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Josh Katzenstein’s top offensive players in NFL draft

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News
Carson Wentz

After months of interviews, workouts and visits, NFL prospects finally learn this week where their first professional opportunity will be.

Even though the draft doesn’t begin until Thursday, the first two picks are already public knowledge. Quarterbacks Jared Goff, from Cal, and Carson Wentz, from North Dakota State, will be the first two picks after Los Angeles and Philadelphia made blockbuster trades to move up to the No. 1 and 2 slots, respectively.

The Rams and Eagles made the moves hoping to solidify their offense for the future. But even after the top two quarterbacks are off the board, other teams will have opportunities to find offensive talent in this year’s draft.

For the Lions, there are a few pressing needs on defense — defensive end and safety in the short term — but the offense is in need of plenty of help. The Lions ranked 20th in total offense in 2015 and 19th in 2014. In points scored, the Lions were 18th last year and 22nd the year before.

And considering the franchise’s best receiver retired this offseason, the draft could be a prime opportunity to find ways to improve Jim Bob Cooter's offense long term. Quarterback Matthew Stafford will be the focal point of the offense, but with him taking 89 sacks the past two seasons, the offensive line could use some upgrades, namely at tackle or center.

Offensive line picks would obviously help a rushing attack that ranked last in the NFL last year. In that respect, a selection of a running back wouldn’t surprise even though Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick seem to have more potential.

The Lions already spent a high pick on a tight end, Eric Ebron, two years ago, but the new front office might have a different opinion of him — and how much help the team needs at the position.

Here’s a look at the top offensive players in the 2016 draft:

QUARTERBACK

BEST: Carson Wentz, North Dakota State: The starter for the FCS champions the past two years, Wentz looks like the prototypical NFL quarterback. He’s big at 6-foot-5 and 237 pounds, but still able to run a bit with a 4.77-second 40-yard dash. It might take a year to adjust to the NFL, but there’s tremendous upside.

2. Jared Goff, California: He’s the most NFL-ready quarterback and could actually be better than he was in college, considering he had lackluster playmakers around him at Cal.

3. Connor Cook, Michigan State: Attitude and accuracy concerns could drop him in the draft, but Cook has the tools and experience to succeed at the next level.

4. Paxton Lynch, Memphis: Size — 6-foot-7 — and arm strength will get Lynch a chance to compete to be a starter, but he’s still unpolished.

5. Cardale Jones, Ohio State: Jones has the strongest arm in the draft. If he ever becomes accurate, he’ll be a steal.

Locals: Cook, Jake Rudock (Michigan)

Josh Katzenstein’s top defensive players in NFL draft

RUNNING BACK

BEST: Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State: Elliott can do it all — run, catch and block — and is undoubtedly one of the 10 best players in the draft, though some teams put less value on the position in the draft.

2. Derrick Henry, Alabama: Henry is a physical freak, posting similar athletic testing numbers to the Lions’ Ameer Abdullah despite being 6-foot-3 and 247 pounds.

3. Kenneth Dixon, Louisiana Tech: A sturdy back who can break tackles, Dixon proved he could handle a huge workload in college.

4. Devontae Booker, Utah: Injuries limited him in 2015, but Booker is a three-down back with great vision.

5. Jordan Howard, Indiana: He’s not as well rounded as other backs, but Howard is a good runner with some power.

Locals: Darius Jackson (Eastern Michigan)

FULLBACK

BEST: Dan Vitale, Northwestern: He’s 6-foot-1, 239 pounds and had a great combine with 30 reps on the bench, a 38.5-inch vertical jump and a 4.12-second short shuttle. Considering he had 135 receptions in college, Vitale looks like someone ready to do everything teams need in a fullback.

2. Glenn Gronkowski, Kansas State: Has three brothers who played in the NFL, including Rob Gronkowski, and is a fine blocker, though didn’t provide much as a receiver.

3. Andy Janovich, Nebraska: He’s a strong special teams player who also had a 53-yard reception last year.

4. Soma Vainuku, USC: He’s a good athlete for being 246 pounds and should provide special teams help.

5. Derek Watt, Wisconsin: He’s not the same athlete as his brother, J.J. Watt, but has some experience catching passes.

Corey Coleman

WIDE RECEIVER

BEST: Corey Coleman, Baylor: Coleman was basically unstoppable for the Bears last year, and his ability to get open quickly and test teams deep gives him star potential.

2. Josh Doctson, TCU: He’s skinny for someone 6-foot-3, but Doctson’s elite body control gives him the chance to be a No. 1 receiver.

3. Laquon Treadwell, Ole Miss: Treadwell has the most potential of anyone and will be a reliable receiver, but his speed could be a limitation.

4. Will Fuller, Notre Dame: Fuller has to become a better route runner, but he’s already proven to be a capable deep threat.

5. Michael Thomas, Ohio State: Size and strength should help Thomas be a red-zone threat immediately with potential for more.

Locals: Daniel Braverman (Western Michigan), Aaron Burbridge (Michigan State)

TIGHT END

BEST: Hunter Henry, Arkansas: He had 51 catches for 739 yards last year and no drops. In addition to being a fine receiver at 6-foot-5, 250 pounds, Henry can be a force as a run blocker.

2. Austin Hooper, Stanford: Hooper is fast enough to make plays — six touchdowns last year — and a solid blocker.

3. Nick Vannett, Ohio State: He has ideal size at 6-foot-6, 257 pounds, but isn’t a great blocker.

4. Tyler Higbee, Western Kentucky: Not much of a blocker, but plays like a former receiver and had eight scores last year.

5. Jerrell Adams, South Carolina: It might take him more time to develop, but has the traits to become an all-around tight end.

Laremy Tunsil

OFFENSIVE TACKLE

BEST: Laremy Tunsil, Ole Miss: Long considered the most likely No. 1 pick, Tunsil is the most likely player to contribute as a left tackle from Day 1. He has good size and better footwork, and can be a monster in the open field.

2. Ronnie Stanley, Notre Dame: He’s already polished as a pass blocker and looks ready to play left tackle at the next level.

3. Jack Conklin, Michigan State: A beast in the run game, Conklin still has to improve in the pass game, but could play either side.

4. Taylor Decker, Ohio State: Decker will most likely move to right tackle, but he’s 6-foot-7 and a tough blocker.

5. Jason Spriggs, Indiana: His combine testing was impressive with a sub-5-second 40-yard dash, but he needs to improve every aspect of his game.

Locals: Conklin, Willie Beavers (Western Michigan)

INTERIOR OFFENSIVE LINE

BEST: Ryan Kelly, Alabama: The best center in the draft could slip into the first round. He has a great combination of strength and quickness.

2. Cody Whitehair, Kansas State: Whitehair is the top guard available. He’s a four-year starter who uses his hands and quickness well.

3. Joshua Garnett, Stanford: He’s big and powerful, but has to be a bit more athletic.

4. Christian Westerman, Arizona State: Westerman has huge hands — 11 7/8 inches — but should add weight being just 298 pounds.

5. Nick Martin, Notre Dame: Martin has to work on his footwork, but showed promise during his three years as a starter.

Locals: Graham Glasgow (Michigan), Jack Allen (Michigan State), Donavon Clark (Michigan State)