March 1, 2014 at 6:17 pm

Josh Katzenstein

Lions need to win now but must consider future with first-round pick

Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson is rated the No. 2 player on the latest Big Board by ESPN's Mel Kiper, draft expert. (Kevin C. Cox / Getty Images)

Lions general manager Martin Mayhew has taken a lineman in the first round of every draft since 2010, three on defense and one on offense.

Even though the Lions are desperate for help at wide receiver and safety, thereís no reason to think Mayhew will absolutely buck that trend this May because the team will likely have long-term needs on both lines.

And despite the Lions being in win-now mode, the goal of the first round should never be to fill a short-term need. Thatís what free agency is for, and with the NFL salary cap projected to increase to $133 million for 2014, the Lions should be able to find help at wide receiver and safety before the draft.

Cornerback, meanwhile, is still less of a need because the Lions are confident in Chris Houston and Darius Slay, regardless of how they played in 2013, and few top-10 cornerbacks provide the necessary return on investment.

I think Texas A&M wide receiver Mike Evans would be the Lionsí best choice in terms of both talent and need, regardless of what happens in free agency. Evans is 6-foot-5 and 231 pounds, ran a 4.53-second 40-yard dash at the combine and posted a 37-inch vertical. He would give quarterback Matthew Stafford another big man who could catch off-target throws and provide the Lions a one-two receiver punch similar to that of Chicagoís Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, which in turn would help the running game.

However, after Evansí performance at the combine, I donít think heíll be available at No. 10, and mock drafts are starting to project him in the top nine. ESPNís Mel Kiper Jr. now has Evans rated No. 6 on his Big Board, and it will be tough for teams to pass on someone with that size and athleticism.

So with that in mind, letís talk about continuing to build the trenches.

Chain reaction?

Last week at the combine I asked Mayhew about the possibility of upgrading at right tackle. He said heís confident in LaAdrian Waddle and Corey Hilliard, but would consider upgrading the position if possible.

Naturally, after a season in which the Lionsí offensive line was among the best in the league, the story that followed was met with contempt. Regardless of popular opinion, I think there's a good chance the Lions would take an offensive tackle with the 10th pick if Jake Matthews of Texas A&M, Greg Robinson of Auburn or Michiganís Taylor Lewan is available, and I think it would be a great choice.

Forgive me for thinking something that gives Stafford more time to find Johnson downfield would be a shrewd move.

Last year it was no secret that the Lions wanted one of the top offensive tackles in the draft. But when Central Michiganís Eric Fisher, Texas A&Mís Luke Joeckel and Oklahomaís Lane Johnson went in the first four picks, the Lions settled for BYU defensive end Ziggy Ansah at No. 5. (Mayhew said Ansah was third on the Lionsí draft board, so, yes, they settled.)

And just because Riley Reiff, a 2012 first-round pick, was solid at left tackle last year and Waddle, an undrafted free agent in 2013, played above-average in eight starts, doesnít mean the Lionsí desire for a franchise left tackle has diminished in the past year.

The Lions offensive line allowed just 23 sacks last season, second-best in the NFL, but the run blocking was downright average. The Lions ranked 14th in rushing attempts (445) but 17th in rushing yards per game (112) and 22nd in yards per carry (4.0).

Drafting one of the top offensive tackles could cause a chain reaction that moves Reiff to a different position, either right tackle or left guard. If that happened, left guard Rob Sims could have to fight for his starting job, but heís set to become a free agent in 2015. Waddle and Hilliard, meanwhile, would give the Lions great depth at tackle.

Fortunately, itís not my job to make sure the pieces fit.

Defensive line, anyone?

I also wouldnít be surprised if the Lions grabbed another defensive tackle in the first two rounds. While Ndamukong Suhís potential contract extension has dominated headlines, Mayhew has been non-committal about the possibility of picking up the 2015 option on fellow defensive tackle Nick Fairley.

If 2014 is the last season for either Suh or Fairley in Detroit, the Lions would be much better prepared for the future at defensive tackle if they had Florida Stateís Timmy Jernigan or Pittsburghís Aaron Donald, though they might be able to trade down for either of them.

Edge players like Khalil Mack of Buffalo, who probably wonít make it to No. 10, or Anthony Barr of UCLA would help, too, but Mayhew dismissed the idea of searching for a pass rusher this offseason.

North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron might be better than Brandon Pettigrew, but Mayhew said he wants to bring Pettigrew back.

My point, whether you agree or not, is this: Donít be surprised by whichever direction the Lions go with their first-round pick, because even though they had some clear positions of strength in 2013, thereís no telling if those will continue to be strengths in 2014 and beyond.

jkatzenstein@detroitnews.com

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