The One Player The Lions Must Take With The Tenth Overall Pick
By Scott McMahon
“With the 10th pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, the Detroit Lions select…”
I don’t want to say there’s a right answer here, but there isn’t much of a reason why the Lions shouldn’t take one particular cornerback with their first round pick.
Some may argue that drafting a wide receiver to play opposite Calvin Johnson would complete the Lions’ offense and fill a hole that presented itself when Nate Burleson went down earlier this year. There is certainly merit to that viewpoint—the wide receiver talent is pretty good in this upcoming draft, and adding a complement to Megatron would give the Lions one of the top offenses in the league on paper.
But is another wide receiver what the Lions need most? Frankly, no. The Lions offense is strong enough as it is to use a top 10 pick on a wide receiver. As much as I would love to take a Sammy Watkins or a Mike Evans, there was one glaring hole that I touched upon probably too much during this past season—the secondary.
It didn’t take John Madden’s commentary to notice that the Lions secondary was the weakest part of the team in 2013. They showed signs of improvement from 2012 with newcomers Glover Quin and Darius Slay, but still lack the impact shutdown player to take the unit to the next level.
So when Roger Goodell calls the Lions’ 10th overall in May, it had better be cornerback Darqueze Dennard of Michigan State.
Dennard is easily the best cornerback in the draft, even more so now that Oregon CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu has decided to stay in school for his senior season. The 2013 Thorpe Award winner as the nation’s top defensive back is aggressive, confident, and most importantly, experienced in handling receivers one-on-one. Michigan State head coach Mike Dantonio has made it a habit of leaving his top corners on their own islands without much safety or linebacker help, which didn’t prove to be an issue for the #3 passing defense in the country last year.
If Dennard and Slay can both mature and progress at a healthy rate, the Lions could have one of the best secondaries in the league in just a couple of years. Slay already has a year under his belt and a full offseason to prepare for 2014, and Dennard appears to be a plug-and-play cornerback out of the gate. With the kind of potential and talent that Lions coaches have likely seen more closely than most other corners—MSU’s campus is just 90 minutes away from Detroit—I really think Dennard would be a slam dunk pick at #10.
Grab Dennard at #10 and then focus on nabbing a solid wideout in the second round. Watkins and Evans will most likely be off the board by the time the Lions pick next, but the crop of receivers is good enough that impact players will still be available. I would be shocked but ecstatic to see Vanderbilt’s Jordan Matthews on the board at pick #42—Matthews set SEC records for catches (107) and yards (1,334) as a senior this year, and has clearly shown the ability to shine against above-average defenses. His 6-3, 205 pound frame also makes him a threat in the red zone, and another target for Matthew Stafford opposite Megatron down low.
Other receivers that could fall down to the Lions in the second round are Brandin Cooks of Oregon State, and a pair of LSU receivers: Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry. Davante Adams of Fresno State offers a Matthews-esque frame if the Lions want to go big with their wide receiver—Adams stands 6-2, 216 pounds and caught an amazing 24 touchdowns in 2013.
Outside of the two pressing needs of a shutdown corner and a big wide receiver, it wouldn’t hurt the Lions to add to their depth at several positions. Larry Warford and LaAdrian Waddle played exceptionally well as rookies last year, but adding another lineman in the middle rounds would give the Lions a little bit more flexibility in the case of injuries. Adding an outside linebacker to an already strong corps of Stephen Tulloch, Ashlee Palmer, and Pro Bowl snub DeAndre Levy would give the Lions another option and a good project to develop. Shore up the secondary with a couple more corners and safeties and the Lions have themselves a solid 2014 NFL Draft.
The temptation will be there—Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans, outside linebacker C.J. Mosley, just to name a few—but GM Martin Mayhew and the new coaching staff need to recognize their biggest need and plug it with a proven winner. Darqueze Dennard has everything that the Lions need, and should be a no-brainer come May for the 10th overall pick.