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Thursday, September 18, 2014
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Published: Monday, 5/5/2014

SPORTS COMMENTARY

Lions don’t need another wide receiver

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST

Conventional thinking — notice I didn’t say wisdom — endorsed by many NFL draft and scouting experts is that the Detroit Lions should take a wide receiver with the 10th pick in Thursday night’s first round.

Some have even suggested the Lions should trade up and shoot for Clemson’s Sammy Watkins, the consensus No. 1 receiver. Others think that if the Lions stand fast at No. 10, Texas A&M standout receiver Mike Evans might fall into their lap. Maybe a good move would be to trade down a few spots in this receiver-deep draft, pick up an extra pick in the second or third round and snag Odell Beckham of LSU.

When a team has a Calvin Johnson and has signed Golden Tate as a free agent, adding an Evans or a Beckham to help stretch the field, take pressure off Megatron, and give quarterback Matthew Stafford another option would figure to be more a luxury than a necessity.

Mike Mayock of the NFL Network cautions against any trade up that would cost the Lions a high-round pick or, perhaps, even next year’s No. 1 to get Watkins.

But if Evans falls to No. 10, he said, “I would take Mike Evans in a heartbeat without having to give up another pick.”

It’s an interesting thought. I just don’t get it.

Evans Evans
ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge

The Lions trailed only Denver and New Orleans in the 2013 passing stats, averaging 280 yards per game. With help from Reggie Bush and a respectable rushing game, they were sixth overall in total offense at 392.1 yards.

But all the Lions could parley that into was a silly number of close, soul-sucking losses, a 7-9 record, and a missed opportunity in the wide-open NFC North that cost coach Jim Schwartz his job. A 9-7 record would have scripted a whole different story line, perhaps, which illustrates just how close the Lions might be.

But are they one more wide receiver close?

Maybe last year’s results reflected more of a need on defense, where the Lions ranked No. 23 against the pass, allowing 246.9 yards per game.

Wouldn’t the Lions be better served to choose the best cornerback available or a high-upside pass rusher like outside linebacker Anthony Barr of UCLA?

Mel Kiper, Jr., the ESPN draft guru, agrees that cornerback and safety are the Lions’ greatest needs, but his sense is that the group at corner lacks an elite player who projects into the top 10.

Well, not if you need one badly enough and want to assure getting the best available.

The best at cornerback is Justin Gilbert of Oklahoma State and either he and/​or Barr figure to still be on the board when the Lions go on the clock.

If the Lions insist on drafting offense and Evans slips past Tampa Bay and Buffalo (Nos. 7 and 9, respectively), I imagine they will go that route.

If not and if offense is still the choice, there is the safe pick of Zack Martin, a lineman from Notre Dame, and the riskier choice of North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron, a risk only as a value pick at No. 10. He is also a capable receiver, although not a field-stretcher.

The Lions return all five of their starters on the offensive line, but there are serious concerns with guard Rob Sims’ health as he enters the final year of his contract. Plus, center Dominic Raiola is 35 and on a shorter leash these days.

Mayock says Martin is the only player capable of handling any or all of five O-line positions and projects as the best guard or center in the draft. Ebron might be a reach at No. 10; Martin is not.

Gilbert, Barr, or Martin seem to be the wisest choices for Detroit, which can go deeper into the draft to find additional help at receiver.

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.



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