Tuesday, March 27, 2012

And with the 23rd pick in the 2012 draft, the Lions select.....?

Hello folks.  A new blog address for me, since it is no longer 2011 and it makes no sense to continue to post under that title.  So, here we have our new (updated) blog.  If you wish to view my previous material regarding the Lions, search "Detroit Lions 2011".

This post is about what the Lions should do in the upcoming draft with their top pick.  There is an ongoing debate in many forums as to who will be available, and what prospect would best fit the Lions roster for the near and distant future.  Several factors come into play when thinking about this.  Will Cliff Avril be signed long term?  All indications are that the Lions are working diligently with Avril and his agent to hammer out a long term deal, and keep Cliff here for at least a few more years.  The question is, should they?  Is Avril really worth that much money, or is he a product of a great group of defensive tackles?  Personally, I think that after having one double digit sack year, the Lions should limit the deal and the money involved.  If Avril plays on the franchise tag and is able to produce 10+ sacks again, then pay the man, he's earned it.  But in my eyes, one year does not a career make.  If he wants 9 or 10 million plus per season, make him repeat his performance.  Of course, that could mean he'll be more expensive to sign next year, but it's a chance you take.  The other factor is the health of some offensive players.  Jeff Backus, Mikel LeShoure and Jahvid Best are all coming off injuries.  Best and LeShoure are the ones with the more long term issues.  Best simply can't be counted on as a full time back.  In fact, he probably shouldn't really be playing.  Any concussion that sidelines you for as long as his did is just plain frightening and is likely to effect your long term health.  Broken bones and torn ligaments are one thing, but when you are talking about the human brain the outcome is not easily diagnosed at this time.  Were I the Lions, I'd keep a very close eye on Best, and plan on limiting him to 10-15 touches per game, both as a runner and receiver.  LeShoure is a serious concern because of his Achilles injury.  That type of injury never seems to completely heal, and can affect a players speed, quickness and lateral movement.  LeShoure was being looked at as the Lions power back in 2011 before his injury.  But Mikel brought much more than that to the table.  He had quick feet, and a good burst through the hole, as well as the power to make yards after initial contact.  I have to imagine the power will remain, but the lateral quickness and burst may have degraded due to the injury.  Finally, Jeff Backus had off-season surgery for a torn biceps that he suffered in the Lions final game against New Orleans.  At age 35, one has to wonder just how much he'll be affected by that injury.  If you recall, he suffered a partially torn chest muscle early last year in training camp, and his performance suffered tremendously due to that.  He played well down the stretch, but the Lions can hardly count on his health based upon the number of injuries he's suffered over the past couple seasons.  Though he hasn't missed a game, showing his durability and toughness, it doesn't mean that trend will continue in 2012.

Based on those factors, there are three positions the Lions may consider in the first round:  defensive end, running back and offensive tackle.  The issue is, the Lions have other needs as well and so other prospects creep into the discussion.  Amari Spievey did not impress as a starter last season at strong safety.  He was often lost in coverage, and was not the strong tackler one wants out of the position.  Couple that with the health concerns surrounding Louis Delmas.  Delmas has missed a number of games over the past two seasons, and as such the Lions need to have some quality depth at the position.  John Wendling is a great special teamer, and Erik Coleman was re-signed for another season.  But neither of them are what I'd call "quality depth".  Of the two, I prefer Wendling playing defense.  However, he is a liability in coverage and is better suited to being the fourth safety on the roster.  The Lions could look at adding a safety in the first round.  They could also strongly consider adding a cornerback.  Eric Wright signed for a ridiculously large contract in Tampa Bay.  Wright was the best run support corner we had, but was inconsistent in coverage and gave up too many completions to be worth close to 40 million dollars.  I'm glad the Lions didn't try to beat that offer.  However, that leaves a hole at cornerback.  Jacob Lacey, who recently signed with the Lions, could win the job in camp.  He is a fiesty player who could develop quite well.  However, that can't be counted on.  Aaron Berry has shown flashes at times, and has the size teams love for their cornerbacks.  But like Wright, his coverage is unpredictable, and he has too much trouble getting his head around and locating the ball on deep throws.  Alfonso Smith is on the trading block and likely to be cut if the Lions can't find a trade partner.  Though he is good as a nickel corner, his salary doesn't justify his position in that regard, and he can't be counted on in a starting role.  Most draft pundits agree that cornerback is one of the biggest needs on this team, if not THE biggest.

So combined with the DE, RB and OT positions, we can add safety and cornerback as possible areas to address in round one.  But before we take a look at likely prospects, it should be discussed as to whether the offense or defense is the greater need.  Those who argue offense will point out that the Lions have one of the worst running games in the NFL.  Some point to the backs, some point to the offensive line.  Those who point to the backs realize that injuries have taken a tremendous toll that the Lions front office couldn't possibly foresee.  However, the Lions have spent two high picks in the past two drafts on running backs (LeShoure and Best) and one must question as to whether they would burn yet another high pick on the position.  Kevin Smith came back to the team last season and did an admirable job, but certainly showed that his abilities are limited and he is not a "home run threat" by any means.  Those who point to the offensive line will remark that it doesn't matter who has been running the ball, they have been limited due to poor blocking.  I happen to agree with this particular point of view.  Rob Sims, in my opinion, is the Lions most consistent run blocker.  Combined with Jeff Backus, they do a decent job of opening holes, but certainly aren't considered "road graders" by any stretch of the imagination.  Center Dom Raiola lacks the strength and bulk to move larger defensive tackles, and often simply gets overpowered in that respect.  Guard Stephen Peterman is as inconsistent a player as I've seen.  One play he looks the part of an All Pro player, and on the next play he looks the part of a turnstile in a New York subway.  He simply can't be counted on to provide a consistent effort on every play, and as such the run games suffers from it.  Right tackle Gosder Cherilus has been underwhelming since being selected in the first round back in 2008, to say the least.  Compound that with the fact that he had microfracture surgery on his knee in 2010 and one has to consider that an upgrade at right tackle would help kick start this offensive line into being better at run blocking.  However, the fact is that the Lions offensive bread and butter is in the passing game, and the offensive line did a pretty acceptable job in pass protection.  Since continuity and familiarity is an intergral part of the overall success of an offensive line as a unit, just adding other players who may have better talent doesn't always reap better performances from the group collectively.  So player replacement must be done with caution along the offensive front.

So let's take a look at the different positions that we would like the Lions to address, what the effect could be, and who could be available for them.

DE - the Lions may have some options at defensive end in round one, if they choose to consider the idea of Avril not being a Lions long term, or feel that Kyle Vandenbosch may be losing some of his effectiveness.  Nick Perry from USC and Whitney Mercilus of Illinois are the two players who could be available and are considered to be of value at number 23.  Both have great athletic skills.  However, Perry has limited starting experience and wasn't exactly a standout player for the Trojans in the past season.  Mercilus, on the other hand, was the nations sack leader in 2011, and has plenty of starting experience.  However, he is seen by some as having underachieved in his previous seasons and that is cause for concern.  Is Mercilus a one year wonder, or did he just finally "get it" and is now ready to unleash his raw talents on the NFL?  Remember that the knock on Jason Pierre-Paul was that he had limited starting experience, and didn't really have "wow" numbers at South Florida.  Of the two prospects, I'd prefer Whitney Mercilus.  But I think there's less likelihood of him being avaiable when the Lions pick.

RB - there is some difference of opinion on who the second best running back is in this draft class.  No doubt that Trent Richardson is far and away the best.  He'll be a top ten pick, if not a top five.  After him, the discussion seems to revolve around two players; David Wilson or Lamar Miller.  Doug Martin is another player some scouts really like, but he doesn't really come into the fringe first rounder discussion.  Miller showed great straight line speed at the Combines, and Wilson is viewed as having excellent balance and vision, with good burst through the hole but not really an explosive second gear.  Both are capable of running between the tackles.  It remains to be seen just how well they can handle staying in to block and being a receiver out of the backfield.

OL - the only player to discuss at this point is Cordy Glenn.  Mike Adams would be a reach, in my opinion.  Though Adams has great physical gifts, he doesn't display them consistently and has some technical issues that may be difficult for him to overcome at the next level.  Cordy Glenn is a versatile player being viewed as a guard by some teams, and a tackle by others.  He has displayed great lateral movement for his size, but not necessarily enough to man the left tackle spot in the NFL.  Still, adding him could bolster the offensive line for the Lions at either right guard or right tackle.  I think he'd be a starter over either Peterman or Cherilus from day one in camp.  So if he is available, the Lions have to include his name in the discussion before they hand in their selection card.  Jonathan Martin, the Stanford offensive tackle, has been shown to fall to the Lions on some mock drafts, but I think the likelihood of that is pretty far fetched.  His technical skills are very good, and left tackles typically don't fall far in the draft.  I expect him to be a top twenty pick, without question.  Another name to consider is Peter Konz, the former center for the Wisconsin Badgers.  Konz has the size and strength to play guard, so he could step in for Stephen Peterman.  However, with his skills as a center, he could be the eventual replacement for Dominic Raiola, who is in the final year of his contract.  Konz didn't impress at the Combines with his bench press number (18 reps), but that is not about strength.  Konz uses his hands well and gains leverage quickly against defensive tackles.  His game tapes show he can handle big, strong DTs pretty consistently, even without help from an offensive guard.  His name should definitely be a consideration on day one of the draft for the Detroit Lions.

CB - three names come to mind for this position and the Lions first round pick; Janoris Jenkins, Dre Kirkpatrick and Stephon Gilmore.  All three are excellent players and would be upgrades in the secondary, likely day one starters at the number two corner spot opposite Chris Houston.  Jenkins is the best pure cover corner, Kirkpatrick is a good all around corner, and Gilmore is the most physical corner with size.  Kirkpatrick, I feel, is the best value of the three.  Both he and Jenkins come with some character questions, and as such may fall due to those issues.  However, talent is talent, and if the players can answer the right questions with the right mentality, then taking a chance on them isn't an issue.  Gilmore would be the "reach" at 23, but he has been rising up draft boards because he has a really solid blend of size, speed and physicality he brings to the game.  At this point, I am most comfortable with the Lions using their first round pick on a cornerback in this draft, and the fact that one of value will be there when they pick.  The Lions haven't drafted a corner in the first round since 1998, and they are long overdue. 

S - only one name comes to mind, and that's Mark Barron.  Though he hasn't been able to work out for teams due to off-season surgery to repair a double hernia, his body of work at Alabama is more than enough to keep him in the discussion when it comes to first round prospects.  Barron is probably better suited to be a strong safety in the NFL, which is perfect for the Lions.  However, he does have the ability to drop into coverage effectively and stay in step with tight ends and backs alike.  He plays well close to the line of scrimmage, and unlike Amari Spievey, seems to be capable of quickly reading and reacting to plays.  Spievey takes entirely too long to read and react, and then struggles at times in knowing where he is on the field. Spievey is also a pretty sketchy tackler.  Barron is physical against the run, and seems to have great field awareness, which is crucial to the safety position.  If the Lions were to use their first round pick on Mark Barron, I would have absolutely no objections.

So, my preference as to which prospects the Lions should look at are, in order:

1. Dre Kirkpatrick
2. Janoris Jenkins
3. Mark Barron
4. Stephon Gilmore
5. Cordy Glenn
6. Whitney Mercilus (no long term deal with Avril likely)
7. Peter Konz
8. Lamar Miller
9. David Wilson
10. Nick Perry

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