Lions NFL draft preview: Cornerbacks

The NFL draft is a day away, which means soon enough the Detroit Lions will have to reveal whether all of their Sammy Watkins attention and visits from Jadeveon Clowney and Khalil Mack had substance or were designed to throw everyone off.

But the draft will be more than just one round for the Lions, who will need to use the three days in May to build depth on a roster that is big on stars but small on those players beyond the big names that can turn the Lions into a playoff team.

Every day up until the first day of the draft, we’ll look at a different position grouping and see what Detroit has and what the team could end up looking for during the 2014 draft.

Today continues with the cornerbacks.

Other previews

Players Lost: None.

Players Signed: Rashean Mathis (re-signed); Cassius Vaughn (signed from Indianapolis); Aaron Hester

Players on the roster: Chris Houston; Darius Slay; Bill Bentley; Jonte Green; Chris Greenwood; Akwasi Owusu-Ansah; Mathis; Hester; Vaughn.

Draft priority: High

Potential Rounds: Any

Players who have visited or the Lions have met with: Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State; Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech; Bradley Roby, Ohio State.

Analysis: Since the end of last season, cornerback has been an obvious and major need for the Lions. That has not changed and, if anything, has heightened in the past few weeks as Houston continues to heal slowly from a toe injury.

That both Martin Mayhew and Jim Caldwell have expressed concern about Houston getting back to his 2012 form could be telling that the Lions believe they need to make a move on a cornerback, be it in the first, second or third round.

Add to that something else Mayhew said Monday – that by the third season, a cornerback is either going to get it or he won’t. Bentley, Green and Greenwood are all entering their third seasons. Slay is moving into Year 2. Owusu-Ansah will be in his fourth season in the league, but third with any experience. Between the five of them, the Lions have to hope they can find two good cornerbacks.

They re-signed Mathis as an insurance policy if the same thing happens in 2014 that happened in 2013, but the Lions would probably like to have him as a strong depth and fill-in performer instead of as their No. 1 corner, which he was in 2013.

Then there’s Houston, whom the Lions could be stuck with no matter what in 2014 because of the potential salary-cap hit if he were cut. But he is also in a play-or-be-cut season this year as well since the Lions are in a win-now mode anyway.

All of this means expect Detroit to once again take a cornerback fairly early in the draft, although the first round could be a stretch at No. 10. If the Lions trade down, though, or trade back up into the first round – cornerback could be a targeted possibility.

Of all reasonable options, I’d take: The ideal option in my head would be for the Lions to trade back to eventually take Fuller. But Fuller is probably too much of a reach at No. 10 to reasonably pull off. So if the Lions pick at No. 10 or trade up, watch for Stanley Jean-Baptiste from Nebraska in the second round.

Jean-Baptiste has the height defensive coordinator Teryl Austin covets – he wants corners over 6-feet – and has the experience playing big-time college football. He would be a good addition for the Lions, who have to deal with receivers Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson in the division, among others.

Possible targets: Gilbert; Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State; Fuller; Roby; Jean-Baptiste; Keith McGill, Utah; Phillip Gaines, Rice; Aaron Colvin, Oklahoma; Jaylen Watkins, Florida; Ross Cockrell, Duke; Dontae Johnson, North Carolina State.