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The NFL draft has arrived, and tonight, the speculation over what player the Lions will select with the 23rd pick in the first round — assuming they don't trade the selection — finally will come to an end.

It could be a defensive lineman or offensive lineman.

It could be a cornerback or running back.

And to the dismay of many Lions fans, it might be a wide receiver.

If there's one thing that's become clear about the draft class, it's that very few things are clear. Outside a handful of elite players, there is little consensus about how the first round will unfold.

"One thing that I've learned about this process is it's very unpredictable," Lions general manager Martin Mayhew said last week. "You don't know what's going to happen, so you've got to prepare for everything. We'll be ready for every alternative."

During his tenure, Mayhew has proven he'll draft for talent instead of need, and this year should be no different.

Last year, tight end didn't appear to be a major need, but the Lions took Eric Ebron 10th overall. In 2012, offensive tackle wasn't a pressing need, but Riley Reiff fell to the Lions at No. 23. And in 2011, they grabbed Nick Fairley at No. 13 despite having a solid group of defensive tackles.

It certainly won't impact Mayhew's decision tonight, but there is some consensus among analysts about the team's needs.

"I think what they really need is either D-line or O-line, and you could throw corner in there also," NFL.com analyst Mike Mayock said last week. "But I think when you're at 23, you've got to let the board come to you a little bit and see what's available."

Fortunately for the Lions, the draft is deep at those three positions even if the top-end talent isn't as strong. And though offensive line, defensive tackle and cornerback are the top three needs, most analysts agree running back could be an option if Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon or Georgia's Todd Gurley are on the board.

"I would have no problem with it," NFL.com analyst Lance Zierlein said Wednesday of the Lions going with a back in the first round. "I've always been a fan of Joique (Bell). I've always felt like the Lions have never used Joique Bell as much as they could, kind of like the Saints with Chris Ivory.

"If Melvin Gordon's there, he should absolutely be considered. ... In Melvin Gordon and Joique Bell you've got yourself a chance to beat teams up physically on the ground."

But running back is a deep position, too, and Zierlein said if it's not Gordon or Gurley, the Lions should wait until Round 3 or later to take one.

Zierlein also said there are a bunch of cornerbacks who will go in the third or fourth round that could fit with the Lions, including Stanford's Alex Carter and Oregon State's Steven Nelson. The 6-foot, 196-pound Carter also could play free safety, Zierlein said, and with Glover Quin, the Lions would have two safeties with cornerback experience.

But in the first round, it's clear the top need for the Lions is a defensive tackle or offensive lineman.

With Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley gone, and C.J. Mosley still a free agent, the Lions lost their top three interior defensive linemen.

Riley Reiff proved to be a capable left tackle the last two years, but the Lions could upgrade that position, especially with LaAdrian Waddle's return date from a torn ACL unknown and Cornelius Lucas the top backup. The Lions also don't have a player on the roster with NFL experience at left guard.

"Cornelius Lucas is OK, but I think the Lions could end up sitting there looking at a decent offensive tackle at 23 and that would be something that I would strongly consider," Zierlein said. "I know the depth of (offensive) tackles is not as good as the depth of defensive tackle, but I think you could find some defensive tackles in the second, third and fourth round.

"I'm not sure you're going to find a (starting-caliber offensive) tackle you like outside the second."

jkatzenstein@detroitnews.com

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With the 23rd pick ...

A look at the best fit for the Lions in Thursday's first round of the draft:

Malcom Brown, DT, Texas

The most common name linked to the Lions in mock drafts, he can be a penetrating pass rusher and has the size to be stout against the run.

D.J. Humphries, OT, Florida

He looks the part of a left tackle more than other prospects and can boost a team's run blocking.

Byron Jones, CB, Connecticut

At 6-foot-1, he profiles similarly to the top two Lions cornerbacks.

Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin

With Todd Gurley likely gone, Gordon could be an option to provide a boost in the run game.

La'el Collins, OL, LSU

Assuming he clears his name in a murder investigation in which he's not a suspect, he's the kind of mauler who could be an impact left guard.

Arik Armstead, DL, Oregon

He'll likely be gone, but if he's available, he fits the size profile the Lions like up front.

Danny Shelton, DT, Washington

He'll likely go top 15, but if he's available, he could learn from Haloti Ngata.

Landon Collins, SS, Alabama

It's not the most pressing need, but he has speed and power, and be a long-term replacement for James Ihedigbo.

Cameron Erving, OL, Florida State

His best position is center, but the Lions might like him as a guard or tackle.

Jaelen Strong, WR, Arizona State

A wide receiver likely will come later, but he can outmuscle cornerbacks and give Matthew Stafford another weapon.

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