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Lions say need matched up with player grades

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ALLEN PARK, Mich. — Detroit Lions general manager Martin Mayhew typically skirts need to take talent in the draft, but this year, the team addressed most of the obvious holes — offensive line, defensive tackle, running back and cornerback.

“This was a case, I think, a lot of times where the need met up with the right grade on a player,” Mayhew said. “For example, in the first round there were a lot of good offensive linemen and defensive linemen around that time in the draft. We ended up getting a pretty good guard, we think. Throughout the draft the need frequently matched up with the grades on the players. We checked off a lot of things we thought that we needed.”

–Lions offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi said Saturday during the draft he expects Riley Reiff to remain at left tackle next season.

The Lions researched many of the top offensive tackle prospects in the draft hoping to find an upgrade at left tackle and kick Reiff to the right side, but ultimately used their first-round pick on former Duke guard Laken Tomlinson, the presumed starter at left guard in 2015.

The Lions took South Carolina tackle Corey Robinson in the seventh-round, but he’ll be competing for a role as a backup.

–Most of the seven players the Lions drafted had significant contact with an assistant coach during the draft, and Mayhew said the coaches have a key impact in the decision-making process.

“Because they’re going to be locked in a room with those guys for eight, nine, 10 hours a day,” Mayhew said. “They have to work with those guys every single day, so I want them to have guys that they want to have. I tell those guys before the draft, ‘Hey, I’m not going to draft a guy you don’t want to coach.’ So, if we get on the board, we have names on the board and I ask, ‘Do you want to coach this guy?’ And coaches have said no, and we draft somebody else. I think it’s important to have a relationship where the coach is as vested in that player as I am and as our scouts are and he wants that guy to be successful as much as our scouts want the guy to be successful too.”

–For the first time since taking over in 2009, Mayhew did not draft a wide receiver.

He said, “I think that a couple times during the draft we had a receiver’s name up there, but there was somebody else that was more appealing. There was a reason to go in a different direction.”

A closer look at the Lions’ picks:

Round 1/28 — Laken Tomlinson, G, 6-3, 323, Duke

The Lions had a few players they liked left on the board at No. 23 and found a perfect trade-down partner in the Broncos. In addition to Tomlinson, the Lions got veteran interior offensive lineman Manny Ramirez and a fifth-round pick this year and in 2016. Plus, the mauling Tomlinson gives the Lions a long-term solution at left guard who can help improve their 28th-ranked rushing attack.

Round 2/54 — Ameer Abdullah, RB, 5-9, 205, Nebraska

After struggling to run the ball last year and cutting Reggie Bush, the Lions needed a boost in their run game. The shifty but strong Abdullah can provide that as he can run inside and outside, be a receiving option and immediately improve the returner spot.

Round 3/80 — Alex Carter, CB, 6-0, 196, Stanford

The Lions gave the fifth-round pick they acquired from Denver, No. 143, to Minnesota to move up from No. 88 to take the high-upside Carter. He wasn’t very productive his junior year in 2014, but teams rarely threw at him. He’s strong and fast enough to play inside or outside, giving him a chance to contribute as a rookie, and could be a future option at safety.

Round 4/113 — Gabe Wright, DT, 6 -3, 300, Auburn

With no pick in the fourth round after trading it to Baltimore in the Haloti Ngata deal, the Lions gave up a 2016 third-round pick to Philadelphia to move into the fourth round and take Wright, whom they considered in the third round. He’s a quick, penetrating pass rusher who fits the height and weight measurables the Lions look for on the interior and should be a rotational player immediately.

Round 5/168 — Michael Burton, FB, 5-11, 242, Rutgers

With the first two picks, the Lions proved they wanted to improve their power rushing attack. With Burton, they add a player who can be a lead blocker, effective receiver and a core special teams player. He’s not flashy, but was a good value at a position the Lions needed to upgrade. The Lions acquired this pick in a trade with Tampa Bay for defensive end George Johnson.

Round 6/200 — Quandre Diggs, CB, 5-9, 196, Texas

He’s small, but Diggs packs a punch. He doesn’t have great long speed, but the Lions like his ability to anticipate in coverage. Diggs will compete for time in the slot, but the Lions think he can play outside, too.

Round 7/240 — Corey Robinson, T, 6-foot-7, 324, South Carolina

Robinson fits the mold of undrafted tackles the Lions targeted the last two years, the big-bodied LaAdrian Waddle and Cornelius Lucas, but they didn’t want to risk missing him. With Waddle potentially recovering from his knee injury into the season, Robinson provides an SEC-tested tackle option who can be Lucas’ backup at right tackle.


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