Lions draft preview: College changes safety prospects

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News
Damarious Randall

This is the ninth in a series of Lions position previews for the NFL draft. Today: Safeties and tight ends.

Even before James Ihedigbo decided to sit out voluntary workouts and raised questions about his future with the Lions, safety might have been among the biggest long-term needs for the team.

Glover Quin established himself as a top-tier free safety last season, but Ihedigbo has just one year left on his contract and will turn 32 next season. Behind him, Isa Abdul-Quddus and Don Carey are solid, but neither has proven to be more than a spot starter so far in their careers.

With players like Seattle's Earl Thomas and New England's Devin McCourty signing mega deals in recent years, safety has become a premium position, especially with how much teams are passing.

Unfortunately, if the Lions have their heart set on securing that position in this draft, they won't have many options, as analysts think safety is one of the weakest positions in this class.

"The one thing to keep in mind, they're still going to draft people," NFL Network analyst Charles Davis said. "People are going to get drafted, and a good number of guys that we're not giving a lot of attention to, or we're saying that position is pretty weak, are going to make the teams and play in the league."

Safety was a fairly weak position in last year's draft, too, and Davis explained why there haven't been many top-tier prospects in recent years.

"The way the college game has changed has changed the nature of guys who would play safety," he said. "A lot of the guys that would play safety in college that would be candidates moving to the NFL, they're playing outside linebacker in college because of the nature of the spreads, trying to get that speed on the field."

The Lions haven't drafted a safety since they took Amari Spievey, a converted cornerback, in the third round in 2010. Perhaps, that streak will end this year.

* Go through the gallery above or go here for Josh Katzenstein's top five safeties and top five tight ends in the NFL draft.

No need for tight end, right?

After signing Brandon Pettigrew to a four-year deal and with Joseph Fauria showing promise as a rookie in 2013, tight end didn't appear to be a pressing need for the Lions last year.

But, as everyone knows, the Lions used the 10th overall pick to take Eric Ebron, a tight end with more athleticism than Pettigrew and Fauria, and they hope Ebron will become the No. 3 weapon in the passing game in 2015.

With those three players on the roster, tight end certainly is not an immediate need for the Lions. Coach Jim Caldwell and offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi have both said they expect to see improvement from Ebron this year, and if he can consistently be a trusted target for Matthew Stafford, the Lions' offense should take a step forward next season.

Fans who make jokes about the Lions possibly drafting another tight end can take solace in this being "not a great tight end draft," according to the NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah.

Part of the reason for the weak class is the continued focus on specializing tight ends, as opposed to developing players who can block and be a receiver.

"They're just not asking kids to do the things we grew up watching," NFL Network analyst Charles Davis said

Though it's unlikely, if the Lions draft a tight end, it would be more of an indictment of Pettigrew than Ebron. Caldwell said last month he thinks Pettigrew is the kind of player a team can build around, but if he struggles like he did in 2014, it'll be hard for the Lions to justify keeping him on the last two years of his deal at $4 million annually.

* Go through the gallery above or go here for Josh Katzenstein's top five safeties and top five tight ends in the NFL draft.