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The Lions have needs, like all NFL teams. But addressing one of their most glaring deficiencies — bolstering the pass rush along the defensive line — may prove to be more of a chore this spring than in previous offseasons, according to ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr.

In a media conference call Wednesday, Kiper called it “a bad, bad year” for defensive ends in the draft. And coupled with a weak free-agent class at the position, it only adds to the likelihood the Lions will decide to use the franchise tag to keep pending free agent Ezekiel Ansah in the fold for at least one more season.

Kiper lists just two defensive ends as first-round picks in his latest mock draft released Wednesday. And after initially slotting Ohio State defensive end Sam Hubbard to Detroit with the 20th overall pick in his first mock draft a month ago, Kiper now has him pegged as a second-rounder.

Instead, he has the Lions taking a running back with that first-round pick, citing Detroit’s need for an every-down back and giving a slight nod to LSU’s Derrius Guice over USC’s Ronald Jones as the No. 2 choice behind Penn State’s Saquon Barkley in what Kiper calls a “really good” draft at the position.

Not so when it comes to the defensive end spot, though. North Carolina State’s Bradley Chubb is viewed as a consensus top-10 pick, and “if you want the pass rusher, he’s the best guy by miles,” Kiper says. After that, “there’s a huge dropoff back to Marcus Davenport,” the raw talent from Texas-San Antonio who rarely lined up in a three-point stance in college.

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“I like Davenport’s potential, but he certainly didn’t wow people at the Senior Bowl practices,” Kiper said. “He was at Texas-San Antonio getting it done, and played on his feet a lot. So he could be a guy who could play a defensive end — a down end — and then as an outside linebacker in certain situations.”

As for Hubbard, who had seven sacks and 13½ tackles for loss as a fourth-year junior last season, Kiper praised his work ethic.

“But he didn’t have nearly the year you expected him to have,” he said of Hubbard, who considered declaring for the draft after his redshirt sophomore season. “There were some who thought he could be a top-15 pick going into the year.”

All that said, Kiper does see some intriguing mid-round prospects at defensive end in this class. Hubbard’s Ohio State teammates — Tyquan Lewis and Jalyn Holmes — are among them. He has USC’s Rasheem Green as his fourth-rated defensive end, followed by Virginia’s Andrew Brown and LSU’s Arden Key. He’s also bullish on Chad Thomas, the 6-6, 275-pound prospect out of Miami (Fla.) that he thinks will be available in the third or fourth round.

“You can find some steals as pass rushers late,” he said. “Some of those guys I mentioned will be better than they’re projected to be, which means in the fourth or fifth round this year, you might get yourself a pass-rushing defensive end.”

john.niyo@detroitnews.com

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