Lions need D but high-end O-linemen available

The Lions are in need of defense but the available high-end O-linemen will be difficult to pass up.

When you have so many holes to fill on a defense, the draft is a natural source to start plugging them up.

That’s why, ideally, the Detroit Lions would take a playmaking defensive end, pass-rushing linebacker or a shutdown cornerback in the first round.

But when you’re selecting No. 5 overall, you really need to take advantage of such an early pick and target a future All-Pro performer more than anything.

This is the dilemma that the Lions are going to face when they’re on the clock in a little over two months.

Draft analysts are raving about the quality of the offensive-line prospects coming out this year — from tackles Luke Joeckel (Texas A&M) and Eric Fisher (Central Michigan) to guards Chance Warmack (Alabama) and Jonathan Cooper (North Carolina).

At the same time, questions are emerging about whether the top defensive ends could be overrated, about the long-term health status of Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones, who missed the 2010 season because of a neck injury and was diagnosed with spinal stenosis, and about whether Alabama’s Dee Milliner is truly an elite-level cornerback.

The offensive linemen, who were in the spotlight Saturday on the first day of on-field workouts at the NFL Draft Combine in Indianapolis, seem to be more of a sure thing at this point.

Joeckel, who won the Outland Trophy as college football’s top linemen, is considered one of the top candidates to be the overall No. 1 pick.

Fisher, however, has been gaining ground since he put on an impressive show last month at the Senior Bowl.

“Luke Joeckel and Eric Fisher are about the same guy,” said NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock, who believes both should be top-5 picks.

Then there’s Warmack, whom Mayock calls “the best football player available in this draft.”

Offensive guards typically aren’t considered value picks at the top of the draft, but that might be different this time.

“If I was (drafting) one through nine, I wouldn’t have any hesitation taking him,” Mayock said.

Mayock also said Cooper is only a “tiny notch” behind Warmack.

The Lions, despite their defensive needs, are probably going to end up seriously considering any of these four offensive linemen who are still on the board when it’s their turn.

Detroit still could lose an offensive tackle, Gosder Cherilus, and a defensive end, Cliff Avril, because they’re both unrestricted free agents.

Do the Lions try to sign Cherilus and then draft a defensive end to replace Avril?

Or do they make Avril a priority, let Cherilus go and draft one of the offensive linemen?

My initial thought was that Avril probably would be gone and they’d have to find a replacement in the draft.

But the Lions’ brass is a firm believer in drafting for value and one of these high-end O-linemen will be difficult to pass up under the circumstances.

By re-signing Avril or adding another free-agent defensive end next month, the Lions will open the door to take Joeckel, Fisher or Warmack rather than a defensive end in the draft.

If it’s Joeckel or Fisher then last year’s first-round pick, Riley Reiff, could take over at guard. If it’s Warmack, Reiff can play tackle.

Either way, the Lions would be making a long-term commitment toward protecting their franchise quarterback, Matthew Stafford.

Rather than possibly settling for a good defensive end, linebacker or cornerback, they’d be going for, potentially, a great offensive lineman.

In the end, you probably can’t argue with that logic even if it does nothing to address all those holes on the defense.

*** Offensive tackle Terron Armstead, who played at Arkansas-Pine Bluff, made a name for himself when he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.71 seconds, a Combine record for an offensive lineman.

He was one of six O-linemen who ran sub-5 seconds, including Oklahoma tackle Lane Johnson, who was clocked at 4.72.

Fisher ran a 5.05, Cooper 5.07, Joeckel 5.30 and Warmack 5.49.

Obviously, the 40-yard dash isn’t an end-all evaluation for linemen, but this was quite a statement about the athleticism of these 300-plus pounders.

“This is probably as impressive a group (of offensive linemen) as I can remember seeing,” Brian Billick, a former NFL coach, said during the NFL Network telecast.
*** Michigan State tight end Dion Sims, who was listed at 285 pounds in college, weighed in at 262.

Sims then ran the 40 in 4.75 seconds, which was faster than two of the top three rated tight ends.

Notre Dame's Tyler Eifert was timed in 4.68 seconds, Stanford's Zach Ertz 4.76 and San Diego State's Gavin Escobar 4.84.

Entering the Combine, Mayock was projecting Sims, who is nearly 6-foot-5, as a fourth-round pick.

“In today’s NFL, the ability to get down the field and catch the ball and get vertical is a big deal,” Mayock said recently. “He’s not one of those guys.

“He can do OK in the short and intermediate pass game, but he’s mostly viewed as a blocker. He’s one of the best blocking tight ends in this draft.”
***  Reid Fragel, who grew up in Grosse Pointe, Mich., and attended Ohio State, is a converted tight end now playing offensive tackle.

Mayock called him “very raw” because of the position change that took place last spring.

“He put on a bunch of weight in the last year,” Mayock said. “He’s an intriguing upside athlete.”

Fragel, who is nearly 6-foot-8 and weighs 308 pounds, told reporters in Indianapolis, “My best football is ahead of me.”

He showed he's one of the stronger players at his position, doing 33 reps in the 225-pound bench-press.

Mayock believes Fragel could be a mid- to late-round selection depending on how quickly a team thinks he can develop.

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