The Detroit Lions have many needs heading into the NFL draft, and eight choices to fill as many of them as possible. How are they going to do it?
Given that the Lions staggered into the postseason despite one of the NFL’s worst defenses, it is a safe assumption that they will spend their three picks on the draft’s first two days filling holes on that side of the ball. There are many different routes that can take, but it is certainly plausible that they will go into Day 3 with a cornerback, safety and edge pass rusher already secured. Given that scenario, here are some players that the Lions could be interested on the final day of the draft.
Elijah Qualls, DT, Washington
The Lions have never come close to replacing Ndamukong Suh, and they certainly won’t be doing that on the Saturday of the draft. At that point, they are looking for a player who can fit into a rotation with Haloti Ngata and A’Shawn Robinson. Ideally, it would be someone who can disrupt the pocket inside, but that would be a bonus. The key is someone who can stuff the run, and Qualls is that kind of player.
At 6-foot-1 and 315 pounds, he looks like the prototypical immovable object, but he’s agile enough that he worked as an edge rusher against Alabama. In the NFL, he’s going to be playing inside, and the Lions support staff will have to make sure that he doesn’t eat himself out of a job. If he shows up ready to lose weight and build strength, he’s got a chance to be the kind of stopper that the Lions need.
Elijah Lee, LB, Kansas State
The other player that Detroit has never replaced from the 2014 roster is linebacker DeAndre Levy. His last two seasons were ruined by injury, and he was released last month. At his best, he was an outstanding three-down outside linebacker who could handle running backs and tight ends in the passing game. Without him, the Lions have struggled against the run and the pass, with quarterbacks able to find tight ends for important gains all season.
Lee has the potential to help fix that problem. He had 110 tackles last season for the Wildcats and 190 in his last two years combined, so he has the instincts to play the run. Add in 5 interceptions and 6.5 sacks between his sophomore and junior seasons, and the Lions would have a linebacker who is used to playing every down. His technique needs work — that’s why he’s projected as a third-day pick — but he’s got a foundation.
Damien Mama, G, USC
After signing Ricky Wagner and T.J. Lang in free agency, the Lions have a good idea of what their starting offensive line is going to look like in Week 1. However, there’s not much depth, and left guard Graham Glasgow is the weakest link in the group.
Mama is a player who might have gone on Day 2 if not for concerns about his weight. He came to Southern California around 400 pounds, and although he’s down to 335, he’s going to be working closely with the team’s dietary staff. At the moment, he’s able to use his size to anchor himself against power rushers, and he’s developed the quickness to pull on running plays.
Working with NFL coaches should elevate those skills and add the kind of technique he needs to handle the tougher opponents that he’s going to see in the pro game. He’s not going to replace Glasgow, but he’ll be able to fill in during an injury situation as he works his way up the ladder.
Travis Rudolph, WR, Florida State
Matthew Stafford pulled out an NFL-record 8 come-from-behind victories in 2016 in his first season without Calvin Johnson, but the Lions know they need to give him more weapons if he’s going to get them back to the postseason. High on that list is a wide receiver who can stretch a defense vertically. Marvin Jones did that early in the season, but teams took him away later in the year, and Stafford’s other main targets were possession receivers.
Rudolph was a big-play guy at Florida State, and although he’s not a burner, he had 18 touchdowns in a three-year college career and put up 201 yards against Houston in the Peach Bowl as a sophomore.
Blake Jarwin, TE, Oklahoma State
The Lions will be considering a tight end early in the draft to push Eric Ebron, but that wouldn’t be Jarwin’s immediate role. Detroit’s last choice is No. 250, and that’s a spot where they can take a chance on someone who was learning the position during his college career.
Jarwin’s been a fullback, tight end, slot receiver and wide receiver, but at 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds, he’s going to be a tight end in the NFL. He didn’t put up big numbers at Oklahoma State — his last season was his best, recording 19 catches and 309 yards — but he’s got the potential to develop into a useful player after some polishing by an NFL staff.