BRISTOL, Conn. -- There were a multitude of options and really, the decision was close enough that any of five players could have been logical at No. 20 for the Detroit Lions during the 2018 ESPN NFL Nation mock draft Tuesday night.
Three were on defense, two were on offense. None are perfect players and all -- in some way or form -- can fit in what the Lions are expected to look like this year and in the future under coach Matt Patricia. As you found out Tuesday night, I selected Florida defensive lineman Taven Bryan over some other more popular players for Detroit.
And those players are ones that could have made easy sense, too.
LSU running back Derrius Guice and UTEP guard Will Hernandez were both offensive players who could have been sensible at the spot. But a few things dissuaded me from those players as the board fell. With Guice, he’s a great player, but between the way general manager Bob Quinn spoke about the position in his pre-draft news conference and the depth of the class this year, it seemed like a spot Detroit could wait until Day 2 for and still get good value.
With Hernandez, he’s potentially a really good player and would help finish defining the Lions’ offensive line. Was real close toward leaning in this direction, especially since Quinn didn’t rule out an offensive lineman early. But Detroit could find a guard or center later (the franchise has had third-round success on interior linemen recently with Graham Glasgow, Larry Warford and Travis Swanson).
Then there’s the defensive prospects, and the difference between Alabama defensive tackle Da’Ron Payne, Boston College linebacker/defensive end Harold Landry and Bryan was extremely small. All make sense for Patricia’s multiple defense.
Payne and Landry both have experience with some Lions coaches -- Payne was coached by defensive line coach Bo Davis at Alabama and Landry by defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni at BC. They both are good athletes, too.
Payne would solve some of the run-stopping issues immediately, but would need work as a pass-rusher and if he didn’t improve there, he could end up off the field on clear passing downs. But Payne doesn’t have the versatility Landry and Bryan offer by playing multiple positions and in Patricia’s defense, having that type of flexibility as an early-round pick could be a tie-breaker.
Landry is a pass-rusher -- the Lions definitely need those -- and while there are concerns about his size, there's no questioning his speed. If he’s there at No. 20, he could easily be the selection. It wouldn’t surprise me and I waffled in the days leading up to the draft between Landry and Bryan if he was there.
There’s not a great reason why I went with Bryan over Landry. Both have good chances to be high-level NFL players and there’s a fair argument to be made for both of them.
Patricia, though, values building the defense starting in the middle and if there’s a part of the middle of the defense that is a bigger issue than the others, it’s defensive tackle. Detroit has Jarrad Davis at middle linebacker and a combination of safeties led by Glover Quin at the back end. On the defensive line, though, the Lions lost Haloti Ngata and A’Shawn Robinson is still in a prove-it stage.
Bryan would be a little bit of a project, but he could play right away in a rotation with Robinson, Akeem Spence and Sylvester Williams as he adjusts to the NFL game. He has the athletic ability to be special and if Patricia believes he has the right coach to do it, they can coach him and improve him on both the interior and at end to be a high-level pass-rusher from either spot.
That versatility, which should play well into Patricia’s defense, is part of the reason for selecting Bryan with my pick. A lot of the same can be said for Landry at different positions, but solidifying the middle with also finding a potential rusher at end in one player could be enticing.
Plus, Quinn has shown an affinity for Florida players early in the draft, with Davis and Teez Tabor being the Lions' first two picks last year. If the Lions -- or whatever team takes Bryan -- can convert his athleticism into production, he’s going to be a massive player and potentially a game-changer.
So Bryan is a bit more of a risk than the safe picks of Taylor Decker and Davis the past two seasons, but Detroit is in a little better position now to take a risk than in years past, when the needs were completely obvious.
Bryan fills one of those needs -- maybe two -- and by no means is he the sure-fire pick. But he is one who makes sense for Detroit at No. 20 -- or if the club trades back a few selections in the first round.