Zack Martin out of Notre Dame is a player who could make an immediate impact with the Lions. (David Zalubowski / Associated Press)
Allen Park — Let me paint you a picture:
It’s Thursday; the first round of the NFL draft is off and running. Jadeveon Clowney, Greg Robinson, Jake Matthews, Sammy Watkins, Khalil Mack, Taylor Lewan, Mike Evans and a couple of quarterbacks have gone off the board.
The Lions are on the clock. They’ve been unable to trade up or move back. They are making the 10th pick.
The top three cornerbacks are available. The third-best wide receiver is available. The second-best pass rusher and best defensive tackle are there. Also available is the fourth-best offensive lineman.
Because I am apparently a glutton for punishment and Twitter derision, I am going to argue the Lions might be best served in this scenario by taking the fourth-best offensive lineman — Zack Martin from Notre Dame.
I will wait for your chortling to subside. OK? Done? Good, now I will try to explain my rationale.
Draft depth a big factor
Because of the depth of this draft at the cornerback and receiver positions, the Lions can get similarly talented players in later rounds. Cornerbacks like Bradley Roby, LaMarcus Joyner, Jaylen Watkins and Jason Verrett, who project to be NFL starters just like the top three corners, could be available in the second and third rounds.
Projected starting-caliber receivers, to hear the draft experts talk, could be had throughout the draft and even into preferred free agency.
As for the pass rusher, Anthony Barr seems like too much of a one-dimensional player, and a developmental one at that, to take with the 10th overall pick. The defensive tackle, Aaron Donald, is an intriguing prospect, but unless the Lions feel like both Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley are playing their final years in Detroit, there is no urgency to take a defensive tackle.
Of all the players who would be available to the Lions in this scenario, the one they would be least likely to get in a later round is Martin. He started 52 games at Notre Dame, 50 of them at left tackle, but for the Lions, he would most likely play guard and possibly center.
NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said this week Martin is the only player in this draft who could start at any of the five offensive line positions.
“Even though I have him fourth as a tackle, he'd be my number one center or my number one guard,” Mayock said. “I think he's coming off the board somewhere between nine and 13. He's too good. He's too safe. There are too many offensive line needs out there. There are a bunch of teams that look at him and say he could start at right tackle Day 1; maybe we move him inside to guard or center the next year.”
Why, you ask, would the Lions use their first-round pick on an offensive lineman, regardless of his versatility, when they are returning all five starters from what was a very productive O-line last season?
With the additions of Riley Reiff at left tackle, Larry Warford at right guard and LaAdrian Waddle at right tackle, the Lions’ offensive line got significantly younger and more athletic in 2013. But center Dominic Raiola is 35 and has at most two years left, and left guard Rob Sims is 30 and entering the final year of his contract.
The Lions might draft a center in the middle to later rounds to eventually replace Raiola. The more immediate concern is Sims. His body has been breaking down the last two years and his production fell off significantly last season.
He was still recovering from injuries — it is not known if he had surgery — during the Lions’ voluntary minicamp last week. There is legitimate concern within the organization Sims may not regain his form.
That’s where Martin would fit in, at left guard. He could start immediately, just as Warford did last season.
“He's awesome,” Mayock said of Martin. “He's about as safe a player as there is in this draft. If you want him, you better get him early.”
Martin doesn’t have great measureables, especially for a tackle. At 6-foot-4 with a 327⁄8-inch arm span, he’s not as long as coaches like tackles to be, which is why many scouts graded him higher as a guard. But in terms of technique, toughness, football IQ, durability, character and leadership skills, he’s the total package — the embodiment of a plug-and-play guy.
Hard to say no
Darqueze Dennard, Justin Gilbert or Kyle Fuller would probably be more popular choices. Odell Beckham might be a more sexy choice. But all of those guys are going to need time, significant time, to develop and adapt to the NFL game.
Given the importance the Lions have placed on putting quarterback Matthew Stafford in the best position to succeed, which includes an increased emphasis on the run game as well as pass protection, and given the legitimate questions in the middle of the offensive line (the jury is still out on Waddle, too), I don’t see how they could pass on Martin if this particular scenario were to play out.
Talk amongst yourselves.