Only 24 days until the NFL Draft and there is still absolute uncertainty about the direction the Detroit Lions might go with the fifth pick overall.
What’s available for the Lions depends in part on whether one of the teams ahead of them, possibly Oakland at No. 3, takes a shot on West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith.
That would be a nice development for the Lions because another player, perhaps the one they really want, would fall into their laps.
From Detroit’s perspective, the best direction to go depends largely on the answers to these two questions:
Is Riley Reiff, last year’s first-round draft pick, the long-term answer at left tackle to replace retired Jeff Backus on the offensive line?
If so, the Lions can pass on the offensive tackles and focus solely on defense with their top pick.
However, that’s probably being way too optimistic about Reiff’s future. He’ll find a spot on the line somewhere, but he might not be the right guy to protect quarterback Matthew Stafford’s blind side.
Can they find a quality pass rusher without using that first pick on one, possibly with their early second-round selection, by signing a free agent or through a trade?
If so, the decision to go for the offensive tackle would be made much easier.
It seems unrealistic, however, to think they’re going to find the impact player they desperately need at defensive end/outside linebacker without using the fifth pick overall. The best rush-passers will be gone by the second round and the Lions might not have the salary-cap space to add a top veteran.
So what do you do? Two holes to fill, one pick.
Here are 10 possible first-round scenarios for the Lions, listed in the order I’d take them:
1. Defensive end Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah (BYU): So raw because he only starting playing football a couple years ago after coming over from Ghana. His freakish athleticism gives him a tremendous upside. It also should put him on the fast track to living up to that potential.
2. Outside linebacker Dion Jordan (Oregon): Considered the best pure pass-rusher in the draft although whether he fits into the Lions’ scheme is another matter. Jordan also has a great upside after starting his college career as a tight end. He needs to add weight to play defensive end and is currently rehabbing his shoulder following surgery.
3. Offensive tackle Luke Joeckel (Texas A&M): Projected by many as the No. 1 pick overall, but who knows? While the Lions need a pass rusher now, Joeckel could be the left tackle for the next decade.
4. Offensive tackle Eric Fisher (Central Michigan): Many scouts now believe that Fisher is every bit as good as Joeckel. 5. Offensive tackle Lane Johnson (Oklahoma): Could have the best upside of the three top tackles because of his athleticism. Johnson was a quarterback in junior college before converting to tight end and then tackle. All three tackles are considered better prospects than Reiff.
6. Outside linebacker/defensive end Barkevious Mingo (LSU): Getting very mixed reviews from the experts. Some analysts are high on him, some not so much. Some like him as a right end in a 4-3 defense, which the Lions need, but some think he projects as a linebacker. 7. Defensive end Bjoern Werner (Florida State): Like Mingo, some analysts say he’s no better than a middle-of-the-first-round guy. Still, he can rush the passer (13 sacks last season), just like Mingo. 8. Cornerback Dee Milliner (Alabama): Undoubtedly would be a great addition to help stock the Lions’ secondary, but the needs just seem bigger right now for a pass rusher or left tackle. What’s more, those are better value positions to use on such a high pick. 9. Defensive tackles Sharrif Floyd (Florida) or Star Lotulelei (Utah): The Lions certainly don’t need a defensive tackle with Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, but that doesn’t always matter if Floyd grades out as, you know, “the best player available.” 10. Receiver Tavon Austin (West Virginia): No way they can use the No. 5 pick overall on a receiver/return specialist like Austin, right? You would assume, but these are the Lions and general manager Martin Mayhew. They love their receivers and, in this case, they do happen to need a return specialist.
P.S. Jarvis Jones, an outside linebacker from Georgia, was one of the top playmakers in college football last season. But the Lions should not even consider him because of health issues. Jones was diagnosed with spinal stenosis following 2009 neck injury. Mayhew can’t take that risk, not with so many other options available.