Lions general manager Martin Mayhew could take an offensive tackle in the first round of the NFL draft next week, but he’d like to take someone who will be around for 10 years (Daniel Mears/Detroit News)
Allen Park — With the first pick in this year's NFL draft, the Detroit Lions select … no one.
That much you can bank on, as Lions general manager Martin Mayhew took time out of his predraft news conference Thursday to mock one mock draft idea — the one posed by ESPN's Mel Kiper — that the team should trade up to No. 1 to select Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner.
"Not gonna happen," Mayhew said, not that anybody really believed that it might.
Beyond that, though, Mayhew — in keeping with his annual tradition — wasn't offering much insight into his team's plans for next week's draft. In fact, he began fielding questions by refusing to even acknowledge what everyone knows: The Lions could desperately use a starter at offensive tackle and defensive end.
Still, I think it's a safe bet that, if the Lions are indeed making the pick at No. 5 — and not trading down — there's a good chance the selection will be a ... safe bet. And probably one that weighs 300 pounds.
"At the top, I think that's really important," Mayhew said Thursday when asked about balancing the need for a boom with the fear of a bust when drafting in the top 10 — an all-too-familiar spot for the Lions the last decade. "Certainly, you want guys with that high ceiling. But it's also important to make sure you're getting a solid player that you can have around for a long time.
"It may not be the best place to swing for the fence. You might not want to be Dave Kingman at five. You'd rather just get on base, if you know what I mean."
I think I know what that means. I think it means he's spent too much time listening to Jim Schwartz's baseball analogies, for one thing. I think it also means this draft's top-rated defensive ends that are long on talent and short on experience — Oregon's Dion Jordan and BYU's Ziggy Ansah — probably aren't the pick at No. 5.
More likely, the Lions are looking at one of the offensive tackles: Texas A&M's Luke Joeckel, Central Michigan's Eric Fisher and Oklahoma's Lane Johnson. And probably in that order, though as NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock put it, "If Lane Johnson is sitting there at 5, I don't think you should be disappointed that Joeckel or Fisher isn't." And as for the other two, he adds, "You kidding me? You take them in a heartbeat."
If you do, you shift last year's first-round pick, Riley Reiff, to right guard — a move I was advocating last October — and let Corey Hilliard and Jason Fox battle for the starting job at right tackle. And suddenly, you've got the foundation of a young offensive line to grow with Matthew Stafford and all that skill-position talent you've surrounded him with the last few years.
Plenty of options
Of those prospects, Joeckel has the better track record, Fisher surged to the top of most draft boards this winter and Johnson's the most athletic with arguably the most potential. But really the only question is whether two — or maybe all three — will be gone by the time the Lions are on the clock.
If not, Mayhew could have options to get creative. Might one of those tackles entice a team to trade up with the Lions? Maybe the Cardinals sitting at No. 7, or even the Dolphins at No. 12 if they can't pull off a trade with the Chiefs for Branden Albert? In that scenario, Mayhew could add a pick or two and still fill a void with the likes of guards Chance Warmack (Alabama) and Jonathan Cooper (North Carolina) or Milliner or possibly one of those aforementioned pass rushers.
Because about the only thing everyone seems to agree on in this draft is that it's lacking can't-miss, impact players "that change your franchise," Mayhew said. Instead, "You have a bunch of good, quality players," he said. And while the draft might be deep in Day 2 talent, Mayhew also admits, "We didn't give as many first-round grades this year as we normally give."
New faces in charge
That's one reason the mock drafts are all over the board when it comes to projecting how the dominos will fall next week. Another is that there's a bunch of new voices calling the shots — five new general managers and six new coaches among the top 10 teams in the draft order.
All the more reason, then, to pick up the phone to explore the possibilities. Which, incidentally, is what Mayhew said he started to do Wednesday, contacting "a few" teams to start getting a feel for the trade market. There'll be plenty more calls before, during and after the draft, because the Lions have plenty yet to do.
They eased some of the concerns about their secondary with a strong, selective start to free agency. And while Milliner still makes plenty of sense, Mayhew's rave review sounded more like posturing than a premonition. Ditto his comments about drafting a guard at No. 5. ("If ever there was a time for a guard to go early it would be this year," he said.)
And as for the pass rush? Well, all the angst is understandable, given the current roster. But I do think there's ample opportunity to add a starting-caliber pass rusher on Day 2 of the draft, and in a cut-rate free agent market or via trade. (The Eagles, for example, could be shopping defensive linemen that interest the Lions.)
All of which leads me back to the same, "safe" conclusion about what Mayhew intends to do next week. Even if he's laughing as he reads this, which he promised to do.
"I never laugh," Mayhew corrected. "I just read."