February 22, 2014 at 1:52 pm

Lions like LaAdrian Waddle but won't rule out upgrading at right tackle

Jake Matthews is ranked No. 3 on the Big Board compiled by ESPN's Mel Kiper, draft expert. (Bob Levey / Associated Press)

Indianapolis — The debate over drafting for need or taking the best player available arises every spring in the NFL.

Even though the Lions have glaring holes at wide receiver and safety, general manager Martin Mayhew said he’ll look for the most talented players he can find in the draft.

“The most important thing we need, from a talent standpoint, is guys that can play football,” Mayhew said Friday over breakfast with local beat reporters. “It doesn't matter what position they play. That's the way I look at it.”

Cornerback could be a priority based on the overall performance of last year's group, but Mayhew said he's confident veteran Chris Houston can bounce back. Darius Slay, a second-round pick last year, should continue to develop, and Bill Bentley, a third-round pick in 2012, played well as the nickel cornerback.

One position that hasn’t been discussed as a position of need for the Lions is offensive tackle because they had one of the league’s top offensive lines last season -- thanks to the development of 2012 first-round pick Riley Reiff at left tackle and 2013 undrafted free agent LaAdrian Waddle at right tackle.

The Lions coveted the top tackles in last year’s draft, but after Eric Fisher, Luke Joeckel and Lane Johnson were among the first four picks, the Lions used the No. 5 pick on defensive end Ziggy Ansah, who led all rookies with eight sacks.

Mayhew said he’d feel confident if the Lions went into the season with Waddle or veteran Corey Hilliard as the starter at right tackle, but didn’t rule out looking for someone better.

“Both of those guys are quality players on our offensive line, and we wouldn't shy away at all from putting those guys on the field,” he said. “I feel comfortable with those guys out there, but by the same token, if you can upgrade that position, I think you have to look into that.”

Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews, Auburn’s Greg Robinson and Michigan’s Taylor Lewan are considered the top offensive tackle prospects this year, and if one fell to the No. 10 pick in May, it could be tough for the Lions to pass.

Another area the Lions could upgrade is the defensive line after a season in which they ranked 28th in the league with just 33 sacks, but Mayhew said he likes the front seven and doesn’t think a pass rusher is a “screaming need.”

“I think if we do a better job in the coverage area, we’ll get more sacks,” he said during his NFL combine news conference Friday. “Blitzing may be a factor there to get more sacks, but I don’t see it being a situation where we need to desperately add a pass rusher to our defensive line group.”

Mayhew said the Lions, who finished 7-9 last season, weren’t talented enough to accomplish their goals, and the entire team needs to improve.

“The other thing we need to do is to play as a team,” he said. “That's more important than any individual player — play consistent football. Our top players have to play like they’re our top players, and our role players have to play their roles. All those things are as important as whoever the next player is.”

jkatzenstein@detroitnews.com

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