No additions and that’s a good thing. The Lions already have a great QB room and did not need to add any developmental guys via the Draft when they have so many other needs. The ownership group killed any thought of Tua or Herbert back in December, so fans who thought picking Tua was a possibility just are not in tune with this team or the dynamics associated with quarterback development.
Outlook: Still Strong. Matthew Stafford is still a Top 10 QB who was playing at a Top 3 level last season before injury. They added one of the best backup QBs in the NFL in Chase Daniel. There should be some camp arms looking for tape for other teams, but they have almost no chance of making the roster. This group is set.
While they will still likely give Tyrell Crosby a shot, the Lions moves to me look like they want Crosby to stay in the swing tackle role for one more season. They added no tackles via the Draft and added two guards to an already crowded interior offensive line (but two needed additions). Taylor Decker, Big V and Crosby will be their active, game day offensive tackles. Skipper will be in another training camp fight to hold on to that 4th tackle spot, which will be inactive unless there is an injury.
Outlook: Still Average. Decker is an average left tackle, and we don’t know what Big V will be. Crosby is a solid backup tackle as well. Not the best group in the world, but also not a group I’ m actively worried about.
The Lions were just as aware as I was that their Guard situation was dire. So they made sure to double dip here, trading a 5th rounder to come up and grab Jonah Jackson(oSU) in the 3rd round, and then in the 4th round, trading back, and getting a 5th back as they grabbed Logan Stenberg(UK). I expect both rookies to start.
Jackson will be the starter at left guard. He is an outstanding pass blocker, arguably the best pass protecting guard in the Draft. He plays with great bend, leverage and consistently getting good punch. He’s pretty mediocre in the run game and can be overwhelmed by more talented defensive tackles, but he is smart and capable, and gets to the second level. Overall, he’s a smart, heady and aware player and hopefully with Decker to the left, and Frank Ragnow to the right, they will be able to help him mitigate any issues in the run game.
Stenberg will take the right guard spot. He’s the polar opposite of Jackson. He’s a big, mean mauler who roots interior defensive linemen out of the ground in the run game. He’s also more mobile than he looks as he pulls pretty well, and does a good job identifying someone to hit when he does. He’s not the technician that Jackson is and he’s going to have to clean up some of those issues. Because he’s so strong, he does not always play with great leverage, and that will be exploited by NFL DTs if he does not fix that. He also isn’t great against really quick interior players he can’t get his hands on in the passing game, which is why I think he would be better suited to play on Stafford’s right as opposed to his left. But both of these guys are better than the guards the Lions had penciled in. I would have preferred they gotten Ben Bredeson (MICH) with one of the picks, as he is a technician like Jackson but has a lot of the mentality of Stenberg (a more balanced version of the two), but I’m good with this haul. It will be up to Ragnow to get the new guys up to speed on the interior, but they are plenty talented enough.
Outlook: SLIGHTLYABOVEAverage. Massive improvement here. I may even be being a bit conservative because we will be starting two rookies. If they can at least be league average guards, and Ragnow takes that next step, this unit is actually quite a bit above average and will both help keep Stafford healthy , and improve the run game massively. They now also have the opportunity to have solid depth. The battle for the two backup inside spots should be interesting and intense.
They did not select one even on Day 3, but they did sign an UDFA that I though would be drafted in Hunter Bryant (WASH). Bryant and Isaac Nauta will battle for a spot in training camp, as in going back over the Lions roster, I think they will only keep 3 TEs this year. The 4th they will probably stash on the practice squad, as if they are using TEs as much as they claim to want to, they will need to have 1-2 they trust past the two starters.
Outlook: Still Above Average.
This group went from being mediocre and troubling to really good in one weekend. They did pass on Jonathan Taylor, my #1 RB, but they got the #1A RB, DeAndre Swift (UGA) in this class so I’m good. Swift and Kerryon is as good a duo (if Kerryon is healthy) as there is in the NFL and having both will allow you to keep each fresh and under 200 carries. Swift is a 3 down back who runs with power, speed, burst and great balance. He’s a nightmare in the open field. Actually, he’s a nightmare even in tight spaces. He embarrassed several safeties and linebackers on tape by with this ability to shift and cut on a dime. He’s going to be a really good NFL running back that does everything well and the sky is the limit for him.
The Lions doubled down at RB with Jason Huntley (NMST). He seems to be a carbon copy of Ty Johnson on first glance. However, upon a quick review of tape, you see a more physical and shifty runner in Huntley. He’s not just a speed demon, he has natural run instincts and a strong propensity to break tackles:
That was second in college to only Travis Etienne (CLEM) who will likely be the #1 RB selected next year.
He and Johnson will have an intense battle for that 3rd down RB spot, and Jamal Agnew may have to win his roster spot solely on his CB merits, as Huntley adds yet another player with dynamic return capabilities to the roster.
This was the worst pick of the draft for the Lions. And that’s not a knock on Quintez Cephus (WISC) at all. I had him going around here or maybe even slightly higher. He’s certainly an upgrade on Travis Fulgham and Chris Lacy. He’s going to be a good special teams player. He’s going to be a good outside run blocker who can give Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones a breather on running downs. He is big, strong, a solid route runner, and has strong hands. He wins at the catch point. He’s going to be a solid player and the value for where he was selected is good.
He doesn’t make Golladay better. When you are building a receiver corps for the future, you need complementary parts. The Raiders supplemented the speedy Henry Ruggs (BAMA) with a physical outside threat in Bryan Edwards (USC – Gamecocks) and a shifty slot guy in Lynn Bowden (UK). Golladay is a long, physical outside receiver who is at his best winning on intermediate routes on the outside. A good complement to Golladay would be shiftier guy in the slot who can take away LB or S help, or an outside guy with speed who can take the top off the defense and give him more room to operate with. Cephus is neither.
This was a DEEP draft for receivers. James Proche (SMU) and KJ Hill (oSU) were both still on the board. Both are slippery, highly productive receivers. Neither has blazing speed, but both run outstanding routes and know how to create separation. Or if you want to gamble you can grab a guy like Quez Watkins (SOMISS) who has serious speed, and play making ability. Or maybe just take the most athletic receiver in the draft, Donovan Peoples-Jones (UMICH). All were on the board. All are better potential #3 or even #2 receivers to complement Golladay. They took Cephus instead. IT seems like Quinn just wanted to grab the guy he knew would be a good #4 as opposed to grabbing guys who can do that and possibly be more.
Outlook: Still Average.Cephus does upgrade the #4 spot but not enough to move te needle. Overall it’s a decent group of guys, especially if we become the strong running team we look like we can become.
Here is what I said Pre-Draft:
“The Lions currently have a stud, Top 10 QB but a very disappointing offensive line with just 2 players I could say I’m confident in. This is disappointing after all the resources that have been poured into it the last few years. The Lions must use Day 2 to address this issue, specifically in the middle of the line or we can expect this to be another disappointing season.“
“The Lions need a talent infusion at receiver and running back, and luckily this draft aligns well for the Lions to do so. They need to address running back early on Day 2 either with their own second round pick, or the 2nd they get if they trade down (more on that later). Receiver will likely need to wait until the 3rd or 4th round so they can fix their deficiencies on the offensive and defensive line, but the depth of this receiver class will push some really talented guys to late Day 2 and early Day 3 where the Lions can take advantage. This draft is ripe for the taking here.“
Quinn are you reading this blog ???? If so let me know !
The Lions clearly saw the needs on offense the same way that I did. And they got good value with each selection to address their issue. The Cephus pick was the only one on offense I didn’t think was strong. If that is really my biggest quibble out of the Lions draft weekend, they must have done a good job. And they did. They significantly strengthened their interior OL and RB groups, two units that looked poised to be bad this year if they did not. The entire offense looks poised to build off of their early season success last year and look more like the balanced, run-first team that Quinn promised to deliver. Good job .
Let’s continue the State of the Roster series by moving to the Defense. Let’s start with the secondary, since that seems to be Quinntricia’s focus in building a defense as opposed to getting pressure on the QB.
*projected starters in italics
*likelihoods are probabilities that they wait until that day to fill that need
Roster Outlook: Average
As much as the Lions emphasize coverage over pressure, this is a pretty pedestrian group they assembled. Of course it was much stronger before they chose to deal away a Top 5 corner in Darius Slay. However, that’s now water under the bridge. What’s left is a decent group that’s missing a front-line guy but is replete with role players.
Trufant does not have the chops to be a #1 corner anymore but he’s still a pretty good corner if he can stay healthy. Coleman had a Jekyll/Hyde season last year. In the first half he was one of the best nickels in football. In the back half he was torched early and often. Here’s hoping he regains his previous form. Amani showed some bright spots last year in coverage and should be a solid #4 corner who can sub in on the outside when needed. Agnew is still a good backup nickel who can sub in if they need Coleman to play outside, and provides value as one of the better return men in the league. Those 4 should be written in pen for the 2020 roster.
Assuming the Lions keep only 6 corners this year (not a safe assumption) and assuming they draft a starting corner (considerably safer), then Roberts, Ford and Virgin are battling for that last spot. Roberts is the strong favorite. He has considerably more starting experience and success than the other two combined. He started 10 games for the Jets last year and was a league average corner. He probably would push Amani hard for the 4th corner spot. That leaves Virgin and Ford, both of whom I think still have some practice squad eligibility, but only one of whom the Lions will likely keep that spot for. Ford got two starts late last season and was not terrible. However, Virgin was a core special teams player for the Lions last year. I’m not sure if Virgin’s special teams utility is more or less valuable than the Lions view of Ford’s coverage ability but it should be an interesting training camp battle (if there is a training camp). There is also a possibility that the Lions will once again carry 7 corners, which would be interesting but likely less than ideal.
Likelihood of Day 1 Pick: 55%
Likelihood of Day 2 Pick: 40%
Likelihood of Day 3 Pick: 5%
Possible Targets: I think the obvious Day 1 target is Jeff Okudah (OSU – $uckeyes). Okudah is the best corner in the draft. Okudah is sticky in man-to man and on his tape he is comfortable in press-man and off-man coverage. It’s hard to find corners who excel in off-man, especially corners with his size and length. I can’t see a team that values coverage as much as the Quinntricia Lions do passing on Okudah. I think they can trade down from 3 to 5 or 6 and still get Okudah.
There is also CJ Henderson (UF). Many media outlets are claiming that Henderson is a Top 10 lock and that some teams have him higher than Okudah on their board. Either that’s a giant smokescreen or some NFL talent evaluators really are a mess. Don’t get me wrong, Henderson is a first round talent for sure. He has elite physical tools, even more so than Okudah, and he has a natural, fluid athleticism to him. He stands at 6’1, over 200 lbs with sub 4.4 speed. He is extremely physical and competitive at the catch point, allowing him to match up with both burners and big framed guys. But from a technique perspective, him and Okudah are not on the same planet. Henderson loses inside on just about every in-breaking route on the tape I saw and got absolutely eaten alive by LSU’s receivers, particularly Ja’marr Chase. He probably has more pure physical talent, but being an elite corner is about more than just elite physical talent. Contrast that with Okudah who routinely shut down top receivers last year, including Clemson’s Justyn Ross. Ross absolutely dominated Alabama’s corners in the 2019 CFP Title Game, but Okudah made him an afterthought in this year’s CFP semi-final game.
Day 2 Targets:
Here is my Top 8 CB board:
Kristian Fulton (LSU)
Jeff Gladney (TCU)
Travon Diggs (BAMA)
A.J. Terrell (CLEM)
Noah Igbinoghene (AUB)
Cameron Dantzler (MSSU)
Here is what I think the Lions Top 8 CB board is:
I think the Lions will have Henderson and Noah higher than I do because both come with high level physical traits, athletic ability, and tape showing them doing the things the Lions value in terms of press- man coverage. I’ve already discussed CJ, but I think with Noah, the issues are his lack of fluidity and his inability to find the football. The latter can be attributed to him being relatively new to corner as he is a converted receiver, although one would think that would help him find the ball. The former though I think is just hip tightness that doesn’t show up in press-man, but does in off-man. Not being a great off-man corner can be death in this scheme that Patricia runs and couple that with Noah’s grabbiness at the top of routes, I would be less bullish on him than I think the Lions will be. They will still be enamored with his ability to turn and run with any receiver, and his length to deal with the big boys.
Fulton’s tape is excellent and I saw him match up well with high level competition with a variety of coverages. He looked very comfortable in off-man, press-man and zone and while not as sticky as the young phenom Derek Stingley (LSU), his tape was very good. However, Fulton was suspended for an entire season due to a very bizarre situation where he tried to cheat a drug test, and then passed it anyway with his own urine. For me, this situation would hardly merit a ding, since he still has never failed a drug test and has kept his nose clean since then, and you know the NCAA probably put him through the ringer with drug tests over the last two years. However, Bob Quinn wants a team full of choir boys. So I would not be shocked if they moved Fulton down their board a bit, and possibly completely off, because of that incident. Another major stylistic difference between I and Quinn.
Gladney is super sticky in man-coverage and has great length and speed and I could see the Lions grabbing him in Round 2 if they do eschew taking Okudah early. He’s not super big, but he’s tough and does not mind mixing it up with big receivers one bit. Diggs is a great press-man guy and is perfect for a team that plays that or the Cover 3 style in the Pete Caroll coaching tree (there are quite a few of them now). He also has outstanding ball skills (like his brother Stefon), and so any system that allows him to play primarily zone will put him at his best. But his hip tightness will limit his effectiveness in off-man. I see him coming off the board late in Round 1.
Terrell was absolutely undressed by Chase in the national title game, but that should not overshadow his very solid tape. He checks every box, but just is not the top of the list for any of those categories. He has length, he has good tape in press and off-man, he’s got good speed, and he competes a the catch point. He can pretty much do all the things the Lions would ask of him, but nothing in an exceptional way. Still if the Lions pass on Okudah, Terrell would be more than good enough to step in as a Day 1 starter for us.
Dantzler is a guy that many people project to be good in press man or man because of his length and fluid backpedal, but the tape almost exclusively shows him as a zone guy. He may be more than capable of man and talent evaluators may have worked him out at such when they had the chance, but I base my board mostly off tape.
I don’t see us addressing this as a need on Day 3. We have more than enough depth and projects. We just need a starter.
Roster Outlook: Above Average
The Lions should be all set at safety. They have invested 3rd round picks in Walker and Harris the last two seasons. Walker has looked like a hit so far but Harris not so much. Quinn also went and got Harmon from NE, where he has thrived as a third safety for years now. They re-signed Miles Killebrew to a 1 year $2 million dollar to lead the special teams units (he led them in tackles last year). And then for the final touches, they gave almost $3 million to Jayron Kearse to come in and be the 4th safety. While Patricia is known for liberally using safeties, and loves drafting them, even he has to know that adding anymore would be silly. Right ?
Likelihood of Day 1 Pick: 1%
Likelihood of Day 2 Pick: Knowing them – 20%
Likelihood of Day 3 Pick: Again, knowing them – 19%
Possible Targets: I’m not previewing/breaking down any safeties because if we draft any I will be very pissed. There are several safeties though that I know will tickle Patricia’s fancy though so I’m prepared to break down some safety film post-draft in anger.
And now, continuing my look at the Lions, we will finish the offense by moving to the less important, but glamorous skill players.
*projected starters italicized
Roster Outlook: Above Average
The Lions spent a considerable amount of resources on this group last offseason, by overpaying James and overdrafting Hockenson. Neither performed at the level of expectations last year but both are still good pieces. The Lions are moving forward with their two TE approach which I think makes sense with the type of scheme OC Darrell Bevel is running. I thought they should have made more of an effort to retain Logan Thomas who showed some flashes last year, and in a 2 TE offense, your 3rd TE is important depth. Currently, that player is Isaac Nauta, who has shown little as a receiver or blocker thus far. After using so many resources on this position last offseason (2 picks and a big free agency signing) I could understand them not addressing this spot in the draft and maybe adding a veteran to complete their roster.
Likelihood of Day 1 Pick: 0% (I’m not sure there is a TE worth a #1 this year and if so the Lions should not be picking him)
Likelihood of Day 2 Pick: 5%
Likelihood of Day 3 Pick: 45%
Possible Targets: This draft is not great at the top or at the bottom at the TE position. Most of the value is in Rounds 3 through 4 where athletic TE’s with potential like Albert Okwuegbunam (MIZZ) and Devin Asiasi (UCLA) should come off the board. Thaddeus Moss (LSU) is an intriguing target in the 5th or 6th round. While not elite athletically, he has great hands and body control like his NFL royalty father Randy Moss. And he’s a good run blocker capable of playing tight to the line, or in the backfield as an H-Back. Another possibility in the 7th round would be Sean McKeon (UMICH) – (I promise I don’t have a Michigan bias, we just have so many players who could get drafted – second most after LSU). McKeon is a pretty good blocker although he had some bouts with inconsistency on tape. He also has the athletic traits to develop into a decent pass catching option, but will need to work on his hands and his route technique a bit more.
Roster Outlook: Mediocre
Kerryon has lived up to all of my expectations for him after the Lions selected him, and then some. However, while he has displayed RB1 ability, his injuries have frustratingly curtailed his Lions career so far. He’s only played in 18 games in two years, or little more than a full season. At this point I think he would be better suited as a platoon partner than the featured back. However, the roster as currently situated does not provide that possibility, even to the wildest of optimists.
Ty Johnson was a head scratching pick last season, and he proved to be exactly the player he was at Maryland. While Johnson offers elite speed and some return ability, he lacks most of the fundamental skills necessary to be a rotational running back. His vision, agility, and balance are all lacking. He has shown some surprising receiving skills (he showed almost none of that at Maryland) and the Lions chose to keep him for the 3rd down back role over JD McKissic, who was extremely productive for us last year. Not the move I would have made, but I understand why. I would prefer they give these 3rd down snaps to Kerryon and let Jamal Agnew be the primary returner on kick returns in addition to punt returns. But that’s just me.
Finally there is Bo Scarborough. He showed flashes last year of being a competent back, but also flashes of why he was such a disappointment at Alabama. He would be great to be the 4th back, active only if Kerryon or the new RB1 sustains an injury, as he is capable of handling rotation snaps for a few weeks.
Likelihood of Day 1 Pick: 10% (If they trade up into the bottom of Round 1)
Likelihood of Day 2 Pick: 60%
Likelihood of Day 3 pick: 30%
Here is the Top 7 of my RB Board:
Jonathan Taylor (WISC)
DeAndre Swift (UGA)
Clyde Edwards-Helaire (LSU)
JK Dobbins (OSU)
Cam Akers (FSU)
AJ Dillon (BC)
Zach Moss (UTAH)
I am an unabashed Taylor fan. I think he was not only the best RB in college last year, I think he was the best overall player. He has a rare combination of vision, acceleration, balance, power, and speed. I would mark him as elite in all of those categories. He also is a good pass catcher out of the backfield. The only questions are his pass blocking acumen as Wisconsin rarely put him in the position to block, as well as his lack of wiggle in the open field, compared to others in the class.
Swift is also an excellent running back and in most years would be my #1. In fact you can make a case he is the #1 back because he has no real weakness. He has many of the elite characteristics of Taylor, albeit not at his same level, and he adds elite elusiveness as well, and has good tape of him in pass protection. Swift and Taylor should both go at the top of Round 2 and the Lions may have to trade up into the bottom of Round 1 to secure one.
Edwards-Helaire and Dobbins are on my next tier. Helaire they can get in the early 2nd and Dobbins will probably be a late 2nd or early 3rd rounder. Edwards-Helaire is the best back in this draft at making people miss and is truly elite in the passing game as a receiver out of the backfield. He also has great vision and elite jump-cutting ability. You could make a strong case that Edwards-Helaire belongs on the same level as Swift and Taylor but I think he’s just a bit under those guys. *Side note if the Bucs get this guy and pair him with Brady, then just give them the Lombardi trophy now*
Dobbins is undersized but is explosive and runs with great balance and power. He would be a steal for a zone running team as he will thrive in a one cut system where he can flow behind his offensive line and find a hole to explode through. Keep him away from the 49ers at all costs !
Akers and Dillon should be available on the latter part of Day 2. Akers is another explosive back in the running and passing game. His tape is a bit difficult to examine because Florida State’s offensive line was atrocious on a level that is hard to fathom. But you see him consistently make defenders miss, get yards after contact, and turn broken plays into touchdowns. Dillon is an impressive athlete, as he is a monstrous power back with sneaky speed and acceleration for his size. He can bludgeon a defense, but he also has the speed to run away from linebackers. He has tree trunks for legs, and always falls forward.
Finally there is Moss, cousin to Santana and Sinorice. He is a more fluid than explosive back who does a lot of things fine, but nothing at a high level. He would be a good 4th or 5th round pick, but honestly I see him as more of a backup at this level, and would be disappointed if we eschewed all of these other choices in favor of taking him later.
Roster Outlook: Average
This is another sneaky spot where you may see the Lions draft earlier than many are expecting. They have Golladay, who is a legit #1 receiver and the highlight of Quinn’s tenure in Detroit. However, Marvin Jones has only played 4 more games than Kerryon over the last 2 years, is entering the last year of his contract, and just turned 30. I think there is a better than 50% chance this is his last year with the Lions. Ditto Amendola who I actually did not expect to be here for longer than last year. Also, based on Jones recent injury history, and Amendola’s injury track record, the Lions had better have a #4 receiver they are confident in. That player will likely get some solid snaps this year, as well as be groomed to be Golladay’s running mate for 2021 and beyond (assuming the Lions smartly re-sign Golladay – an assumption I can’t say I have the utmost confidence in).
Current candidates for that role:
Marvin Hall – A really talented speedster who made plays when he got the chance (23.7 yards per target). The Lions might have something with him. I like him as the 5th receiver that they can groom to be a slot later on as he has size limitations.
Travis Fulgham – Another puzzling pick last year as there were several better receiver prospects available. Quinn fell in love with the Old Dominio duo of Fulgham and Jonathan Duhart, signing Duhart as an UDFA (he has since been released). I actually liked Duhart’s film better than Fulgham when I took a look last season but Fulgham has size traits that project better as an NFL outside receiver. Fulgham spent most of the season on the practice squad and showed little in the 3 games he played with the Lions at the end of the year. I think he’ll have a similar fate in 2020.
Chris Lacy – Basically Fulgham but a year further. He was a practice squad guy and he actually got a few targets his way at the end of last season. He only caught 30% of them and had a poor 6.0 yards per target, but the Lions QB situation was a disaster by the time he was out there, so those numbers are not entirely his doing. Should make training camp but shouldn’t make the roster. May get to accrue his final season of practice squad eligibility though but with such a deep receiver class, I’m certain there will be better UDFA candidates for that practice squad spot.
Geronimo Allison – The Packers castoff was the first odd-man out of the cast of non-descript, journeyman receivers they have given Aaron Rodgers to pair with Devante Adams. If they draft a receiver, Allison should not make the final roster.
Likelihood of Day 1 Pick: 5% (A trade up into Round 1 if there is a can’t miss guy sliding)
Likelihood of Day 2 Pick: 40%
Likelihood of Day 3 pick: 40%
Possible Targets: This draft is absolutely loaded at receiver. LOADED. I’m only going to list my Top 15 but I think there is a legitimate chance that 35 receivers come off the board this weekend. It’s insane. Here is my draft board (subject to change by tomorrow as I’m still watching film):
Ceedee Lamb (OU)
Jerry Jeudy (BAMA)
Henry Ruggs (BAMA)
Tee Higgins (CLEM)
Jalen Reagor (TCU)
Denzel Mims (BAY)
Brandon Aiyuk (ASU)
Justin Jefferson (LSU)
Chase Claypool (ND)
Tyler Johnson (MIN)
Van Jefferson (UF)
Donovan Peoples-Jones (UMICH)
Laviska Shenault (CU)
KJ Hamler (PSU)
Michael Pittman (USC – Trojans)
The Top 3 guys should not be on the Lions radar. They are a luxury that is too expensive at pick #3 or even after a trade down to lower in the Top 10. However, if one starts to fall into the 20s, I would not be mad at the Lions firmly taking care of this need by trading up as all 3 of those guys are big time talents at receiver. 4 through 9 should all go in the late first to mid-2nd range, and the Lions could use a pick there, but again I feel like we have more needs to address. If they did though, I think Reagor, Mims or Aiyuk would make the most sense as they are all explosive and dynamic playmakers with the ball in their hands. Higgins is more of a possession receiver, albeit a really good one that I think is being underrated. Go watch Clemson-Ohio State from the CFP last year and see how much better Clemson’s offense looked with Higgins returned in the second half from an injury that knocked him out early. It was night and day. However, he does duplicate a lot of Golladays’ strengths so would not be as good a fit as the other 3. Justin Jefferson had a hyper productive senior year for the champion LSU Tigers , but he does not win from the outside receiver position enough for me. He is very good as a big slot though, but for me you can get that type of value in the 3rd and beyond. Claypool is a height-weight-speed guy that some have pegged as a TE. He is huge, fast, and has elite leaping ability and body control. He’ll be snatched up somewhere in Round 2.
Around where the Lions should be targeting a receiver is the 3rd round. Receivers 10-15 should be there, although they may not as I think they all carry 2nd round grades. Van Jefferson and Tyler Johnson are just natural route runners, with good hands. They don’t always create elite separation, and are mostly average athletically, but they can win on contested catches and are crafty in and out of their breaks. Pittman is also in that same vein. Peoples-Jones, Shenault and Hamler are more explosive options in the 3rd or 4th the Lions can consider but each comes with some flaws. DPJ is the best athlete of any receiver in this draft. But he does not get the consistent separation on his routes , that you would expect from a receiver with his natural gifts. But with a 6’2 frame, 44 inch vertical, 33 inch arms, and 4.4 speed, he’s exactly how you would design an outside receiver in a lab. He would be a perfect candidate for the Lions to take and develop to be Golladay’s running mate (OK my bias is showing here). Plus he’s a Detroit native.
Another Southeast Michigan native draft prospect is Yak Town’s own KJ Hamler, who is just a BLUR. After Henry Ruggs, I don’t think there is a receiver in this draft who will frighten defensive coordinators more with his speed. He’s quick twitch too, and a nightmare if he gets the ball in space. That being said he has severe size limitations (5’9″ 180) and his route running is not smooth or polished, but he would be another pick that I would be in favor of, and not just because he’s a hometown kid. Finally there is Shenault who many had as a first round pick before the pre-draft process began. However, he had a disastrous combine. He both opened up some concerns that evaluators had not had (his speed and agility did not seem to be issues on tape but he tested poorly) and confirmed issues that they did have (he was working out with a core injury, after missing time in both of the last two seasons). He had surgery right after the combine so evaluators have not been able to see him move (virtually) since then. However, if you turn on the tape, few receivers have been as productive as Shenault and his athletic gifts are readily visible. I believe that he would have tested well had he been healthy but that his injury history is a strong concern. He’s probably a first or second round talent, but he could fall to the 3rd or 4th because of injury concerns, and at that point he would be a good gamble for the Lions to take.
There are many others the Lions could consider as well like Bryan Edwards USC -Gamecocks), Lynn Bowden (UK), James Proche (SMU), Antonio Gandy-Golden (LIB), KJ Hill (OSU – Suckeyes) etc. They almost have to grab a receiver with a class this loaded.
The Lions need a talent infusion at receiver and running back,a nd luckily this draft aligns well for the Lions to do so. They need to address running back early on Day 2 either with their own second round pick, or the 2nd they get if they trade down (more on that later). Receiver will likely need to wait until the 3rd or 4th round so they can fix their deficiencies on the offensive and defensive line, but the depth of this receiver class will push some really talented guys to late Day 2 and early Day 3 where the Lions can take advantage. This draft is ripe for the taking here.
Kicking off my Lions 2020 NFL Draft Preview with the pillars of any offense, the QB and the Offensive Line. We will take a look at the state of the Lions roster, and how they may use the Draft (3 days away!) to improve it.
*Projected starters italicized
Roster Outlook – Strong
Matthew Stafford has plenty of critics amongst Lions fans but their complaints ring hollow against the backdrop of his actual performance. Stafford was quietly having an MVP caliber season last year before succumbing to injury. In fact, while the stats and win-loss records may not tell this story, Stafford, on tape, has looked the best in his career the last 3 seasons, likely a remnant of Jim Caldwell’s QB-whispering ability. He has played poised, winning football. Unfortunately, his front office has not provided him with the proper support. I expect to still get another 2 or so seasons of this level of Stafford. At that point is when I believe the team will start looking for a successor to him.
The Lions fortified this position by adding one of the top backups in the NFL in Chase Daniel. He’s great insurance for Stafford and allows them to pretty much ignore QB during the Draft. Most teams only carry 2 QBs and I expect the Lions to remain amongst them.
Likelihood of Day 1 Pick: 1% (Maybe they secretly love Herbert or Tua ?)
Likelihood of Day 2 Pick: 1%
Likelihood of Day 3 Pick: 5% (Somebody could fall to the point they have no choice)
Possible targets: As I stated earlier, I don’t see the Lions leaving this draft with a QB selection. Perhaps if someone drops so far they have to from a value perspective, but it just doesn’t seem likely.
If Jacob Eason (WASH) fell to mid-late Day 3, his talent may be too good to pass up. Also guys like Jalen Hurts (OKLA) or Jake Fromm (UGA) strike me as guys who could be great 10-15 year backups and maybe if they are there in the 6th or 7th round, the value is too good for the Lions to ignore. But we have way too many other needs.
Roster Outlook – Average
This is a sneaky position for the Lions. One one hand, they have their starting tackles, and a swing tackle in Crosby, that they feel confident in. However, going deeper, we can see that there is more here. Decker has not been given a contract extension and is in the last year of his deal. He has been pretty inconsistent, but is a solid left tackle overall. The Lions not extending him is a bit curious, unless they think they can potentially upgrade on him. With Big V, they did just give him a rather generous contract, especially for a player who has never begun the season as a starter. I’m guessing new DC Cory Undlin must have seen something from him in person over the last few years with the Eagles that gave Quinn the final confirmation he needed to dole out this deal. But Quinn has mentioned that Big V might actually play guard for the Lions. If so, this could open up a spot for Crosby as a starter, and a need to get a new swing tackle, OR it could open up a starting spot that the Lions look to fill with a premium pick. I think Quinn is entering this draft, banking on that flexibility, and this could lead to the Lions pulling a trigger on a tackle earlier than anyone is anticipating. Oh and Skipper … Well Quinn clearly likes him. He’s bounced around on our practice squad and roster the last few years and and held off Ryan Pope, our prized UDFA pickup from last year, who is now a Jaguar.
Likelihood of Day 1 Pick: 10%
Likelihood of Day 2 Pick: 30%
Likelihood of Day 3 pick: 30%
Possible targets: The Lions will likely carry 4 tackles. Adding up the percentages, I do think it’s likely the Lions add someone here on Draft Day. On Day 1, I think it’s very unlikely, but it’s a banner year for offensive tackles, so who knows ? Jedrick Wills (BAMA) is outstanding and the #1 tackle on my board. Andrew Thomas (UGA) is the best pass protector in the class with outstanding feet and punch. Tristan Wirfs (IOWA) is hands down the best athlete and comes complete with Iowa OL coaching for 3 years, which is the best you scan get. And Mekhi Becton (UL) has the most upside, standing a towering 6’7 350 lbs, with massive length and great feet for a man his size, and with tape where he absolutely bullies other players and makes them look like children.
If the Lions address tackle on Day 2, Isaiah Wilson (UGA) and Austin Jackson (USC) are two interesting prospects. Jackson is highly athletic, but needs to work on his strength and technique. Wilson is massive like Becton, but is not as good in pass protection, nor does he have the same athletic tools. He is a road grader though and can move people off the ball.
If they wait until Day 3, I’ll be honest, I wasn’t very enamored with a lot of prospects available here. I actually like Jon Runyan Jr. (UMICH) on Day 3, although he is mostly projected to move inside to guard due to length limitations. That being said, Runyan absolutely ate AJ Epenesa’s (IOWA) lunch in the Michigan-Iowa game and survived against Chase Young (OSU) when matched up against him in the Michigan-Ohio State game. Those are probably the Top 2 defensive ends in this draft and Runyan doing what he did against them lends credence to the fact that he might be able to hack it at tackle at the NFL level. He’s worth a 5th or 6th round pick for sure.
Roster Outlook: C is Strong …. G is HORRIBLE
This is the worst position group on the Lions and it’s not close. Let’s remove Center from the discussion. Frank Ragnow has been every bit as good as I thought he would be (although I STILL would have taken Harold Landry with that pick). Benschwazel was their second most-prized UDFA from last year and showed very little (but is at least still on the team). They should be good here as Ragnow enters his 3rd year and I hope takes that next step to Pro Bowl/All-Pro status.
Oh, but Guard. I would not be comfortable with any of those 4 players starting for my NFL franchise based on what I have seen so far. Wiggins and Dahl were part of that weird platoon situation the Lions used at RG last year so I assume they are both underwhelmingly penciled in as starters for now. Aboushi is just depth, and Garnett is a former first round pick reclamation project from the 49ers. San Fran salvaged our first round bust, Laken Tomlinson and turned him into a top shelf guard. So perhaps we return the favor with Garnett ? Don’t hold your breath.
I expect that we address guard in the draft, but don’t know if it will be addressed Day 2 or 3. I think Big V’s flexibility and the presence of Crosby does allow them some options here. But they absolutely cannot enter the 2020 season with those 4 as their answers.
Likelihood of Day 1 Pick: 0% (Although some think Wills, Thomas and Wirfs should be guards .. Those people are not very smart)
Likelihood of Day 2 Pick: 60 %. They absolutely have to pull the trigger on a Guard and they need an instant starter. That’s even if they move Big V to Guard. There are a number of possibilities on Day 2. I’m not too sure what new OL coach Hank Fraley is going to want in his offensive line, but there certainly are a lot of options.
Likelihood of Day 3 Pick: 40%
Possible targets: They have to take care of this in the draft. Not just because they have a major hole right now, but because Ragnow is the only interior OL they have under contract after 2020.
Some may accuse this portion of the post as being victim to my Michigan bias, but Michigan has 4 quality interior offensive linemen in this draft, all of whom the Lions could use. Cesar Ruiz (UMICH) is the highest rated of them all, and is the highest rated interior offensive lineman in the draft. If he makes it out of the 1st round, he would be an excellent pick. He can play Guard or Center and is athletic, powerful and intelligent. Ben Bredeson (UMICH), another Michigan guard, is not as athletic as Ruiz, but is a great OL prospect in his own right. He’s comfortingly consistent. He’s a “set it and forget it” type of player that will not wow you with devastating blocks, but maximizes his length and athleticism, plays intelligently and with good technique, and just does things well. He should be available in the 2nd round and would be a great pick, but if he somehow fell to the 3rd round, he would be excellent value.
Depending on if Fraley wants more athleticism out of the interior, then a guy like Matt Hennessy (TEMP) would make sense in the 3rd round, but he would need to add some more strength. Same for Jonah Jackson (OSU) if they waited until Round 4 or 5. On the flip side, if they are looking to add more power, than Damien Lewis (LSU) would be a great find as well. He’s not very mobile, but he can root players out of the dirt as he did during LSU’s championship season. His teammate Lloyd Cushingberry (LSU) would also be a good pick, although I think he’s more of a pure C, and we are covered there. Ditto for Tyler Biadasz (WISC), the # 2 C in the draft. But you never know. They could grab one of them and move Ragnow to Guard. There is also John Simpson (CLEM), who is another athletically limited G that is a good run blocker. Runyan , as we discussed earlier, is projected at this position, but is tape is really good at tackle, and picking him here on Day 3 may give you depth at both spots. Finally, I am a big supporter of Mike Onwenu (UMICH). He is a massive young man with surprising athleticism for his size. While he doesn’t always use his strength like he could, he has moments when he absolutely jolts defenders. A 6th or 7th round pick on Big Mike could pay real dividends in a couple of years.
QB and OL play are the most important elements of any offense. Skill position guys grow on trees. They are easy to find, and you use them until their athletic ability runs out. But your QB and OL are the foundation of your team’s offensive success. The Lions currently have a stud, Top 10 QB but a very disappointing offensive line with just 2 players I could say I’m confident in. This is disappointing after all the resources that have been poured into it the last few years. The Lions must use Day 2 to address this issue, specifically in the middle of the line or we can expect this to be another disappointing season.
Much is being made over the “predicament” the Lakers find themselves in, regarding how they will construct a team around LeBron James, and the newly acquired Anthony Davis (EDIT: Not anymore !). Thanks to an “accounting error” made by the front office, the Lakers now find themselves in a cap space bind. They now find themselves with only $27 million dollars (approx.) in cap space, and that number falls down to $23 million dollars (approx.) if Davis chooses to exercise his trade kicker (according to reports it appears that will be the case.) (EDIT: Not so fast my friend! ). I think a lot of the reporting, both on the major networks and online has been pretty shoddy about this because it ignores some key points:
Hindsight is always 20:20 … Those saying the Lakers should have waited until AFTER they signed a free agent to trade for AD are ignoring that the Pelicans could have traded him to another team at any time. Risking having Davis, just to have the CHANCE to add a 3rd star via FA is putting the cart miles and miles ahead of the horse. Davis is much better than any realistic free agent the Lakers could acquire. Now, after the fact, it seems like a foregone conclusion that AD would become a Laker, but the Celtics and Knicks could have foiled that plan at any time.
The Lakers technically can still use their cap space to sign a max FA before acquring AD. July 6th is the first day the trades can be completed in the new NBA league year AND it is the first day that free agents can sign with new/current teams. The trick here is the Lakers have to convince one of the marquee MAX free agents to sign with them between June 30 and July 5. Then they would need to sign that player and THEN complete the agreed-upon trade for AD using the 125% trade rule. (I ran the numbers, they are good). The first part of that process may prove difficult to accomplish, with said players taking multiple visits and needing time to process their decision. So not impossible, but unlikely.
If AD waives his trade kicker and the Lakers were able to move Isaac Bonga, Mo Wagner and Jermerrio Jones, they would have about 30 million dollars in cap space. While not the 32.7 million dollar max slot, they could offer 4 years and about 132 million, which is just shy of the 140 million other non-Bird right teams could offer (Bird-right teams can offer an extra year and 50 million dollars, or another year and 80 million dollars with the super-max eligible players). EDIT: This just happened lol
All of the scenarios with the cap are based on it being at the projected 109 million. If it comes in at 111 or 112 million, then in scenario 3, the Lakers would be at a max slot (or very, very close to it).
So there are 3 basic scenarios the Lakers have:
Scenario 1: Maximize the Window – give the Lakers a deep and versatile team capable of playing multiple styles and fully augmenting LeBron’s capabailities as he heads into the twilight of his career. How ? Well follow along with me …
The Lakers books currently look like this (shoutout to Spotrac.com):
That comes out to about $71.4 mil + the $8.1 mil roster charge the Lakers have for 9 unfilled roster spots (you have an approx 900k cap hold for every spot under 12 on your roster). With an $79.5 mil cap hit and a projected 109 million cap, that gives the Lakers $29.5 mil of cap space. I keep hearing people say 32 million and I’m not sure exactly where that number is coming from … Could be a cap rule/tweak that I’m not aware of … But 29.5 million is more than enough …. (Just mentally add another 2.5 million once the books come out and the Lakers are sitting with 32.)
The first order of business would be to go and get a starting PG. Playing on this roster, you will need a PG with a particular set of skills. Because of LeBron James, playmaking is less of a premium from your PG, but 3 point shooting and defense are critical. Your PG should still be a capable secondary or tertiary playmaker, so Bron does not have to create everythng for everyone, but the first two skills are paramount. Two PGs who fit this cleanly are Patrick Beverly and Darren Collison. While Beverly is already in LA as a member of the Clippers, I get the notion that he is going to be pursued stongly by the Mavericks, and there are reports that they see each other as a perfect match (he can play off Luka in a similar manner). I see Collison as an even better fit. They are similar in their defensive acumen, but Collison is a superior 3 point shooter and playmaker. He’s shot over 40% from 3 in multiple seasons, and has averaged in the 5-6 assts range comfortably. What’s more is that Collison is an LA kid, who went to UCLA, and I could see him returning home to help win a title. We offer Collison a 3 year deal worth $31.5 million. Why ? This is slightly more than teams offering the Mid-Level Exception can offer. They can only do 3 year deals starting at 9.2 million which come out to 3 years and 29 million. I think that exception will be the top of his market and so offering a deal slightly higher than this will secure him. We may have some competition from Indiana but rumor is they are targeting Ricky Rubio, and after flirting with getting Mike Conley + wanting to increase miutes for last year’s first round pick Aaron Holiday (Rubio’s size allows them to play together) , I think they will be content to let Collison move on. Start him at 10 million dollars with the CBA prescribed 5% raises and you get your 3 year $30 million dollar deal.
$29.5 million dollars – $10 million dollars + 900k for freed up roster spot cap hold = $20.4 million dollars left.
Now to shore up the backcourt. Well, thanks to a shrewd move last trade deadline, the Lakers already have a SG on the roster that is a solid defender and knocks down 3 pointers at a high clip. Reggie Bullock was second in the NBA in 3 point shooing in 2017-2018, and that kind of shooting is invaluable in the construction of this roster. Furthermore, because the Lakers own Bullock’s bird rights, that gives them even more flexibility in the construction of the roster. They can agree to a contract with him and not have to actually sign the contract until they sign everyone else, and go over the cap to do so. Thus, even if he signs for much more than that, he will only count his cap hold (4.75 million) while the Lakers are putting things together. In order to maximize the Lakers cap flexibility + I’m going to have the Lakers sign him to a 4 year deal worth 42.1 million dollars, with de-escalating salaries (8% since he is a Bird year player), and a mutual team/player option for that 4th year. So he gets a first year salary of 12 million, second year salary of 11.04 million, a third year salary of 10.08 million, and the option year salary of $9.02 million. That way, the Lakers can get out of the deal if the Bron era is done and they begin rebuilding around AD, and Bullock can hit the market at 31 for his last big deal if he flourishes.
20.4 million dollars left – 4.75 million dollars + 900k for freed up roster spot = 16.55 million dollars left.
Now with your starting backcourt set, lets look to shore up the front court. While Kuzma is a young ascending player, I view him more as a super 6th man, than a great starting fit next to AD and LeBron. I actually think that eventualy, the Lakers will need to trade him to get a more complementary piece for AD, but for now, his contract provides great value. You could go a couple of ways here. The better way would be to go get a SF that could start and finish games. This would allow to Bron and AD to play the 4 and the 5 respectively, which are their true positions in the modern NBA. However, both would rather play the 3 and 4, at least to begin games, and so it makes sense if you decide to target a 5 man. And there is just the big man, who is looking to make a return to Los Angeles: DeAndre Jordan. Jordan is similar to Collison in that his value is likely going to top out at the MLE. The Spurs seem like a team that might be a natural fit, or the Celtics if they miss out on Kemba Walker and decide to pair DJ with a re-signed Terry Rozier, but I think the Lakers have to be the team to beat. 3 years, $31.5 million (perhaps with an opt-out after year 1 or 2 to let DJ get some more money) seems logical.
$16.55 million – $10 million = 6.55 million + 900k for freed up roster spot = $7.45 million left in cap space.
With that last 7.5 million, the Lakers would want to target a player who can play the swing man spots. there are several options. They could perhaps grab Trevor Ariza for a one year option, or look to bring back Kentavious Caldwell-Pope for this amount. If Avery Bradley is cut by the Grizzlies, he also makes quite a lot of sense, and so does Wesley Matthews. Danny Green and Rodney Hood will likely get offers that take them out of this price range most likely. For the sake of argument, let’s just say they get Ariza. To get Ariza would likely only take about $5 million.
7.45 million dollars left – 5 million dollars = 2.45 million + 900k for freed up roster spot = 3.35 million left in cap space.
They could then use that 3.35 million dollars left to bring back JeVale McGee and give him a small pay increase over the vet minimum offers he likely will get, while providing depth and familiarity.
CAP SPACE DONE!
Finally, the Lakers would have what is known as the cap room exception. This is an exception used by teams that are under the cap to allow them to sign players after they have spent their cap space. It is less than the non-tax payer MLE by almost half, but it is still very useful. The Lakers would want to use this to get some more guard depth. This would give the Lakers the final guy in their primary rotation, and the principal playmaker off the bench, and so there are number of potential guys they could use it on. Cory Joseph and George Hill come to mind, but I anticipate Hill takes the same exception from Milwaukee to run-it back, and I think that the Lakers have a better in-house candidate than Joseph: Rajon Rondo. They can sign Rondo to the cap exception ( 1 year 4.8 million) and he can tag-team in place of and alongside Collison to provide playmaking help, and allow LeBron to continue to move off the ball more of the time. Rondo is familiar with AD from their great run in the playoffs a couple of years ago when they swept the Blazers in the first round. AD reportedly “loved playing with Rondo”, and while his defense has slipped dramatically, he has improved almost as dramtically as a shooter (36 % from 3, which is astounding if you remeber Rondo early in his career) and is still a dynamic playmaker. Bringing him back as a veteran backup, that both LeBron and AD value seems very smart and logical.
And now for filling out the roster … We are now at 9 rotation guys + a 10th in 2nd round pick Talen Horton-Tucker (a kid with some serious upside and physical tools …7 FOOT ONE wingspan for a wing/forward is ABSURD). With the remaining slots you can sign:
Jeff Green – minimum salary
JR Smith – (once cut by Cleveland from his partially guaranteed contract ) minimum salary
Alex Caruso – minimum salary
Kyle Korver – (once cut by Memphis from his partially guaranteed contract) minimum salary
Final Lakers Roster is as such:
Bigs – AD/Jordan/Kuzma/McGee
Forwards – Bron/Green/Horton-Tucker
Wings – Bullock/Ariza/Smith/Korver
Guards – Collison/Rondo/Caruso
That’s a championship roster with shooting, playmaking, post-play and defense permeated throughout. You can mix and match different line-ups and can finally afford to play LeBron around 32-34 minutes a game during the regular season. You can grind it out or play up-tempo. You can use Bron as either a playmaker or finisher. You can feature AD in either the high or low-post. You can run the pick and roll with a number of different iniators and finshers. Provided Frank Vogel brings the necessary finishing touches to polish up the wing defense like he did in Indiana (they have a bunch of good defenders there but no lock-down guy), I can’t see anyone beating this team.
Scenario 2: Long-Term Thinking – Get a max guy, use the cap room exception on a 5th starter and fill the bench with minimum salary guys.
Contrary to what the common thought is, if they went this option, it would prove they are not so much thinking about winning it in 2020 but for the next 2-3 years after that. Doing this would create a massively talented, but very top heavy roster. I’m going to assume they get a PG in this scenario since the 3 most likely gets for them (Kyrie Irving, D’Angelo Russell, and Kemba Walker, not in tht order) are all PGs:
Bigs – AD/Kuzma/McGee (McGee – if he comes at the vet minimum which is only 850k less than the 1st scenario)
Forwards – Bron/Green/Horton-Tucker (unchanged)
Wings – Smith/Korver/Ariza (would use the cap room exception on Ariza instead of Rondo and could only keep Bullock if they got D-Lo … would have to let his cap hold go to get Kemba or Kyrie )
Guards – Star FA/ Caruso
Obviously, who they use the cap room exception on would change if they got, say Kawhi Leondar instead (unlikely). That’s a very thin team that would run the risk of running it’s core down ragged if they cannot get enough solid contributors on vet minimum deals. However, they would be set up beautifully for Summer 2020, when they would have a 1st round pick, a mid-level excpetion and a bi-annual exception at their disposal to add depth. I think this scenario is what the Lakers are shooting for, and if pulled off, could still result in a title Year 1, but also sets them up much better for years 2-4.
Scenario 3: Make-Do – Operate as a capped out team and sign all of their own free agents to 1-2 year deals using their Bird Rights (Reggie Bullock, Mike Muscala), Early-Bird Rights (KCP, Alex Caruso) and Non-Bird-Rights (JeVale McGee, Tyson Chandler, Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson). And use the mid-level excpetion to add another key piece. That leaves you with this roster:
Bigs – AD/Kuzma/McGee/Muscala (DeAndre Jordan with the MLE ?)
Forwards – Bron/Talen Horton-Tucker (Marcus Morris with the MLE ?)
Wings – Bullock/KCP/Stephenson(Danny Green with the MLE?)
Guards – Rondo/Caruso (Darren Collison with the MLE ?)
This would only happen if the Lakers whiffed on all their major FA targets and decided to run it back and try to use the max slot in 2021. While that is not a bad roster, it is an expensive roster, and one they would be mostly locked into for the next two years. In order to sign players to non-bird, or early-bird contracts, you must sign them to two year deals and at 100-120 % and 100-175 % of their previous salaries, respectively. This would lock them into some guys at not terrific contracts for two more seasons, which is not ideal.
I’m very curious to see how Rob Pelinka carries out this off-season. The Lakers sit at the precipice of a dynastic run and these next few weeks will be critical. I for one am excited !
Mired in mediocrity. That pretty much sums up the current existence of being a Piston fan (a Lion, Tiger, and Red Wing fan too but I digress). Once the excitment of the respective offseason dies down,I’ll wax poetically about how terrible it is to be stuck in that hopeless middle. Too bad to be a contender and too good to get a reasonable shot at acquiring the next wave of superstars. Even within medicority, there is a solid debate between being on the “lower dregs of the playoffs” side of mediocrity, or the “low lottery” side. Adam Silver’s lottery changes have made the latter more palatable, but a team like the Pistons still were in a situation where the choice was debatable but probably immaterial. This is a franchise starved of the playoffs (1 appearance in the last 9 seasons) and a downtown area that could use both the image and economic boost of a weekend of playoff games. Conversely, the fact that it would JUST be that weekend of games, as the Pistons would assuredly be swept for the third consecutive time, by yet another divisional foe (first two at the hands of LeBron James, now at the hands of Giannis) was quite obvious. And while they would have just a 1% chance at the top pick and somewhere between 1-5 % chance of getting a Top 4 pick, a team picking just a slot ahead of where the Pistons would have fallen did the latter, with similar odds. (It must be noted though, that team is the Lakers who have had such an “interesting” run of lottery luck the last 4-5 years, that comparing the Pistons eschewed chances to theirs would be naive at best and disingenous at worst.)
So here the Pistons sit. One spot out of the lottery. The worst of the 16 playoff teams. The Toronto Raptors and Milwaukee Bucks have given hope to teams that they do not have to build with high lottery selections, or be major FA destinations. These are false hopes though, as the ignored strength of these teams is embedded in the type of leadership they have in their Front Offices. The Raptors had Bryand Colangelo for 7 seasons, and then replaced him with a star up and coming executive from the Denver Nuggets, named Masai Ujiri. Colangelo’s role should not be ignored as he aquired Lowry as well as the principle pieces used to acquire both Marc Gasol (Jonas Valuncianas) and Kawhi Leonard + Danny Green (Demar DeRozan). Masai actually executed those moves, the latter of which took serious cojones, and through shrewd drafting in the mid-late first round, second round, and UDFA, built the rest of that roster up. Between the two, the Raptors have had over a decade of above average to elite front office work. The same (to a lesser extent) can be same for the Bucks as they furthered the bueprint built by John Hammond (a former Pistons front office guy, from the good days lol) and with an up and coming young front office guy like Jon Hurst, they have built a formidable roster as well. Most teams in the NBA don’t have this. They have guys who are in charge due to paying dues as opposed to having real analytical or scouting or negotiating or team constructing talent. The Pistons have Ed. Ed is not as bad as some other GMs out there …. But his track record is far from awe-inspiring. However, if you would like some young talent in your front office Ed, you can reach me here ! lol
Anywho, the Pistons sit here on the eve of the Draft and are poised to make a selection, that actually may be significant in the future of this roster. In all honesty, the Pistons only have 2 players on their current roster who they should be viewing as a future piece for a championship team: Luke Kennard, and Bruce Brown. Blake only has 2-3 more years of usefulness as a major piece, and Andre’s impact , while underrated, does not match his 28 million dollar salary. Said salary is only going to increase in either the summer of 2020 or 2021 when he is eligible for a 5 year deal worth north of 220 million dollars. No one else on the roster should really even be considered past the next season, and if the Pistons are smart, they should be considering a future without Andre. However …. these are Ed’s Pistons. Maybe he was saying that to mean just for 2019 …. I have my doubts though.
The 2020 NBA Draft is here ! This means it’s the end of Mock Draft season. This is a time when a lot of insiders try to read the tea leaves, wade through the smokescreens and prognosticate the upcoming Draft.
It’s important to know the caveats of my mock, as all mock drafts are not created equal … Points to consider:
*Most Mock drafts either are predictions of what they think teams will do (brave), or predictions of what the writer would do (usually with no consequences in later years) … I’m going to do both !
*I usually don’t predict any trades as it’s just too hard to figure out and the wrong one will throw you off. However, in the spirit of the chaos that is 2020 .. Why not ?!! I’m essentially ensuring that my mock will be off, but who’s keeping score ???
* …actually …. I am. This year I’m going to grade my mock along with the 6 (maybe 7, I’m still deciding if one of them is still a reliable insider) others that I actually pay attention to. I’ll do a follow up-post where I grade my mock next to theirs and see if I can hold a candle to them.
Okay let’s go !!
1. Minnesota Timberwolves
What I Think They Will Do: B (Big) James Wiseman.
TRADE ALERT! Minnesota Timberwolves trade this pick + James Johnson to the Charlotte Hornets for #3, #32 and a 2021 first round pick (lottery protected)
Starting with a trade right off the back ! There have been rumors that the Hornets are considering making the move up, but there are also rumors that the Timberwolves are asking for too much. I think this deal is pretty fair. The Hornets eat the remaining year and $16 million on James Johnson’s contract into their vast cap space. The going rate for such a salary dump is about a first round pick in value. The Hornets then supplement that with a lottery protected 2021 pick (that can convert into 2nd rounders after a few years if the Hornets keep on missing the playoffs) to replace the 2021 pick they will likely be sending to Golden State from the Wiggins trade. And finally they get pick #32 which is almost another 1st. So if you squint really hard, the Timberwolves get approximately 3 first round picks to move down, but for the Hornets it won’t feel like 3 first round picks at all. Ladies and gentlemen, this is how you make a deal !
As for the pick. The Hornets reportedly covet Wiseman and one can see why with how dreadful their rebounding numbers are. Cody Zeller is a good big that plays solid defense, and sets hard screens and he would be a good vet to mentor Wiseman for a year on the finer aspects of being an NBA big. Wiseman has the highest floor of any of the consensus top 3. But I think people that pigeon hole him as a rim-running, rim protector miss out on his genuine upside as a pick and roll defender, and a floor spacer. I don’t think he has the fluidity that Chris Bosh had, but I can see the comparisons some make to his game and Wiseman is just much, much larger than Bosh was with his 7’6 wingspan. He’s going to rebound and rim protect at a high level, but does possess the upside to average 18-22 ppg, if the rest of his game comes together. This to me is a home run, and a great precursor to a move to grab Russell Westbrook from the Rockets later in the offseason.
What I Would Do:Ditto. The Hornets need superstar talent. They also need size. They also need a safe pick as they know they cannot blow this pick. The only one of the Top 3 that checks all three boxes is Wiseman. As long as Minnesota is not asking for PJ Washington I do this deal.
2. Golden State Warriors
What I Think They Will Do:W (Wing) Anthony Edwards.
I think the Warriors really want Wiseman here, but they will happily settle for Edwards. Edwards has All-Star level talent with a powerful frame, elite athleticism and length, and the ability to get his shot off at any time. He gives the Dubs the jolt of athleticism they are missing and can fit right on the wing when they move Draymond to the 5 and Wiggins to the 4 for “small-ball”.
What I Would Do:G (Guard) – LaMelo Ball. I don’t think they will draft Ball here due to cultural fit, but he has a ton of talent and would help provide a playmaker who can let Steph play off the ball, and unlock the full potential of the Warriors offense. Ironically, the Warriors have been linked to every conceivable Top 10 prospect EXCEPT Ball until very recently. It would be hilarious if this was all an elaborate, Inception-level smokescreen to throw us off the trail. Because despite what would appear to be an awesome fit for his passing skills, the Warriors are almost actively looked at as not possible for Ball. But I would take him or G Tyrese Haliburton over Edwards. Edwards has a ton of talent too so I don’t think you can miss taking him. But Ball or Haliburton help the Warriors win right away whereas Edwards may take a few years to realize his potential.
3. Charlotte Hornets
What I Think They Will Do:G – LaMelo Ball.
TRADE ALERT! Charlotte Hornets trade this pick + #32 and a 2021 first round pick (lottery protected) to the Minnesota Timberwolves for #1 pick and James Johnson.
I truly believe that the Timberwolves are good with either Ball or Edwards and would take either player. I think they prefer Ball’s upside, but Edwards’ fit. If they stay at #1, I think they take Edwards as he is a better complement to the existing roster. He would provide that athletic pop they need on the wing. However, in moving down, I think the Wolves make their roster all the more interesting. I am fascinated to see how Russell and Ball play off of each other. Russell at least has played off the ball before, but we have not seen Ball operate as anything other than a primary playmaker since he shared the backcourt with his brothers. His feel for the game and instincts lead me to believe he would be fine in those situations.
With the ball in his hand though, he is a truly special talent. His handle and playmaking ability are off-the-charts, and he makes incredibly advanced reads that 99% of NBA point guards cannot. He does it all with a truly prodigious skill based on instinct that will only grow as he gets older. I think it’s fair to say his passing ability is Jason Kidd/Magic Johnson/LeBron James-esque, and he can dominate without scoring like they did. But he CAN score. I think we get so swept up in his passing talent, that we forget this is a guy that scored 92 points in a high school game. He has to clean up the footwork and mechanics on his jumper, and improve his shot selection. But the touch and the range are elite. His floater package is already lethal and will only get better as he adds weight to his frame. His defense does leave a lot to be desired, but he has the tools and the instincts to at least be an average defender. All that is left is the desire, and that will be up to the coaching staff around him.
What I Would Do: I think Ball is the most talented player in this draft and I prioritize playmaking over pretty much any other skill. I believe that creating easy shots for yourself and others is the most elite skill an NBA player can have and Ball is better at that than any other player in the draft …… But .. if I’m the T-Wolves I go with G -Tyrese Haliburton here. He’s not quite the playmaker Ball is, but he’s just in the tier after him. But he fits the T-Wolves a bit better with his ability to play off the ball, and his excellent defensive potential. He doesn’t have Ball’s upside but his floor is higher and I think the T-Wolves should hit doubles instead of swinging for the fences when they have their two pillars already in place.
4. Chicago Bulls
What I Think They Will Do: G -Tyrese Haliburton.
The Bulls have been very difficult to read for many draft analysts. Many people are saying they will draft Deni Avidjia, but I think that’s based on new President Arturas Karnisovas having such extensive experience and connections in the international scouting world. Many assume that this experience will lead him to take Deni, but few are making the connection that this may lead him to NOT take Deni. Often, more information about a prospect can work in the opposite direction in fact, as the player can no longer benefit from mystery and intrigue. Based on the type of players Karnisovas and the braintrust in Denver (his former employer for the past seven years) liked. one can infer they want a player who has positional length, is skilled and is fairly athletic (Michael Porter Jr., Bol Bol, Jerami Grant). The Nuggets did tend to grab international guys at a high rate, but they seemed to lean more towards bigs (Nikola Jokiv, Jusuf Nurkic). I think Avidja very well could be the pick as he fits well on this roster too, particularly with the uncertainty they have at the forward position. Lauri Markannen is a restricted free agent next summer and Otto Porter is an unrestricted one. Advija could slide into one of those spots in 2021-2022.
However, I’m going Halliburton here. Halli has the length (7 foot wingspan) and the skill as a facilitator and distributor to slide right into Billy Donovan’s rotation. The Bulls desperately need a playmaker as they have 2 big time scorers in the backcourt in Coby White and Zach Lavine, but no one who can make them and the other teammates better. He’s also a plus defender which neither Lavine or White is, and Donovan has always utilized strong defenders in his lineups (Andre Roberson, Lu Dort). Finally, I think the Bulls’ interesting qualifying offer decisions lead one to think they may be targeting a guard. They extended a QO for Denzel Valentine despite his underwhelming first few years, and yet declined to do so for Kris Dunn, a defensive juggernaut. Perhaps they believe they can get Dunn for cheaper than his 7.1 million QO ….or they are opening up a spot for a guard to add to the rotation.
What I Would Do: Ditto. I would trade up for Ball for any combination of lottery protected first round picks that Minnesota or Golden State want. But short of a trade, I think Haliburton fits this roster like a glove so I would make that pick. In all reality, I’m probably wrong here though and the Bulls grab Deni like almost everyone else is predicting lol.
What I Think They Will Do: B – Obi Toppin.
Ah, the Cavs. Look I’ll just get this out the way now and hope it does not come back to haunt me one day if I’m applying to work in a front office with him: I think Koby Altman, based on his current track record, is a bad GM. This is not limited to the Draft. I feel that he got absolutely strong armed by Kyrie Irving despite holding all the leverage, and made a terrible trade with the Boston Celtics. I feel his very large extension given to an aging Kevin Love in the midst of the Cavs rebuilding was a massive, massive mistake, and one that is currently anchoring the team for a couple more years to come. I think hiring John Belein, a 70 year old coach who was already an archaic outlier for modern college basketball, and thinking his approach would translate to the NBA was insane. I think actively trying to re-sign Tristan Thompson, who clearly does not fit the current timeline, is a bit nonsensical unless you have a young big on the roster for him to mentor (no that is not Andre Drummond). I think drafting Darius Garland to play with Collin Sexton ignores roster fit to an almost self-sabotaging degree. It feels like he drafts and moves players based almost solely on what that player can bring on one side of the ball. If you look at all his moves, even Belein, it’s as if he is enamored with offense in an NBA 2K roster construction mindset as opposed to how the real world works. Anyway .. I digress ….
The Cavs are taking one of Deni Avidja or Obi Toppin. Avidja is probably the better defensive player but I don’t know if he has Toppin’s offensive ability. Most analysts think the Cavs have Avidja ahead of Toppin on their boards. They may be right. But I think Altman is licking his cops to add another all offense, no defense player to this roster and make their historically bad defense even worse. Toppin is indeed a talented offensive player. I think some of the comments about his athleticism are a tad bit over-heated, but he is a great finisher, can run the court and has a functional post game, for all that matters in today’s NBA. He can shoot the 3 and playing with a guard like Garland he will be able to finish a lot of lobs. That being said, Obi is an absolutely awful defender. He’s very high-hipped, and that prevents his athletic ability from manifesting itself as lateral agility. His overall defensive awareness is poor. He also badly needs some lower body strength or he’s going to move around on skates down low when banging with bigs.
Now I saw Brook Lopez turn from an awful defender into one of the best rim protecting centers in the NBAseemingly overnight, and Toppin does have some shot blocking ability, so anything is possible. I just don’t see the Cavs being that team to teach him the proper defensive fundamentals, to be honest with you.
What I Would Do: B – Onyeka Okongwu. I would run this pick in SOOOO fast. But I would be shocked to see the Cavs go this way. Why ? Onyeka isn’t a sexy pick. But he’s the best defensive big in the draft and I actually think he’s just as or more athletic than Toppin. He’s not the offensive talent that Toppin is, but he is not a slouch there either, as he has the touch and strength to finish in the paint and developing range on his jumper. The Cavs defense NEEDS Okongwu. Which means Altman almost certainly will not take him lol.
6. Atlanta Hawks
What I Think They Will Do: B – Onyeka Okongwu.
I waffled back and forth here for quite a while and this might be my most uncertain pick. Hawks GM Travis Schlenk is a notorious draft day wheeler and dealer, and I really could see the pick get moved here. I feel like the Spurs, Celtics and Wizards all could move up to this spot. I feel like the Spurs may want to move Derrick White to get up to this spot, as he is due for a big payday next offseason. I could see the Celtics leverage Gordon Hayward and their multitude of picks as well. And finally the Wizards might pull a sign-and-trade rabbit out their hat and send Davis Bertans to Atlanta for a three pick trade-up. The irony is that I think all 3 of those teams want the same guy that I just have Atlanta holding onto here. Okongwu is a defensive force that combined with Capela and Collins in Atlanta, gives the Hawks one of the most athletic frontcourts in basketball. Okongwu can sift through as a key backup behind both bigs and give the Hawks a sturdy three man rotation. I’m leaning towards the Hawks keeping their picks based on intel that they will look to add Hayward or Joe Harris to fill that wing spot, and are pursuing Rajon Rondo for their backup PG spot. I almost forgot to mention that the Timberwolves have been angling to trade Jarett Culver + pick 17 for this selection, but I suspect that would only be in play if Haliburton were available, as they are high on him.
What I Would Do: Ditto. Okongwu would be the best player available, fill a need, and provide insurance both for Capela and Collins. I like it.
7. Detroit Pistons
What I Think They Will Do:F – Patrick Williams.
I like Patrick Williams as a player. He is athletic, long, and has some playmaking chops. He can shoot it some from outside and has touch from the mid-range. He has toughness and defensive awareness, can move well for his size laterally, and has good rim protection skills. He also has a surprisingly strong off the dribble game, and he’s only 18 years old, the youngest player in the draft. He’s a charcuterie board – rich, varied and elegant.
Here’s the issue for me. He’s a charcuterie board, being talked up as if he’s a tomahawk steak. He’s jack of all trades, and a master of none. I think he’s going to be a solid player for 10-15 years, but there’s no one trait or skill that stands out to me in his package. He’s a good athlete, but not elite. He’s got good length, but sub 7-feet. He can shoot it, but he’s not a shooter. His playmaking and off the dribble game are promising, but the sample sizes are small. He screams Jeff Green to me. Jeff had/is having a solid career. And maybe for a mid-late lottery pick, expecting more than a Jeff Green career is probably unfair. But these are the types of players GMs fall in love with and keep expecting to go to a level that they just don’t. I think the Kawhi Leonard comparisons are interesting but unlikely. Leonard was a much better athlete and defender at the same stage, although to be fair, Williams is a lot more skilled than Kawhi was at the same point.
Reading the draft tea leaves though, it seems like almost a full consensus that Williams will be a Piston if he’s still on the board at 7. There’s rumors that the Bulls may take him at 4 or that teams may jump ahead of Detroit to get him, but I don’t think those moves are as likely as him being there at 7.
What I Would Do: G – Killian Hayes or G – Kira Lewis. I’m really good with either. I love Hayes’ game. His playmaking is right there with Haliburton as second only to Ball and he has an off the dribble shot creation package that is outstanding for a player so young. And Lewis is a blur, who would instantly be one of the fastest players in the NBA, that can shoot it very well and finish downhill. I probably slightly favor Lewis at this point, but I think both have All-Star potential and fill a massive need that the Pistons have not adequately filled since Chauncey Billups. I’m hoping that the Pat Williams stuff is a big smokescreen being orchestrated by Weaver, and squinting through the tea leaves, there are some hints that it is. The vast majority of the Pistons workouts were point guards, and the trading of Bruce Brown for Dzanan Musa hints at opening up some backcourt minutes. But there’s such an overwhelming consensus for Williams, and he fits the mold of guys Troy Weaver targeted in OKC with Sam Presti.
8. New York Knicks
TRADE ALERT! New York Knicks trade this pick + Bobby Portis to the San Antonio Spurs for Demar DeRozan and pick #11
What I Think They Will Do: F – Deni Avidja
Most people have Avdija going much higher than this. Most have him going 4th and the few that don’t have him going 5th. But I think the idea of Avdija is a little bit more enticing than the actuality. He’s a solid prospect for sure, but I see more Hedo Turkoglu than I do anything else. I see a skilled prospect who can do a lot of different things, yet none of them elite. He’s similar to Patrick Williams in a lot of ways, just with a much more muted athletic package (although he’s a solid athlete on his own). The Spurs were one of the lucky teams to get an Avdija workout and his feel for the game and skill set fits along with the nice young core they have been building.
As for the trade, DeRozan is a spare part at this point. While a solid mid-range scorer and shot creator, his lack of outside shooting and defense really limit his league-wide value. The Spurs are looking to open up minutes for Lonnie Walker and Keldon Johnson at the 3, and they are able to do so here by getting DeRozan’s deal off the books and moving up in the draft in the process.
What I Would Do: I’m not sold on avidja like a lot of people are. I just don’t see anything more than a solid starter out of him. I could understand the trade up as getting rid of DeRozan makes sense, but I would target G – Killian Hayes or G – Kira Lewis, or even a wing like Isaac Okoro or Devin Vassell.
9. Washington Wizards
What I Think They Will Do: B – Precious Achiuwa.
The Wizards are desperately hoping for Okongwu to fall to them and on most mocks, this happens. I just don’t see him falling all the way to 9 or the Wizards having the assets to move up and get him earlier. Achiuwa is a nice consolation prize. He is not as polished on either end, but has similar athleticism, and can mimic Okogwu enough as a rim protector and rim-runner. The Wizards badly need an injection of athleticism and rebounding in their front-court. Achiuwa complements the floor spacers they have really well.
What I Would Do: Ditto. I would probably try to trade back, and grab an asset but Achiuwa fits their roster needs like a glove. I think W – Devin VAssell also makes sense. But they have a lot of young wings and are still committed to Wall as Beal’s sidekick, so it makes sense to supplement the front court.
10. Phoenix Suns
TRADE ALERT! Phoenix Suns trade this pick to the Boston Celtics for #14 and #26
What I Think They Will Do: W – Isaac Okoro
The Celtics are desperately trying to trade up in the Draft. I believe their chief target is Ogonkwu. But I’m starting to think that their second target may be Okoro. (they have a thing for Nigerians, maybe ?). I was skeptical because the Celtics worked out a bunch of players, but not Okoro. I also would not be shocked if, post-draft, we find out Okoro had a secret workout with the Celtics. It feels like Gordon Hayward is on his way out the door, and so they will need a replacement for Hayward as that 3rd wing in Brad Stevens offense. They may have it in Romeo Langford, last year’s higher first round pick, but he had a rough year due to injuries. Okoro fits the Danny Ainge prospect mold. He profiles very similarly to both Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown. While he needs help with his shooting consistency, the Celtics have strong confidence in their player development infrastructure related to outside shooting. Both Smart and Brown were similarly non-shooters, and both are now above average 3 point shooters. Okoro’s defense can come in handy when Kemba Walker has a difficult matchup and he and Smart can provide a bull-dog, ball-hawk level of defense for the rotation.
What I Would Do: They got too many picks and not enough roster spots so I would be working the phones too. Okoro screams Celtics to me too and I have a feeling he would be on a similar development trajectory as Brown and TAtum before long if he ends up here. Ditto.
11. San Antonio Spurs
TRADE ALERT! San Antonio Spurs trade this pick + Demar DeRozan to the New York Knicks for Bobby Portis and pick #8
What I Think They Will Do: G – Kilian Hayes
I believe the Knicks are intent on getting their point guard of the future out of this draft. Hayes to me is an All-star level talent who has some major, but correctable flaws. E has no right-hand, is turnover prone, and has some trouble turning the corner against quicker guards. But you can’t teach his vision and play-making skills, and his footwork, craftiness, and length all tend to point towards a kid who could be a high level scorer one day. He also has the defensive chops that a Tom Thibodeau coached team will put to work..
What I Would Do: Ditto. I think Killian is a Top 5 player in this draft so getting him at 11 would be a steal.
12. Sacramento Kings
What I Think They Will Do: W – Devin Vassell
No one knows what the Kings will do. They have a new braintrust and it comes from the Morey tree in which analytics will be an important element in what they do. I feel that they will be targeting a wing as they have an interesting collection of backcourt and frontcourt talent, but some questions on the wing. Vassell checks a lot of boxes, is a prototypical 3 and D guy, and has some untapped potential in his game to be explored. His 3 point acumen will be needed as the only core Kings player that projects as an above average shooter is Buddy Hield, and it’s uncertain how much longer he will continue to be a King.
What I Would Do: Ditto. PRobably. I’m intrigued by adding G- Kira Lewis or G-RJ Hampton to DeAaron Fox, for a dual ball handling backcourt with electric speed. But Vassell checks a lot of boxes for a team that needs to get their culture together.
13. New Orleans Pelicans
What I Think They Will Do: F – Saadiq Bey
So this is close. Almost all pundits have the Pelicans taking Lewis. But on almost all of those boards, Bey is picked by San Antonio and not available. I think the Pels really like Lewis and I think he fits with Ingram and Zion and in Stan Van Gundy’s offense. I’m going to go with Bey though. I think hes the perfect long-term complement to both Zion and Ingram, as he can play the 3/4 next to either and provide shooting and defense. And when the Pelicans want to go small with Zion at the 5, he can slide into the 4 and provide the floor spacing necessary for the Pelicans two budding stars to operate.
What I Would Do: I would probably take G – Kira Lewis here. He’s my sixth ranked player and he fits nicely next to the big, play-making guards the Pelicans have in Nickeil-Alexander Walker and Lonzo Ball. But Bey makes a lot of sense too.
14. Boston Celtics
TRADE ALERT! Boston Celtics trade this pick to the Phoenix Suns + #26 for #10
What I Think They Will Do:G – Kira Lewis
Kira finally comes off the board here. And before they traded CP3, it was thought that Phoenix was all over Kira. Now, conventional wisdom is that they will grab a wing, but I’m not convinced. Kira is an absolute blur with the ball, and can really shoot it. He would thrive both playing next to and learning from CP3 and can take the regions once Paul hangs it up. Whomever this pick is, it will be a shooter who has some playmaking chops. So G – Tyrell Terry and G – Desmond Bane are also guys I would have in the running for this slot. GM James Jones is not afraid to “reach” for guys he values, and he is pretty transparent in what he is looking for.
What I Would Do: Kira is my 4th ranked player in this draft and I think will be the steal of the draft. This would be great value and a great opportunity. A resounding Ditto.
15. Orlando Magic – G RJ Hampton
The Magic love athletic players with length and Hampton provides that. He’s also a home run swing on a team that lacks marquee talent.
16. Houston Rockets – G Tyrese Maxey
No one really knows what the future holds for the Rockets. What we do know is that it’s likely at least one of their star guards will be moved this year and in any event , both + Eric Gordon are on the wrong side of 30. Maxey has upside as a two way player and can probably guard some 3s if they wanted him to play alongside the other guys.
17. Minnesota Timberwolves – F Jaden McDaniels
The Timberwolves don’t really have a true small forward prospect on the roster, and likely will resort to playing with smaller wings at that spot. McDaniels is an upside play at the position. He has all the tools.
18. Dallas Mavericks –F Aaron Nesmith
I’m hearing that this pick is headed to the Thunder for Danilo Gallinari. Apparently the Thunder are enamored with Nesmith. He is an outstanding 3 point shooter for sure and would be a nice player to pair with Shai Gilgeous Alexander on the perimeter.
19. Brooklyn Nets – G Tyrell Terry
I don’t see a team running the Nash/D’Antoni offense passing on a chance to get a guy like Terry who is a dynamic shooter and ball-handler. He’s a bit slight but he could be a lethal scorer if he develops the way I think he may.
20. Miami Heat – B Jalen Smith
Smith replaces Meyers Leonard, as their stretch big. Unlike Leonard, Smith can actually protect the rim and has some upside to be a better scorer as well.
21. Philadelphia – G Cole Anthony
Rumors are abound that they have a promise out to Isaiah Joe. However, I don’t think they take Joe quite this high and still have a high 2nd round pick at their disposal. I think they instead use this pick to grab a scoring point guard that can play off the ball. Anthony makes a ton of sense and I’m sure Doc Rivers has a lot of insight into Cole’s makeup as a former teammate of his dad.
22. Denver Nuggets – B Zeke Nnanji
The Nuggets may need to replace Mason Plumlee as Nikola Jokic’s backup with a cheaper alternative if they are to retain both Paul Milsap and Jerami Grant without venturing deep into the luxury tax. Nnanji does this and has some of the same athletic pop Plumlee does. He also could probably play with Jokic in some situations.
23. New York Knicks – G Immanuel Quickley
I don’t think any mocks I have seen have Quickley pegged for the 1st round. I think the Knicks will target him though. He’s a lethal shooter and can defend his butt off.
24. New Orleans – B – Isaiah Stewart
Stewart has fans around the NBA front offices for being a hard worker and an incredibly strong and sturdy big. He’s the kind of high character worker that makes sense for Griffin to add to help Zion, and he has a decent and developing outside jumper to boot.
25. Oklahoma City Thunder – F Alexsej Pokusevski
The Thunder have apparently been in love with “Poku” for a year now. He is the biggest boom-or bust prospect in the draft.
26 . Boston Celtics (traded to PHX in my mock) – W Desomnd Bane
Bane is one of my favorite players in this draft. I think he is the best shooter in the draft, and he plays good defense as well. He is a solid playmaker and can really help a team. The only concerns are his negative wingspan and lateral agility but I really think he will be an NBA pro for 10 years +. He’s that good of a shooter. And getting a 10 year vet this late in the first is a major STEAL.
27. Utah Jazz – W – Josh Green
This team needs some defensive help in a hurry. Green helps fill that void, as he is an excellent on-ball defender, and can become a great 3 and D wing with time.
28. Oklahoma City Thunder – W Cassius Stanley
The Thunder love long bouncy wings with a splash of skill. Stanley might have a little more than a splash, and there are few bouncier than he is.
29. Toronto Raptors – G – Theo Maledon
I’m hearing that Jordan Nwora might be the pick here. But I can’t see Masai Ujiri turning down a long, skilled guard with Kyle Lowry getting up there in age, and a Van Vleet return likely but not imminent or guaranteed.
30. Boston Celtics – G – Peyton Pritchard
Another “this seems like a Danny Ainge” pick. Pritchard is strong and can shoot it, and has that Celtics edge that they seem to always find in theri picks.
Finishing up the State of the Roster Series with a look at the Lions front 7. The guys who control the trenches and affect the quarterback the most.
*projected starters in italics
*likelihoods are probabilities that they wait until that day to fill that need
Roster Outlook: Average
The Lions have had the worst group of linebackers in the NFL for the last 2-3 years. Easily. So I write that word “average” with the most optimism I’ve had for this group in years. Jamie Collins is old and it’s likely that by the end of his deal, he will be bad. But right now, he’s still pretty solid. He’s also very familiar with Patricia’s scheme which is very demanding on linebackers. LBs have to have the mass to fight through blockers and spill outside runs, and they also need to have the length to stack and shed. They also need to be able to cover well in space as with the Lions heavy man coverage schemes, they will often get isolated on running backs and tight ends. Collins can handle all of these duties well and is our best linebacker since DeAndre Levy.
Tavai is not as good as Collins, especially int he passing game, but he’s a solid plugger in the run game. He also has experience in college as an edge player (in fact I thought his film showed him to be much better in that role) so if the ions need him to shift over to that group for depth, he can help out. He still was a colossal reach last year, but he can be a quality two-down piece for the Lions.
Jarrad Davis, in another scheme, probably is not THAT bad. But he’s been the worst starting linebacker in the NFL the last two years. I’m hoping that the additions of Tavai and Collins the last 2 years have pushed Davis into a sub-package blitzing role, where he has found success at the NFL level. I FEAR, that the Lions are planing on moving Collins or Tavai to Edge. Such a move would ensure that both Davis and the player they move are underwhelming and again make this unit bad. I am REALLY hoping this is not the case. But the inexplicable release of Devon Kennard weeks before the Draft makes me nervous.
Christian Jones just got an extension to return as a backup linebacker and be a core special teamer. That’s a good role for him. Starting was not. He was slightly better than Davis but that says almost nothing.
Likelihood of Day 1 Pick: 0% – No need and both the LBs with first round grades would be poor fits in our scheme.
Likelihood of Day 2 Pick: 5 % –
Likelihood of Day 3 Pick: 10 %
Lions should not be adding anything here. Similar to safety, there are a lot of spent resources here. Sadly, all those resources lead to an at-best average group, but such is life.
Jalen Reeves- Maybin
Roster Outlook: Mediocre
This group is a lot like cornerback, albeit not as deep. It does not look good at first look but that’s in part because it’s missing a starter. The Lions cut Devon Kennard for reasons I still don’t understand, as he was the second most productive pass rusher on an extremely anemic pass rush. Let me reiterate: We had the 31st ranked pass rush in the NFL according to DVOA, and we got rid of our second best pass rusher. Kennard also was solid in coverage and in setting the edge, and was not all that expensive, so I was left scratching my head over this move. I am hoping that this means the Lions are planning on addressing this position heavy in the Draft. But who knows.
There’s at least some talent here though. On the weakside, Flowers had a great season for us last year and is a real presence at DE, despite having little help. He sets the edge well in the running game, gets pressures on the QB and can provide both inside and outside pass rush. He’s not an elite player but he’s a very, very good one. His backup, last year’s 4th round pick Austin Bryant, only played 4 games last year, thanks to injury. But he is a solid prospect who excelled at stopping the run at Clemson, and has the length, frame and athleticism to develop into a pretty good pass rusher as well.
At SAM, it’s a little less rosy of a picture. Romeo Okwara is a solid backup, but currently is penciled in as the starter at SAM. He’s a good rotational piece to grab 15-20 snaps a game and nothing more, in order to maximize his efficiency. Reeves-Maybin is more of an awkward fit, and really doesn’t fit this position or the off-ball LB spot. He was a special teams contributor last year, and if they take multiple picks at this position in this draft, I don’t see him on the final roster.
Likelihood of Day 1 Pick: 10 % – If the Redskins inexplicably pass on Chase Young or the Lions trade up into the bottom of Round 1.
Likelihood of Day 2 Pick: 70 % – It’s a thin draft for edge rushers and most of the value is here.
Likelihood of Day 3 Pick: 70% – Yes this equals more than 100%. They need to add 2.
The Lions need both a SAM who can become a nickel pass rusher, and they need a pure nickel pass rusher who can add depth at both SAM and Weakside End in the base package.
Josh Uche (MICH) and Zack Baun (WISC) are two guys they should target early in Round 2. Uche has explosive pass rush capabilities, with great bend, surprising power, and an explosive first step. He also has experience dropping in coverage in Michigan’s scheme, and is not a liability in the run game. Baun is similar to Uche, although not quite as explosive of a pass rusher, but probably a bit better against the run. Both would be neat fits for the Lions and would fit in seamlessly. Baun did just have a diluted drug test sample at the combine though, which for taskmaster Quinn, may lead to a fall or removal from his draft board. Ideally, we are grabbing one of these two on Friday night.
If they elect to draft a SAM later, from a talent standpoint Terrell Lewis (BAMA) makes a ton of sense. Talent-wise, he’s a first round pick. However, Lewis missed most of the 2017 season and all of the 2018 season with various injuries. There are reports that half of the NFL has dropped him from their board because of his injury concerns. That means he probably falls to Day 3, but his talent is such that I would be all for gambling on him in the 4th round.
For nickel pass rusher, Jabari Zuniga (UF) is an exciting prospect that would greatly improve our pass rush. He only showed it in flashes, but he can win from the inside and outside with his rush, and has an elite NFL frame. He’s a boom or bust prospect and could be out the league in 2 years or he could be an All-Pro. He won’t make it out of the top 45 picks though so they will have to use a premium pick if they want him.
Julian Okwara (ND), the younger brother of Romeo, might make sense if the Lions wait until Day 3. He is another long, athletic player with the frame and speed to win on the outside. He can get run over in the run game though so he would be a pure nickel rusher only. The Lions can also have an inside look (albeit biased) on his character and work ethic by speaking with his brother.
Khalid Khareem (ND), Julian’s teammate, is on the opposite end of the spectrum. He’s a stout run defender with a great frame, who needs to further develop his pass rushing acumen. He’s also a home town kid, hailing from Farmington. Khareem should be available on Day 3 and would be an interesting addition in the 5th round.
Overall, the Lions had better address this position hard. If not in the draft, they need to make a play for one of the edge player free agents on the market currently. They got worse in their biggest weakness by losing Kennard, so they should probably double up. I would probably use 2 of the 3 (4 if they trade down) Day 2 picks they have to address this issue. A haul of Uche and Zuniga would be fantastic albeit possibly unrealistic.
Roster Outlook: Poor
This is not a great group. Shelton is a good nose tackle, capable of one and two-gapping, as the Lions ask their nose tackle to do both – but he’s the only sure thing of this group. Hand had a really good 2018, particularly against the run, but then missed 13 games last season, and looked pretty mediocre in the 3 games he played. The Lions are hoping for a major bounce back season this year but it’s far from guaranteed. Strong, the primary backup for Hand and Williams, played OK in limited snaps last year and the Lions are really high on him, but he’s shown very little so far. Williams, the free agent pickup from the Bears, had a solid 2019, but he came out of nowhere to do so. Before that he was journeyman who bounced around the league. He is athletic though and offers potential to play all three positions on the defensive line, so he could be a good rotation piece. Atkins and Sagapolu are just mountains who don’t offer much but size to plug away in the middle. Sagapolu will likely head to the practice squad and Atkins will fend off any training camp challengers to be Danny Shelton’s understudy when we two-gap.
Likelihood of Day 1 Pick: 45%
Likelihood of Day 2 Pick: 45%
Likelihood of Day 3 Pick: 50%
Possible targets: This position is linked to corner in my eyes. They will take at least one interior DL with one of the premium picks and then I think it’s likely 50/50 they will add another one later. They absolutely have to add some talent here. That’s why I believe the recent chatter that Derrick Brown (AUB) is growing in popularity with the Lions staff for the pick. Brown is an absolutely disruptive force in the middle. His tape is phenomenal and he has annihilated the SEC for the last 2 seasons. He is huge, physical, explosive, and strong. He does fall down a lot more than you would think for a man that powerful. And he can be washed down the line when he lets his momentum get the better of him. But he re-sets the line of scrimmage and draws double and sometimes triple teams on a regular basis. He would be an excellent pick.
If the Lions go with Okudah early, then they can grab a DL in round 2.
Here is my draft board regardless of position at DT (note: I did not get a chance to watch tape on Rashad Lawrence (LSU) or Marlon Davidson (AUB) so I did not rank them.)
Derrick Brown (AUB)
Javon Kinlaw (USC-Gamecocks)
Justin Madibuike (TAMU)
Raekwon Davis (BAMA)
Raequan Williams (MSU-Spartans)
Jordan Elliot (MIZZ)
Ross Blacklock (TCU)
Neville Gallimore (OU)
Leki Fotu (UTAH)
This how I believe the Lions would rank them:
Under Tackle/Strongside End:
Kinlaw probably won’t be an option as he should go mid Round 1. Madibuke is my 3rd ranked DT, but he likely would be ranked much lower on the Lions board, if at all. He’s a pass rushing DT with impressive explosion and disruption, but would not fit the archetype the Lions look for. He is only a one gap player and would not give the Lions the versatility they need. The same goes for Gallimore.
Davis is a guy I could definitely see them taking if they pass on Brown in Round 1. Davis almost exclusively two-gapped at Alabama, both as an end and and a nose, and also showed the ability to one-gap as well when asked to. He could play all 3 positions along the line for the Lions. Quinn may catch “deja-vu” with Davis as he has a very similar profile to former Bama player Ashawn Robinson, who the Lions have not yet re-signed (although he may be re-hitting the market). Williams has impressive film in his time with the Spartans, and I think will go much higher than many in the media think. He doesn’t cleanly fit the Lions scheme from what I saw on film, but he has the length and disruption to project at the under position.
Elliot I think will be high on their list if they pass on the versatility of Davis. He has some explosive tape and he two-gapped as an end at Mizzou, but you can see that he has one gap explosiveness when they let him pass rush from the interior. I also see them being relatively high on Blacklock. His film didn’t wow me, but he was solid and violent with his hands. He’s not the biggest guy in the world but he stood up well to double teams and I think the Lions could fit him into their scheme. Finally there is Fotu, who’s tape was very mediocre. But that likely is because Utah miscast him as a one gap, penetrating DT. However, one look at his truly massive frame and length and one an see a potential nose tackle in there. If the Lions wait until the 3rd or 4th round, Fotu might make sense.
The Lions are finally adequate at linebacker but they have big moves to make on the edge and in the trenches. They need to invest at least 3 picks shoring up these areas as they are the weak point of a very leaky defense. It won’t matter what talent they have in the secondary if they cannot stop the run or get to the quarterback.
Going to mash these two groups together as there are virtually going to be no realistic options for the Pistons to take at PG at 15. So it’s really just combo guards and wings and a couple of the guys could be classified as either so let’s just smash them all together.
Also the Pistons have confounded things a bit by adding the 30th pick in the Draft. Many of the players that I was just OK with or would be annoyed with them taking at 15 would be great at 30. Such is life ! I’ll withold comments on the merit of that deal to get the 30th pick until after the Draft.
I would be ECSTATIC if we took Nickeil Alexander Walker. He is number #1 on my realistic Big Board. NAW is an excellent shooter, an excellent defender, is long and athletic, and has good playmaking skills. His playmaking skills are so good that some folks think he can develop into a PG. While I’m not entirely certain of that, the Pistons could use help at every single thing I mentioned that NAW brings to the table. He till has considerable upside, and yet can help right away.
I would be pleased if we took Kevin Porter Jr. I know, I know. He’s definitely a boom or bust player. But man, the talent he has is Top 5 level. He can shoot, he can drive, he can finish, he can handle, he has the tools to defend. The only issues with him appear to be mentally and if a coach/front office can get him focused, they may have a baby James Harden on their hand.
I would be OK if we took Romeo Langford or Keldon Johnson. Langford is a lot like Nasir Little. Has star potential if he can tighten up his handle and shot. He is a dynamic shot creator and athlete. The Pistons player development track record, though, is … spotty at best. Keldon is the exact opposite to Romeo. I don’t see a lot of big-time upside with him but he comes with an NBA ready made skill set: He can shoot it and he is a strong defender. He lacks the handle and fluidity to become a stud shot creator, but he will have a long career as a 3 and D wing.
I would be annoyed if we took Tyler Herro or Matisse Thybulle. Here’s the thing … I love Thybulle’s game. He’s going to be an elite, elite, elite defender. If we are being honest, I probably won’t be annoyed if we select him. But I would be kind of annoyed by the fit. While reports are that his shooting is back to where it was a couple of years ago, I don’t know if he will be an even an average shooter on this level, and we cannot keep drafting one dimensional guys. Luke Kennard is a solid offensive player, but he will never be a good defender thanks to his slow feet and T-Rex arms. Bruce Brown is a very good defender, but he just cannot shoot. I want us to be more balanced in the guys we throw out there and not be so situational. Herro is also solid but he’s basically just another Luke. Actually, a little worse. We are covered in the “not just a shooter, but wow he can shoot it” department fam.
This section invariably will be much more brief. The Pistons best player is Blake Griffin, and while his decline is coming sooner than later, he just had one of his best seasons in quite some time. Behind Blake is Thon Maker, a long, high moor project who the Pistons are still trying to figure out. Any player the Pistons would likely select would have to be able to play at the 3 as a power wing, or at the 5 to complement Griffin. There are a few that maybe fit:
*Assuming that Zion Williamson, DeAndre Hunter, Rui Hachimura, and Sekou Doumbouya are not available *
No ecstatic picks here ….. Unless one of those 4 above listed are available and we grab them …
I would be pleased if we selected PJ Washington or Brandon Clarke. Washington brings a well rounded skill set as he can play with his back to the basket, can shoot the 3 (over 40% last season) and has the length and athletic ability to finish at the rim and be a solid defender. He suffers a bit from being “good at everything, great at nothing”, but those can be really solid pieces, especially if they offer the positional flexibility that PJ does. He’s also still fairly young and has the upside to develp further. Clarke meanwhile is just a bundle of athletic ability, that is the ultimate tweener. Offensively, he has limited range, and scored a lot in college at the rim and on short mid range jumpers. I’m fairly confident in the latter translating, but we will see if his 40 inch vertical and soft touch make up for less than ideal length (6’9′ wingspan) with the former . Defensively, he is a menace as he is capable of playing great perimter defense when switched onto a wing or guard, can defend the pick and roll well, and is an elite rim protector. Again if he had another 2 to 3 inches of wingspan, I would have no issue with projecting him to be the same terror as a rim protector in college, but we will have to see. He would pair well with Blake, as Blake’s playmaking is one of his better skills and Clarke can finish those created shots at a higher efficiency rate. He can also assist Blake really well on the defenseive end, both in taking the other team’s better post player and in providing weakside help. His pairing with Drummond though would depend heavily on how well he hits the mid range jumepr at this level.
I would be ok if we selected Nassir Little or KZ Opala. With Little, I see the jaw dropping athleticism, the elite motor, the defensive ability, the ridiculous length (over 7 foot wingspan!). There even is a clear spot for him at the 3. But he reminds me so much of Stanley Johnson. Stanley was not the athlete Nassir is, but had a similar physical profile and was a bit more polished and just as highly regarded on the prep level. He has a lot of potential to become a big time scorer, and is one of the most talented prospects in the Draft, but his outside shooting and handle need to improve quite a bit. He’s the type of guy that the Spurs would turn into an All-Star but the Pistons just don’t have that track record. KZ is similar to Nassir in all of those things. Elite physical tools but there are questions about his shooting and his handle. Unlike Little he shot really well last year (37%) but people are concerned that this may have been a mirage. He also has questionable shot selection. Both would be interesting picks that I would not be mad at, but we probably would have passed on someone more impactful.
I think the Pistons will make a solid selection if they go with any of these picks. I’m not over the moon about any of our realistic prospects, but they are all solid players that could help us in some way. I like Clarke and PJ a bit more because of their fit with Blake and because it is hard to find good modern day bigs.