Patricia likes LBs, but would Lions take one in first round?
Allen Park — Over the next several days, leading up to the NFL draft, we’ll take a position-by-position look at the Detroit Lions’ roster situation and evaluate how the team might address these positions during the event.Today: Linebacker
■ Current roster: Jarrad Davis, Devon Kennard, Christian Jones, Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Nick Bellore, Steve Longa, Jonathan Freeny and Brandon Chubb
■ Top prospects: Roquan Smith, Tremaine Edmunds, Rashaan Evans, Leighton Vander Esch
■ Day 2 options: Malik Jefferson, Genard Avery, Darius Leonard, Josey Jewell
■ Late-round fits: Shaquem Griffin, Oren Burks
■ Short-term need: Three out of 10
■ Long-term need: Five out of 10
■ Analysis: The Lions are in the midst of overhauling their linebacking corps and how much more work needs to be done remains to be seen.
Tahir Whitehead and Paul Worrilow are gone. In their stead, the team added Devon Kennard and Christian Jones via free agency. The Lions also brought in Jonathan Freeny on the cheap, a depth option who could contribute on special teams.
Paired with Jarrad Davis, last season’s first-round pick, the group appears to be bigger, if nothing else.
What’s clear is new Lions coach Matt Patricia places a premium on linebackers, dating back to his time coaching the position in New England. So even though the depth chart appears chock-full following free agency, and three-linebacker packages are on the decline in the pass-happy NFL, we simply cannot rule out further additions in the draft, even as early as the first round.
Holding the 20th selection next Thursday, the Lions have been taking a closer look at a couple of options who could potentially be on the board at that spot — Boise State’s Leighton Vander Esch and Alabama’s Rashaan Evans. Both were reported to be among Detroit’s 30 allotted pre-draft visits.
Vander Esch is what some might call a beast. He’s built more like a budding edge rusher at 6-foot-4, 256 pounds and has athleticism in spades, posting some eye-popping metrics at the combine in February.
That profile complements outstanding college production. Vander Esch always seemed to be around the ball, finishing last season with 141 tackles, two interceptions and four forced fumbles.
At 6-foot-3, Evans also has some good size, but is 20 pounds lighter and doesn’t have Vander Esch’s freaky wingspan. Still, Evans brings plus-athleticism and a knack for making things happen on the blitz.
In the middle rounds, Memphis’ Genard Avery has appeal as a rush linebacker. Standing only 6-foot-1, the compact 255-pounder recorded 22 tackles behind the line in 2017.
And not just because he’s a good story, the Lions should seriously consider Shaquem Griffin in the later rounds. Despite missing a hand, Griffin isn’t hindered by the disability, tallying 92 tackles for Central Florida last season, including 11.5 sacks.
Griffin followed up his stellar campaign by running the fastest 40-yard dash by a linebacker in more than a decade. He plays with an infectious passion and could be an immediate standout on special teams while being incorporated into a number of sub-packages.
Versatility is key. The Lions are likely to continue loading up on linebackers with diverse skill sets who can be moved around the field to exploit weekly matchups. Whether it’s in the early or later rounds, there’s a good chance the team adds another piece to the mix in this draft.