Draft sets up well for Lions; is Jaylon Smith a target?

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News
Jaylon Smith

The 2016 draft is setting up well for the Lions, based on a variety of comments from ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr.

In a teleconference Monday, Kiper said there is “tremendous” talent and depth among the defensive line group, and he praised the linebackers in the draft, too. He also mentioned some possible offensive tackles available after the first round that could contribute quickly.

Entering the draft process with the combine this week, the Lions have a clear need for long-term help at tackle, linebacker and safety on defense, as well as tackle and wide receiver on offense.

Last month, NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said there will be “outstanding” defensive tackles available through the third or fourth round this year. Kiper took it a step further Monday, saying this year’s defensive line group is probably the best he’s seen in his nearly 40 years as a draft analyst.

Meanwhile, Kiper sees one of the most talented players in the draft potentially being available when they’re on the board at No. 16.

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Linebacker Jaylon Smith, who had 226 total tackles at Notre Dame the last two years, suffered a torn ACL and MCL in this year’s Fiesta Bowl loss to Ohio State. Without the injury, Kiper said Smith might’ve been the best player in the draft.

“He’s such a great player when he’s healthy,” Kiper said of Smith, who will likely be an outside linebacker in the NFL.

Now, though, there’s a chance Smith falls out of the top 10 because he’ll likely need to sit out his rookie season. Kiper compared Smith to former Texas A&M offensive tackle Cedric Ogbuehi, who fell to No. 21 last year after tearing his ACL in a bowl game. Ogbuehi played the last five games in 2015 for the Bengals.

In his mock draft last week, Kiper had the Lions taking Alabama defensive tackle Jarran Reed at No. 16 with Smith going 11th to the Bears.

Another potential linebacker who could attract the Lions is Alabama’s Reggie Ragland, who Kiper has going 20th to the Jets. It’s unclear whether the Lions’ need at linebacker is more for an outside or inside player, and Ragland would be an inside player, though there’s questions about his limitations in coverage.

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In the current pass-heavy NFL, teams are looking for linebackers who can cover or rush the passer in addition to stop the run, which is what makes a player like Smith so valuable when healthy.

Beyond the first round, Kiper mentioned Oklahoma’s Dominique Alexander and Florida State’s Terrance Smith as possible Day 2 linebackers, and he said William and Mary’s Luke Rhodes and Villanova’s Don Cherry are possible late-round picks or priority free agents.

“The linebacker position overall this year, I think it’s pretty good,” Kiper said.

The Lions could also wait to address their offensive tackle hole after the first round. Ohio State left tackle Taylor Decker could fall to the second round, though Kiper said he’s more likely a right tackle. Shon Coleman from Auburn could be an option on Day 2, and Kiper listed some Day 3 choices — Tyler Johnstone from Oregon and Pearce Slater from San Diego State.