With the arrival of new General Manager, Bob Quinn, there is hope again that Detroit’s most woeful professional franchise can finally find sustained success. If a championship is on the horizon, then a revamped defense is a must. Now-exiled former GM, Martin Mayhew, and Team President, Tom Lewand, decimated the Lions top-ranked 2014 defense by mismanaging the salary cap and failing to prepare for the departures of All-Pro and potential Hall of Famer, Ndamukong Suh, former top-draft pick Nick Fairley and 2014 free agent sack-artist, George Johnson.
As a result, the 2015 Lions defense gave up 400 points (23rd overall); 349.6 yards-per-game (18th overall) and allowed opponents to convert 41% on 3rd down (24th overall). Those numbers were all way down from 2014: 282 points (3rd); 300.9 yards-per-game (2nd); and 37% on 3rd down (9th). Needless to say, the Lions’ defense will be a focal point of Quinn’s rebuilding efforts going forward.
But Detroit’s offensive line is also in need of a talent overhaul. Despite spending high draft picks the last few seasons on OT Riley Reiff, and guards Larry Warford and Laken Thomlinson, the Lions’ offensive line remains a major weakness. The Lions gave up 44 sacks last season and gained a league last 83.4 yards-per-game on the ground.
Amazingly, the Lions have failed to draft a Pro Bowl offensive lineman since 1985 when they took Lomas Brown (1st round – 6th overall) and Kevin Glover (2nd round- 34th overall). That is a brutal 31-season drought. With that in mind, I would prefer the Lions to grab Michigan State offensive tackle, Jack Conklin, or Notre Dame OT, Ronnie Stanley, with the 16th overall pick. However, it is looking like both may be gone before that slot. Conklin’s solid NFL Combine and MSU Pro Day performances really helped his cause.
If Conklin and Stanley are off the board, the Lions then must address the defensive side of the ball to provide help for blossoming Pro Bowl DE, Ziggy Ansah, and shore up their aging (Haloti Ngata) and undermanned (exceptions being Tyrunn Walker and Devin Taylor) front four.
Here are six defensive lineman I can see the Detroit Lions choosing with the #16 pick in the first round in the NFL Draft:
6. Robert Nkemdiche, DT (6-3, 296) – @OleMissFB
5. Andrew Billings, DT (6-1, 310) – @BUFootball
Billings finished his junior year with a team-high 15.0 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks, adding 40 tackles and a forced fumble. . . . Billings flashes dominant qualities. A scheme-versatile prospect, he will be valued as a nose tackle by odd fronts and a one-technique tackle by even fronts.
4. Reed, Jarran, DT (6-3, 307) – @AlabamaFTB
The Alabama DT duo of Reed and the big guy two spots up on this list, it just depends on who you talk to as to which one will be better. NFL.com’s Bucky Brooks said this about Reed back in February:
The mass exodus of elite talent in the middle of the defense over the past few seasons could force the Lions to target a disruptive defensive tackle at the top of the draft. Reed is a destructive force on the interior with size, athleticism and non-stop motor to wreak havoc on the inside.
3. Sheldon Rankins, DT (6-2, 304) – @UofLFootball
Lost of fans of this guy, including the folks at Pro Football Focus, who said he was their “second-highest-graded interior defender over the last two seasons.”
2. A’Shawn Robinson, DT (6-3, 312) – @AlabamaFTB
The Lions need leadership. Robinson was thee Alpha Dog at Alabama. That means a great deal in a locker room like Detroit’s where leadership has often been lacking. He is a good player too, with steller power versus the run at the point of attack.
1. Shaq Lawson, DE (6-3, 270) – @ClemsonFB
His performances versus Alabama and Oklahoma in the NCAA Football Four were stellar. Last year for the Tigers, he tallied 35 solo tackles, 12.5 sacks, and 24.5 tackles for loss. Sports Illustrated lists him at #15 in their top 50 NFL prospects:
4–3 teams may see Lawson as a pass-rushing and run-stopping end who can kick inside to tackle on passing downs—that’s a more frequent conceit in the NFL these days, and Lawson certainly has the strength to pull that off. For 3–4 and hybrid base teams, he has a legitimate shot as disrupting everywhere from the tackle’s outside shoulder to end and tackle in some situations. In many ways, he projects well as a prototype of the modern multi-gap defensive lineman who can do a lot of different things to a fairly high level. Some may downgrade Lawson because he isn’t an obvious pass rusher, but he has the potential, with a few obvious technique fixes and a greater sense of urgency, to be an asset all along the line