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NFL combine options wide open for Lions

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News

The NFL combine begins Tuesday, and the Lions scouting and coaching staffs will have an opportunity to interview any number of the more than 300 prospects in attendance.

The annual event allows the Lions and other NFL teams to see how key players in this year's draft class test physically, medically and potentially emotionally in the interview process.

The draft doesn't begin until April 30, so the decision process is still a ways away. But the combine is a perfect opportunity for some players to help their draft stock by performing well in the athletic testing.

As they do every year, the Lions will enter the combine with an open mind. General manager Martin Mayhew typically drafts the best player available, and the Lions could go any number of directions with the No. 23 pick in the first round.

The Lions will start to plug some gaps when free agency begins on March 10, but the draft creates the best opportunity to fill long-term holes.

Regardless of what happens with Ndamukong Suh's contract negotiations, the Lions will need to add a defensive tackle in the draft because Caraun Reid, a fifth-round pick, is the only tackle currently signed for 2015. Nick Fairley is unlikely to be back, and fellow free agents C.J. Mosley and Andre Fluellen will be 32 and 30, respectively, next season.

The other most obvious need is offensive tackle. First, the Lions have needed three guys to play right tackle each of the past two years because of injury, and even though recent undrafted tackles Cornelius Lucas (2014) and LaAdrian Waddle (2013) played well at times, the bookends are spots teams want higher pedigree talents.

Plus, even though Riley Reiff played well last year, not everyone in the organization is sold on him being a long-term left tackle solution.

There are plenty of other spots for the Lions to address, and even though something isn't an immediate need, Mayhew could use some of the picks simply looking ahead, something he did when he took center Travis Swanson and defensive end Larry Webster last year.

Here are some players who could draw the Lions' attention this week:

Defensive tackle

Most people agree Washington's Eddie Shelton is the top defensive tackle in the draft, but he's not a great fit for a 4-3. These are three other first-round options.

Arik Armstead, Oregon: The 6-foot-7 Armstead has the versatility to play inside and outside, which could attract the Lions.

Malcom Brown, Texas: The popular pick for the Lions in mock drafts, Brown has prototypical size at 6-foot-2, 320 pounds and was extremely productive the last two years.

Eddie Goldman, Florida State: With Martin Mayhew visiting Florida State multiple times, plenty of top Seminoles prospects will be tied to the Lions in the coming months. Goldman also has good size for a run stuffer.

Offensive tackle

The Lions took Riley Reiff at No. 23 in 2012, and with no offensive tackle establishing himself as a clear top-10 pick, No. 23 could again be a sweet spot for a first-round tackle.

La'el Collins, LSU: Collins has been climbing draft boards since the end of the college season, and at 6-foot-5, 321 pounds, he can play guard, too.

T.J. Clemmings, Pittsburgh: Another rising name, the 6-foot-5 Clemmings is a former basketball player who has two years of experience at right tackle.

Cedric Ogbuehi, Texas A&M: Also 6-foot-5, Ogbuehi has experience at right guard and right tackle and seems to hit all the Lions character requirements.

Running back

Even if the Lions don't make Reggie Bush a cap casualty, they need to address the position with Bush turning 30 and Joique Bell turning 29 before next season begins.

Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin: He and Todd Gurley are both likely first-round picks, and even though it's not the most pressing need, the highly-productive Gordon (6-foot) could be an every-down back that solves plenty of offensive problems.

Jay Ajayi, Boise State: Likely a second-rounder, the 5-foot-11 Ajayi is another every-down back. He's not a hot name because he's not the fastest back, but he had 1,823 rushing yards, 535 receiving yards and 32 total touchdowns in 2014.

Duke Johnson, Miami: If the Lions are looking specifically to fill the Reggie Bush role, the 5-foot-8 Johnson could be a speedy option in the second round. He can run, catch and return but has some injury concerns.

Wide receiver

People might joke about Martin Mayhew's past wide receiver selections, but those misses mean the Lions still need more talent at the position behind Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate.

Jaelen Strong, Arizona State: The 6-foot-3 Strong could be an option late in the first round and would be a good big-body receiver to play opposite Johnson.

Nelson Agholor, USC: A likely second-rounder, Agholor lacks the size (6-foot) to make up for him not being a burner, but his production (104 catches for 1,313) was impressive in 2014.

Tyler Lockett, Kansas State: If the Lions want a speedy return threat, the 5-foot-9 Lockett could be a good option in the second or third round.

Guard

After addressing right guard in the third round in 2013 (Larry Warford) and center in the third round in 2014 (Travis Swanson), perhaps the Lions will use their third-round pick on their left guard of the future.

A.J. Cann, South Carolina: Cann likely doesn't make it to the third round, but he's similar to the Lions other interior players in that he played in the SEC. He's also a four-year starter at left guard like Swanson was at center.

Laken Tomlinson, Duke: The 6-foot-3 Tomlinson was a four-year starter at right guard and was impressive at the Senior Bowl. He's likely a Day 2 pick.

Tre' Jackson, Florida State: A three-year starter at right guard, Jackson could be a good option in the third or fourth round and has the Florida State ties.

Cornerback

Safety is a need, too, but even if cornerback Rashean Mathis is back, the Lions would be wise to find a long-term solution on the outside.

Trae Waynes, Michigan State: Likely the top cornerback in the draft, the 6-foot-1 Waynes probably won't be around at No. 23, but his length and speed should attract the Lions.

Marcus Peters, Washington: The 5-foot-11 Peters also has good speed, but will have to explain exactly why he was kicked off the Huskies in November. If the Lions want to give him a second chance, he has the talent to be a steal at No. 23.

P.J. Williams, Florida State: Another long 6-footer with good speed, Williams would be a good option in the second round.

Others to watch

QB Bryan Bennett (Southeastern Louisiana): The Lions need a long-term backup and can afford to take a high-upside project on Day 3. Bennett is a former Oregon player who has good speed and arm strength, and he could impress among a lackluster quarterback group at the combine.

S Landon Collins (Alabama): At some point, the Lions will need to find a long-term strong safety. The 6-foot, 212-pound Collins could be a first-round option as the Lions are slotted where the top safeties typically go.

LB Shaq Thompson (Washington): Some people — including Mike Mayock — project him as a strong safety, which could actually be his ultimate fit with the Lions as he's 6-foot-2 and 224 pounds, slightly bigger than James Ihedigbo.

jkatzenstein@detroitnews.com

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