Smith or Prince? Lions Face Pre-Draft Dilemma

On the field, though, most scouts believe Colorado Jimmy Smith is the greater talent and the riskier pick between him and Nebraska's Prince Amukamara. Will the Lions, in desperate need of an elite-level corner, take that risk?

Prince Amukamara or Jimmy Smith?

Draftniks have been debating the relative value of those two cornerback prospects for weeks now. The Lions have no doubt been having the same debate internally.

There is an outside chance Amukamara, from Nebraska, will fall to them at No. 13. Smith, from Colorado, is almost certainly to be available for the Lions. Amukamara has graded out higher than Smith on most draft boards mainly because of citizenship. There are no character issues with Amukamara, no failed drug tests or arrests for minors in possession.

Smith can't say the same.

On the field, though, most scouts believe Smith is the greater talent and the riskier pick. Will the Lions, in desperate need of an elite-level corner, take that risk?

"It's really tricky right now," said ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper, Jr. "I pushed (Amukamara) to No. 13 because I kept hearing Dallas was going to take an offensive lineman. St. Louis could trade up to No. 9 (Dallas) to get (receiver) Julio Jones, but that wouldn't impact the cornerback position.

"Jimmy Smith is the hot guy right now. He's moved up because the character issues and the off-the-field stuff isn't as big a deal as people thought it was. He's a top-10 talent and his improvement helps the Lions out a little bit. If they want to move down a little bit and look at Jimmy Smith they probably could because the teams picking after them don't really need a corner."

Kiper went further, saying he thought Smith would be a good choice even at No. 13.

"The teams I've spoken to feel very comfortable about Jimmy Smith," Kiper said. "If you are looking at talent, he's a top-10 guy. If the top teams in the league would take a player, and he's got great talent, it's not a stretch. If Philadelphia is looking at Jimmy Smith and Baltimore is looking at Jimmy Smith, then why shouldn't Detroit?

"Sometimes we look too much into value. Value now is based on team's own preferences. How they value a player. If they feel like they've done all their work on him and they're comfortable, then why not? Talent-wise, it's a no-brainer."

The Lions seem to agree with that. General manager Martin Mayhew spent some time with Smith during a pre-draft visit and he came away impressed.

"I am glad I met with him," Mayhew said during the NFL league meetings last month. "I feel better about him. He was a guy who made some mistakes but who seems to now realize the mistakes that he made. He's a young guy who's very talented. He has a really good skill level, good size and speed and if you look at our corners, we don't have that.

"He's an interesting guy. I have a better feel for him as a person now than before he came in."

Smith's measurables are eye-popping. He's 6-2 1/4, 211 pounds, and he ran a 4.37 at the Combine. He has a long reach (77 inches) and thrives on playing physical, press coverage.

But, Smith failed four drug tests at Colorado. He was busted for minor in possession. His intensity and work ethic were criticized. He raised more flags when he showed up seemingly out of shape at his Pro Day workout.

Mayhew hasn't taken many draft-day risks in his first two seasons. This might be the time to make one.

Leveraging The Draft

Mayhew is loathe to give away his intentions, but his mission in this draft is clear. One way or another, he's going to come away with a cornerback, an offensive tackle, a defensive end, a running back and perhaps an outside linebacker.

That may seem a bit backward since the team's most pressing need is outside linebacker, but the talent pool is uncommonly shallow at that position this year and Mayhew isn't going to reach.

"We will not suspend common sense, but we will take the best player," Mayhew said. "We could go a lot of different places with that (13th) pick."

The Lions caught a break when their appeal of a tampering charge was partially upheld last month. As a result, their seventh-round pick has been reinstated for this draft. The pick, which the Lions acquired from the Denver Broncos, will be the 202nd pick and will give them a total of six.

The Lions still have to swap fourth-round picks with Kansas City - dropping from nine to 23 in that round.

They don't have much leverage to move up in the draft, but they very well could trade down to pick up more picks. With so many quality offensive and defensive linemen available, and so few elite-level linebackers and cornerbacks, it would make sense for the Lions to move down and gain additional picks.

"Certainly it is more of a challenge to pick at 13 than it was to pick at one or two," Mayhew said. "But we think we had a great pick at 20 in 2009 with Brandon Pettigrew. And we think we had a pretty good pick at 30 last year with Jahvid Best. So from my perspective, there will be a great player at 13. We just have to identify and draft that player."

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