Now that the major free agent signings have been finalized, the Last Word On Sports NFL department will be looking at the top three needs for each team heading into the 2016 NFL Draft. Today, the Detroit Lions draft needs will be examined. Detroit’s first year under new management begins with the 16th overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft.
Detroit Lions 2016 NFL Draft: Top 3 Needs
The offensive line always seems to be a weakness for Detroit. Fans have memories of Dominic Raiola and Jeff Backus “anchoring” that sinking boat for many of years. The Lions have made improvements but could really shore up the right side of the line. Michael Ola is their current top name on the depth chart, but he really doesn’t inspire much confidence that he can protect quarterback Matthew Stafford from speed rushers. The line has quality names on it, including two former first round draft picks, but it doesn’t live up to expectations. Whether it’s a resounding scream of impatience from fans, or coaches watching the divisional opponents reload their front seven, there’s pressure to have a noticeably more dominate line in Detroit.
A name that sticks out in this year’s draft is offensive tackle Taylor Decker. The Ohio State product stands out as Pro Football Focus’s fourth best run blocking tackle. You can check out his draft profile here. One of the traits that makes him a well known name is his anger that he seems to have been born with, as seen here and here. The man punishes defenders.
It’s tough to see that kind of tenacity and not want it on your team, especially on a team that has seemed so timid offensively at times. Decker seems to be going in the middle of the first round in most mock drafts. Names that are appearing for Detroit in later rounds consist of Jason Spriggs (Indiana), Shon Coleman (Auburn), and Caleb Benenoch (UCLA).
Gone are the days where the interior line would draw double teams. Detroit allowed 4.2 yards per carry in 2015, which was in the lower third of the league. The Lions are getting wonderful production from Ziggy Ansah on the outside. His ceiling is still increasing with every year he plays. Detroit also will hopefully get back Pro Bowl caliber linebacker DeAndre Levy, who missed almost all of last season to lingering injuries. The contracts of every player on the defensive line are all up by 2017, so this could be an opportunity for the Lions to move in a new direction. Detroit will want to target guys who can be versatile. Names that come to mind are A’Shawn Robinson, Jarrad Reed, and Jonathan Bullard. The biggest concern if the Lions do not draft a defensive lineman is depth. Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin uses all of his lineman throughout the four quarters. The Lions may need to draft more than just one prospect if they plan on playing with Austin’s scheme again.
A small school prospect that Detroit is looking at is Matt Judon (Grand Valley). The six-foot-three, 275 pound outside rusher finished his senior season with 20 sacks, the most in all of college football. The guy had a superstar presence to him in division II, and he was almost always double teamed. Judon put up decent NFL Combine numbers: He was top-five in the 40-yard dash, bench reps, and vertical jump. Time will tell if it was enough to make other teams to notice. Detroit has the local advantage for Judon, who grew up in Metro Detroit. He’ll be a late round selection but he’s a definite no lose situation for the Lions if they select him. Here’s a link to some of Judon’s highlights.
DeAndre Levy is supposed to come back, but it’s unknown what level he’ll be at physically and mentally after his injuries. The Lions linebacking corps only goes three deep. Detroit can not handle an injury at that position in 2016. There’s no real need to go super high with this pick, because the core is expected to perform well and stay healthy (Jim Caldwell nervously crosses his fingers), but adding some depth would be a smart move.
Names that have been mentioned in inner circles consist of Desmond Morgan (Michigan), Su’a Cravens (USC), and C.J. Johnson (Ole Miss). The defense has advanced in every facet, improving their secondary with run supporting youth and reloaded their pass rush with explosiveness, so it’s only fitting to attack the interior linebacker position soon. Detroit will want to get someone within their age progression of rising stars, which is 23-26 years old. Their core will only be as complete as the center of the field.