Don’t rule out QB for Lions late in NFL Draft
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: Quarterback
■ Current roster: Matthew Stafford, Jake Rudock, Matt Cassel
■ Top prospects: Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, Josh Allen, Baker Mayfield, Lamar Jackson
■ Day 2 options: None for Lions
■ Late-round fits: Kyle Lauletta, Nic Shimonek, Mike White
■ Short-term need: One out of 10
■ Long-term need: Four out of 10
■ Analysis: It’s been nearly a decade since the Lions were searching for a franchise quarterback, and with Matthew Stafford entering the first season of a five-year extension, the team shouldn’t have to worry about selecting a passer in the early rounds of the next few drafts.
But there are always several teams looking for long-term solutions under center, and this year’s deep group of prospects at the top of the class bodes well for the Lions, picking at No. 20, because each quarterback taken early pushes players at other positions further down the board.
From a national perspective, where the top five quarterbacks end up is the most compelling story of the opening round. The Cleveland Browns hold the top pick and, after passing up the likes of Carson Wentz, Mitch Trubisky and Deshaun Watson the past two years, are expected to take their preferred QB first overall this year.
Who that will be is still unclear. USC’s Sam Darnold appears to be the safe choice, but more and more analysts are reading the tea leaves with new general manager John Dorsey and his affinity for power arms, projecting Wyoming’s Josh Allen to be the target.
There’s also a strong possibility quarterbacks are selected with the next two picks. The Giants have insisted they’re good with Eli Manning, but he’s 37. So if Darnold is still on the board, he’ll be tough to pass up as the heir apparent. And the Jets made a trade to move up from No. 6 to No. 3 last month with the focus on landing a top passer, whether that’s Baker Mayfield or Josh Rosen.
Other teams in the top 15 who could draft a quarterback include the Broncos, Bills, Dolphins and Cardinals.
As for the Lions, at first glance, they don’t appear to have a need. Beyond Stafford, the team has two capable backup options in Jake Rudock and Matt Cassel. Rudock, a sixth-round pick in 2016, held the role last season, while Cassel, a 14-year veteran, has 81 starts under his belt.
But the Lions didn’t have an obvious need last year, either, but used a sixth-round pick on Brad Kaaya when the value became too good to pass up. That seems less likely this year, given the Lions currently have a league-low six selections, but you never know with general manager Bob Quinn.
One option the Lions have done their homework on during the leadup to the draft is Richmond’s Kyle Lauletta. The small-school standout’s arm strength is often brought up by analysts as the concern that anchors his stock, but Lauletta is considered accurate, smart and a strong leader.
Whether Rudock or Cassel ultimately emerges as Stafford’s backup, there’s a good chance the Lions have someone different in 2019. Cassel is on a one-year deal and Rudock is due for a pay raise as a restricted free agent, a price tag the Lions might not want to pay. That’s another reason drafting and developing a replacement can’t be ruled out.