Continuing on our quest to cover all 32 teams 2011 NFL Draft needs, here is a look at the rising Detroit Lions.
The Lions are slowly continuing on the path towards improvement since the devastating and embarrassing 2008 season that saw them go 0-16. After winning a couple of games in '09, they managed to surprise many experts in 2010 by going 6-10 in one of football's toughest divisions.
So does this mean a playoff run is in store for 2011? It's not totally out of the question, but the Lions will certainly need some help in a crowded division shared by the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears. That being said, here is a look at what positions the Lions need to address in the 2011 NFL Draft to keep moving in the right direction.
Offensive Tackle - Unfortunately, this year isn't so cut-and-dried in terms of what position the Lions will look to fill with their first round pick. For the first time in a while, they select towards the middle of the first round, so a lot of who they pick depends on who's available. However, the Lions are serious about upgrading their offensive line to protect Matthew Stafford since he missed so many games last year, and picking a tackle early would certainly aid this goal. Stephen Peterman was probably the Lions worst lineman last year, so it's possible that Detroit could get either USC OT Tyron Smith or Boston College's Anthony Castonzo to take his spot. The 6'7", 310-pound Castonzo is arguably the top tackle prospect going into the draft with his long arms and good quickness out of a stance. Smith is another top prospect since he probably the best overall pass blocker in the draft.
Cornerback - This is another big position that the Lions need filled; in fact, they might even decide to go with a secondary player in the first round (second round at the latest). Assuming they wait until the second round for a cornerback, the Lions will be eying Texas' Aaron Williams. Williams has the speed/athleticism to stay with receivers every step of the way, and should be a good corner in the NFL. If the Lions went with a corner in the first round, they won't be getting Patrick Peterson because he's expected to go in the top 5. However, they have a chance at Prince Amukama from Nebraska, who has the perfect size and speed for a pro cornerback. If Amukama is gone, Colorado's Jimmy Smith is also available, and his stock is rising fast after some good workouts.
Linebacker - Look for the Lions to nab a linebacker in the third round because they could use help at any of their LB positions. This is especially the case at weakside LB where Zack Follet was a constant liability in coverage, and he may not even be 100% in 2011 after suffering a season-ending injury. Boston College's Mark Herzlich makes sense here because he has the speed and instincts as a pass defender. North Carolina's Bruce Carter would be a nice addition at linebacker too due to his excellent pass coverage skills; but he underwent ACL surgery, so it's unclear what his status will be heading into the draft. You may even see the Lions take both of these players (if available) in rounds 3 and 4 because they need a better corp of linebackers. If one of these players is gone in the fourth, the Lions could pickup tweener Lawrence Wilson out of Connecticut since he's primarily known for his pass coverage abilities.
Running Back - This is not an immediate need for the Lions, but they could opt for a bruising running back in the later rounds to back up Jahvid Best. Best hit the rookie wall in the worst way, and they could definitely use a big backup to handle the in-between the tackle runs. 6'1", 230-pound John Clay from Wisconsin is a good candidate here since he could be available in the sixth round. Clay's stock has dropped because his speed isn't on par with the top backs (4.87 40-yard), but his on-field speed and tackle-breaking abilities still make him worth a look.
However, the main positions that need to be addressed for the Lions are offensive tackle, linebacker, and corner. If they draft the right pieces, it's very possible that the Lions could be the surprise NFL breakout team in 2011.