Eight prospect possibilities for Lions at No. 8 in the NFL Draft
Allen Park — The Detroit Lions are slated to select No. 8 in the first round of the NFL draft Thursday evening. And while general manager Bob Quinn is “open for business” when it comes to moving down a few spots, picking up an extra pick or two along the way, odds remain best eight is where the team will stay.
With that in mind, here are the eight prospects in play with that selection.
There almost always is a player or two who slide because of the way individual teams prioritize their needs at the top of the draft. Obviously, for the Lions, the more quarterbacks taken before they're on the clock, the better.
Here are two players who should be gone before the Lions are up, but if either manage to slip through the cracks, the team should run, not walk, to the podium to make the selection.
► Josh Allen, edge, Kentucky: Detroit alleviated some of its pass-rushing concern in free agency, signing coveted defensive end Trey Flowers to a five-year deal. But you can never have enough firepower off the edge and Allen is considered by many to be the second-best talent in this class at getting after the quarterback.
Allen took the step from good to great as a senior for the Wildcats. After back-to-back years with seven sacks, his production exploded in 2018. He dropped the quarterback behind the line 17 times, nearly a quarter of his 88 tackles were for a loss and he forced five fumbles. He also adds some schematic versatility with his ability to drop into coverage.
Paired with Flowers, it would give the Lions a young tandem who could terrorize opposing passers the next several years.
► Quinnen Williams, DT, Alabama: The Lions don’t need a defensive tackle for 2019, but upcoming contract negotiations with A’Shawn Robinson and Damon Harrison are cause for uncertainty beyond this year. Adding Williams is more than an insurance policy. We’re talking about a player who many analysts argue is the best overall player in this class.
Like Allen, Williams’ production took a massive step forward last season. He earned unanimous All-American honors after tallying 19.5 tackles for a loss. And we know Alabama defensive linemen translate well to what Detroit is running under Matt Patricia, as both Robinson and Da’Shawn Hand have thrived in Detroit’s scheme.
There's little doubt, when evaluating this draft, it favors defense at the top. And even though the Lions focused their free-agency efforts on bolstering that unit, the team could finish their offseason remodeling job by adding one of these four players.
► Devin White, LB, LSU: White should also be a top-five pick, but there’s a chance he slips to Detroit because off-ball linebackers aren’t perceived to offer the same positional value as an equally-graded trench option, plus he’s a tad undersized at 6-foot, 237 pounds.
You quickly forget about White’s size when you turn on the tape. His play speed is incredible, validated by a blazing fast 4.42-second 40-yard dash at the combine. That speed translates into outstanding coverage skills and above-average pass-rush ability, two premium traits in the modern, pass-happy NFL.
► Montez Sweat, edge, Mississippi State: Sweat checks a lot of boxes for teams looking for an edge rusher. He has a prototypical build at 6-foot-6, 260 pounds with long arms. He then turned heads with a 4.41-second, 40-yard dash, the fastest ever for a defensive end at the combine. And it’s tough to argue double-digit sack production in the SEC, which he's posted two straight years.
But there are enough concerns with Sweat’s playing style that are keeping him from being a lock for the top 10. He doesn’t have ideal lower-body strength or bend, leading to inconsistencies in his play. That could only be magnified at the professional level.
Still, if he reaches his potential, he’ll make a lot of teams regret passing on him.
► Brian Burns, edge, Florida State
Burns lacks the ideal bulk you’d like to see in a gap-control edge defender, but it’s difficult to look past his efforts to rectify that issue. Since he played his last game at Florida State, Burns has packed 20 pounds of good weight on to his frame, while maintaining the burst that made him one of college football’s most ferocious pass rushers.
Relying on a nice set of pass-rush moves, including his signature spin, Burns recorded 10 sacks last season, while racking up a staggering 69 quarterback pressures. In Detroit, he can serve as a situational pass rusher his rookie season, while continuing to add strength in preparation for a bigger role in 2020 and beyond.
► Ed Oliver, DT, Houston: Oliver doesn’t necessarily fit Detroit’s scheme, and he’s definitely on the small side for an interior lineman, but good coaches find ways to adjust their system to fit talent and elite skills.
Oliver played all over the defensive line in college, often lining up directly over center. The belief is he’s best suited to be a penetrating 3-tech at the professional level, where he could best utilize his elite burst at the snap.
The Lions don’t typically ask their interior linemen to attack a single gap and get up field, but there’s plenty of value in disrupting quarterbacks with pressure up the middle. Here’s believing Patricia would find a way to make it work.
Offense on the fence?
We're continuing to operate under the assumption the Lions aren't seriously considering a quarterback in the first round. And there really isn't a wide receiver or running back who makes much sense in the top 10 either, both from a talent and need perspective.
That leaves an offensive lineman and a tight end as the two most likely offensive players the Lions could select at No. 8. Whether it's fair or reasonable, there's a decent chance neither selection would be received well.
► Jonah Williams, OL, Alabama: Lions fans will scoff at drafting another offensive lineman in the first round, but the team’s most glaring roster hole is at guard, and general manager Bob Quinn has a knack for filling the team’s top need early in drafts.
Williams played tackle at Alabama and did so exceptionally well. Still, given he’s slightly shorter, with less than ideal arm length for the position, many believe his best fit at the next level is at guard.
There’s added risk making that projection, and Quinn has generally taken safer bets in the first round. Still, it’s tough to argue against a guy who has footwork clean enough to allow just a dozen pressures while facing SEC pass-rushers week after week.
► T.J. Hockenson, TE, Iowa: Again, it’s a pick that would frustrate fans who are quick to judge the present and future based on the past. After getting less-than-expected returns from first-round tight ends Eric Ebron and Brandon Pettigrew, there’s natural skepticism with going back to that well. But by all appearances, Hockenson is a better prospect than both.
First and foremost, the Iowa standout is an above-average blocker, a skill fewer and fewer tight ends have coming out. Add that to the refined pass-catching you’d expect from a former receiver, resulting in a single drop a year ago. That skill set is nicely bundled up in plus athleticism and outstanding football character, which is why some analysts have called him the draft’s safest pick.
Final option: Trade down
Finally, it’s not a secret: The Lions would like to trade down. If they are able to move back, say 4-6 spots, several of the names on this list remain possibilities. Additionally, a few more come into play, including Michigan linebacker Devin Bush, Clemson defensive linemen Christian Wilkins and Clelin Ferrell, Iowa's other tight end Noah Fant, or any of the top cornerbacks.