By KRISTIAN CAMPBELL, Staff Writer
The Lions are coming off their best season in over a decade. With the outstanding play of Calvin Johnson and Matthew Stafford, they could look to compete for the NFC North title this coming season. But they do have some areas of concern that need attention, and they’d better deal with those if they want to build off of last season. So here are the positions they need to address in the draft, which begins Thursday (April 26), if they want to continue what they started last season.
They need some help in the secondary after ranking 22nd in the NFL against the pass last season. This is one of the Lions’ most pressing needs so look for them to possibly address this in the first round. A good option would be safety Harrison Smith from Notre Dame, or cornerback Janoris Jenkins from North Alabama. Jenkins is a talented defensive back with some character issues and Smith is regarded as the second best safety in this draft. If they choose one, look for Smith’s name to be called.
With three of the five starters over the age of 30, the Lions need to address the offensive line. Jeff Backus, at left tackle, is 34, turning 35 this September. Fourth-year veteran Gosder Cherilus has been the starter at right tackle, so he might be a solid option there, but the move from right to left tackle can be tough at times.
This is another important need for the Lions. They haven’t had a good linebacker since Ernie Sims and he’s been gone since 2009. This might be the only position more important in this draft than the secondary. I think they need a guy in the middle to help against the run, so if middle linebacker Dont’a Hightower is available, look for the Lions to snag him. Another good option would be outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw. He can play off the end in pass-rushing scenarios, but will have to work on his pass coverage skills.
I’m sure I’m not the only who hasn’t been impressed with the production of the running backs. Jahvid Best ran for the team best 390 yards and two scores, while Kevin Smith was second with 356 yards and four scores. This all wasn’t their fault, however. Best was out with an injury for most the season, and Smith was brought in to help replace him. Also Mikel LeShoure was out last year, so look for him to help out this season as well. But expect the Lions to get some help here in the later rounds, maybe LaMichael James in the third round.
My Lions Mock Draft
Round 1, Pick #23: ILB Dont’a Hightower, Alabama. The guy can just flat out play football. He’s not the fastest linebacker in the draft, but he’s got decent speed. Look for Hightower to start getting the defense feared by the league.
Round 2, Pick #54: CB Josh Robinson, University of Central Florida. He’s the fastest guy in the draft this year. He’s also a pretty good coverage corner whose speed should make up for his inexperience in the NFL.
Round 3, Pick #85: C David Molk, The University of Michigan. This is the guy with whom the Lions will start to rebuild the line. He’s rated as the third best center in the draft, but I think he’s underrated. He was the core of the Michigan line for the last couple years, and you could definitely tell when he was missing.
Look for the Lions to build from last year, when they finished 10-6 and probably should have gone 12-4 or maybe 13-3. I think the Lions probably could go at least 11-5 this year, and maybe better. They have to keep Stafford healthy so they can have a strong armed quarterback to get it to Calvin Johnson.
They will make the playoffs again, and depending on who they play in the first round, they might get a win this time. It’ll be tough to compete with Chicago and Green Bay this year. Chicago will mainly give them problems because they have a great receiver in Brandon Marshall; Green Bay, with Aaron Rodgers, will be deadly for the next couple years if he can stay healthy. So far the Lions look to be in great shape to make people forget about the historically bad 0-16 season in 2008. Now it’s all about the future.