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Brian Billick's thoughts for March 14
Billick evaluates the Detroit Lions' draft possibilities and the top defensive end prospects.
Lions could look to draft offensive linemen
For any team that will not make the playoffs, it looks for a strong regular-season finish as a platform to gain momentum going into the next season.
The Detroit Lions are the poster child for that, having won their last four games, including wins against the 10-6 Tampa Bay Bucs and the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers (albeit without Aaron Rodgers).
It has been a long road for coach Jim Schwartz and general manager Martin Mayhew. But after two solid drafts that include eight starters, Detroit will look to increase its recent draft success beginning with the 13th overall section in 2011.
Detroit seems content on offense with youth and talent at wide receiver, running back and tight end. However, you can never have enough good offensive lineman, particularly with a quarterback who has been injured each of the past two years.
Using their first-round pick on an offensive lineman would be a viable choice as they need to develop depth and an eventual replacement for Dominic Raiola, but they may find value there on the second day of the draft.
Defensively, Schwartz and Mayhew have built an impressive front seven via both the draft and free agency.
Where the Lions really need to upgrade is in the secondary. Getting Safety Louis Delmas in the second round in the 2009 draft was a coup, and they have tried to address the cornerback position via trades for Chris Houston from Atlanta and Alphonso Smith from Denver last year.
Still, a couple of defensive backs during the first two days of the draft would be well advised. With the 13th pick and cornerback Patrick Peterson being long gone, the Lions would love to have Prince Amukamara fall to them. For that to happen, Prince would have to get past Dallas and Houston, both being in the market for cornerbacks.
If both Peterson and Amukamara are gone, they will need to decide if Jimmy Smith, Aaron Williams or Brandon Harris are capable of being selected that high. If not, they will look back to offensive linemen or potentially an outside linebacker to replace Julian Peterson.
Having to face the Packers and Bears is always challenging, plus they pick up the NFC South, San Francisco and Dallas in their out-of-division conference games. They will face the AFC West in the their out-of-conference games.
How good is Da'Quan Bowers?
Rated by many as the best defensive end in this year's draft, Da'Quan Bowers led the NCAA with 15.5 sacks and won the Nagurski Award as the top defensive player.
He also had the second most tackle for loss with 26, a Clemson record for defensive lineman.
Bowers measured 6-foot-3 and 280 pounds at the NFL Scouting Combine. He completed 22 repetitions in the bench press. Bowers did not compete in the running drills because of a tear in his miniscus.
When you evaluate his performance at Clemson, you see an athlete that plays a lot stronger than his 22 repetitions would suggest. He has an aggressive bull rush off the edge that violently stuns the offensive tackle and gets him off balance. Although he doesn't have elite quickness on the snap, he will be able to work on his timing and explosion off the ball with his position coach in the NFL.
Bowers is also very stout against the run, which is rare for an elite pass rusher. He stays strong as the line of scrimmage and sheds blocks without giving any ground at the point of attack. Bowers plays with great leverage and holds up surprisingly well against double teams.
Many of the records Bowers broke at Clemson where that of a previous first-round selection, Gaines Adams, Bowers' mentor and close friend.
Quinn could be elite player
Robert Quinn is another defensive end who is drawing a lot of attention as the potential No. 1 draft pick.
When watching Quinn, one thing stands out more than anything else ... his ability to use his hip movement, dip under and turn the corner when rushing the passer. Often lineman struggle to even get a hand on him, let alone an adequate punch.
To make him an elite pass rusher in the NFL, he will want to develop an array of moves, rather than just rely purely on his speed rush technique. Even Dwight Freeney can't use his patented spin move on every single play!
Quinn is different than Bowers in the fact that he is a pure pass rusher that struggles to hold up against the run. Because of that, NFL teams may have an opportunity to scheme against him and run to his side of the field — taking advantage of the running lanes he creates by rushing hard outside.
Keep in mind that all of this observation comes from his sophomore year! Having been suspended his entire junior year for receiving travel accommodations and jewelry, makes him a very tricky evaluation.
He reported to the NFL Scouting Combine at 6-foot-4, 265 pounds. He ran a 4.7 40, completed 22 bench press repetitions, jumped a 34-inch vertical and a 9-foot-8 broad jump.
I see him going in the top 10, but not before Bowers, Marcell Dareus, and Nick Fairley. When a team does select him, they will get an impressive young athlete who very easily could mature into an elite NFL player.
Defensive end gains momentum
J.J. Watt is a defensive end prospect who is gaining a lot of momentum going into April's draft.
J.J. has always been considered a top-five defensive end is this year's class, but recently some experts are now considering him a top-10 overall pick.
I have him ranked as my third best defensive end behind Quinn and Bowers, but he differs slightly in overall skill set. While Quinn and Bowers both play a traditional positions in a 4-3 defense, Watt will give his team versatility both inside and outside. I see him being most impactful as a five-technique in a 3-4 defense.
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