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Detroit — The team is still making minor tweaks, based on late evaluations and medical rechecks, but the Detroit Lions’ board is largely set a little more than two weeks before the NFL draft later this month, according to general manager Bob Quinn.
The Lions are slated to pick No. 20 in the first round. And while Quinn hasn’t ruled out trading up for a specific player, or down to acquire up more picks, the GM noted he has a short list of 5-6 players who should be available if the team stands pat.
We’re not prepared to be that specific, so here are 10 players, based on team needs, who we believe are first-round fits for the Lions.
■ Maurice Hurst, DT, Michigan: After being held out of the combine due to an irregular EKG, it looks as if the interior lineman has been cleared of those concerns. Lean and explosive, he was one of the nation’s most consistent pass rushers from the inside last season and could provide the Lions with a much-needed boost in that area.
■ Derrius Guice, RB, LSU: If the Lions are going to take a running back in the first round, Guice is the most logical option. A violent runner with plus speed and good balance, he could round out the team’s current backfield rotation while providing a long-term replacement for LeGarrette Blount, who is operating on a one-year deal.
■I saiah Wynn, OL, Georgia: The current starting guard options on Detroit’s roster are uninspiring, which makes the position a priority in the draft. Wynn is a versatile option, having played left tackle for the Bulldogs last season, but he’s best suited for the inside at the pro level because of his height. If the Lions place a premium on athleticism at the position, with a focus on pulling and getting to the second level, Wynn would be a good fit.
■ Marcus Davenport, DE, UTSA: It’s looking less and less likely Davenport will be available when the Lions are on the clock, but if he slides, the raw athleticism at a premium position would almost be too much to pass up. At 6-foot-6, 264 pounds, he’s got an NFL body to pair with top-end speed for his size. It might take a little time to coach him up to his full potential, but with decent depth on the edge, the Lions are in position to bring him along at his own pace.
■ Da’Ron Payne, DT, Alabama: Stylistically different than Hurst, Payne is a brick house who provides immediate value as a run-stopper on the inside. His ability to defend two gaps will play in Matt Patricia’s multiple front, but Payne’s athleticism hints at untapped pass-rush potential that wasn’t showcased at Alabama. The Lions will know exactly what they’d be getting since defensive line coach Bo Davis worked with Payne in college.
■ Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State: The Lions have spent significant resources this offseason revamping the linebacking corps, but that doesn’t rule out continuing the process via the draft. The first thing you’ll notice about Vander Esch is his size, offering the bigger frame Patricia likes at the position. Rangy and instinctual, he racked up 141 tackles last season.
■ Harold Landry, DE, Boston College: Like Payne, the Lions should have advanced knowledge of Landry, given new defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni coached the Eagles’ defensive line in 2017. Landry is on the shorter side (6-foot-3), but has exceptional burst off the line and the ability to get low and bend around the edge, consistently disrupting the pocket. He might have some trouble setting an edge, but makes up for that with an extra gear on backside pursuit.
■ Taven Bryan, DT, Florida: Bryan might not be at the top of the Lions’ wish list, but depending on how the board falls, he could conceivably be the best defensive line option when the team is on the clock. The 6-foot-4, 291-pounder is a top-tier athlete for his position, and with good coaching, his potential could be transformed into impressive production within a year or two.
■ Will Hernandez, G, UTEP: If Wynn is the nimble guard option, Hernandez is the power house. A 348-pound behemoth, he managed to earn first-team All-American honors despite playing for a winless team as a senior. He’s highly durable, plus he played on the left side in college, making him a good fit for Detroit’s roster hole. He would provide an immediate boost to the power run game. And don’t let the size fool you into thinking he can only operate effectively in a phone booth. Hernandez moves better than expected, which was validated by his combine metrics.
■ Vita Vea, DT, Washington: Vea is unlikely to make it to 20, but nose tackles slide from time to time. At 347 pounds, the first thought might be he’s simply a space-eater, but that would be an inaccurate assessment. Sure, he can eat space if you need him to, and he’s about as strong as they come in this prospect class, but Vea is a deceptive athlete who has drawn comparisons to Haloti Ngata. The Lions added a stopgap nose tackle in free agency, signing Sylvester Williams to a one-year deal. Vea would not only bring long-term stability to the position, but would be an immediate upgrade.
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