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Saturday, April 20, 2013

Detroit Lions 2013 pre-NFL Draft Blog Part I


With less then a week to go before the 2013 NFL draft let's review exactly where the Detroit Lions are at.

The coaches, scouts and front office have reviewed all the players play from last year's Lions' roster and graded them... assigning each a dollar value (this was back in January and February). From that information various moves were made including making some roster cuts (such as Peterman and KVB); some players were asked to take a pay cut (such as Raiola); some were offered contracts that they eventually signed (such as Levy, Delmas, Young and others); some have offers but haven't yet signed (such as Lawrence Jackson); a number of free agents weren't made any offers (such as Avril, Cherilus and others); and a couple players retired (such as Jeff Backus and Jason Hanson). In addition, a number of Lions players took the majority of their 2013 salary as a signing bonus (the salary cap for which gets spread over the remainder of their contract) to free up 2013 cap space (but costing future cap space in the same amounts).

The Lions scouts and front office (with perhaps a little coaching input) also updated their grades (and dollar value) of every NFL player in the league on other teams... especially the players that were expected to make it into free agency. I highly recommend reading this article by a former front office guy about this exact process, it explains, in detail, how many front offices grade and pay free agents http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1583998-how-nfl-teams-determine-a-players-value Once free agency started the Lions quickly added to their roster a few players presumably for around the cap/salary amounts they targeted. This included running back Reggie Bush, defensive end Jason Jones, safety Glover Quinn and a little later on defensive tackle CJ Mosley and kicker David Akers (along with a few other players).

The Lions currently have $7,089,579 in cap space available and 67 players signed (by my calculations). This is pretty much exactly how much they will need to sign their draft picks and have enough cap to go into the season with (to replace guys who get injured and the like). However, they can still make some free agency moves if they so desire as only the top 51 contracts count until the season starts and there are more salary cap saving moves they could make if they really needed to. They are also working on a contract extension for Matthew Stafford which if successful would lock him up for more years and likely reduce his 2013 and probably his 2014 cap numbers (freeing up more salary cap space in those two years). Even if this doesn't happen the team will need to add some players after the draft to finish filling out the roster but they won't be big names or big contracts, perhaps players nearing the end of their careers who the Lions can get one more good year out of (for example). Who they will need to sign will depend on the results of the draft, for the Lions do not have any idea how the draft will fall or what needs will fail to be filled during it. The Lions will not rank their needs and target players to fill them in any kind of order during the draft, do not expect the biggest need to be filled in round 1, the 2nd biggest need to be filled in round 2, etc. When the Lions are on the clock they will have anywhere from just a couple to maybe a dozen players ranked similarly and will choose who to draft from that group... and it will be someone who has a good chance of making the final 53 roster (meaning they won't draft a player if there is no roster spot for him to fill). Some members of my forum call this BAPTFAN (Best Available Player That Fills Any Need).

To illustrate this, the Lions have at Quarterback their starter Matthew Stafford and his backup Shaun Hill. Neither are going anywhere and so neither a starting QB or 2nd stringer will be drafted (which is what you would attempt to get in the early rounds of the draft). The 3rd string QB is Kellen Moore and it's entirely possible the Lions will draft a developmental QB later in the draft to compete with Kellen Moore for that roster spot. It would have to be someone who is ranked higher then Moore and the draft would have to fall in such a way that that player ended up as one of the best players still available... and it would be in a very late round. If it happens it happens, if it doesn't then Moore remains the 3rd sting QB but might still be pushed for his roster spot by an undrafted free agent or some vet player the team picks up after the draft. The point is the Lions won't draft a QB early to compete against Moore as he's a 3rd stringer, won't draft a QB if he isn't at some point a member of the highest ranked group when they are on the clock, and won't draft a QB if he has no chance of beating out Moore for the roster spot.

At running back the Lions have Reggie Bush, Mikel Leshoure and Joique Bell. Bell can take over for Leshoure if injured (and still get in playing time as part of the rotation) but the Lions have no one to take over for Bush if he's injured (in the role they have him playing, which is a speedy RB able to catch the ball and make yards on his own). They do have on the roster Devin Moore and Shaun Chapas but if during the draft a RB should find himself as a member of the highest ranked players they are looking at when on the clock, if it's later in the draft where you might find value for a 4th string RB, and if the RB has a chance to beat out Moore and Chapas for a roster spot, then a speedy RB with big/good hands will be drafted. If it doesn't fall that way the Lions may look at undrafted players or stick with what they have.

At wide receiver the Lions have Calvin Johnson, Nate Burleson, Ryan Broyles, and Mike Thomas. Mike makes the roster by virtue of his salary being guaranteed, the only way he doesn't make the final roster is if someone really shows a ton more promise then him and can't make the roster any other way. That still leaves one and probably two spots open. The Lions will want to draft a player for the 5th spot who can compete and stand a good chance of earning the #2 WR spot opposite CJ at some point during 2013 (maybe not week 1). This means early in the draft. The potential 6th WR spot would have to be a special teams demon, or preferably a kick returner (since Logan also didn't receive a Lions contract... yet). On the roster are 9 guys already fighting for these roster spots but I fully expect that if the draft falls right a wide receiver will be selected in the first 3 rounds to add to that group and maybe even another later in the draft.

On the offensive line the Lions currently only have 8 guys signed. They will not go into training camp with only 8. But the draft and the make up of the OLine might not be anything like so many think. True, if Fisher or Joeckel are there to draft at pick #5 I expect the Lions to turn in their card and make the pick for a LT... however, if those two guys are gone I am not all that positive anyone in the draft will be ranked higher then Jason Fox and Riley Reiff, one of whom would win the starting left tackle spot (probably Fox). That is not a popular line of thinking but it is the way I see it. If the Lions draft a starting caliber guard then I see Reiff playing right tackle this year, but if they do not Reiff could end up playing right guard and Hilliard might play right tackle with another right tackle drafted in the middle rounds to back him up/push him for a starting role. Nagy, Austin, Reiff, Hilliard and Gandy give the Lions options in the draft (and free agency afterwards) as far as who plays where and who is added to the mix to compete for starting jobs and depth roles for they can each play more then one position.

At tight end the Lions have Pettigrew and Scheffler for one more year before they are both free agents. Heller didn't get re-signed (yet) and Nathan Overbay is on the roster to compete with whoever is added to the roster. I look for the Lions to add a tight end in the draft later on to compete against Overbay for a roster spot and to be used from time to time much like Reiff was last year, as a 6th OLineman... in other words, a blocking tight end with decent hands.

At defensive tackle the Lions have starters Suh and Fairley with newcomer CJ Mosley to rotate in. That leaves one spot open (or two if there is another really good prospect) for Nwagbuo and Saddler-McQueen. The Lions could go through the entire draft without making a DT selection or they might take one to compete for a roster spot anytime in day three.

At defensive end the Lions only have 3 on the roster. Jason Jones, Willie Young, and Ronnell Lewis. All three may make the final roster but in my opinion a starter opposite Jason Jones is desperately needed. However, the Lions don't draft on the ranking of need so this spot may not be filled with the first pick. That said, a 7th rounder has little chance of filling the starting role so one should be picked sooner rather then later in the draft... as long as one is found to rank high enough when the Lions are on the clock. For that matter, a 2nd DE selection could also be made in the draft... or perhaps LoJac will sign his offer... or maybe they sign a free agent after the draft. Lots of options here as in every position, some are just more ideal then others.

The Lions may be all set at Linebacker. Levy and Tulloch starting leaves one open starting spot and the Lions seem to be content to let Palmer and Whitehead battle it out for starter and backup. On the roster is also Carmen Messina and Travis Lewis, both of whom a later round draft pick may find it difficult to earn a roster spot over. The Lions will have more camp fodder (as I call it) to compete with these guys, I'm just not sure if they will be drafted players.

The same may be true at corner back. This is another unpopular position of mine but I don't think the Lions are ready to say the 3 CBs they drafted last year are all busts, they already re-signed Houston, and they already have a lot of depth to work with (there being 10 CBs on the roster). It would not surprise me in the least if no CB was drafted at all this year mainly because if he is he'd have to be ranked very high indeed to have a chance at a roster spot and that goes against BAPTFAN (see paragraph 4 above).

Last, at safety, the Lions have Delmas and Glover Quinn, with Wendling also likely making the roster. That leaves one or maybe two spots open for Silva, Tyrell Johnson and Amari Spievey. Here I could see a draft pick if ranked high enough at the right time to compete for what might be the last spot on the roster. This is assuming that Delmas doesn't break something before the draft actually starts (sorry, had to put that dig in there).

In summary, after studying the salary cap chart, the current roster and the draft rankings (more on that in part II of this blog) I can foresee the Lions taking the following positions in the draft:

Rounds 1 through 3; DE, WR, OLine (in no particular order)
Rounds 4 through 7; TE, RB, DT, Safety, and QB (also in no particular order).

They will be active in the undrafted group after the draft as well, for they should have as many as 15 roster spots left to fill to get to 90 and the draft may not fall the way it needs to for the above to happen.

To see my current estimated depth chart go to http://www.theNetRat.com/depthchart.html and select the 2013 chart, be sure to go to the tab marked pre-draft (the third tab).

To see my draft big board with the Lions visits highlighted be sure to re-visit here in a few days for part II.

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