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Detroit Lions' draft needs: Justin Gilbert could star in secondary


Roster weaknesses: Every team has them, and the draft is often the best way to address them. With the 2014 NFL Draft fast approaching, NFL Media's Daniel Jeremiah will be taking an up-close look at the main areas of weakness -- and the prospects who could fix them -- for all 32 squads in the league. Be sure to catch "Path to the Draft" on NFL Network at 7 p.m. ET Monday through Friday for more in-depth analysis.

The Detroit Lions have the top receiver in football in Calvin Johnson and a quarterback in Matthew Stafford who has finished among the top three in total passing yards for three years running. They also have a combined record of 11-21 over the past two seasons and play in the same division as the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears. Oh, and they have a new coach in Jim Caldwell.

Caldwell is taking over a team that has made it to the playoffs just once -- as a wild-card entrant in 2011 -- in the seven years since Johnson arrived as the second overall draft pick. As the Lions attempt to elbow their way past Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler to the top of the NFC North, I could see them using the draft to boost a pass defense that ranked 23rd in 2013. And, of course, they could continue searching for additional receiving talent to help take some of the load off Johnson.

Here are four positions of need for Detroit -- and some prospects who could fill them:

1) Cornerback

The Lions have a pair of serviceable veteran cornerbacks on the roster (Chris Houston and Rashean Mathis) plus two youngsters with upside (Darius Slay and Bill Bentley) -- but they still lack a premier talent at the position.

With the 10th overall pick in their hands, the Lions will probably have their choice of any corner in the draft. In my opinion, Justin Gilbert of Oklahoma State is the top guy; he has outstanding size (6-foot, 202 pounds), length, burst and ball skills. On top of that, Gilbert is arguably the most gifted kickoff returner in the draft.

2) Wide receiver

Detroit obviously already has an extremely valuable asset in Megatron, and the team moved aggressively to bolster its offense by reeling in former Seattle Seahawks receiver Golden Tate in free agency. However, after those two, the roster is very thin at the position, and I expect Detroit to attempt to add depth with an early draft pick.

Path to the Draft
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The team visited with Sammy Watkins, but the Lions would likely have to trade up to have a chance at drafting the Clemson speedster. If Mike Evans (Texas A&M) is gone by the time their pick comes up, I see them waiting until the second or third round to move on a receiver. Colorado product Paul Richardson is an intriguing second-round option with rare game speed; given the single coverage he'd likely see opposite Johnson, Richardson could generate a lot of big plays.

3) Safety

Glover Quin signed with Detroit last offseason and James Ihedigbo joined him this year, but I don't think that would discourage the Lions from pursuing a difference-making centerfielder in the draft. New defensive coordinator Teryl Austin came over from Baltimore, where, as the Ravens' secondary coach, he worked with a premier playmaker at the position in Ed Reed. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (Alabama) would be a great fit in Austin's defense, with his excellent instincts, range and production. Washington State's Deone Bucannon would be a good second-round option, while Terrence Brooks of Florida State would make sense in the third.

4) Interior offensive line

Detroit's offensive line played very well in 2013 under Jeremiah Washburn, who was in his first year as the offensive line coach; Stafford was sacked just 23 times, less than almost every other starting signal-caller in the NFL. Yes, the Lions already have several young pieces on the line, between 2012 first-rounder Riley Reiff, 2013 third-rounder Larry Warford, who was one of the best interior linemen among last year's rookies, and LaAdrian Waddle, who played surprisingly well as an undrafted rookie free agent. But another key piece -- center Dominic Raiola -- will be entering his 14th year in the NFL. Though Raiola played at a high level in 2013, I think it might be time to start planning for the future and secure his eventual replacement.

Weston Richburg (Colorado State) is, in my opinion, the best center in the draft. He was outstanding at the Senior Bowl and would be a perfect fit in the Lions' scheme -- and he can likely be had in the third round. If Detroit is looking for guard depth, Trai Turner from LSU could also be an option in that round. Turner has very quick feet and is physical at the point of attack, though he's a bit stiff when adjusting in space.


Brooks: Potential Round 1 surprises
While some names pop up in every mock draft, Bucky Brooks identifies 10 underrated guys who could be first-rounders. READ

So what will the Lions do with their first-round pick (No. 10 overall)? Here's what NFL Media's analysts see happening, according to their mock draft projections (click here for full mock drafts):

Daniel Jeremiah: Taylor Lewan
Bucky Brooks: Eric Ebron
Charles Davis: Justin Gilbert
Matt Smith: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix
Chase Goodbread: Mike Evans

Follow Daniel Jeremiah on Twitter @MoveTheSticks.



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