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NFL Draft Preview: Lions likely to dig in trenches

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ALLEN PARK, Mich. — With the draft approaching, the Detroit Lions seemingly have all the same needs they had when the 2014 season ended.

They lost defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley in free agency, and even though they added Haloti Ngata and Tyrunn Walker, they could still use another impact player on the interior.

The offensive line struggled last year, and the Lions have yet to sign any offensive lineman with significant experience. The Lions didn’t have much quality depth at outside cornerback behind Rashean Mathis and Darius Slay, and that didn’t change. They cut Reggie Bush and didn’t replace him with another running back. They also didn’t add a wide receiver capable of being a No. 3 option.

When the draft finally arrives, whatever position the Lions choose in the first few rounds should come as no surprise because they have plenty of holes as well as positions that could use an upgrade.

In addition to Suh and Fairley, the Lions lost defensive end George Johnson. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers signed Johnson to an offer sheet as a restricted free agent, and after the Lions disputed the offer sheet, they traded Johnson and a seventh-round pick to Tampa Bay for a fifth-round pick.

Defensive tackle C.J. Mosley, center Dominic Raiola and left guard Rob Sims are among the free agents the Lions have not re-signed. Without Sims, the Lions don’t have any players on the roster with NFL experience at left guard, so that should be a target early in the draft.

Quarterback Matthew Stafford said he’s not worried about the unknown at left guard.

“It’s April. We’re not playing a game tomorrow,” he said. “I’m not too worried about it. I trust the guys upstairs.”

In addition to Walker and Ngata, the biggest additions the Lions made this offseason were defensive end Phillip Hunt and cornerback Josh Wilson, who will likely compete to play nickel.

Even though the Lions didn’t lose any offensive tackles, those two spots are up in the air. The presumed right tackle LaAdrian Waddle is still recovering from a torn ACL, and the team is hoping to move Riley Reiff to right tackle and upgrade at left tackle in the draft.

“Athleticism, obviously ability to move your feet, hold the point on the edge, pretty well rounded guy, able to cut off as well,” coach Jim Caldwell said of what he looks for in a left tackle.

At running back, the Lions trust Joique Bell and Theo Riddick, but could add a third option. At wide receiver, the Lions have brought in five of the top return men for pre-draft visits hoping to find an upgrade over Jeremy Ross.

The options are endless for the Lions in the draft, but they need an influx of talent and guys who can contribute in 2015 to account for what they lost in free agency.

2014 Record: 11-5, 2nd in NFC North

First Draft Pick: #23 Overall

BEST FIT: T La’el Collins, LSU

The Lions are looking to improve their offensive line, and Collins could fit in at a couple spots. If he’s good enough at left tackle, Riley Reiff can move to right tackle, or Collins can fill the left guard spot that’s currently open.

TEAM NEEDS

1. Tackle: The Lions ranked 28th in rushing last year and allowed 45 sacks, a career high for Matthew Stafford, so they’re doing everything possible to revamp the offensive line this offseason. They’ve had zero consistency at right tackle the past two years, mostly due to injuries, but they hope to move Riley Reiff to that spot to make it more secure. And if they do that, the most likely candidate to play left tackle is a draft pick as the other candidates on the team are LaAdrian Waddle, who went undrafted in 2013, and Cornelius Lucas, who went undrafted in 2014.

2. Defensive tackle: The Lions added Haloti Ngata via trade and signed Tyrunn Walker after the Saints declined to tender him as a restricted free agent. But those two players won’t match the production the Lions lost in Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley. Plus, Ngata and Walker will be free agents after 2015, so the Lions need to secure the position for the future. A pass rushing option to play next to Ngata makes a lot of sense.

3. Guard: Cornerback and running back are a big need, but the Lions simply don’t have a left guard right now. Even though he was unlikely to win the job, Rodney Austin was the starting left guard on the depth chart before he was cut this week. The Lions appear set with Larry Warford at right guard and Travis Swanson at center, each a third-round pick the last two years. If they take a guard in the first three rounds, the Lions will feel much more confident up front.


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