With the St. Louis Rams seemingly poised to snap up QB Sam Bradford, all eyes and ears in Buccaneerland turn north towards Detroit, where the Lions sit right in front of us on each pick. Like the Buccaneers, they are a team with plenty of roster holes looking to infuse talent around their young franchise QB. With so much interest surrounding the Lions' draft and so many questions to answer...who better to talk with than Sean Yuille of Pride of Detroit? Sean was kind enough to take some time out of his day and respond to some questions I posed to him about the Detroit Lions possible draft moves.
1. With Stafford under center and Bradford most likely to go #1 to STL, Detroit appears poised to take whatever player they have rated highest. Whose name will Roger Goodell be calling out for the Lions #2?
Conventional thinking suggests that it will be Ndamukong Suh, but the Lions have been so secretive about their plans that it's tough to get a solid read on what they will do. Suh is the obvious guess just by default, but I wouldn't be shocked at all if the Lions drafted Russell Okung or Gerald McCoy instead. It's just so tough to get a read on what the Lions' plans are that nothing would be too surprising.
2. The Lions have certainly been active this offseason, adding players to both their offensive and defensive lines. Do you think the acquisition of said players makes it any less likely that the Lions will address either their offensive line or defensive line near the top of the draft?
From the outside looking in, a lot of people just figure the Lions will draft Russell Okung and then move Jeff Backus to left guard. I have never believed that would happen simply because Lions coaches think so highly of Backus. If they were to draft an offensive lineman to fill a need, it would have been a left guard before last week. I say before last week because the Lions acquired left guard Rob Sims from Seattle recently, removing that position from the list of big needs. If the Lions do want to improve the tackle position it's possible that they could draft Okung to someday take over for Backus or at the very least take over for Gosder Cherilus at right tackle for the time being, but it won't be because they could just easily move Backus to left guard. In that sense I don't think the move to trade for Sims will have an effect on their plans with Okung. If the Lions want him, it really doesn't seem like it will be based too heavily on what is happening with the left guard position. If they want him, they want him. Simple as that.
As for the defensive line, the end positions obviously aren't as big of a need now that Kyle Vanden Bosch is on the roster. Also, the Lions seem to like what they have in Jason Hunter and Cliff Avril for the other end position, so I wouldn't think that is too high on the priority list. For defensive tackle, adding Corey Williams via a trade greatly improved the depth at that position, but it only filled one of the holes on the D-line. While Williams projects to be a starter, I don't believe he will affect what the Lions plan to do with the second overall pick. Suh and McCoy are good enough players that they would start from day one, and since the Lions run a 4-3 defense, there is still a hole open next to Williams that could be filled by Suh or McCoy.
Overall, the Lions have made moves to improve depth on the offensive and defensive lines, but I don't think their draft plans have changed too much. A defensive end was never going to be the pick at the top of the draft, and defensive tackle still could use a new starter. On the offensive line the Lions have seemingly filled out the starting lineup by trading for Rob Sims, but I just don't see the guard position affecting the tackle position that much. Like I mentioned, if the Lions really want Okung that badly, the fact that they now have a starting-caliber left guard (where many people believe Backus would have moved if Okung were to be the pick) probably won't change their mind too much.
3. The majority of Buccaneer fans would prefer Ndamukong Suh over Gerald McCoy. However, there was a post on ESPN that rumors the Lions to have McCoy possibly rated higher than Suh. We hope its true....do you think it could be?
I think that certainly could be the case. Jim Schwartz actually went out of his way to defend McCoy's lackluster bench press numbers when meeting with the media shortly after the combine, although that could be him blowing smoke more than anything. Like I said in response to the first question, it's really tough to gauge what the Lions are thinking as we inch closer to the draft. Detroit has been very good about keeping things close to the vest since Martin Mayhew took over, and that is especially true this year since the Lions are picking second overall rather than first. There's no doubt that the fans would prefer Ndamukong Suh by a wide margin, but who knows if the Lions are thinking along the same lines. Even if they are, I'd venture to guess the margin is much, much smaller.
4. Rank the Lions' top 5 positional group needs starting with the greatest.
Here is how I would break down the Lions' biggest needs:
1. Defensive tackle - As it stands right now, the Lions' starters at defensive tackle would be Corey Williams and Sammie Hill. Hill was a very raw player when he was drafted last year and was forced into the rotation last season because of a lack of depth. While he has made some great strides and has loads of potential, I'd feel much better about the defensive tackle position if Hill was simply a backup and a rotational player rather than a starter. I have DT at the top of the list because there is not only a lack of depth in general at the position, but also because the drop off between a player like Suh or McCoy to Hill is so significant.
2. Cornerback - The Lions' secondary has been awful for the longest time, and although the front office made some moves to improve it (like trading for Chris Houston and signing Jonathan Wade), Detroit could really use a shutdown corner. Safety Louis Delmas is someone you can build the secondary around, but he needs help from the rest of the secondary, and that has to start at cornerback. Similar to the defensive tackle position, cornerback is at the top of the list of needs because there is an overall lack of depth and holes in the starting lineup. The only reason DT is 1 and CB is 2 is really because the Lions could address the need for a DT with the second overall pick. Unless they are able to trade down or something, I don't see the Lions drafting a corner until the second round at the earliest.
3. Running back - Kevin Smith's status for 2010 is very much up in the air right now after he tore his ACL towards the end of last season. He is also recovering from shoulder injuries, so it's not certain that he will be healthy come the start of the 2010 season. Even if he is healthy, running back by committee is very effective strategy, and the Lions could certainly use another starting-caliber back. I think Maurice Morris is a solid backup and Aaron Brown is a nice change of pace every once in a while, but the Lions need to have an extended backup plan in case Smith isn't healthy next season, and even if he is, it'd be nice to have a solid stable of backs.
4. Offensive line - While the Lions' starting offensive line appears to already be in place (Jeff Backus, Rob Sims, Dominic Raiola, Stephen Peterman, and Gosder Cherilus), depth is a definite issue at this position. The Lions just really need some talented and versatile offensive linemen in case one of the starters goes down or just isn't effective. I personally am not on the bandwagon advocating for a left tackle to replace Backus (not yet, anyways), but it wouldn't be a bad idea to pick up some depth at tackle and guard to not only build for the future, but also to have competent backups in place in case of injury.
5. Talent - Instead of a specific position for the fifth need, I will just say that the Lions need to add talent to the roster. Obviously that is that case for the four positions listed above, but in general the Lions need starters that can become elite players at their positions and backups that can come into games and not drop off the talent level too much. That has really been the Lions' biggest problem in the past. Not only have they lacked great players in the starting lineup, but the backups have been even worse, meaning when there is an injury or something, the lineup takes an even bigger hit. As the front office continues to build this roster, it is important to find talent for the starting lineup to fill the obvious holes, but it is also important to continue to collect talent at positions like wide receiver, linebacker, defensive end, safety, etc.
5. Several mock drafts project the Lions to take a look at RB in the second round. Is this a strong possibility in your opinion? Would this be as a compliment to incumbent Kevin Smith or as a replacement?
I do believe the Lions will draft a running back since Kevin Smith's injuries have left his status up in the air, but I'm not so sure if they will pull the trigger on a back in the second round. Although the Lions abide by the strategy of drafting the best player available, I do think it's necessary to take into account how deep some of these positions are (some have called this year's class of running backs weak, whereas cornerback seems very deep, for example). Obviously it will also be necessary to take into account which players at positions of need fall to the 34th pick. If someone at the top of the Lions' draft board is there at #34 and just happens to be a running back, then the Lions will pull the trigger on adding someone to both complement and possibly replace Smith. To me it depends on how quickly Smith returns from his injuries. If he's back at the start of the season and is effective, then suddenly the Lions have added a complement to Smith and like I said earlier, will have a running back by committee type of system. At the same time, if Smith isn't healthy, then the rookie may be thrust into the starting lineup. Whether or not he keeps the job depends on how he plays, but when Smith comes back I think the rookie would complement Smith and Smith would complement the rookie.
6. Sitting in front of the Buccaneers in each round, many of our fans are undoubtedly curious as to what guys the Lions might have their eyes on. Who are some guys you'd like to see available to Detroit in the 2nd and 3rd rounds? Any late-draft sleepers you'd like to see them take a flier on?
For the second round I'd say most Lions fans will be keeping their eye on which cornerbacks are available first and foremost. There is a lot of talent at the cornerback position in this year's draft, especially the top five or so guys. The hope is that one will fall to the 34th pick (someone like Devin McCourty or Kareem Jackson), allowing the Lions to take care of that need. After cornerback, I'd say the most focus will be on which running backs are taken in the first 33 picks. As you alluded to, lots of mock drafts have the Lions drafting a back in the second round, so you can bet Lions fans will be keeping an eye on if Ryan Mathews and Jahvid Best, just to name a couple, make it to pick #34.
As for the third round and later rounds, the focus will probably turn to whichever positions aren't addressed with the #2 and #34 picks. The Lions have traded away all of their fifth- and sixth-round picks, though, so it will be interesting to see what happens in the third and fourth rounds. Barring a trade down to accumulate extra picks, the Lions will have to take care of some of their pressing needs fairly early on in the draft and then hope to find a steal or two in the seventh-round (they have three picks in the seventh, and none of them are their original selection).
So there you have it, gang. My thanks to Sean for his detailed and informative responses. Make sure to check in with Pride of Detroit for any further Detroit Lions information you seek.