As Lions fans, we’re used to starting up the draft talk early. Don’t worry, I’m not giving up on this season but the bye weeks is a great time to get an early primer on next year’s draft. I sent some questions over to Jesse Bartolis of NFL Mocks and he was kind enough to answer them for your reading pleasure.
Even mock drafts from the night before the draft are wildly inaccurate. Take the following Q&A as a first run through topics that might be relevant to the Lions next April and maybe you’ll come away with a few new names to keep an eye on through the rest of the college football season.
Zac Snyder: What is your early assessment of the strength of the upcoming draft class? Is it stronger, weaker, or about the same are recent years?
Jesse Bartolis: Like any draft class it’s stronger in some areas weaker in other areas. I thought the 2010 draft calss was really good, and last year was a bit down, except for the defensive line position.
Last year was a bad year for linebackers and top flight offensive linemen prospects. That is not the case this year where Jonathan Martin, Matt Kalil, and Riley Reiff all might have gone ahead of all offensive linemen not named Tyron Smith. (Kalil is excellent)
This year the defensive line and rush linebackers are a bit down, but 43 linebacker prospects are much, much better at the top. The cornerback depth is also exceptional. And then the quarterback class could rival 2004 (Eli Manning, Big Ben, Philip Rivers, and Matt Schuab-drafted in the fourth round) if Luck, Jones, Barkley, and Griffin all declare. There is also a very intriguing prospect in Brock Osweiler out of Arizona State.
ZS: As an outside observer, what would you say are the Lions top three draft needs?
JB: Offensive line for sure. That’s been one draftniks have been harping on for awhile. I think they have running back talent, hopefully LeShoure comes back healthy.
I would say the cornerbacks could be improved. That front four is so good, talented cornerbacks would be able to make a lot of plays.
I also think the linebackers could still be upgraded for sure, and there are some good ones that could go in the first round so the Lions might be in luck there.
ZS: Who are some college players at the positions you just identified that you think Lions fans should keep their eye on as the college season winds down?
JB: At Offensive line, the Lions will not be picking high enough to get any of the top three offensive tackles, but there is are three really nice interior offensive linemen prospects they could target in later round one.
David DeCastro the guard from Stanford is considered one of the best guard prospects in a long time. Guards are devalued in the draft so he might slip. If he does the Lions should gobble him up. There are no real weaknesses to his game, good, good player.
At cornerback I think Jayron Hosley could be an excellent fit for the Lions. He’s really good at reading the quarterback and making plays on the football not a huge guy, but a ball hawk. With the pass rush he could be an Asante Samuel kind of player.
The linebacker talent is very nice for 43 teams this year.
Zach Brown from North Carolina is an absolutely dynamo athlete who is a three down linebacker. A bit lighter than ideal, but he is fast, fast, fast. Good blitzer too.
Vontaze Burfict (Arizona State) has questions about his ability to stay under control, but he’s the closest thing to Patrick Willis at linebacker since Willis came out.
Luke Kuechly (Boston College) is a guy who just makes tackles by the bucket full, but isn’t an elite athlete.
Manti Teo (Norte Dame) is a linebacker who has good size/strength speed and makes a lot of plays. He can play either the middle or the SAM Position.
ZS: Defensive end probably won’t come up as a team need for the Lions but they could be looking out for one because of their defensive system. Who are some of the guys to watch at that position?
JB: I doubt they go defensive end early. It’s not a great defensive line class so the value won’t be there.
If the Lions are looking at a high upside guy they could grab Devin Taylor (South Carolina) who has good potential, but hasn’t put everything together on a consistent basis.
Andre Branch the DL for Clemson is a guy who could be a second round option for the Lions if he happens to fall (plus going from a Tiger to a Lion is kind of cool, no?) and then finally Frank Alexander from Oklahoma has really come on strong this year and could be an option early for the Lions.
ZS: Anything else you would like to add?
JB: I wouldn’t be surprised to the see the Lions take a wide receiver early, I’m not all convinced that they have the necessary depth there to overcome an injury to Calvin Johnson. Titus Young is a nice young player, but what if a player like Michael Floyd is available to them? He has some character concerns, but my oh my is he talented.
The Lions might also be intrigued by a player like Mohamed Sanu from Rutgers, a big jack of all trades kind of wide receiver that has drawn some comparisons to Hakeem Nicks (I don’t think he’s quite that good), I compare him to a more talented Brad Smith.
Also it’s nice to see teams like the Lions and Bills make playoff runs.
And it’s just further justification for us draftniks that drafting matters more than anything else, the difference between the Lions and Bills who compete now and the playoff drought Bills and Lions is how poorly the old regimes drafted and how well the new blood has done.
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