It’s Friday and you know what that means. It’s time for my 2013 NFL draft wish list.
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. Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M – Joeckel solidified his status as the best tackle in the draft with his play in the Cotton Bowl where his aggies thrashed OU 41-13 and has made a jump from my dark horse prospect to the number five player on my list. Joeckel held defenders at bay all day and gave Johnny Manziel the time he needed make his dynamic plays whether it be through the air or on the run. Tackles that can create time for their quarterbacks like Joeckel tend to have long careers in the NFL. After watching Joeckel dominate the line of scrimmage, I thought to myself what could have been for Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson. Last season Safford repeatedly had to throw the ball too soon on routes that needed time to develope, which resulted in an incomplete pass and most of the time a punt. The Lions need more playmakers on both sides of the ball, but Joeckel could provide the time needed for Stafford to hook up with his receivers down the field. It’s also no secret that the Lions could use a lot of help in the run game. Joeckel has the size (6’6 310 lbs.) to make that happen.
The only reason Joeckel sits at the bottom of my top five is because of my lack of faith that the Lions will stay put with the fifth pick. After all, avoiding help in the secondary for a third consecutive draft could really hurt the Lions chances at improving their biggest weakness on the team. With that said, trading back and acquiring a top notch secondary player would give the Lions the player they need without having to reach and also would give the Lions an extra high round pick.
Given Martin Mayhew’s recent comments on Riley Reiff, and the potential departure of Gosder Cherilus, Joeckel and Reiff would make a formidable duo for the next decade.
Previous pick- Matt Elam, S, Florida
*Dark Horse Prospect- I believe the Lions should avoid defensive ends in the top half of this years draft. Not one has wowed me so far and there is a lot of talent in the back end of the first round and into the second to cover that type of player if the Lions chose to go that route, such as Margus Hunt. That’s why Te’o makes his first appearance on my list as a dark horse prospect. If scouts drafted based on resume (103 tackles, 7 INT) Te’o would be the first overall pick this year, unfortunately for Te’o that isn’t the case. While Te’o displays a high football I.Q and has impressive numbers, his lack of elite size (6’2, 255lbs) and athleticism makes me question whether he can be a star at the next level. For those of you wondering why Jarvis Jones isn’t my dark horse prospect based on my comments about Te’o's questionable athleticism, it’s because Jones’ past neck injury is a huge red flag for a team like the Lions who couldn’t manage to stay healthy on either side of the ball all season.
General Manager Martin Mayhew recently said there needs to be more leadership from his player players. After watching the impact on the field that Ray Lewis brings I have no question that Te’o's leadership will have an immediate impact on whatever team he falls to in April if he receives immediate playing time. If that team happens to be the Lions then they will benefit from it on defense.
Te’o won’t receive consideration for the fifth pick from me until I see how he tests at the combine, but if the Lions chose to go this route with their fifth pick they would receive a playmaker on defense which of course fits their biggest need. Te’o's most enticing attribute may be his cover ability. Whether he runs well at the combine or not, he should be able to capitalize on balls thrown his way. If his speed is NFL caliber he should be able to shut down opposing team’s tight ends which will help shut down the middle of the field for the Lions’ defense.
*Previous pick- Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M
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.