red-shirting as a freshman in 2014. He set a career high of seven sacks in 2017 and played well in big games. He had a sack in a loss to Oklahoma, and 2.5 each in wins over Michigan and Southern Cal (Cotton Bowl).
Question: Ohio State has sent a lot of top prospects to the NFL. Will Hubbard live up to that pedigree?
6. Expect the unexpected: Really, nothing should be unexpected because nobody knows for sure what's going to happen on draft day. With the first round a little more than three months away, there's a lot to consider, and nothing is set in stone – especially with free-agent signings, the Combine and pro day workouts ahead.
Signing a major free agent, or losing a key player, can shift the focus of the draft.
A player from a smaller school can rise in the prospect rankings. Defensive end Marcus Davenport of Texas-San Antonio could be one of them.
For now, Maurice Hurst fills a lot of categories that the Lions can use on their defensive line.