With free agency well underway and 2017 NFL Draft just right around the corner, things are starting to shape up nicely for the Detroit Lions. Not only has GM Bob Quinn strengthened the offensive line, despite losing two starters to free agency, but he has also added some depth to the roster.
After making a big splash in the first wave of free agency, the Lions are now roughly $8.5 million under the 2017 salary cap. Because of that number, the chance of the Lions signing any more big name free agents is slim to none. This, of course, means the focus is now beginning to turn to the NFL Draft, which will be held from April 27th – April 29th.
So far in free agency, the Lions have improved their offensive line and now it’s time to give some major attention to the defensive side of the football.
In my previous mock drafts, I have consistently pegged the Lions to select DE Taco Charlton with the 21st pick. IF Charlton is still around when the Lions are on the clock, they should select him in a heartbeat. That being said, the former Michigan Wolverine has managed to improve his draft stock and could very well go before the Lions have a chance to grab him.
So, assuming Charlton is gone (and DE Derek Barnett is too), Bob Quinn should select LB Zach Cunningham out of Vanderbilt and not look back.
Looking at the Lions roster at this moment in time, there is little question that the weakest unit from top to bottom is the linebackers. DeAndre Levy is long gone, which means unless Quinn is planning to roll with Paul Worrilow, Tahir Whitehead, and Antwionne Williams, he will have to strongly consider taking a linebacker in the 1st Round of the draft.
In my opinion, there are four linebackers who are worthy of being selected in the 1st Round of the NFL Draft. Those players are Haason Reddick, Reuben Foster, T.J Watt, and Cunningham. As of now, Foster and Reddick will most likely be off the board and Watt is not worthy of a No. 21 selection. This leaves the Lions with the aforementioned Cunningham.
One thing is for certain, the Lions need playmakers on the defensive side of the football and that is something Cunningham will provide to whichever team selects him. While at Vanderbilt, Cunningham was a playmaking machine as he had a nose for the football. He was quick to read plays, which helped him rack up 20 tackles for loss in his final two seasons with the Commodores.
If the Lions choose to go another route other than linebacker in the 1st Round, it had better be a player that can start immediately on what was a historically bad defense in 2016.