(Second in a series looking at the Detroit Lions’ positional needs for the NFL draft which begins on Thursday. Today the offensive line.)
Martin Mayhew, the Detroit Lions general manager, was not afraid to practically gush about the prospect of drafting offensive tackle Eric Fisher with the fifth overall pick in the NFL draft which starts Thursday.
That does not mean, however, that Fisher can count on being drafted by his hometown team. Fisher played football in high school at Rochester Hills Stoney Creek and then at Central Michigan University.
Two reasons — he might not be available and the Lions could go in another direction such as defensive end or cornerback.
A year ago the Lions drafted Riley Reiff with the 23rd overall pick and he’s likely to fill one of the three vacant offensive line starting roles — left tackle, right tackle and right guard. Jason Fox or Corey Hilliard can compete for a tackle spot, while Bill Nagy and Rodney Austin could vie for the guard position.
The Lions chatted with Fisher at the NFL Combine and the Senior Bowl and had him come in as one of their 30 pre-draft prospect visits.
Even if they loved him above any of the other top prospects, they might not have a chance to draft him.
He’s widely considered as a top five pick, some have him going first overall. Other draft experts have tackle Luke Joeckel (Texas A&M) going first. Both expected to go in the top five though.
Joeckel didn’t visit the Lions, but that is not a deal killer.
Lane Johnson has risen up the charts and is another possibility for the Lions.
In fact, NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock would take Johnson over defensive ends Ziggy Ansah or Dion Jordan if Fisher and Joeckel go in the top four picks.
“People don't talk about it because (Johnson is) not a skill position guy, but he had the freakiest Combine of any player I've seen in 10 years and I think his upside is unlimited,’’ Mayock said.
“So you have to decide whether you want Lane Johnson right there, or whether you're going to take a chance on a Ziggy Ansah or a Jordan if he's there. And to me if you're projecting an Ansah or a Jordan, who did not have all that many snaps, I'm going to probably sit there and take Lane Johnson. Because on the other side of the line of scrimmage, Ansah and Jordans, you have questions, also. So if you have questions with all three of them, I think I'm going with a tackle because I need one,’’ Mayock added.
While offensive tackle seems the likely direction if the Lions are looking for offensive line help, guard is a possibility too.
Mayhew cracked the door on that chance in his pre-draft press conference discussing how the rookie salary cap changes have made it easier to draft a guard with a high pick.
“The slot that we’re in right now is probably $19 (million) to 20 million over the first four years type of deal, which I don’t think is unreasonable for a guard, for a good guard,’’ Mayhew said. “So, I think, if ever there was a time for a guard to go early, it would be this year with the caliber of the two guys that are coming out and with the way the rookie contracts are structured right now.”
The two guards projected as first-round picks are Chance Warmack out of Alabama and Jonathan Cooper from North Carolina. Warmack had a pre-draft visit in Detroit.
“I think (Warmack) is certainly a great player. I just think when you look at that position if you can get a (CB) Dee Milliner or a pass rusher against Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler and people like that ...’’ ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper said in a recent conference call.
"Two quarterbacks in that division, of course led by Aaron Rodgers, you have to go through to get a playoff spot. I think a corner or a defensive end would be the guys to consider,’’ KIper said. “Warmack is a heck of a player, and it's helping out your running game because he's a great run blocker, and it's helping out Matthew Stafford, but I would be surprised if they didn't take a defensive end or corner."
Kiper should know better. Mayhew surprised a few people last year taking Reiff and a few more the year before with Nick Fairley at 13th overall.
One thing is for certain with the Lions at draft time, nothing really can be surprising.
The Lions will also look to offensive line help in the later rounds no matter who they draft in the first round.
Guard Brian Winters (Kent State), projected as a second- or third-round pick, also visited the Lions. As did tackles Vinston Painter (Virginia Tech) who is seen as a third- or fourth-round possibility, and LaAdrian Waddle (Texas Tech) who could be drafted in the seventh round or a free agent.
Also Travis Frederick (Wisconsin), the top-rated center who could go in the second round, visited Detroit.
The Lions have a pick in each round with two picks in the seventh round. The NFL draft starts at 8 p.m. Thursday with the first round. It continues at 6:30 p.m. Friday with rounds two and three, and wraps up starting at noon Saturday with rounds four through seven.