2011 NFL Draft Positional Value Breakdown

This is obviously a strange year for the NFL, but we get a brief break from labor talks and uncertainty starting tonight for the first round of the NFL Draft. 

This is also an unusual year for Lions fans because the Lions are drafting much later than they are accustomed to for the last 10 years.  Instead of debating over individual players, fans have debated over what positions the Lions should address because nobody knows who’s going to be available.  While the debating is fun, I wanted to take a serious look at what positions the Lions are likely to address in each round of the upcoming draft.

The Lions draft based on value and best player available rather than need, so I am going to break out what positions are expected to have the best value on the board when the Lions pick in each round.  This isn’t necessarily going to be what position they will pick because there are players that will slide that could offer better value at a different position.  This is more or less a guide of what positions the Lions could target with each pick based on how the value of the player pool stacks up.

First Round

The Lions pick 13th and remember, this is the last time they expect to be picking in the top half of the draft, so they will target high value positions that are difficult to fill in the later portions of the first round.  Regardless of scheme, style, coaching staffs or any other variable there are three positions that are valued higher than any others by every team in the league.

Quarterback, left tackle and pass rusher are the three positions with the highest value and they are deemed the most difficult to fill the further you draft from the top. 

There’s a reason everybody makes such a big deal about the Patriots getting Tom Brady in the sixth round, it’s almost impossible to find a franchise quarterback that late in the draft.  Look at how many teams have failed to draft a franchise quarterback at the top of the draft.  The Lions obviously don’t need a quarterback so they won’t be looking there.

The other two positions don’t fill immediate needs, but the Lions will have a need in the near future and again they do not plan on drafting this high when those needs become immediate.  This is a really good draft for defensive lineman, with as many as nine going in the first round, but there are only a couple that are explosive athletes with 10-15 sack a year potential.  Robert Quinn and Aldon Smith are the only two really in play at 13, although there is a good chance neither will be there.

Left tackle isn’t an immediate need, but the Lions do have an immediate need for depth and possibly at right tackle.  The two top candidates for the Lions are Tyron Smith and Anthony Costanzo.  Both can play right tackle or backup both tackles in year one and both have the potential to replace Backus in year two.  Nate Solder could be an option at 13 as well, but he’s a step below the other two and may be a bit of a reach.

If the five players I mentioned aren’t available, then the Lions would consider two other positions that would offer value at 13, cornerback or potentially wide receiver if Julio Jones or AJ Green somehow fell.

If Quinn, Aldon Smith, Tyron Smith, Costanzo and Amukamara are all gone at 13 then the Lions will probably look at their next highest rated defensive end or offensive tackle.  There is a slight possibility that there could be trade options if the second tier quarterbacks start to come off the board or if Julio Jones falls.

Positions of Value: Defensive End, Offensive Tackle, Cornerback and Wide Receiver

Second Round

There will probably be a lot of turmoil at the top of the second round with expected trade activity surrounding the last of the quarterbacks, which could lead to a lot of first round graded prospects falling further into the second round.

There is a second tier of offensive tackles that will be in play, so if the Lions don’t take one in the first round they will have a few options in the middle of round two.  There is also a small group of speed receivers that could tempt the Lions, but there are a lot of mid round prospects that fit what the Lions are looking for.

There are a handful of linebackers that could present good value when the Lions pick, but I’m not optimistic that they will still be available.  There could also be a few cornerbacks that have first round type talent but have second round grades due to character, injury or needing time to develop.

Some of the players that could be in the mix are offensive tackles Benjamin Ijalana, Willie Smith or James Brewer, defensive ends Justin Houston, Pernell McPhee, Greg Romeus or Jabaal Sheard possibly defensive tackle Drake Nevis, linebackers Mason Foster, Martez Wilson, cornerbacks Brandon Harris, Curtis Brown, Ras-I Dowling, Rashad Carmichael and Curtis Marsh.

Lastly, if one of the upper tier running backs falls to the Lions such as Mark Ingram or Mikel Leshoure there is an outside chance the Lions could draft them because of the value.  However, I don’t see that as a likely scenario because there are some quality running backs in the middle rounds and the Lions have more pressing needs that match some of the expected value in the second round.

Positions of Value: Offensive Tackle, Cornerback, Linebacker and Running Back

Third Round and Fourth Round

The third round and fourth rounds are where it will start to get interesting for the Lions because the value in the middle rounds of this draft all coincide with needs for the Lions.  Running backs, receivers, linebackers and cornerbacks are all very viable options in these two rounds.  In addition, there are some interesting developmental interior lineman that should start coming off the board as well.

Overall, these two rounds should offer the Lions a good opportunity to get value and fill needs.

Positions of Value: Receiver, Linebacker, Running Back and Interior Offensive Line

Fifth through Seventh Rounds

My draft research really only takes me into the middle to end of the fourth round, so things get a little less certain after that point.  However, the later rounds in the draft are where teams generally start targeting positions of need where they just players to fill roles on the team.  If the player pans out to be a bigger contributor than the role they were picked for that’s a bonus, but rarely do front office guys count on these picks to make huge contributions immediately.

Some of the positions the Lions will be looking to fill in the later rounds are potentially a fourth receiver, backup/developmental offensive lineman, backup/developmental defensive lineman and backup linebacker/special teamer.  There’s an outside chance the Lions could look at a developmental quarterback if an intriguing prospect falls because they could lose Drew Stanton depending on the free agency rules and they haven’t seen a lot of Zac Robinson yet.

Teams will also start to roll the dice a little more looking for some high reward type players.  Players that have talent but they are coming off of injuries or players with some character concerns come into play here as well.

The Lions unearthed a starting linebacker in Zack Follett in the seventh round as well as a good backup tackle in Lydon Murtha in the same round.  Murtha was claimed off the practice squad by the Dolphins, but it’s a good sign that this front office found solid players like them in the late rounds.

The real key to drafting successfully in the later rounds is finding players that your coaching staff can work with.  Late round picks are late round picks for a reason, they have holes in their games or they haven’t developed physically or they played at small schools.  Good coaching staffs help those players improve and grow into productive players.

Mike McCarthy was able to take a seventh round quarterback and develop him into a solid backup in Matt Flynn.  Sean Payton turned a seventh round receiver/tight end tweener into a Pro Bowl receiver in Marques Colston.  So it’s not always the evaluators that make good draft picks, the coaches help develop those players into productive elements of the team as w


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