NFL Draft 2017 preview: Detroit Lions' top needs, pick predictions

By Frank Cooney, NFLDraftScout.com  |  April 19, 2017 at 1:49 PM
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This is one in a series that covers each team, offering viewers information for homework, suggestions and then the opportunity to make a draft pick.

When the NFL Draft begins selections in Philadelphia April 27, the Detroit Lions have the No. 21 pick in the first round.

Here is an in-depth look at the team's needs, offseason changes, potential best fit and the selections by NFLDraftScout.com's experts.

Who would you pick and why?

Top five needs

1. Wide receiver: Marvin Jones and Golden Tate combined for 136 catches last season, but the rest of the receivers currently on their roster - Keshawn Martin, Jace Billingsley and TJ Jones - had six total catches. Anquan Boldin is a free agent and still could return, but the Lions, who use a lot of 11 personnel, don't currently have a reliable third receiver on the roster.

2. Linebacker: The Lions signed Paul Worrilow to replace DeAndre Levy in free agency, but still need more playmakers at the linebacker position. For now, Worrilow, Tahir Whitehead and Antwione Williams are the projected starters, though there's an opportunity for a rookie to step in and start in the middle of the defense.

3. Defensive end: The Lions tied for 30th in the league with just 26 sacks last season, and while some of that can be attributed to Ziggy Ansah's high ankle sprain, the team lacks a reliable No. 2 pass rusher. Cornelius Washington or Kerry Hyder will start at left end and Armonty Bryant can be a sub-package rusher. But the Lions need help up front.

4. Cornerback: The Lions appear set with their top three cornerbacks this year, Darius Slay, Nevin Lawson and D.J. Hayden, and have special-teams ace Johnson Bademosi waiting in reserve. But Slay is the only one of that quartet signed beyond 2017 and none of that group has been a huge playmaker throughout his career. In a deep cornerback draft, expect the Lions to come away with at least one cover man.

5. Tight end: Eric Ebron has shown steady improvement in his three NFL seasons, but the Lions have yet to commit to him beyond 2017. Darren Fells, a block-first tight end, is No. 2 on the depth chart. After having a revolving door at the position last year because of injuries, the Lions need more reliable Ebron insurance.

BEST FIT

Haason Reddick, LB, Temple. Reddick's stock has skyrocketed since the end of the college season to the point that he might sneak into the top half of the first round. If he makes it to 21, though, the Lions would be wise to snap him up. Reddick played defensive end at Temple, but should transition to linebacker in the NFL. The Lions have a huge need at the position, with Tahir Whitehead, Paul Worrilow and Antwione Williams their projected starters, and Reddick's athletic profile fits what they want in linebackers. In sub packages, the Lions could even use Reddick as a pass rusher to help their thin crop of defensive ends.

PREDICTION

Rob Rang: T.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin. Aggressive moves in free agency signal that Detroit has high expectations in 2017. A healthy Ziggy Ansah for the entire season would certainly go a long way towards boosting the pass rush, but he could use some help. Watt is surprisingly polished given that he began his career at tight end, showing the instincts and refined hand play to make an immediate impact opposite Ansah, who led the NFC with 14.5 sacks when healthy in 2015.

Dane Brugler: T.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin. While an extension sounds likely for Ziggy Ansah, another pass-rush weapon opposite him should be high on the wish list. Watt can put his hand on the ground and create pressure from the edge in Detroit's scheme.

Jim Miller: David Njoku, TE, Miami. Miller has raved about Njoku on the SiriusXM Moving the Chains show, so this is no surprise.

Frank Cooney, IMO: Going with my NFLDraftScout.com teammates on this one. T. J. Watt, OLB/DE, from Wisconsin because the Lions have a need there and you must like his bloodlines rather than hope that Haason Reddick's late ascent on draft boards is justified.

OK, it's your turn. Tell us in the comments section who you would pick and why. Check out top 1,000 players rated by NFLDraftScout.com, including combine and pro day workouts, biographies, scouting reports.

Frank Cooney, founder and publisher of The Sports Xchange and NFLDraftScout.com, is in his sixth decade covering football and 25th year on the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee.

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