Ranking the Lions’ needs as clock ticks down on NFL Draft
Allen Park — In the days leading up the 2018 NFL Draft, Frank Ragnow's head was spinning. He was reading and hearing so many different things about where he would land, but of all the destinations, Detroit wasn't one.
The Lions selected the Arkansas offensive lineman with the No. 20 pick, surprising not just the majority of the fans and media who watch or cover the team, but also catching Ragnow off-guard.
"Zero (clue)," Ragnow said this week. "I mean, I hadn't talked to them since the combine."
Welcome to the current reality of following the Lions under a regime — headed by general manager Bob Quinn and coach Matt Patricia — which was groomed in a New England environment where secrecy is perceived to be among the greatest of competitive advantages.
And coming off a disappointing 6-10 season, the Lions will take every competitive advantage they can get. Scheduled to select No. 8 this year, it represents the highest pick Quinn has experienced since 2001, his second year with the Patriots, when he was serving as a low-level personnel assistant.
It's a spot that is advantageous for finding an impact contributor, but also one Quinn and Patricia have no intention of being in again.
The 2019 draft is a deep class of prospects, loaded up with a record-number of underclassmen. That's led to an extra heavy workload for Quinn and his staff this year. The general manager estimated they've evaluated nearly 1,800 prospects during the process.
At the very least, Quinn has acknowledged the class is deep at some areas where it's easy to see holes on Detroit's roster, including tight end, interior offensive lineman and edge rusher. He's also admitted, multiple times, he'd love to trade down from that No. 8 spot, potentially picking up an extra Day 2 selection that could take advantage of the draft's depth.
The Lions currently have nine picks, one in each of the first five rounds, plus two in the sixth and two in the seventh. Here's how we'd rank the team's needs heading into the three-day event:
► 1. Guard: The Lions have several options on the roster, but no clear-cut favorite and none with much long-term potential. It's a long shot the team addresses the need at No. 8, but if they trade down a few spots, Alabama's Jonah Williams could be in play. Day 2 makes all kinds of sense, with players such as Boston College's Chris Lindstrom, Penn State's Connor McGovern or Texas A&M's Erik McCoy as potential selections.
► 2. Tight end: Detroit started its remodel at the position by signing young veteran Jesse James in free agency, but more talent is needed. Iowa's T.J. Hockenson's complete game makes him a realistic option in the first round, while there's a slew of intriguing options through the first four rounds if the team goes a different direction early.
► 3. Defensive end: The offseason addition of Trey Flowers is a huge boost to the pass rush, but you can never have enough pressure off the edge. If Josh Allen slips to No. 8, it would be a no-brainer choice, while Montez Sweat and Brian Burns are other candidates to go early.
► 4. Cornerback: The Lions added Justin Coleman and Rashaan Melvin to the mix via free agency, but there remains a long-term need opposite Darius Slay. Most observers feel it would be a reach to address the position with a top-10 pick, but starting in the second round, there should be a number options. That group could include a trio of local products — Michigan's David Long, Michigan State's Justin Layne and Central Michigan's Sean Bunting.
► 5. Linebacker: It's not an immediate need, but one certainly worth pursuing an upgrade. Christian Jones is a solid player, but not much of a playmaker. Plus, he's on the last year of his contract, which is why the Lions could consider Devin Bush or Devin White at eight. After those two, the starter potential drops off precipitously, but watch out for Minnesota's Blake Cashman, an ultra-athletic option who can contribute on special teams immediately.
► 6. Wide receiver: Again, the immediate need isn't there after signing veteran Danny Amendola. On the flip side, that's a one-year deal. Adding a versatile option to fill TJ Jones' old backup role would be worthwhile, especially if it's a talent who can contribute some as a rookie, while being viewed as capable of taking on a bigger role in 2020.
► 7. Running back: For the short-term the Lions are set, having added C.J. Anderson and re-signing Zach Zenner. But both those players, as well as third-down back Theo Riddick, have contracts that expire at year's end. If the team considers adding a back, they can be open-minded about the type of skill set to complement starter Kerryon Johnson.
► 8. Defensive tackle: Most rookie defensive tackles would struggle to see the field with Damon Harrison, A'Shawn Robinson and Da'Shawn Hand all productive and capable of playing heavy workloads. But Robinson is operating on the final year of his deal and who knows if the Lions will be able to work out an extension with Harrison, who turns 31 in November.
► 9. Safety: Glover Quin is gone, but the Lions drafted and groomed Tracy Walker last season to fill those shoes. He should pair nicely with Quandre Diggs. The team also has an experienced and capable backup in Tavon Wilson, as well as a special teams standout in Charles Washington.
► 10. Quarterback: The need for a backup is lessened with Tom Savage and Connor Cook set to battle for that role. Sure, a developmental rookie carries value, especially if they grow into a trade chip. Still, it's a luxury. Even though there have been some rumors in the national media, it would be a shock if the Lions draft a legitimate threat to starter Matthew Stafford.
► 11. Offensive tackle: The Lions have a fifth-year option for 2020 they're expected to exercise on Taylor Decker's contract, Rick Wagner has three years left on his deal, and last year's fifth-round pick, Tyrell Crosby, looks to be developing into a capable swing backup who could potentially move into the starting lineup a year or two from now.