When the 85th annual NFL Draft kicks off April 23 in Las Vegas, the Detroit Lions will be in a position of great leverage. The foregone conclusion that quarterback Joe Burrow and edge-rusher Chase Young will be the first two players selected with the event’s first two picks puts the morbid franchise in the driver’s seat to dictate their immediate future.
Speculation regarding Detroit’s draft position heated up this week when reports surfaced that a CT Scan on highly-touted quarterback prospect Tua Tagovailoa’s surgically repaired hip “was as positive as possible”.
With options of selecting the best player available, the highest-rated player on their board, or trading the third-overall pick for assets (i.e. more picks/impact players), Head Coach Matt Patricia and General Manager Bob Quinn possess the ability to dictate the team’s immediate future in a multitude of ways.
Moving into the third year of this regime’s tenure, the duo is faced with a future of uncertainty. To make things more challenging, the team’s ownership has laid out expectations that this season will pretty much be “playoffs or bust” for them.
Various critics and analysts have suggested the Lions should incite their own quarterback controversy by drafting the former Alabama signal-caller. Those whispers to replace current starter Matthew Stafford have grown louder each week as the draft approaches.
It doesn’t help that Stafford’s future with the Lions is unclear after sustaining a season-ending back injury last year. As of now, he is the longest-tenured first overall pick in NFL history to have never won a playoff game with the team that drafted him.
Selecting Tua to follow in Stafford’s footsteps, and grooming him while he finishes rehabbing his hip would be an enticing option if the Lions were in the process of a rebuild. However, the team is in an ownership mandated state of playoff contention.
Therefore, all of the parties involved would benefit more by utilizing the pick to draft a player with talent capable of making an immediate impact or trading down in the draft to acquire a handful of potential franchise-altering players.
The Lions can stay put and draft an impact defender like Cornerback Jeff Okudah (Ohio State) or Linebacker Isaiah Simmons (Clemson). Really, both options are intriguing and would result in upgrades for Detroit.
Simmons is “the perfect run-and-cover linebacker for today’s NFL,” says ESPN Draft Analyst Mel Kiper Jr., who also states that Simmons can “do anything and play every down.”
At times during his collegiate career, the Clemson All-American played nickel corner, safety, and defensive-end in addition to his listed position. Kiper says, “Simmons is the type of defender who makes everyone around him better.”
In my opinion, he is exactly what the Lions need to improve the culture of one of the league’s worst defenses from last season.
Okudah, on-the-other-hand has drawn comparisons to Arizona Cardinals lockdown cornerback Patrick Peterson. Pairing him in the Lions’ defensive backfield would certainly solidify the team at corner, thus paving the way for the defense to compete on a weekly basis in the modern, pass-happy NFL.
So what is the logical move for Quinn to make?
It appears that the Miami Dolphins are very high on Tagovailoa, and have been for quite some time. Their fans started a “Tank for Tua” campaign in the early going of the season last fall when the team traded many of their top players while getting off to a rocky start. Currently, they own the fifth, 18th and 26th picks in April’s draft.
If Quinn and the Lions can convince Miami that they have serious interest in Tua it becomes possible they can motivate the ‘Fins to move up and get their guy. Recent history suggests that draft position movement to acquire a potential franchise quarterback can demand quite the ransom.
It’s entirely possible the Lions would receive pick five, either the 19th or 26th pick, and one of Miami’s second-rounders (39th/56th).
Picking fourth-overall, the New York Giants are expected to draft a defensive player after spending high picks on offense the past two seasons. This paves the way for the Lions to trade down to five, while still netting one of the two impact defenders they initially intended to select.
With the other first-round pick, they could further upgrade the pass rush by selecting from a handful of projected first-round cornerbacks and ends.
Entering the second round, the Lions would be primed to address a running-back position that has been stagnant for nearly two decades since the retirement of Barry Sanders. Potential impact backs include J.K. Dobbins (Ohio State), Clyde Edwards-Helaire (LSU), or Jonathan Taylor (Wisconsin). Any of the three would be an immediate upgrade over injury-riddled starter Kerryon Johnson.
Competition breeds excellence and the Detroit Lions are trying to win now. This season starts the minute the draft in Las Vegas begins. Their current position is one of great strength, and leveraging that position is key for Quinn and Patricia if this team is going to contend for a playoff position in 2020.
For once, maybe Lions’ fans should actually thank Martha Ford.