- The biggest need, the hidden need and what else the Lions should be looking for in the 2019 draft.
Two weeks ahead of the NFL draft, Andy Benoit and Gary Gramling are breaking down draft needs for all 32 teams. You can also see every team in a single post here.
Biggest Need: Pass Rusher
Disclaimer: pass rushers are not as crucial in Matt Patricia’s scheme as they are in other schemes. Above all else, Patricia wants defensive linemen who play with disciplined technique, especially on early downs. On third down, he’ll rely on his coverage. That said, you can’t play with zero pass rush, which is why the Lions broke the bank for free agent Trey Flowers. He’s not a pure pass rusher, but as perhaps football’s mechanically sharpest D-lineman, he perfectly fits the scheme. But he’d be even better if he were his team’s second most threatening pass rusher. An active free agency period has left the Lions with surprisingly few needs on offense or defense; they can afford to spend a high pick on a pass rushing specialist.
Hidden Need: Defensive Back
Some might say corner is an obvious need, given that up-and-down 2017 second-rounder Teez Tabor, who played just 28 percent of the snaps last year, has not exactly been a picture of stability opposite Darius Slay. But if the Lions were truly down on Tabor, they likely would not have let free agent Nevin Lawson leave for a mere one-year, $3 million deal with the Raiders. Lawson’s spot was filled by the man he’s replacing in Oakland, Rashaan Melvin, who is a streaky perimeter corner. So yes, this team has some questions at corner, but it might not need reinforcements as badly as outsiders believe.
In fact, the Lions could even address the safety position first. Last year’s third-rounder Tracy Walker is ready for a bigger role in centerfield, which would keep the wildly underrated Quandre Diggs down in the box. But the depth at safety is not as strong as it looks; ex-Patriot Tavon Wilson last year could not even supplant a declining Glover Quin, while Miles Killebrew’s football IQ is dubious. Secondary depth is crucial given that Matt Patricia plays a lot of dime and more “dollar” (seven DBs) than any NFC defensive schemer.
Also Looking For: Tight End
They just signed ex-Steeler Jesse James for $10.5M guaranteed, making this need much less pressing. But if there is a multidimensional tight end they love, it would make sense to pounce. Patricia and GM Bob Quinn know from their days in New England how difficult it can be to defend a two-tight end offense.
Who They Can Get
Sitting at 8, the Lions are probably out of range for Kentucky's Josh Allen and certainly out of Nick Bosa range. That leaves Mississippi State's Montez Sweat or, if they think they can unlock his potential, Michigan's Rashan Gary. (An interior pass-rusher, say Houston's Ed Oliver, should also be considered.) A No. 2 corner becomes more of a reach in the top 10, but if they go in that direction LSU's Greedy Williams is probably the fit. If it's a tight end, T.J. Hockenson comes from a Belichick-approved (and therefore, presumably, Patricia-approved) college coach in Iowa's Kirk Ferentz, and Hockenson's physicality in the run game certainly fits with Patricia's preference for a conservative approach on offense.
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