2017 NFL Draft

Projecting the Draft: Detroit Lions

Projecting the Draft: Detroit Lions

By Jeff Reynolds | NFLDraftScout.com
The Lions need cornerback help in the worst way, and former NFL defensive back Martin Mayhew, in his fourth draft as Detroit's general manager, should be in fine position to restock the position.

Beginning in the first round, the Lions are likely to have multiple players on the board that fill a pressing need in the defensive backfield.

Two options they've studied closely, Dre Kirkpatrick of Alabama and South Carolina's Stephon Gilmore, are the kind of big, physical corners coach Jim Schwartz and defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham prefer in a press-bump scheme. Both players are ready to start, whereas the next tier of prospects, including Trumaine Johnson (Montana), might have a steeper learning curve.

The Lions do have other areas of relative weakness, such as offensive tackle, where Jeff Backus is coming off injury and closer to 40 years old than he is 30, and that doesn't begin to account for a revolving door at right tackle.

And as much as the Lions have the pyrotechnics to score with most anybody, they won't survive in the postseason without the threat of a running game. Jahvid Best, Mikel Leshoure and Kevin Smith have talent but all have significant question marks if cast as the team's featured back.

If an elite blocker is around at No. 23 overall, Mayhew might have to grab that player -- Jonathan Martin of Stanford or Riley Reiff of Iowa, for example -- and cross his fingers that he can get a solid cornerback in the second or third round. If the Lions want to contend and step outside the Packers' shadow in the NFC North, they'll need to hit on multiple early picks, which puts some unfamiliar pressure on the front office to score and score big with picks 23, 54 and 85 overall.

Five players Martin Mayhew and the Lions should contemplate:

CB Stephon Gilmore, South Carolina (NFLDraftScout.com overall ranking: 19)
The temptation will be there to draft Whitney Mercilus of Illinois or Courtney Upshaw (Alabama), two of the top pass rushers in the draft given Kyle Vanden Bosch turns 34 this season and Cliff Avril's $10 million franchise tender has caused unrest in long-term negotiations with the Lions. Gilmore size, long arms and the scouting perspective that he brings a very low "bust" factor because of his experience and skill set adds up to the sensible selection as a steady starter for years to come.

OT Jonathan Martin, Stanford (NFLDraftScout.com ranking: 24)
Martin has been losing ground to Cordy Glenn (Georgia) and Bobby Massie (Mississippi), setting up the potential for the Lions to grab a cornerback at No. 23 and potentially trade back into the first round for a prospect they covet -- as they've done in previous drafts under Mayhew -- to end Thursday night (April 26) with two of their top 20-rated players. Martin might not have the feet for left tackle or the fierce demeanor to hold down the right side, but the junior has upside and would instantly improve the Lions' leaky o-line.

CB Brandon Boykin, Georgia (NFLDraftScout.com ranking: 73)
A scrappy 5-10, 182 with return skills and better power than you'd guess from a Polaroid, Boykin can be a third cornerback or contribute on special teams as a rookie but has the drive and skills to earn a more regular role. He's going to be out-sized by elite receivers and might not enjoy practice workouts against 6-5 Calvin Johnson. But he's explosive in short areas and gives no quarter in man-to-man coverage.

FS Trenton Robinson, Michigan State (NFLDraftScout.com ranking: 113)
The Lions have closely scouted Robinson and improvement at the back end of the defense is vital for survival against the improved passing attacks in the NFC North. Robinson has cornerback size and speed but his physical style of play stands out at safety. In tandem with Louis Delmas, the Lions' safety duo would cover as much ground as any pair in the NFL.

LB Nigel Bradham, Florida State (NFLDraftScout.com ranking: 100)
The ranks are extremely thin at linebacker behind the starters. Re-signing Stephen Tulloch was key and incumbent starters DeAndre Levy and Justin Durant will be back, but only developmental linebacker Doug Hogue returns from last season's roster. Bradham has the trademark intensity to earn a starting spot and the athleticism to turn and run with tight ends. Where he'll make his mark with the Lions is plugging the hole as a potential run-defense anchor.
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