ESPN's Mel Kiper gives Lions top DT to pair with Jeffrey Okudah in latest mock

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

When it comes to projecting who the Detroit Lions will take in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft, little has changed for ESPN analyst Mel Kiper, or many prognosticators, for that matter.

For months, the most popular prospect being slotted to the Lions has been Ohio State cornerback Jeffrey Okudah. At this point, whether you love the idea or not, you can acknowledge the logic behind it is sound. The Lions need a long-term solution to replace Darius Slay, who the team traded to Philadelphia last month, and cornerback is one of the most valuable positions on the field in this pass-happy era of NFL football. 

TCU defensive tackle Ross Blacklock could fill a need for the Lions along the defensive line.

So if we concede Okudah is going to be the overwhelmingly popular pick in mock drafts, thus making the business of first-round predictions kind of boring for those who follow the Lions, our interest turns to those willing to expand their projections an additional round or more. 

Kiper has done just that in his most recent effort, and in the second round he has the Lions filling another significant roster hole with TCU defensive tackle Ross Blacklock. 

"Matt Patricia really needs to fix the Lions' defense, and Blacklock could slide in as a starter next to free-agent addition Danny Shelton," Kiper writes. "Blacklock played a lot of nose tackle at TCU, but he could rush the passer more in Detroit's 4-3 defense."

The Lions have already re-worked the position group this offseason, cutting Damon Harrison and letting A'Shawn Robinson walk in free agency. The team is also not expected to re-sign Mike Daniels. To fill the void the Lions signed Shelton, a first-round pick in 2015, and Nick Williams, who is coming off a breakout season in Chicago. They'll be paired with the talented, but oft-injured Da'Shawn Hand. 

The consensus among draftniks is Blacklock is the third-best defensive tackle prospect in this class, behind Auburn's Derrick Brown and South Carolina's Javon Kinlaw, both who figure to be selected in the first 15 picks. 

Unlike Brown and Kinlaw, who are clear fits for Detroit's scheme, Blacklock is a less obvious fit. Measuring in at 6-foot-3, 290 pounds at the combine, he's considered slightly undersized for the position. He compensates for his build with above-average athleticism, which shows up in his burst at the snap. 

Scouting Blacklock, analyst Lance Zierlein writes, "(He) flashes menacing disruptive qualities as a gap seeker, but is just ordinary when forced to sit and take on blocks. Blacklock rebounded from a 2018 Achilles injury and showed off basketball quickness that was often too much for a single blocker. However, his technique and hand usage need work, as he's inconsistent holding the point and keeping his feet. He's a hit-or-miss run defender, but he's a relentless pass rusher with elite lateral quickness and change of direction to exploit interior galoots and open pathways to the pocket."

The Lionscertainly could use another interior defender with ability to disrupt the pocket, but Zierlein's suggestion that Blacklock could struggle taking on blocks runs counter to the preferred skill set the Lions like up front. 

Regardless, the Lions could use more help up front, and while not necessarily as the starter Kiper projects, Blacklock's skill set could probably be worked into Detroit's multi-front defense by new defensive coordinator Cory Undlin. 

Other defensive tackle options beyond the first round include Missouri's Jordan Elliott, Utah's Leki Fotu, Ohio State's DaVon Hamilton and Alabama's Raekwon Davis.

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers