Cornerback could be the choice with first-round pick

The Sports Xchange
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In a perfect world, one of the top two or three cornerbacks on the Lions' board will be available when the 23rd pick rolls around. The Lions would be thrilled to land South Carolina's Stephon Gilmore or Alabama's Dre Kirkpatrick.

However, the presence of talented but troubled cornerback Janoris Jenkins will give him pause. The North Alabama corner has plummeted off most first round draft boards because of his myriad off-field issues. Based solely on talent, though, he's the second-best cover corner in the draft.

We don't know how Mayhew's interviews with Jenkins went. We don't know what cornerback coach Tim Walton and defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham might see when they try to peer into this kid's soul. We do know they both have great conviction in their ability to judge character and coach talent, and we know they love reclamation projects.

Another option at 23, of course, would be an offensive lineman. It seems likely that a quality left tackle could be available, someone like Stanford's Jonathan Martin or Ohio State's Mike Adams.

However, it is doubtful that those players would be higher on the Mayhew's board than a pass rusher like Illinois' Whitney Mercilus or Syracuse's Chandler Jones - two players projected to be on the board late in the first round.

If it came down to a choice between the third or fourth best corner on his board, the top one or two left tackles and the top one or two pass rushers, bet on Mayhew to take the pass rusher.

Later in the draft the Lions are expected to take a running back, receiver and possibly a linebacker.

Nice fits: Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, tackle Bobby Massie, running back Chris Polk.

TEAM NEEDS

Cornerback: The Lions gave up 90 points in their last two games. They gave up an average of 31.6 per game in the final eight games of the season. They gave up 32.6 in five games against playoff teams (including two against the Packers).

There isn't a cornerback under contract beyond 2012. There are only five on the roster -- Chris Houston, Jacob Lacey, Aaron Berry, Alphonso Smith and Don Carey - and Smith is reportedly on the trade block and Carey is a special teams player.

Offensive line: Three of the five starters are over 30 - center Dominic Raiola, 33; left tackle Jeff Backus, 35 in September and right guard Stephen Peterman, 30. Backus is coming off a year that was bracketed by surgery - torn pectoral before the season and torn biceps in the playoff loss to the Saints.

The top two reserves - tackle Corey Hilliard and guard-center Dylan Gandy - are 27 and 30 respectively and on the final year of their contracts.

Running back: They will draft a running back, you can almost bet on that. With so much uncertainty around starters Jahvid Best (concussions) and Mikel Leshoure (Achilles, two marijuana arrests) and all the injuries that have plagued the Lions at this position the last two seasons, they don't feel they can have enough depth.

Defensive end: You would think they are well-stocked here with Kyle Vanden Bosch, Cliff Avril, Lawrence Jackson, Willie Young and Everette Brown, but look again.

Vanden Bosch is 34. Avril is balking at signing his $10.6 million franchise tender. Jackson and Young are in the last year of their deals.

--Lawsuits against the NFL from former players continue to flood courtrooms across the country - more than 1,000 at last count -- charging the league didn't do enough to protect them from the concussion-related trauma they have suffered since they left the game.

Most recently, former Lions Alex Karras and Lomas Brown have initiated litigation. Lions Hall of Fame defensive back Lem Barney has been quoted saying he wished he would never have played football.

Dominic Raiola, who has been the team's center for 11 seasons, can't see himself ever thinking like that. To him, the risks are well worth the rewards the game bestows.

"When you sign up for this job you know what you are getting into," Raiola said. "Granted the money is a lot more now, but at the same time, you know you are going to get dinged up. You are hitting almost every play.

"But that's their prerogative. That's how they are handling it. I know I'm going to have my day when something is going to happen, whether it be short-term memory loss or whatever. That's the rigors of this job. That's why this isn't for everybody. It takes a unique individual to play this sport."

Raiola, who has missed just four games because of injury in his 11 seasons, said he doesn't worry or think about the long-term effects playing football will have on his health later in life.

"Those things are going to come," he said. "It's common knowledge people are going to suffer. Memory loss is going to come. I am ready for it. It's worth it; totally worth it. This is the best job in the world and I wouldn't trade it for anything.

"I don't know how I could justify suing the league when I am done playing. It's given me 11 years of fun. I have fun every time I step on the field."

Defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch has played 136 regular-season games and three playoff games over his 11-year NFL career. He's never had a concussion.

Jahvid Best has played 21 games over two seasons. He has endured three concussions and still isn't cleared for football contact.

"I consider myself lucky," Vanden Bosch said. "But I've known guys who are finished playing and are still dealing with the effects of concussions, brain trauma and brain injuries. It's something that doctors and scientists are still finding out more about, but they still don't know a lot about it. They don't know how to prevent and they don't necessarily know the cause.

"It's an unfortunate side effect of football."

Receiver Nate Burleson, who has suffered concussions during his 10-year career, has empathy for those active in litigation against the league - he's just not sure that's the route he would go.

"I will cross that bridge when I need to," he said. "It's not a concern right now. Some of those things (in the lawsuits) are just, though. This is a violent sport and after guys get done playing they have a lot of issues, health-wise. Hopefully the NFL will honor what they say they would and take care of us."

Vanden Bosch, the Lions' NFLPA representative, believes the league has made great strides in the areas of player safety.

"The reason for the shorter offseason, for the change in training camp and the change in rules regarding padded practices during the regular season - all of that is because of head injuries and the concern over brain trauma," he said. "There is progress being made and more information being gathered every day. But there is still a lot we don't know.

"The NFL and the NFLPA are working on it. The two sides are starting to understand that you can limit the collisions and the banging and still have quality football and still give the fans the product they expect."

Copyright (C) 2012 The Sports Xchange. All Rights Reserved.

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