The Lions have the 21st overall pick in the draft, which makes the question even more interesting due to 20 other top prospects already being taken off of the board.
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This draft is loaded with defensive talent. This is especially true on the defensive line, which is the position I personally want to see them go after. However, there is an intriguing scenario that could play out if Florida State running back Dalvin Cook is still on the board.
Cook ran for 1,765 yards, 19 touchdowns and more than six yards per carry in 2016. In his career, he ran for 4,464 yards and 46 touchdowns. He also caught 79 passes during his three-year stint at Florida State.
This is a great running back class, with three backs projected as first-rounders. To put that in perspective, only three halfbacks have been selected in the first round in the past four drafts. Joining Cook in that potential first-round class is LSU’s Leonard Fournette and Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey.
I see no scenario in which Fournette is available for the Lions at pick 21, but I do think McCaffrey will be hanging around. Cook is the Wildcard. He could go as early as fourth overall to the Jacksonville Jaguars, or fall toward to the end of the round.
It would be wise for the Lions to address the trenches on either side of the ball in the first round. Cook would be a luxury pick. Obviously, it depends on who is already taken, but it would be hard to argue against Cook being the best player available at that point.
I will now make a case for why the Lions should take Cook if available, and why the Lions should not take him if available.
Why the Lions should draft Cook:
It is painfully obvious that Detroit’s current stable of backs – Ameer Abdullah, Theo Riddick and Zach Zenner – is not the answer. In the two years with all three of those players, Detroit’s rushing offense ranked 32nd in 2015 and 30th in 2016. That kind of effort won’t cut it.
Of course, the offensive line has been brutally inconsistent as well, so not all of the blame goes to the backs. However, Theo Riddick led the team with a mere 357 rushing yards. Thomas Rawls of the Seattle Seahawks was the only player in the NFL to have less yards and lead a team in rushing yards this season (8 yards less).
Abdullah and Riddick are similar players. Both are great threats catching the ball out of the backfield, and both are speedsters once they get to the outside. However, neither one has shown the ability to run between the tackles, and both have had durability issues: Abdullah missed 14 games and Riddick missed six games in 2016.
While Cook himself is also speedy and dangerous as an outside runner, he drastically improved his downhill running this past season, and showed his desire to lower his shoulder pads and run through would-be tacklers. He became more efficient in short-yardage plays.
Zenner is currently the Lions only downhill threat, and while I personally like him, I am not sure he is the best-case scenario for the Lions.
I think Cook would add a dynamic element to the backfield, and could be what Abdullah was supposed to be when he was drafted in 2015.
Why the Lions should not draft Cook:
As mentioned previously, and simply put, there are bigger needs to address for the Honolulu blue and silver. The Lions need a pass rusher in a bad way. If Riley Reiff, Larry Warford or both leave town, then the offensive line becomes a top priority.
The Lions also need to shore up the secondary. A shutdown cornerback opposite Darius Slay is a big time need, as well as potentially an upgrade at the strong safety position. The linebacking corps was in shambles in 2016 as well, so that is another area of concern.
It is possible the Lions could address the running back position in the second round with players like Joe Mixon of Oklahoma (if he cleans up his off-the-field acts) or Alvin Kamara (Tennessee). Perhaps the team will find a later round gem with Samaje Perine also of Oklahoma or James Conner of Pittsburgh. Conner’s story is quite uplifting as he returned to football after beating Hodgkin’s lymphoma (and a knee injury).
I’ll say it again, drafting Cook would be a luxury.
My personal take:
I don’t see Cook getting past the Philadelphia Eagles at 14/15 (subject to coin toss with the Indianapolis Colts). However, if he is there, take the kid. The risk is surely worth the reward at pick No. 21. He could be the next Zeke Elliot.
Of course I’ve been advocating for drafting a pass rusher, and I still am, but there comes a time when best player available wins out. If possible, do it, Detroit Lions!