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Mailbag: Who starts at linebacker other than DeAndre Levy?

By this time next week, the mock drafts will be over and the real draft will have started to play out. The Detroit Lions will have a good idea, too, of what the franchise still needs to find in post-draft free agency.

And the questions will undoubtedly shift from the draft to the product on the field for the spring and the fall. But there’s one last round of draft questions – with a linebacking question in there, too.

To ask a question for a future Mailbag, use the hashtag #LionsMailbag on Twitter, email me at michael.rothstein@espn.com or ask away on Facebook.

Now, on to your questions.

@mikerothstein: This is a pretty decent question. Right now I’d say you can only assume one of the three spots as long as he’s healthy – DeAndre Levy at the weakside spot. The other two spots are somewhat up for grabs. Tahir Whitehead would appear to be the expected starter at middle linebacker , but he’s going to get pushed by Josh Bynes. Since both players have special-teams value as well, they should both end up on the roster. A first-round draft pick also could push for time in the middle, especially if it ends up being Reggie Ragland or Darron Lee. The bigger question is what happens at strongside linebacker, which is not a spot that will be used all that often anyway. The Whitehead-Bynes loser would be the expected player to fill in there – particularly if it is Whitehead since he has played there before.

Kyle Van Noy is likely in a win-or-be-in-danger spot at strongside LB as well, considering he’s entering his third season and hasn’t done much. Brandon Copeland could be interesting here, too, although when he signed his exclusive rights deal he was listed as a defensive end, so he could be heading for a life as a sub-package edge-setter. But he’ll likely get a look at SAM as well.

This was a long answer to your question, but if I had to handicap it today, I would say the base 4-3 linebackers for the Lions would be Levy at Will, Whitehead at Mike and Van Noy (at least at the start of the season) at Sam. Keep in mind, too, that the Lions will often be in nickel so Quandre Diggs is likely to see more playing time than any of the Sam backers.

@mikerothstein: It would seem like the Lion are doing extensive homework on Vernon Butler, much like the franchise is for a lot of defensive tackles in this deep draft. It's possible the Lions would draft him, but at this point based on mock drafts I've seen, Detroit might be able to trade down a few spots to nab him and pick up an extra pick if that's what the franchise wanted to do. This is Bob Quinn's first go-round as general manager so it's tough to know what's smoke and what's fire this year . So that's a long answer for saying I wouldn't read too much into it other than Detroit is learning as much as possible about as many interior defensive linemen as possible.

@mikerothstein: He's a good player and someone whom the Lions could pair with Darius Slay for a very long time. It would solidify the position for 2017 while giving him a chance to grow a little behind Nevin Lawson in 2016. If the Lions went with a corner at No. 16, it would likely be a concerning thing for Alex Carter, since he has yet to play. His height and arms make him an attractive player. That said, I still think the Lions take a lineman (offensive or defensive) or a linebacker in the first round.