Allen Park — The unpredictability of the NFL draft is a significant part of the event’s appeal. And that unpredictability is only magnified following a coaching change, when it remains unclear how much the schemes are changing or how the new staff feels about current personnel.
Even in the first round, where the options are usually a little clearer, the Detroit Lions easily could go a half-dozen different directions. The team has needs at several spots, and although general manager Bob Quinn has shown a knack for addressing his biggest roster hole with that first selection, who is to say what that need is this year.
Earlier this month, we looked at the possible options for the Lions in the first round. Here, we take it a step further and consider a number of ways the first three rounds could play out.
■ First round: Da’Ron Payne, DT, Alabama
■ Second round: Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia
■ Third round: Josh Sweat, Edge, Florida State
■ Analysis: The opening-round choice of Payne isn’t going to lead to a surge in jersey sales, but it fills the team’s long-term need at nose tackle with a versatile run-stuffer who should be ready to contribute immediately.
Scoring Chubb in the second round, as NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock put it last week, would be a home run. Chubb’s 2015 knee injury no longer seems to be a concern and his north-south style, which focuses on running through would-be tacklers instead of around them, would be a welcomed addition to the roster. He won’t be a three-down back out the gate, but with a loaded depth chart led by LeGarrette Blount, Chubb can be developed as a pass protector and receiver out of the backfield during his rookie season.
Finally, in this scenario, the Lions would close out the draft’s second day with the rangy, athletic Sweat. Formerly a top recruit, Sweat never produced at an elite level for the Seminoles. But the physical gifts, which include an explosive first step, would allow him to contribute as a pass-rush specialist early as the rest of his game is fine-tuned on the practice field.
■ First round: Will Hernandez/Isaiah Wynn, G, UTEP/Georgia
■ Second round: Sam Hubbard, DE, Ohio State
■ Third round: Harrison Phillips, DT, Stanford
■ Analysis: We don’t know for certain whether the Lions will run a power or zone-blocking scheme under new line coach Jeff Davidson, but there’s a reasonable chance the team could have its choice of the best guard for either option at No. 20.
Whether it’s Hernandez or Wynn, it would answer Detroit’s biggest question mark entering the draft and give the team a formidable starting five up front, assuming the group has better luck with health this season.
After completing the offensive line, the Lions could address the defensive trench with Hubbard. Lacking elite athleticism and college production, he’s a high-motor, versatile lineman who is decent at many things and great at none.
This trio is rounded out with Phillips, who impressively racked up more than 100 tackles last season as an interior defensive lineman. A former wrestler, he has an advanced understanding of leverage and is able to keep his eyes trained on the ball. He’s comfortable defending two gaps or one and has the requisite strength to consistently set an edge from Day 1.
■ First round: Harold Landry, Edge, Boston College
■ Second round: Sony Michel, RB, Georgia
■ Third round: Jessie Bates, S, Wake Forest
■ Analysis: Landry is the premier speed rusher in this draft class and would provide some juice to Detroit’s front four. The Lions have enough depth at defensive end to use Landry situationally as a rookie, allowing him to develop a more complete pass-rush move set. If that happens, there’s Pro Bowl potential.
The Lions could then come back in the second round and take advantage of this year’s deep class of running backs, taking Georgia’s Michel. One of better big-play threats in college football, he had 16 carries of 15 or more yards last season. If he was a more accomplished pass catcher, he’d draw reasonable comparisons to Saints running back Alvin Kamara.
Bates, in the third round, would further bolster Detroit’s deep and versatile secondary. The 6-foot-1, 200-pounder is capable of lining up deep or in the box. Without an injury or two, he likely wouldn’t have a big role on defense as a rookie, but should be a significant contributor on special teams as he’s groomed for a long-term role replacing either Tavon Wilson or Glover Quin.
■ First round: Derrius Guice, RB, LSU
■ Second round: Rasheem Green, DE, USC
■ Third round: Nathan Shepherd, DT, Fort Hays State
■ Analysis: Taking Guice in the first round wouldn’t be my preference as a general manager, just given the overall depth at the top of the running back group, but there’s a strong case to be made that his talent separates him from the pack, especially when you look at the 2016 tape. Quinn said he is looking for playmakers in the opening round and the LSU back fits the bill.
Taking Green in the second would give the Lions an upside edge defender with an NFL body and high-end athleticism. At 6-foot-5, 275 pounds, he has the frame to play in coach Matt Patricia’s multiple front. A scout told NFL.com Green could have been a top-10 pick if he stayed in school for another year. The Lions need to be able to trust their coaching staff to tap into that potential.
Speaking of potential, Shepherd is another player oozing with it. The Canadian prospect who attended little-known Fort Hays State in Kansas, Shepherd is a raw athlete capable of being molded into a disruptive interior threat.
■ First round: Taven Bryan, DT, Florida
■ Second round: James Daniels/Billy Price, OL, Iowa/Ohio State
■ Third round: Kalen Ballage, RB, Arizona State
■ Analysis: Byran is an explosive athlete who has a knack for finding his way into the backfield in a hurry. There’s a lot of refinement needed in his game, but when analysts are mentioning your skill set in the same breath as J.J. Watt and Ndamukong Suh, there’s something special there.
In the second round, the Lions can round out their offensive line, not with a guard, but one of the best centers in the class. Price had previously been considered a potential first-round pick, but a pec injury suffered at the combine could cause him to slide. If he’s there at 51, it would be tough to pass him up, although Daniels would be a fine consolation prize. In this scenario, Graham Glasgow could stay at left guard, where he was making steady progress last season.
The Lions close out Day 2 with one of the draft’s more intriguing running back options in Ballage. A low-mileage runner, with only 408 carries over three seasons, his plus skills as a receiving option add appeal to the resume. And with top-tier athleticism, there’s reasons to see shades of David Johnson, when he was coming out of Northern Iowa.