The NFL draft is still almost four months away and the Detroit Lions are still without a head coach, a known staff of assistants and have not gone through any free agency yet.
But there are obvious needs for the Lions heading into this offseason, most notably on the outside of the field at both wide receiver and cornerback. Detroit desperately needs a spread-the-field option opposite star Calvin Johnson at receiver.
And the secondary has been a mess for a few years now. While the Lions have faith in 2013 second-round pick Darius Slay and some of Detroit’s other cornerbacks showed flashes of potential, the Lions don’t have a clear No. 1 cornerback at this point.
By the end of last season Rashean Mathis was the team’s top cornerback, and the veteran is a free agent. Detroit still has Chris Houston, but he struggled with consistency last season, having some games where he flashed potential to be a top cornerback and other games where he had so many issues, the Lions benched him.
So with corner and receiver two of the team’s top needs, here are some potential options for Detroit with the No. 10 selection in May’s draft.
Sammy Watkins, Clemson: He is the best receiver in this draft and a special overall talent. He may not have the height of some of the NFL’s top receivers like Calvin Johnson, A.J. Green and Larry Fitzgerald, but he is still over 6-foot tall and has the speed and production Detroit would want as a complement to Johnson. The ESPN draft profile of him lists his production and height-weight-speed combination and big-play ability as exceptional and his separation skills, balls skills and competitiveness as above average. This season, he had 101 catches for 1,464 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Marqise Lee, USC: Behind Watkins, Lee might be the best receiver in the draft. His numbers are down from this season compared to the prior two, but he also missed three games and didn’t have Matt Barkley throwing to him anymore. With Barkley throwing to him, Lee had 118 catches for 1,721 yards and 14 touchdowns as a sophomore. He is essentially the same height as Watkins. His production, intangibles, separation and ball skills are exceptional and his height-weight-speed combination, big-play ability and competitiveness are all listed as above average.
Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt: After Watkins and Lee, there is more of a question of who comes next between Matthews and Texas A&M’s Mike Evans. I like Matthews a bit more than Evans at this point, mostly because he was the clear top option for the Commodores in every game this season and managed to still grab 112 balls for 1,477 yards and seven touchdowns, including nine 100-yard games this season. He has more height than Watkins or Lee. That’s more consistency than Evans, who had five 100-yard games with a better quarterback, but also had two 250-yard games.
Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State: At 6-foot, Gilbert has good size for a cornerback in the NFL and is rated as the top cornerback in this year’s draft. His ESPN draft profile has him with exceptional height-weight-speed and durability along with above average production, cover skills, ball skills and in run support. Gilbert had 42 tackles, seven interceptions and seven pass breakups in 2013 for the Cowboys.
Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State: Dennard won the Jim Thorpe Award this season and was a consensus first-team All-American. He had 62 tackles this season with four interceptions, two forced fumbles, five quarterback hurries and 10 pass breakups. He is a little smaller than Gilbert at 5-foot-11 but has excellent instincts and can be a really strong cover corner at the next level.
Loucheiz Purifoy, Florida: He didn’t have the numbers of Gilbert or Dennard and is probably a step down from the two of them in terms of talent. He had 24 tackles, two interceptions and seven pass breakups this season. His size is comparable to Gilbert and his cover skills are listed by his ESPN draft profile as exceptional. He is rated just below his Florida teammate, Marcus Roberson, on the Scouts, Inc. big board, but Roberson’s injuries last season pushed Purifoy ahead in my mind. Neither one would be in the top three if Oregon’s Ifo Ekpre-Olomu had chosen to head into the draft instead of staying in school.