Written by JT Bowen
Though the regular season is just reaching the midway point, and the Lions are in a weird spot, not having established themselves definitively as bottom-feeders nor as top contenders, it’s never too early to start looking to April’s NFL Draft.
This year, unlike last year’s defensively-heavy crop, features myriad talent across the field, especially at positions like quarterback. With signal-callers like Joe Burrow, Tua Tagovailoa, Justin Herbert, and even Jordan Love slated to go in the top-10, a few studs at other positions could slide to Detroit, wherever they end up picking.
Since the season is far from over, and the Lions haven’t truly distinguished themselves in the playoff race or as one of the league’s worst, I’ll slate them to pick right in the middle at 16.
Clearly, some prospects will be off the board by this point. In that regard, I’ll be ruling out the following: Chase Young, Jerry Jeudy, Andrew Thomas, Jeff Okudah, Tristan Wirfs, Isaiah Simmons, Henry Ruggs III. Most analysts agree that if these players perform at a similar level, have a solid pre-draft process, and stay healthy, will be selected in the first half of this round.
Additionally, I fervently believe that the Lions will not select a quarterback. Matthew Stafford is relatively young, given the ages some QBs are still starting at, and has been playing superbly this year, so I expect Detroit to roll with him next year regardless of who is in the front office.
With that being said, let’s examine a few prospects that might interest Detroit in the upcoming draft.
Grant Delpit, Safety, LSU
First up is Grant Delpit, a stud safety out of LSU. Coming off of a stellar 2018 campaign, Delpit was slotted as a probable top-10 pick. He’s still the best safety in the class, but his play hasn’t been what it was last season on a star-studded LSU defense. At the beginning of the year, safety was not a need for Detroit, with captain Quandre Diggs, second-year Tracy Walker, and Tavon Wilson headlining a deep unit for the Lions.
However, Diggs’ recent trade to Seattle opens up a hole at safety for Matt Patricia’s defense. Clearly, Tracy Walker and Will Harris are slated for big roles, and it’s not the biggest team need, but passing on Delpit could leave the Lions looking like the teams knocking themselves for passing on Derwin James.
Delpit’s natural comparison as an athletic, coverage specialist from LSU to Jets safety Jamal Adams is highly intriguing. He’s the captain of the nation’s best defense, and would add tremendous versatility to an already solid secondary. Delpit’s the least likely of my picks to make it to the 16th selection, especially given the lack of safety talent in the class, but would be a steal for Detroit here.
AJ Epenesa, Defensive End, Iowa
Another preseason top-10 lock, Epenesa has similarly slid here due to not performing as well as last season. However, he’s still been extremely dominant on the Iowa defense, and would make a great Lion, and the second Hawkeye taken in the first round by Detroit in two straight years.
Epenesa hasn’t put up the gaudy numbers he put up last season, but continually flashes his potential. His raw power and size, standing at 6’6”, 280 lbs would make him a great fit in Patricia’s size-favoring scheme. The standout Hawkeye would add much-needed pass rusher off the edge, and form a nasty duo with Trey Flowers for years to come.
CeeDee Lamb, Wide Receiver, Oklahoma
With the fearsome Alabama duo of Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III gone, Detroit could still add a top-tier receiver in CeeDee Lamb out of OU in the first. Lamb has superb route-running skills, and while he may lack breakaway speed like Ruggs III, is a big target and great at ripping off large gains and long touchdowns.
As Marvin Jones would enter his final year under contract, and a lack of clarity at the position’s future behind Golladay, Lamb would add a premier threat for Matthew Stafford and help diversify the passing attack. Jalen Hurts’ favorite target would add another pass-catcher to expand the offense.
(PS: Tee Higgins and maybe Laviska Shenault, from Clemson and Colorado, respectively, would be good picks here. Lamb is my personal favorite receiver here.)
Derrick Brown, Defensive Tackle, Auburn
Despite playing on a loaded Auburn defensive line alongside Nick Coe and Marlon Davidson, Derrick Brown has emerged as arguably the country’s best defensive tackle. Brown is a mammoth, towering at 6’5”, 318 lbs, and would add a versatile centerpiece to Patricia’s defense.
Brown might not be the pass rusher that South Carolina’s Javon Kinlaw, but he only has room to grow, and has already solidified himself as a dominant run-stuffer at the position. Given Detroit’s aging (and underperforming) defensive tackle group with Mike Daniels and Snacks Harrison, the Lions would be wise to add Brown, who would enter and form a young core with Da’Shawn Hand.
Jonathan Taylor, Running Back, Wisconsin
Although I still believe Kerryon Johnson can be a star in this league, it’s time to start wondering about how long he’s got to prove himself, given his injury history and the flat-out disappointing play earlier this season. And with the Ameer Abdullah situation in the rear view, it’s looking increasingly likely that if the Lions ever want to give Matthew Stafford a running game, they’ll have to splurge and take the best halfback prospect in the draft.
The Lions clearly have some level of faith in Ty Johnson. However, he similarly doesn’t look like the long-term answer at running back. Barring an unforeseen free agent signing or offseason trade, Detroit will likely roll with the current running back corps into next season. Adding a piece early in the draft though, like Jonathan Taylor, would change the dynamic of the offense entirely.
Taking a running back in the first is largely a taboo action. However, with the recent hits of first round selections like Josh Jacobs, Ezekiel Elliott, and Saquon Barkley, it seems as though the impact outweighs the questions of the value of taking a running back that early.
I’m not saying I want the Lions to do this. I’ll reiterate, I still think a Kerryon has a bright future if he can stay healthy. But Stafford’s outstanding play yet poor record could be fixed by a real running game with a player like Taylor. Taylor has put up incredible numbers in Madison for the past three years, and has firmly planted himself in the Heisman race. If he has a solid Combine, which he should, he will likely go in the first round, potentially to the Lions. If Detroit chooses to address running back this early in the draft, I would prefer it be Taylor in the first round, but Georgia’s D’Andre Swift, Vanderbilt’s Ke’Shawn Vaughn, and Boston College’s AJ Dillon, among others, could be good options in the second to third rounds.
Taylor’s lack of injuries and consistent production would make him an instant impact player in Detroit, opening up the offense for Stafford and forming a menacing combo with Kerryon Johnson.
Dylan Moses, Linebacker, Alabama,
Linebacker is arguably the most dire positional group in all of Detroit’s defensive futility. Christian Jones has been simply awful, Jahlani Tavai has flashes but struggles as a rookie, Devon Kennard has disappeared after Week 1, I’m not quite sure if Jalen Reeves-Maybin even plays for the Lions anymore, and Jarrad Davis has been… not good.
Though Tavai has some time to find his footing, and (unfortunately) Christian Jones after his recent extension still has a place on this team, it’s time to start wondering who remains in this corps next year if the play continues to be poor for the rest of the season, even former first rounder Jarrad Davis.
Alabama’s Dylan Moses could change this depressing unit. Moses suffered an unfortunate offseason injury and will miss the entirety of the 2019 season, but his prolific production in past seasons and elite athleticism still make him an intriguing choice. It’s unclear if Moses, a current junior, will elect for the Draft or return for a senior season to improve his stock, but if he blows the doors off the Combine like expected, he could become a Lion. 16 might be a bit high to take the injured Crimson Tide player, but if Isaiah Simmons is gone and the Lions seek to improve their horrendous unit, Moses is the guy.
(PS: Northwestern’s Paddy Fisher and Alabama’s Anfernee Jennings would be good third-round options, too.)
Paulson Adebo, Cornerback, Stanford
Behind Ohio State’s Jeffrey Okudah, who is the clear-cut, undeniably best corner prospect in the Draft that last year’s class lacked, things get blurry at the position.
Cornerback is a weird group on Detroit’s roster. They currently have a top-3 player at the spot in Darius Slay, a rising star in Justin Coleman, and a serviceable number two in Rashaan Melvin, but there seems to be volatility ahead. Darius Slay’s rumors at the trade deadline and unhappiness regarding the Quandre Diggs trade indicate his future in Detroit is likely fleeting, and Melvin is on a one-year deal at 30 years old.
Coleman primarily plays in the slot, so if the other two leave in the offseason, Detroit would be missing it’s two starting outside corners. Adding a player like Stanford’s Paulson Adebo, however, would fill one of those spots. Adebo is a strong tackler, sticky in coverage, and has a knack for grabbing picks and breaking up passes. He’s my favorite after Okudah, among a class with other talented players at the position like Kristian Fulton, CJ Henderson, and Trevon Diggs, and would answer questions at the future for Detroit at the corner spot. It’s unclear what the Lions think they have with Amani Oruwariye, who I still believe could step into a starting role, but he would upgrade the secondary regardless.
These are just a few of the college football prospects that could don the Honolulu Blue next year. I featured players from most positions, because frankly, the Lions could use upgrades everywhere. Clearly, the Lions will not draft a tight end nor quarterback early. The lack of an offensive line prospect might be surprising, given Bob Quinn’s history of continually refurbishing with linemen, but I truly don’t expect them to take one unless the aforementioned Thomas or Wirfs are available.
As the Lions season continues to fall apart after a crushing loss to Oakland, the time for us draftniks to start drooling over the upcoming class approaches. It’s entirely too early to predict, as things can and will change invariably through the rest of the college and NFL seasons in addition to the pre-draft process, but speculating never hurt anybody. Much more to come on this front, but here’s an early starting point in looking to the 2020 Draft.