As the draft approaches, the Lions’ draft picture is slowly becoming clearer and clearer. Based on player visits, analyst mocks, and Bob Quinn’s draft history, we can assume the Lion’s 1st rounder will be either a defensive lineman or an offensive tackle. For this piece, I will look at a few of the possible considerations for the Detroit Lions at #16, and give them best/worst case scenario player comparisons.
Offensive Lineman Options
Admittedly, I don’t know much about an offensive lineman’s playing styles, but I’ll use basic knowledge. Offensive linemen are usually successful if:
1. They can stay on the field (injuries),
2. They don’t give up many sacks, and
3. Don’t commit an exorbitant amount of penalties.
Jack Conklin, offensive tackle, Michigan State
Best case: Jon Runyan
Worst case: Matt Kalil
Runyan like Conklin is from Michigan, but went to the rival school in Ann Arbor rather than Sparty. He was drafted by the then Houston Oilers, but played most of his career for the Philadelphia Eagles, helping them get to the Super Bowl in their days with Donavan McNabb. From 1997 to 2008, Runyan didn’t miss a game. The Lions would be more than thrilled if Conklin could perform lineman duties to a similar level.
Kalil, drafted at 4 by the Vikings was supposed to be a sure-bet to lock up the left side for years to come. He looked good in his first year, but a sophomore slump and lingering injuries has stopped his progression as an NFL tackle. His career up to this point has been a disappointment, and his days wearing purple are reportedly numbered.
Overall, Conklin will likely fall somewhere in the middle. A middle of the mall tackle on the right side to pair with another mediocre guy on the left isn’t ideal, but with where the o-line is at this point I’d take it. According to scouts, Conklin is one of those high floor/low ceiling guys. Won’t be a bust, but also isn’t going to surprise a team and grow into an above average left-tackle.
Taylor Decker, Offensive Tackle, Ohio State
Best case: Nate Solder
Worst case: Michael Oher
Solder has held it down on the left side for a few years now on the Patriots, and I feel like his success would be a realistic goal for Decker to shoot for. Solder was a first-rounder which Decker projects to be as well, and they share some of the same physical traits as tall, strong men.
Oher was highly touted as a physical monster who just needed some good coaching to turn him into an elite left tackle. He flashed in Baltimore but ultimately the blind-side hero became one of the worst tackles in the league and not nearly worth the 23rd overall selection. A rare miss for GM Ozzy Newsome. After another awful stint in Tennessee, Oher had a surprisingly good year on Carolina’s Super Bowl run. Maybe he will turn it around, but if he does, it won’t be for the team that initially drafted him.
Compared to Conklin, Decker is the high risk/high reward guy. He is a right tackle to start, but has the potential to move to the left side unlike Conklin. I think Decker out-performs his expectation once drafted. It’s all opinion though, and we won’t know for 2-3 years who the better guy is. I like Decker, and believe after a few years in the league he could become a top 10 left tackle.
Defensive Lineman Options
This is where the bulk of the Lions’ first round prospects exist. I believe the Lions are in a really tough position at 16, but best defensive lineman available would be a good way to go. In a deep class, it’s really going to be a “pick your favorite” for the Lions. Due to the sheer number of guys, whoever they may pick could be labeled as a reach, but Quinn and co. are probably getting their number one choice.
Shaq Lawson, Defensive End, Clemson
Best case: Tamba Hali
Worst case: Adrian Clayborn
Hali has been as consistent as they come, only missing three games over the course of his career with the Chiefs. He gets at least six sacks a season, with three seasons in the double digits. He plays OLB in Kansas City’s 3-4, where Lawson would be used as a DE in Austin’s defense, allowing more pass-rush situations for Lawson.
Clayborn had a promising first year for the Bucs, but injuries have plagued him throughout his career. His rookie year saw Clayborn collecting seven sacks, but in two seasons ended early by injury and two others where he played all 16 games, he has only gotten 8 more.
If Lawson is there at 16, the Lions should be really intrigued with the possibility of adding another defensive end. It’s never a bad thing to have too many pass rushers. It would take a bit of a fall for Lawson to get there, but anything can happen at the draft.
Vernon Butler, Defensive Tackle, Louisiana Tech
Best case: Muhammad Wilkerson
Worst case: Michael Brockers
Wilkerson has been a been a sack machine for the Jets, notching two double-digit sack seasons in the past three years, the other year being one where he missed a few games and still managed to grab six. A big man just like Butler, I think Wilkerson represents everything he could be.
Brockers on the other hand was drafted in the late first round by the rams, and just never really became the ultimate play maker he could’ve been at 6 feet 5 inches, 327lbs. He hasn’t been bad, but the angle I’m looking at here is that Brockers represents physical skills that haven’t translated to big-time disruption at the NFL level.
Butler is a good talent, he has the size, great with his hands, but his tape just leaves you wanting more. Especially in his game against Arkansas this year, an SEC opponent, he gets close to making plays, but falls short. I wouldn’t take him at #16, but if he fell to the Lions in the second round, it’d be a no brainer.
Chris Jones, Defensive Tackle, Mississippi State
Best case: Darnell Dockett
Worst case: Devin Still
Dockett was always an under-appreciated player throughout his career with the Cardinals. Standing tall at 6 feet 4 inches he was a disruptive menace from the defensive tackle position and gave the rest of the NFC West nightmares for a decade. If the Lions knew this is what Chris Jones would become, he’d be the pick at 16.
Devin Still, another big guy coming in at 6 feet five inches, was drafted in the second round by the Bengals. Mainly known for his daughter Leah’s fight against cancer, many don’t know he has under-performed the early second round pick. Whether that’s because of his daughter’s illness (and it’s probably hard to concentrate on anything other than her, which is more than understandable) or because he just hasn’t developed, he is a worst-case scenario for Chris Jones.
Jones is one of the most interesting players in the draft. He really could go anywhere from pick twelve to pick sixty, no one knows. At 6 feet 6 inches, and weighing in at 310lbs, he is the Mount Everest of all defensive tackles, but he is a classic unlimited ceiling/unlimited floor type of pick. I like him in the second round, but at 16 it’s better for the Lions to go with someone they know will make an impact in the NFL.