(Independent scout and draft expert Josh Liskiewitz will contribute regularly to RoarReport.com in the days, weeks and months leading up to the annual NFL draft. To determine Josh's street cred, check his bio beneath the article -- Thanks, Ed.)
Jim Schwartz completely overhauled the defensive line last offseason, and this unit quickly became the identity of the defense. Pro Bowl rookie Ndamukong Suh and veteran tempo setter Kyle Vanden Bosch may have gotten the bulk of the headlines, but it was the ability to rotate players such as DT Corey Williams, DT Sammie Lee Hill, DE Cliff Avril, DE Turk McBride and DE Lawrence Jackson that made it such a formidable unit.
The team recorded 44 sacks in 2010, a quantum leap from 26 the year before.
Despite their production, they need to improve against the run and still lack a truly elite edge rusher. This brings DE into play with their first pick, and while they almost certainly won't get a shot at Clemson standout Da'Quan Bowers, with some luck they could get a shot at some other top level talents at the position, including Cal's Cameron Jordan, North Carolina's Robert Quinn, and the hot name this winter, Pitt's Jabaal Sheard.
If the Lions look elsewhere in the first round, don't expect much turnover with this unit. They could look to find another 3-technique defensive tackle late in the draft to back up soon-to-be 31 year old Corey Williams, but they will most likely be satisfied with the young talent they have at DE, and in particular will look to continue to develop promising rookie Willie Young.
Weeks 16 and 17 brought some level of hope that the Lions may at least have depth players at OLB heading into 2011 with the play of Ashlee Palmer and Bobby Carpenter. Jordan Dizon and possibly Caleb Campbell are worth mentioning this well, but none of these four will ever be true NFL starters. DeAndre Levy is clearly the man going forward at MIKE (middle linebacker), but Julian Peterson exits and consequently both starting OLB positions need to be filled in the off-season.
Unfortunately for Detroit, because of North Carolina standout Bruce Carter's recent knee surgery, there isn't a legitimate 4-3 OLB option at pick #13. Wishful thinkers may suggest that Carter could still be available when Detroit picks in round 2, but realistically Detroit will be expecting to look at someone like the undersized Ross Homan from Ohio State.
Because of the lack of draftable talent at the position this year, expect Detroit to fill at least one of the positions with a veteran free agent. Possible available household names include Minnesota's Chad Greenway, Buffalo's Paul Posluszny, and Jacksonville's Justin Durant.
While this unit made surprising strides in 2010, it will still be a point of emphasis in both free agency and the draft. Chris Houston put together one of the most complete seasons at CB in recent Lions history, and was rarely tested by opposing offenses. Priority #1 will be resigning him, as he is scheduled to be a free agent. Alphonso Smith also proved to be a solid pickup, and while Tom Brady exposed his tendency to freelance, going forward he is at least a solid nickel back and spot starter.
Patrick Peterson is a highly touted talent that might not last to pick No. 13.
The top of the 2011 draft is rich with CB talent. In particular, the scouting department will be paying particular attention to LSU's Patrick Peterson, Colorado's Jimmy Smith, and Nebraska's Prince Amukamara. There will be much debate in the days leading up to the draft as to whether any of these three will still be available at #13, but if any of them do fall to Detroit expect this to be the direction the team goes with its first pick.
Louis Delmas is an emerging star at free safety, but neither C.C. Brown nor 2010 rookie Amari Spievey exude confidence at strong safety. Unfortunately, this is a very weak draft class at safety, outside of possibly Prince Amukamara, who some scouts suggest shares similarities with Malcolm Jenkins and may need to make a similar position change. Look for Detroit to pick up another option at safety thru free agency; options include Baltimore's Haruki Nakamura, Indy's Melvin Bullitt, and New England's Jarrad Page.
Josh Liskiewitz has been an independent scout for four years, the last two with GM Jr as a college scout. He is a self professed "film junkie," watching upwards of 50 hours of film per week year round on hundreds of NFL prospects. He credits Russ Lande, former NFL scout and founder and president of GM Jr Scouting LLC, with aiding in the development of his foundation in scouting and unique perspective on football.