Each week I’ll be updating my wish list for the Lions. The criteria is simple, each prospect must be a first or second round talent, and each prospect must fit a need for the Lions’ roster. This isn’t necessarily a list of what the Lions should do with the fifth overall pick. Think of it as an overall wish list of players that could be acquired with a combination of early picks, potentially involving trading back in the draft.
1. Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas - Vaccaro is the top player on my list for the Lions and will more than likely stay at the top unless he doesn’t test well at the combine. Vaccaro fits the Lions biggest need – safety, and fits the need for a big secondary player that can stay healthy with his 6’1″ 218 lbs. frame. He also has the versatility to play either safety position, which is a huge plus for the Lions given the injury issues with Louis Delmas.
2. Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama – Milliner is ranked as the top corner at this point in the draft process, but lacks the elite speed and athleticism compared to the previous top corners Patrick Peterson, and Morris Claiborne in the 2011 and 2012 draft. Still, Milliner would be an immediate upgrade for a weak Lions’ secondary. Milliner has great NFL size, 6’1, 198 lbs which means he shouldn’t be as susceptible to injuries – a trait the Lions will be looking for with injuries to current Lions corners Bill Bentley, Chris Greenwood, Drayton Florence and Jacob Lacey.
3. Tavon Austin, WR/RB/KR, West Virginia – The Lions are in the market for a new receiver, their special teams needs upgrading and Jahvid Best’s future in the NFL may very well be over. The Lions can solve solve these three roster issues with Tavon Austin. Austin is by far the most dynamic player in this draft class and is at his best in the open field. Put him in the backfield, put him in the slot at receiver, or put him on special teams and he will make plays. There’s no question the Lions missed Jahvid Best’s dynamic speed in the offense and Austin might be just as fast, if not faster.
The Lions’ coaching staff will get a chance to scout Austin for one week at the Senior Bowl and will get a chance to see if he fits what they are looking for. If they like what they see we very well may see Austin in a Lions’ uniform next season based on his versatility.
4. Margus Hunt, DE, SMU – Hunt could be the steal of the draft. The 6’8 280 lbs. senior dominated Fresno state forcing two fumbles and sacking Fresno State’s Derek Carr for a safety. The scary thing about Hunt is he has only played four years of football and has a tremendous upside. Hunt also has tremendous measurables- 82 inch wing span, unofficial 4.6 forty time, and could set the record for most reps on the bench press drill at the combine. With Kyle Vanden Bosch on the downside of his career and Cliff Avril’s future in Detroit up in the air Margus Hunt would be a great selection for the Lions.
If Hunt is still on the board in the second round it would be hard to imagine the Lions passing up a player like Hunt that could get the defensive line to the next level. Hunt will also participate in the Senior Bowl, which will give the Lions staff an extra look at the defensive end from Estonia.
5. Matt Elam, S, Florida – The second strong safety to make my list, but arguably the number one strong safety coming out of college. Elam is viewed as a late first round pick, but could slide to the second round. Banks (5’10 202 lbs) doesn’t have Vaccaro’s size, but he has great quickness and an unbelievable tackling ability- as a junior he had 11 tackles for loss, 2 forced fumbles, and recorded 78 tackles. His hitting ability is unique, but Elam is also a very good cover safety displaying great instincts and anticipation while covering the defensive backfield. Lions defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham would love a guy like Elam in his defense. The only reason he sits behind Vaccaro is because Vaccaro is more of a play maker- something the Lions defense needs a lot more of.
*Dark Horse prospect- Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M – A left tackle to the Lions? The Lions used their 2012 first round pick on left tackle Riley Reiff, who can play either tackle position, but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t take someone like Joeckel if they decided to sit at five. Yes a pass rusher would make much more sense with the fifth pick, but the Lions offensive line may look completely different next season with possible departures of Stephen Peterman and Gosder Cherilus. If the Lions don’t feel comfortable handing the reins to Jason Fox and Dylan Gandy then they may very well select Joeckel, who would solidify their tackle positions for the next decade. After all, protecting Matthew Stafford is a must, especially with NFC North competition which features pass rushers, Julius Peppers, Clay Matthews, and Jared Allen.
The theme for the Lions heading into the off season will be acquiring more playmakers on the defensive side of the ball, particularly in the secondary, which became a revolving door of players in 2012. That’s why this board features four defensive players, three of which reside in the secondary.