Lions could look long term at safety in draft

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News
Washington defensive back Budda Baker

Allen ParkLeading up to the NFL draft we’re taking a position-by-position look at the Detroit Lions’ roster situation and evaluate how the team might address these positions during the event. Today: Safeties.

Current roster: Glover Quin, Tavon Wilson, Miles Killebrew, Don Carey, Charles Washington, Rolan Milligan

Top prospects: Malik Hooker, Jamal Adams, Budda Baker, Jabrill Peppers

Mid-round fits: Josh Jones, Obi Melifonwu, Marcus Williams

Late-round options: Rayshawn Jenkins, Xavier Woods, Kai Nacua

Short-term need: 4 on a 1-to-10 scale

Long-term need: 8 on a 1-to-10 scale

Analysis: The Lions have reached a crossroads with Glover Quin.

Entering the final year of a five-year, $23.5 million contract he signed as a free agent in 2013, Quin has been worth every penny. He’s played at or near a Pro Bowl level much of his time with the Lions and has been the team’s most consistent turnover-generator, coming up with 16 interceptions.

And the durability, it’s impressive. Quin hasn’t missed a start with the Lions, a string of 66 games if you count the two playoff appearances. The last time he was sidelined was all the way back in 2009, his rookie year.

Off the field, he’s a strong leader and involved in the community. Simply put, Quin is everything an organization could want in a football player.

The downside is he’s 31 years old, turning 32 in January, and every general manager is understandably leery of committing a long-term deal to a player at that age. It’s the conundrum Bob Quinn must navigate in the coming months, and it starts with the draft.

If the Lions take a free safety early, it could signify Quin isn’t part of the team’s long-term plan. No one reasonable expects Malik Hooker or Jamal Adams to be on the board when the Lions are scheduled to be on the clock in the first round, but a selection of Budda Baker, Obi Melifonwu, Josh Jones or Marcus Williams in the first two rounds would be the equivalent of writing on the wall.

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Baker is interesting because his coverage skills are good enough where he could play nickelback as a rookie. As for Melifonwu, he’s built like he belongs closer to the line of scrimmage, but his superb athleticism allows him to cover plenty of ground as a center fielder. Good luck throwing over the 6-foot-4 defensive back with a combine-best 44-inch vertical. No wonder Detroit has thoroughly scouted him throughout the pre-draft process.

The Lions don’t currently have a reliable backup at free safety, but given Quin’s durability it isn’t a pressing need. Don Carey is the default solution in an emergency, but his primary job is on special teams. That makes it likely the Lions tab someone with above-average coverage skills to fill the opening created by Rafael Bush’s departure in free agency.

At strong safety, the Lions appear to have a short-term solution and heir apparent in place.

The projected starter, Tavon Wilson, was solid last year, his first with the Lions. He’s only under contract through this season, but probably could be brought back at a reasonable price if it gets to that point.

Waiting in the wings is Miles Killebrew, who played a key role on third downs at the end of last season. A better fit in the box than patrolling the deep parts of the field, he’s been getting plenty of offseason buzz about 2017 expectations.

Safety isn’t a top need, certainly not for 2017, but it’s going to be worth monitoring how the Lions approach Quin’s expiring contract.

Twitter: @justin_rogers