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Detroit Lions: Updated Draft Big Board After 1st Wave of Free Agency | Bleacher Report

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    The 2015 NFL draft is close.

    While all eyes were on the hurricane of free agency, the smart teams were putting together their big boards. Considering general manager Martin Mayhew’s patience and restraint, the Detroit Lions must have been busy evaluating the incoming prospects.

    And they would be absolutely correct. Everyone knows that good teams build through the draft.

    People have been on Mayhew’s case because none of the 2010 or 2011 draftees are on the current roster, but those same folks would be surprised to learn that Detroit is actually exceeding the league average in that respect, per Kent Lee Platte of DetroitLionsDraft.com:

    Detroit Lions above average draft retention rates by year: ’14: Yes 87.5% ’13: Yes 88.89% ’12: Yes 62.5% ’11: No 0% ’10: No 0% ’09: Yes 30%

    — Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) March 18, 2015

    Now that I’ve piqued your interest, let’s get back to the real story of the offseason—the draft. And everything starts with Detroit’s big board, which I was able to sneak out of Allen Park while everyone was enjoying St. Patrick’s Day.

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    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    Martin Mayhew has learned a lot of lessons when it comes to injury and character concerns. You won’t find too many forgiving—or forgetting—fans in Detroit when it comes to Jahvid Best or Titus Young.

    Now you have to wonder if the effect of those two early departures is waning. At a minimum, the Lions still opted to bring in big nose tackle Jordan Phillips for a visit despite some health problems, per NFL.com’s Mike Huguenin.

    Phillips only played one year in Norman because of a back injury that knocked him out of 2013. Granted, he did play in 2014, so that could alleviate some concerns. But as Huguenin notes, Daniel Jeremiah of NFL Media thinks there are other issues that need to be addressed:

    “For such a massive man, he doesn’t generate much pocket push with his bull rush,” Jeremiah says. “He comes out in a lot of passing situations and (Oklahoma’s) scheme doesn’t let him attack very often. Overall, I think Phillips doesn’t make a lot of plays, but he has tremendous upside because of his size/strength/quickness. He needs some time to develop.”

    There’s no discounting his size at 6’5″ and 329 pounds, per NFL.com. And he would benefit from at least a year of tutelage behind Haloti Ngata while contributing as a backup. Whatever the case, the Lions have some interest, there is a future and present need and the positional value warrants his inclusion here.

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    Surprisingly, you’ll find few offensive linemen included on this big board. Just remember that we’re only talking about first-round guys here. I’m not nearly as high on the offensive linemen in this class compared to the top defensive back prospects who will soon dominate this list.

    But T.J. Clemmings has enough upside to break through.

    He started out as a defensive end at Pitt before switching to the other side. Since then, the 6’5″, 309-pound tackle earned first-team All-ACC honors and raised his draft stock to the first round. 

    The burly tackle is strong and athletic, with the ability to open rushing lanes for a Detroit offensive line that struggles to do so. Pride of Detroit’s Alex Reno illustrated his run-blocking skill well here:

    Clemmings is great at engaging first and being able to dictate where he wants his assignment to go. This allows him to drive the defender away from the play and create a massive hole for the ball carrier. You will see plenty of plays like these when watching him on tape.

    Detroit could use a consistent bookend for Riley Reiff while it learns what it has in Cornelius Lucas and LaAdrian Waddle. If all goes well, that oft-discussed move of kicking Riley Reiff inside could come to fruition if Clemmings proves himself ready for the left side.

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    The Lions need young defensive backs. The 2015 NFL draft is filled with them at the top. If you’re laying some action on the position selected at 23rd overall, you’d do well to put cornerback and safety high on that list.

    One such winner there could be Jalen Collins.

    The LSU product has been a late bloomer for most draft pundits. He wasn’t being bandied about for an early pick, but many have found a home for him in the first round, including Jeff Risdon of Real GM, who recently mocked him to Detroit:

    My Lions fan brethren are not going to like this pick, but Collins has an eerily similar draft profile to Darius Slay–long, extremely fast and twitchy athletes, not quite ready for primetime right away but with long-range potential oozing out of the pads. 

    There are few better ways to get Lions fans to come around to a pick than by comparing him to Slay. Collins stands 6’1″ and weighs 203 pounds, making him the perfect physical specimen for defensive coordinator Teryl Austin’s defense.

    Rashean Mathis’ return obviates the need for an immediate starter. Collins has all of the tools to become an aggressive press-man corner, but he needs time and coaching. That’s something Detroit has, so Collins’ talent earns him the eighth spot.

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    Without Tim Tebow or Johnny Manziel to grab the headlines, we’ll have to discuss players who could actually have an impact when we disagree about value. And that guy is Eric Rowe. He’s the eminent polarizing-but-coveted defensive back who has pundits scratching their heads:

    Spent most of the day on Eric Rowe. Complicated guy to give appropriate value. He’s versatile enough to play at CB / FS / SS in the NFL but

    — Jayson Braddock (@JaysonBraddock) March 16, 2015

    The dreaded tweener label could scare off teams and mock drafters alike. They would both be smart to agree with Bleacher Report’s Matt Bowen because Rowe has the tools to excel on the outside:

    Would keep him at CB…Size, length + he can run. MT @ukgiantsfan1: @MattBowen41 Utah’s Eric Rowe? People sleeping on him as an FS.

    — Matt Bowen (@MattBowen41) March 17, 2015

    His physicality nudges him higher than Jalen Collins here. The former safety finished as a “top performer” in every event at the combine, according to NFL.com, meaning he finished in the top 15. His 4.45 40 speed and 39-inch vertical is rounded out well by his 3.97 20-yard shuttle and 19 bench reps.

    Rowe is a capable tackler who should be able to help immediately in the press game. He has some trouble staying with receivers deep, so he’ll need safety help over the top until he adjusts to the NFL game. That shouldn’t be an issue for Pro Bowler Glover Quin.

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    A month ago, it seemed to be impossible that Landon Collins could be available when Detroit picked. Now it seems as if every mock draft has him falling until at least the 20th spot, making him a much more intriguing candidate than first believed.

    Collins is far and away the best safety prospect this year. That alone doesn’t mean he’s worth a top pick though. It has more to do with his size (6’0″, 228 lbs), speed (4.53 40-yard dash) and aggressive instincts. 

    And I’m not alone in that assessment. Omar Kelly of the South Florida Sun Sentinel seems quite taken with the Alabama defensive back too:

    Totally forgot safety Landon Collins. My bad. He’s a legit first rounder. A top 15 prospect at the weakest position in this draft.

    — Omar Kelly (@OmarKelly) March 15, 2015

    The only caveat on Collins is he is strictly a strong safety. He attacks the run like a linebacker and is better off not dealing with speedy slot receivers running “9 routes” if possible.

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    We come careening back to cornerbacks with Kevin Johnson, who has made a serious move up draft boards in the past month.

    The Wake Forest product was getting barely a whisper until #DraftTwitter kicked into high gear. Now his name evokes caps lock and odd punctuation. Such is the nature of draft season.

    Some pundits have taken a better tack with their opinions, but they’re just as strong. Fellow Bleacher Report Cian Fahey doesn’t mince words when it comes to Johnson’s potential:

    Johnson is the best CB in the draft RT @QBKlass: Trae Waynes is easily a lesser prospect than Kevin Johnson.

    — Cian Fahey (@Cianaf) March 19, 2015

    It’s easy to understand Fahey’s love of Johnson from a pure coverage standpoint. However, his fit as a Lion isn’t nearly as distinct.

    Despite his 6’0″ frame and his ability to jam at the line, he lacks the physicality to bring ball-carriers down. The NFL has moved toward a lot of quick hits to wide receivers and flairs to running backs, meaning a cornerback’s responsibilities include much more tackling now.

    Johnson would still be a very worthy pick by virtue of his coverage skills and length. He just isn’t in the same class as the next few guys.

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    The recent acquisition of Haloti Ngata and Tyrunn Walker lessens the need for a defensive tackle, but it didn’t obviate it enough to move Malcom Brown from this shortlist.

    For one, neither of the above veterans is currently under contract past 2015. And two, Brown is an intriguing talent who draws ire from Lions fans simply because they’re sick of reading about defensive tackles. Let Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller bring you back to the land of the logical:

    5 DL graded 7.0 or better. Leonard Williams, Danny Shelton, Malcom Brown, Arik Armstead and Eddie Goldman. Carl Davis, Michael Bennett 6.49

    — Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) March 10, 2015 

    The fan fatigue is understandable. The draft process is exhaustive, and you want some spice in your life. But if Brown falls to Detroit and none of the three in front of him does, I’d be shocked if Martin Mayhew didn’t run to the podium.

    He’s a 6’2″, 319-pound mountain who can make plays in the backfield and provide Detroit with options going forward. Oh, and if Brown is the third defensive tackle in the rotation, no team will be able to match Detroit’s interior presence.

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Finally, another offensive lineman for the beleaguered front unit. And this one is special.

    La’el Collins was a “late-early” riser, meaning he wasn’t talked about much as a first-rounder a few months ago and is already considered a lock. The misconception arose because too many people were evaluating him as a left tackle instead of a guard.

    Now, it’s unlikely that he’ll be around at No. 23. Stephen White of SB Nation, the man who wrote that great Ndamukong Suh piece a month or so ago, had this to say about Collins:

    All he did game after game was take the same kick steps back, staying completely balanced while patiently waiting for the rushers to get within arm’s length so he could put his hands on them. Once he got his hands on them, their rush was pretty much over, and that’s exactly what you want out of your starting left tackle.

    Notice how high he is on Collins as a left tackle. Imagine that same type of talent inside of Riley Reiff, and the offensive line now looks like a strength instead of a sieve.

    Lastly, the ubiquitous trait among the scouting reports is his “mean streak.” That report was courtesy of Lance Zierlein of NFL.com, but it could have been from any football writer at any dot-com.

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    Again, this doesn’t mean that Marcus Peters is going to be there at 23rd overall. Yet the Lions need to prepare for any scenario, and who knows how teams will react to Peters’ dismissal from the Washington football team.

    It would also be interesting to know if Martin Mayhew has taken him off his board completely. As we discussed earlier, Detroit places a high value on a player’s character. Peters may deserve a second chance, but who knows if it’ll come in Motown.

    If—and that’s a big if—head coach Jim Caldwell and Mayhew decide that Peters’ contrition is genuine, the Lions could grab a guy many peg as the best pure cornerback in the draft:

    14. #Dolphins – Marcus Peters, CB, Washington: Miami gets top CB in the draft, CB1 of the future for a revamped D. #Mockadoodle2

    — Brandon Thorn (@VeteranScout) March 19, 2015

    Seriously, the emphasis needs to be on the word “many.” The kid is good:

    My No. 6 overall player. RT @S_Kodali: How about Marcus Peters?

    — Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) March 11, 2015

    Peters has the prototypical size (6’0″, 197 lbs) and hips that flip faster than a presidential candidate confronted with a difficult question, allowing him to stay in the back pocket of a receiver no matter where he goes. The fiery temperament that has gotten him in trouble was taken into account when making this big board, and he still ended up as the second choice.

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    You knew it was coming all along. The combine times, the tape and my Spartan allegiance as an alumnus could only lead to one top target on Detroit’s big board.

    Trae Waynes.

    All kidding aside, Waynes takes the top spot because he has the talent and the right attitude. 

    Waynes truly offers it all as a prospect. He is physical against the run (although his tackling form needs work) and doesn’t mind mixing it up with receivers. If he’s asked to press, his physicality shines through, and he can use his swivel hips to run with a receiver after the turn. That’s one of the benefits of 4.31 40 speed.

    The biggest concern will be his availability, as Bucky Brooks of NFL Media succinctly notes:

    [email protected]_Football CB Trae Waynes continues to impress in workouts. He flips, turns and transitions w/ease. Scouts view him as Top 15 talent..

    — Bucky Brooks (@BuckyBrooks) March 18, 2015

    That’s why it’s a big board. If you’re evaluating talent correctly, your first choice probably won’t be available because someone else will have seen it too. More than likely, Detroit won’t have a shot at any of the top four options I’ve laid out.

    But that doesn’t mean the fans can’t dream.

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