The Detroit Lions haven't gotten to the point where it can simply draft the best player available. That's the reward for drafting well; you don't have massive holes to fill down the road.
Like every year, the Lions have massive holes to fill.
Positions of need, ranked in order:
1) Linebacker: A starting trio of Paris Lenon, Ernie Sims and Alex Lewis simply will not do in the NFL. Sims is great, but past that the rest is simply "meh". Lenon lacks burst. He defends the run fairly well, but isn't the free-ranging MLB the Cover 2 needs. Lewis simply can't be counted on. He's always hurt, and has been inconsistent when he does play. After those three, you've got reclamation projects in buster high picks Alfred Fincher, Buster Davis and Gilbert Gardner, plus Anthony Cannon. There is potential in this group, but Rod Marinelli is all about production, and aside from Sims, none of these guys have consistently gotten it done on the NFL level.
Picks: Penn State MLB Dan Connor would be a reach in the first round, so the Lions may have to wait to address their biggest need until the second round, unless they trade down. Jerod Mayo could be the pick if the Lions stay at No. 15. Curtis Lofton would have to fall to reach Detroit's current pick in the second, but Shawn Crable could be there in the second or third.
2) Defensive line: As it sits right now, your starting front four for the Honolulu Blue and Silver woudl be DeWayne White and Ikaika Alama-Francis at end and Corey Redding and Chuck Darby at tackle. IAF clearly has the potential to start in the NFL, but is he ready? Not quite yet. Darby is a solid vet, but counting on a 32-year-old injury-prone journeyman to start is risky, even if you know him well. The backups at end are Corey Smith and Jared DeVries, with Shaun Cody and Langston Moore at DT. A decent group, but not standout. And the Cover 2 needs a consistent push from the front four. Will Langston Moore and Darby provide that push up the middle? Will Cody ever live up to his draft status? This unit needs at least one more body who WILL get to the quarterback. Not just somebody who has potential.
Picks: Detroit could benefit from DE Quentin Groves' falling stock and move around in the second to get him.
3) Offensive line: Shocking, I know. The Lions haven't drafted an offensive lineman in the first round since Jeff Backus. And that turned out well. The team has an above-average left tackle being paid like one of the best in the game. The time has come for Millen to address the line with something other than band-aids and invest in the trenches. See what Bill Parcells is doing in Miami? He knows what he's doing, Matt. You build a team from the lines out, not around wide receivers and quarterbacks. Edwin Mulitalo isn't getting any younger and George Foster isn't getting any smarter. The Lions' line got Kitna nearly killed last year, and the biggest off-season addition is a guy who wasn't even in the league last year? C'mon. Detroit must pick a lineman in the first three rounds.
Picks: With their multiple third-round picks, the Lions could go for Kansas OT Anthony Collins, Nebraska OT Carl Nicks or Oregon State OG Roy Shuening or Pitt OG Mike McGlynn. Shuening and McGlynn are maulers that Marinelli will love.
4) Runningback: All the Mendenhall talk is rediculous. Put together a line first, and any semi-decent RB can run for 1,000 yards. In a draft deep at RB, there's absolutely no need to go after one in the first two rounds. on the other hand, nobody is impressed by a RB committee of Tatum Bell, oft-injured Brian Calhoun and Aveion Cason, either. Detroit will have to pick one, but it shouldn't be too early.
5) Special teams: Even when the Lions were God-awful, they could rest their hats on their special teams. Guys like Mel Gray, Desmond Howard and Eddie Drummond at least gave them a shot at staying in a game they otherwise didn't deserve to be in. This current Detroit Lions group could use that luxury of a big-play threat on special teams, as well as some improved blocking and coverage. Detroit's special teams have slipped dramatically over the past couple years. Look for a wide receiver or cornerback with exceptional return skills to be taken in the middle or late rounds.
6) Tight End: Look for Detroit to draft a TE in the later rounds. They've been searching for a solid TE for years, and when they found one in Dan Campbell, he suddenly gets hurt. Campbell's injury status makes him a guy you can't cound on it 2008-09. Anything he adds is gravy. That makes it Michael Gaines, Casey FitzSimmons guys like Sean McHugh and journeyman blocker John Owens. When they draft a TE, it'll be a big one, like Tennessee's Brad Cottom (6-7, 277; if they go TE in 3rd round), Toledo's Chris Hopkins (6-5, 273; 5th-6th rounds), West Texas A&M's Kolo Kapanui (6-3, 271; 7th round) or SE Missouri State's Joe Tuineau (6-7, 288; free agent) to aid in the power running game that Marinelli wants.
Pick: If Cottom is there in the fourth round, Detroit should snap him up.
7) Quarterback: Don't let the re-signing of Dan Orlovsky fool anybody into thinking the Lions wouldn't look at another QB. With Jon Kitna getting up there and Drew Stanton showing once again that he can't healthy, if a QB slips into the middle rounds the draft, don't be surprised if the Lions bite. Orlovsky is on a one-year deal, so letting him go doesn't cost Detroit a thing.
8) Defensive secondary: Miraculously, this now seems to be the strength of this year's Lions defense. Don't rejoice quite yet. The other units could stink if not addressed, so it's by default. But the addition of Leigh Bodden and Brian Kelly at corner and Dwight Smith at safety give the Lions not only depth, but flexibility at those positions. With D. Smith, Gerald Alexander and Daniel Bullocks, the Lions have three safeties they can count on to cover tight ends and backs out of the backfield; something Kenoy Kennedy couldn't be counted on for. And with depth at CB in the likes of Travis Fisher, Stanley Wilson and Keith Smith and at safety in Greg Blue, the unit looks solid on paper. But don't rule out a CB selection yet. If the right someone falls, Marinelli could be hard-pressed to turn down a CB in the second round.
9) Wide Receiver: The one position that is fairly settled, aside from all the trade rumors surrounding Roy Williams and Shaun McDonald. Going to a more run-based offense makes a well-paid fourth WR a luxury the Lions don't need, so McDonald could be an ex-Lion by the weekend. I doubt Roy is going anywhere. If the Lions can get some draft picks to actually pan out so they don't carry so much dead cap space, then paying him what he's worth isn't going to be a problem. The cap is only going up, so the space will be there. Detroit might take a flier on a WR late, but likely only if he has return capabilities.
Round, player, position, college
1) Jerod Mayo, ILB, Tennessee
2) Quentin Groves, DE, Auburn
3a) Matt Forte, RB, Tulane
3b) Carl Nicks, OT, Nebraska or Anthony Collins, OT, Kansas
4) Brad Cottom, TE, Tennessee
5) Dexter Jackson, WR/KR, Appalachian State
6) Gary Guyton, OLB, Georgia Tech
7) Jason Shirley, DT, Fresno State