February 18, 2014 at 7:02 pm

NFL Network analyst: Lions would do well to draft safety with No. 10 pick

Safeties Ha Ha Clinton-Dix of Alabama, left, or Calvin Pryor of Louisville are two of the Lions' best safety prospects who figure to be available at the No. 10 pick, according to NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock. (Andy Lyons / Getty Images)

Allen Park — NFL Network draft expert Mike Mayock presented a plausible theory on what the Lions could face when they are on the clock with the 10th pick come May 8.

The Lions are rebuilding their receiver group, but Mayock believes the only receiver prospect worthy of a top 10 pick is Clemson’s Sammy Watkins, and he is likely to be long gone.

Of the second- and third-best receiver prospects — Marqise Lee of USC and Mike Evans of Texas A&M — Mayock said, “I would have trouble saying they would go in the top 10, but I think both of those guys are going to go 11 through 20.”

So where does that leave the Lions at 10? With a choice between two NFL-ready safeties — Calvin Pryor from Louisville or Ha Ha Clinton-Dix from Alabama.

“With both of those guys, I wouldn’t even blink if they went at 10,” Mayock said. “But it depends on what flavor you are looking for.”

From the way Mayock described the skill sets of both players, Clinton-Dix might better fit the Lions’ profile. Having released Louis Delmas last week, the team needs a safety who has some range in pass coverage.

“Calvin Pryor to me is like a bigger and stronger Bob Sanders,” said Mayock, referencing the former Colts All-Pro. “He flies around and hits people. He just explodes everywhere. I think he’s a little better in the box than at the back end, but that might just be the way Louisville used him.”

The Lions already have a solid, in-the-box safety in Glover Quin. They have a more pressing need for a free safety.

“Clinton-Dix has better range,” Mayock said. “He’s more of a deep pass guy. He tackles well. He can invert up into the box. He’s a complete player.”

The Lions didn’t have a rangy, ball-hawking free safety last season. Both Delmas and Quin are better suited to be strong safeties — though the Lions the last five seasons didn’t use the designations “free” and “strong.”

With a speedier, rangier cover safety, the Lions could have a setup at the back end of their defense that is similar, philosophically, to Seattle’s.

“Because we’ve become a pass-first league, teams are looking for free safeties with range, who can drop down and cover the slot without having to go to a nickel back,” said Mayock, who played safety in the NFL. “I used to think you had to have two safeties that were interchangeable, but what Seattle has done, they’ve said, ‘We’re going to keep Earl Thomas deep because he’s got great range and ball skills and we’re going to use our 6-3, 230-pound Kam Chancellor as a linebacker with safety speed as an enforcer. It’s two distinct roles.

“Teams are trying to figure out the best way to play their safeties, and more and more teams are going to use (Seattle) as a blueprint.”

Of course, Mayock wasn’t married to the idea of the Lions taking a safety with the 10th pick. He also said Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard would be a smart pick, as long as he ran the 40 yard dash in 4.45 or better.

Mayock also said the depth at wide receiver in this draft was a impressive as he’s seen, and he believes the Lions could get productive players at that position in the second and third rounds.

“This is the deepest and best draft class I’ve seen in 10 years and that’s been reinforced by general managers and scouts I’ve talked to throughout the league,” Mayock said. “I had one GM tell me that having a top 20 pick this year is similar to having a top 10 pick last year.”

The NFL scouting combine begins Thursday in Indianapolis.

chris.mccosky@detroitnews.com
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