By Ashley Dunkak
CBS DETROIT – Some Detroit Lions fans want the organization to trade up in the draft and snag highly touted Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins to complement Lions superstar Calvin Johnson. ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper evidently believes Detroit will go after defense instead.
In his latest mock draft, Kiper has the Lions taking Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix their No. 10 pick.
“The addition of James Ihedigbo in free agency doesn’t diminish Detroit’s need for more help at safety,” Kiper wrote in his analysis of the pick. “Getting the top free safety in the draft, a guy who will distinguish himself with his ability to cover with great range, fills a pretty big personnel void for Detroit, and this isn’t much of a leap in terms of where Clinton-Dix’s name is stacked on most draft boards. I do think Detroit could consider a corner here, I just see Clinton-Dix as a better player and a likelier early impact maker for a team that should feel like it can be in the playoff picture if it can be better in coverage. The depth at CB in this draft means the Lions can add one later.”
The Lions have not given any indication of what position they will target in the draft. Team president Tom Lewand most recently addressed the issue Wednesday, when he spoke at WWJ News Radio’s Business of Sports panel and said who the team drafts will depend on what players have already been taken when the Lions pick. Vice president of pro personnel Sheldon White also stayed mum about the topic when he spoke in front of season-ticket holders at the Lions Town Hall Meeting event Monday.
With Detroit’s offense so dependent on the availability of Johnson, who turns 29 this season, taking a wide receiver might be a prudent choice, even though the Lions signed Golden Tate from the Super Bowl-winning Seattle Seahawks in free agency. Johnson missed two games in 2013, when he often practiced only once or twice a week and reportedly had a knee drained regularly because of fluid build-up.
Lions general manager Martin Mayhew said in January 2013 that his biggest mistake in 2012 was counting on the availability of running back Jahvid Best, who suffered from concussions and ended up never being cleared to play again. If Johnson were to go down with an injury, the offense of the Lions would almost undoubtedly collapse. Even if Johnson remains healthy and productive for years to come, a more talented complement will become increasingly necessary as his otherworldly skills inevitably diminish – even if they do so slowly – with age, making Johnson easier to defend.
Though the Lions have not spoken publicly about courting Watkins, he reportedly visited team headquarters in Allen Park and met with vice chairman Bill Ford Jr. along with Johnson and Tate. Kiper has Watkins going No. 3 in the draft. In his analysis of Watkins, Kiper calls the wide receiver a player “who will make the QB — whoever that ends up being — better.”
Detroit has also shown interest in South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who visited the team facility Wednesday. Kiper’s latest mock draft has Clowney going No. 1. The Lions may well have an opening on their defensive line soon, with both Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley becoming free agents after the 2014 season. The Lions have said they are currently negotiating on a contract extension with Suh.