Experts point at Lions drafting defense early

In his four first years as the Detroit Lions’ general manager, Martin Mayhew has leaned heavily to taking offensive players in the first and second rounds of the NFL Draft.

ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. is projecting that to change this year. He thinks the Lions will go some combination of defensive end/cornerback with their first two picks.

Many observers had a similar assumption last year, but Mayhew went offense again.

Over the last four years, Mayhew has taken four offensive players in the first round (quarterback Matthew Stafford, tight end Brandon Pettigrew, running back Jahvid Best and offensive lineman Riley Reiff) and three more in the second round (receiver Titus Young, running back Mikel Leshoure and receiver Ryan Broyles).

Mayhew has selected only three defensive players in the first two rounds — defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley in the first round, and safety Louis Delmas in the second round.

That’s 70 percent — seven out of 10 total picks in the first two rounds — favoring the offense.

Could this really be the year when Mayhew changes it up and uses the “best player available” approach to land some help for the defense?

Here’s what Kiper is projecting to happen with three weeks remaining until the draft: The Lions will take either BYU’s Ziggy Ansah to play defensive end in their 4-3 system or Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner in the first round.

If Jacksonville, picking No. 2 overall, opts for Oregon outside linebacker/defensive end Dion Jordan over Ansah then Kiper thinks the Lions will nab Ansah.

But if Jacksonville takes Ansah then Kiper believes the Lions would turn to Milliner.

“In that division (with an opponent such as Green Bay with quarterback Aaron Rodgers), a corner like Milliner would be very, very important,” Kiper said.

“Pass rush is critical as well. You can’t throw the ball if you’re running for your life and you’re on your back.

“To me, either player would make sense for the Lions.”

Kiper doesn’t expect the Lions to take Jordan, arguably the best pass-rusher in the draft. Like other analysts, Kiper projects Jordan as a 3-4 outside linebacker. The theory is that Jordan would need to put on considerably more weight to hold up as a 4-3 defensive end in the Lions’ system

In the second round, Kiper anticipates the Lions taking a cornerback if they ended up with Ansah in the first round or a defensive end if they opted for Milliner.

The second-round possibilities mentioned by Kiper are Florida State’s Bjoern Werner at defensive end and Houston’s D.J. Hayden at cornerback.

Werner has been dropping in most mock drafts after being considered an early first-round pick by some analysts a few months ago.

Hayden, on the other hand, is rising fast and could sneak into the first round.

“I think it’s going to fall well for them to get the corner and the defensive end at some combination first/second round,” Kiper said.

It would go against Mayhew’s track record and also mean the Lions probably would be passing over a potentially elite offensive tackle such as Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel, Central Michigan’s Eric Fisher or Oklahoma’s Lane Johnson.

But, if Kiper is right, the Lions will be improving a defense in definite need of rebuilding.

Kiper is projecting former Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson as a possible third- or fourth-round pick.

But Kiper acknowledged it’s still difficult to get a handle on Robinson’s draft stock because of the continuing uncertainty over what position he’ll play.

Robinson won’t be a full-time quarterback in the NFL, so what he is? A receiver, a running back, a cornerback, a return specialist, a wildcat quarterback or perhaps some type of combination?

“I still don’t know where he’s going to play,” Kiper said. “I’ve asked teams. I’ve tried to watch him and figure it out. I don’t know.

“Trying to find the best position where he can carve a niche is going to be a challenge. It’s not defined right now.”