In the early aftermath of free agency, Detroit’s needs in the draft have become much clearer.
Free agency came in a big way to Detroit.
Not only did the Lions manage to reload the right side of their offensive line with right tackle Rick Wagner and right guard T.J. Lang, but general manager Bob Quinn ended up spending less money to improve the team’s offensive line than he would have had he retained departing free agents Riley Reiff and Larry Warford.
Outside of those two huge deals, Quinn made more peripheral moves to improve and retool the depth at a variety of positions. On offense, the Lions added Darren Fells, a true No. 2 tight end that will bolster the team’s run and pass blocking on the edge, as well as provide a sneaky red zone target—in 2015, the 6-foot-7 Fells caught all three of his red zone targets, all of which were for touchdowns.
For the Defense, Cornelius Washington replaces Armonty Bryant as a situational pass rusher. Defensive tackle Akeem Spence is getting a second chance to make a first impression; Detroit will want to see him prove he can make plays along the line of scrimmage. Paul Worrilow and D.J. Hayden were each brought in on one-year contracts laden with incentives, but both will almost assuredly be on the 53-man roster come September.
For the sake of putting together a list of draft needs after the first wave of free agency, here’s how I see things for the Lions and how I approached this “Mock Draft 2.0”:
- Detroit’s needs on offense are very minimal and limited to further fortifying depth and finding situational players.
- The only need on offense I’d consider to be a pressing one is finding a WR3. Signing Anquan Boldin would solve this.
- Also, much has been made of Detroit’s meetings with TE’s. Fells is a great addition, but I don’t think his signing takes TE completely off of the team’s draft board.
- Outside of that, a short-yardage/goal line RB is something else the team could target.
- On defense, the team is going to be hard-pressed to find a position where they wouldn’t benefit from upgrading.
- LB (both SAM and WILL), a strong-side DE and a 3-technique DT are the most important needs for the team as its roster is currently composed.
- While Detroit did add a capable backup CB in Hayden, it shouldn’t change their plans in targeting one in this draft class that is littered with talent at that position.
Let’s get to the picks:
Round 1, Pick 21: OLB Haason Reddick (Temple)
Back at the beginning of March, the linebacker from Temple was my first-round pick for Detroit. Not much has changed since then other than Reddick setting the NFL Combine on fire and improving his draft stock ten-fold since the Senior Bowl.
Most mock drafts still have Reddick slipping past the Lions in the first round, but considering the absolute dearth of linebackers on the roster, I couldn’t imagine a scenario like that playing itself out on draft day.
Round 2, Pick 53: DE Malik McDowell (Michigan State)
McDowell’s versatility in a 4-3 defense would be a huge asset to Detroit, and we know how much Quinn values multifaceted talent. His ability to line up inside as a 3-technique or outside as a 5-technique DE helps alleviate two needs the team currently has. McDowell didn’t leave the best impression on teams behind closed doors at the combine, and that could cause him to slip. If he’s available at No. 53, it would be real tough for a team like Detroit to pass twice on a guy who could fill so many needs for a defense with so many areas to improve.
Round 3, Pick 85: CB Howard Wilson (Houston)
Value fit the bill with this pick as Howard Wilson is an excellent selection here in the third round.
Wilson is thin, but a great athlete with springs and great COD. Played mostly off-man and zone in Houston's scheme. pic.twitter.com/fuXD9azAdt— Alex Reno (@alex_reno) February 15, 2017
At 6-foot-1, Wilson is the size teams yearn for outside the numbers, but at only 184 lbs., he could stand to pack something extra to his frame. That being said, Wilson’s ability to play off-man coverage fits the Lions scheme and his knack for making plays on defense—nine interceptions despite just one season as a full-time starter—would be a welcome addition to a defense that forced only 14 turnovers in 2016—the fourth fewest of any team in the NFL.
Round 4, Pick 128: LB Alex Anzalone (Florida)
Seeing Anzalone on the board in the fifth round was equal parts surprising and puzzling. Most draft people are obviously enamored with his teammate from Florida and fellow linebacker Jarrad Davis, but Anzalone’s stock is a difficult one to place due to injuries in college. Mike Mayock has him rated as his fifth-best inside linebacker in the entire draft, and pegging him as a potential Day 2 pick.
With him available in the fourth round, regardless of his medical history, his frame and athleticism at inside linebacker makes him an attractive get with the size and speed of tight ends in today’s game.
Round 5, Pick 165: RB Samaje Perine (Oklahoma)
The first selection on the offensive side of the ball, Perine is the bullish back whose powerful approach to running the football is a great compliment to Ameer Abdullah’s slashing style. He probably doesn’t have the burst or ability to get to the outside at the NFL level, but if he’s put into the right situation, Perine is a downhill runner that will get what the team needs in short-yardage and goal line situations.
Round 6, Pick 205: LB Jayon Brown (UCLA)
The Lions struggled covering the middle of the field, and much of that had to do with poor play by the linebackers. Brown played great in coverage at UCLA according to Pro Football Focus: “Opposing QBs had a rating of just 50.4 when he was the primary defender in coverage, second-best in the country among linebackers with at least 250 coverage snaps.” In addition to his play in coverage, Brown also played pretty decent against the run, and would be a great fit for Detroit in their search for contributors at the second level.
He’s probably not an every-down linebacker due to being undersized, but he could definitely find his way onto the field for certain packages and through special teams.
Round 6, Pick 215: TE George Kittle (Iowa)
Even with Fells added, Detroit could use some other youthful options at tight end considering the Fells’ contract is only for one year.
Kittle has the combination of size and speed the pro game desires—he posted a 4.52 40-time at the Combine and measured in at 6-foot-4—but he was used sparingly in the passing game at Iowa. Combine those attributes with Kittle’s experience in a pro-style offense, and his approach to blocking, and that could end up drawing the attention of Lions’ brass.
Round 7, Pick 250: WR Isaiah McKenzie (Georgia)
For the second time in as many drafts, finding a wideout that satisfied the value of where they were being drafted never matched up.
With the announcement of Andre Roberts signing with the Atlanta Falcons, Detroit is without their kick and punt return specialist from 2016. Enter Isaiah McKenzie, a small but elusive return dynamo. McKenzie was converting touches into scores during his stay in Athens, scoring seven touchdowns on only 44 receptions in 2016. As a return specialist, and likely where McKenzie will earn a spot on an NFL roster, he took five punts and one kick return back to the house during his three-year collegiate career.