Lions’ draft needs this year – and beyond

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News
Ameer Abdullah

Heading into the draft, analysts try to determine the biggest needs for teams.

Each team, to some extent, has holes, and the go-to logic is the best way to fill each hole is through the draft.

But each team has a different draft approach when it comes to need and best player available. While fans belabor the importance of need, the truth is just about every position will be a need within three years, which is why many teams aim for the best player.

Lions general manager Bob Quinn already has filled some needs through free agency, but said last week those signings wouldn’t preclude him from bulking up a position.

Here’s a breakdown of what the Lions need this year — and beyond.


Short term: The Lions need a quarterback who can compete with Dan Orlovsky and potentially earn the backup job. Although Orlovsky is limited, Matthew Stafford and the coaches like having him in meetings, which is why he’ll open camp as the frontrunner for the No. 2 job.

Long term: Smart teams view backup quarterbacks as assets. Washington took two in the first four rounds in 2012, and the fourth-rounder, Kirk Cousins, led it to the postseason. Philadelphia has two starting-caliber quarterbacks — Sam Bradford and Chase Daniel — who will be trade bait when the Eagles pick at No. 2. For the Lions, finding a quarterback who can develop into a reliable backup and eventually become an asset would be wise.

Projected round: 5-FA

Running back

Short term: The need depends on the new staff’s opinion of Ameer Abdullah. As a rookie, he averaged 4.2 yards per carry, but maxed out at 17 touches in a game. He hasn’t proven he can be a three-down back, so the Lions may look for someone in the draft. The combination of Abdullah, Theo Riddick, Stevan Ridley and Zach Zenner could work this season.

Long term: Even though Ridley is slotted for the duties this season, the Lions will need a long-term short-yardage back. Considering how woeful the running game was last year, the Lions could look for their back of the future despite having some decent options.

Projected round: 2-FA

Golden Tate

Wide receiver

Short term: In Golden Tate and Marvin Jones, the Lions have a solid tandem. Jeremy Kerley and TJ Jones could carve out roles, which means any rookie who arrives would face an uphill battle to contribute this season.

Long term: Even though Tate is under contract through 2018 and Jones through 2020, neither has proven capable of being a consistent No. 1 receiver. None of the receivers in this class would supplant them, but there are some who could develop in the future.

Projected round: 2-5

Tight end

Short term: Assuming Brandon Pettigrew recovers from a torn ACL, the Lions could be fine. Eric Ebron  will be the receiving option with Tim Wright as his backup, and Matthew Mulligan can be the blocking option until Pettigrew returns.

Long term: Considering Pettigrew has a cap hit of $5.35 million in 2017, the Lions could look for his replacement. This would seem to be a make-or-break year for Ebron, but he’s 23, and a high pick would be a surprise.

Projected round: 5-FA

Offensive tackle

Short term: The right tackle spot has been woeful the past couple seasons, so finding someone to compete with Michael Ola would be smart. Although the Lions wanted to upgrade left tackle, they’d probably have to move up in the first round to improve.

Long term: This is easily one of the most pressing needs. Riley Reiff  is on the final year of his deal, so he’ll either play well enough to earn a new contract or poor enough the Lions won’t re-sign him. Either way, the Lions need someone capable of playing left tackle for the long haul.

Projected round: 1-4

Travis Swanson

Interior offensive line

Short term: With Laken Tomlinson and Larry Warford  the starters, and Geoff Schwartz as a veteran backup, the question is center. The Lions want to find a better option than Travis Swanson.

Long term: If the Lions’s aren’t sold on Swanson, the goal would be to find someone who can play this year and beyond. The only question is how management feels about Warford after a couple seasons with injury issues.

Projected round: 2-5

Defensive end

Short term: The Lions need a player to contribute to a rotation that includes Ziggy Ansah, Devin Taylor, Wallace Gilberry  and Brandon Copeland. A high pick could slot second or third in that group right away and improve the pass rush.

Long term: With Gilberry on a one-year deal, the Lions need to solidify this spot. Taylor is entering the final year of his rookie contract, too, and though he looked capable of being a starter, it’s no guarantee he matches last year’s performance.

Projected round: 1-5

Defensive tackle

Short term: The Lions seem to have enough pieces this season — Haloti Ngata, Tyrunn Walker, Caraun Reid, Stefan Charles and Gabe Wright. Unfortunately, there are questions about most of those players. Ngata is 32, Walker is coming off an injury, and Charles hasn’t handled a big role.

Long term: Though the Lions have options now, the future is bare. Walker and Charles are on one-year deals, and Ngata’s is effectively a one-year contract unless he dominates this season to earn a second year.

Projected round: 1-3

Kyle Van Noy


Short term: The evaluation depends on Kyle Van Noy. For now, Josh Bynes  projects to be the starting strong-side linebacker, but that doesn’t fit his skill-set. It’d be a perfect spot for Van Noy, but if he’s not ready, the Lions need to find a linebacker who can rush.

Long term: DeAndre Levy is under contract the next four years, so a weak-side option would be a surprise. The sleeper pick is a middle linebacker. The Lions paid Tahir Whitehead to handle that job, but with a two-year contract, don’t be surprised if they add a younger option.

Projected round: 2-6


Short term: Johnson Bademosi  and Darrin Walls will compete for backup jobs, but neither is suited for nickel work, which is the biggest need with no backup for Quandre Diggs. If the Lions see a chance to find a better outside option than projected starter Nevin Lawson, they could look at the position early.

Alex Carter

Long term: With Darius Slay, Lawson and Diggs young, this isn’t a pressing need, especially considering last year’s third-round pick Alex Carter has high upside. Teams, however, always need more cornerbacks, so don’t be surprised if the Lions take one or two.

Projected round: 3-7


Short term: Easily one of the most pressing needs. The projected starting strong safety is Rafael Bush, who played one game last year and 10 in 2014. Safety isn’t a premium position, but the Lions could find competition for Bush and Tavon Wilson early.

Long term: Even if the Lions like Bush, he’s on a one-year deal. Glover Quin has just two years left on his deal, so they could look for a free safety with special teams ability, too.

Projected round: 2-5


Short need: Sam Martin is the punter, and Matt Prater the kicker. The only question is if the Lions want competition for Don Muhlbach, but he’ll likely remain the long snapper.

Long term: Prater has two years on his contract, but Martin is entering the final year of his. Expect the Lions to extend Martin. Again, long snapper is the only question.

Projected round: Free agents