In his first two drafts as the Detroit Lions general manager, Bob Quinn has addressed what he -- and what many -- believed to be the top need for his team in the first round.
It led to offensive tackle Taylor Decker in 2016 and linebacker Jarrad Davis before last season. While it’s unclear exactly what Quinn views as the top need this year, there are a few options -- things he’s already mentioned in the first six weeks of Detroit’s offseason.
Quinn wants to add at least one running back after Detroit finished last in the league in rushing in 2017. And he believes he needs to add defensive players to improve the talent level in a group that has a couple of stars (Glover Quin, Darius Slay) but struggled with pass rush and against the run after Haloti Ngata suffered a season-ending injury.
So it’s of little surprise that Mel Kiper Jr., in his second mock draft, filled one of those needs. What is a little surprising is the way he went with it. While pass-rusher or defensive tackle has been a common thread of mock drafts thus far, Kiper instead gave the Lions a dynamic running back at pick No. 20: LSU’s Derrius Guice.
The running back class is deep this season and it would seem likely Detroit would take a runner either on the first or second day of the draft. Guice is an intriguing option. He has the size to be an every-down back at 5-foot-11, 212 pounds. He’s also just turning 21 in June, so if you use the metric that running backs decline sharply after age 30, he’ll have more potentially productive NFL years.
Guice had back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons at LSU and never had a season when he averaged fewer than 5.3 yards per carry. When he was the Tigers’ main back the last two seasons, he ran for 26 touchdowns. He did this while dealing with injuries throughout the 2017 season. That could be a concern for Detroit -- the medical tests in Indianapolis next week will be important there -- but if he’s healthy, he could be the long-awaited back the Lions have been trying to find for the majority of the past 18 years.
As Guice got healthier last year, he played much better, averaging 4 yards per carry or better in every game the last three weeks of the season and then in LSU’s bowl game. He had five 100-yard games in 2017 and a 276-yard game against Mississippi. He also had two games of 250 yards or more in 2016, when he had six 100-yard games.
The Lions have a lot of questions in their backfield, with Ameer Abdullah going into the final year of his rookie contract and a lack of known depth. Tion Green showed flashes as a rookie last season, but the Lions can’t go into the 2018 season with him as their top back. Theo Riddick has shown that he’s best used as a pass-catcher.
If the Lions were to draft a first-round running back based on Kiper's list, Guice is the choice that makes sense – although USC’s Ronald Jones would be another name to watch. Potential targets for the Lions on the defensive line were already gone in this mock draft, including Alabama’s Da’Ron Payne, Washington’s Vita Vea and UTSA’s Marcus Davenport.
Two defensive linemen who could be options -- Boston College’s Harold Landry and Michigan’s Maurice Hurst – were still on the board in Kiper’s mock, but he went with a running back instead, and that is a realistic scenario for the Lions.