The NFL draft is a month away, and about now is when speculation about what teams might end up doing begins to pick up.
Private workouts and visits are happening all over the country -- Detroit Lions included. So what might Detroit do at No. 21? That's today's question.
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These questions were somewhat similar, so I combined them as an answer. So much of the focus now is on the draft and what the Lions are going to do at No. 21. I'll start by saying it's nearly impossible to predict, a month out, what Detroit will end up doing with its first-round pick. I said it last year at No. 16 and will continue with it at No. 21 -- beyond the top 10, it gets difficult to handicap the draft because of what might happen above and draft-day surprises some don't see coming. That happens every year.
For the purpose of this question, there are things to take a look at when it comes to the Lions' board. First, you can eliminate quarterbacks because Detroit has Matthew Stafford and he is thought to be the player of the future. You can probably rule out offensive linemen at this point after the signings of Rick Wagner and T.J. Lang in free agency.
Right now, for Detroit, almost every other possibility is on the table.
Offensively, the only players I could see Detroit really making a run at with pick No. 21 are players who aren't expected to be there (running back Leonard Fournette, wide receivers Mike Williams, Corey Davis and John Ross and tight end O.J. Howard). If those four are at No. 21, either the Lions have a prime trade-back opportunity or they should at least consider one of those big-time playmakers. The one guy who might be there at No. 21 who might be really enticing is Stanford running back Christian McCaffery, but defense is a much larger priority.
So we'll stick with defense when looking at potential names.
As one of the questions mentions, Taco Charlton from Michigan is a prime candidate at No. 21. He's long. He's a fast-twitch end and is pretty much what Detroit looks for in its defensive ends. That defensive line coach Kris Kocurek helped run defensive line drills is no coincidence, either. The Lions have to be looking hard at Charlton.
Beyond Charlton, Tennessee's Derek Barnett is a player Detroit should be considering. His draft stock is rising enough that it might be a little bit of a surprise if he's there at No. 21, but Tennessee's all-time sacks leader has the production the Lions would want to see opposite Ezekiel Ansah. It would also give the Lions the potential of high-level pass-rushers on both ends for the first time in Ansah's career. Devin Taylor showed flashes, but it never materialized for more than half a season and Ansah was a rookie when Willie Young emerged as a pass-rushing end before leaving for Chicago.
Linebacker Haason Reddick, from Temple, is another likely target. Like Barnett, he's been moving steadily up mock draft boards and may not be there for the Lions. But linebacker is Detroit's biggest need and he showed playmaking ability with 22.5 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks last season. Some of that came with Reddick playing on the line of scrimmage instead, but the production and athleticism is there. That's something Detroit sorely needs after the release of DeAndre Levy. Some of that, for Reddick, probably comes from his time as a defensive back and running back in high school.
The other linebacker to watch will be UCLA's Takkarist McKinley. He has great linebacker size at 6-foot-2, 250 pounds and his 4.59-second 40-yard dash would give the Lions much-needed speed in the middle tier of their defense. He would be a little bit more of a project than Reddick, but the coaching combination of the experienced Bill Sheridan and potentially Kocurek with his hands on pass rush could help fix some of the questions about him. He might fit better in a 3-4, but his athleticism is fantastic, and after a 10-sack, 18-tackle-for-loss season last year, he's an intriguing prospect.
While most of the focus has been on the front seven, there's a chance the Lions look at the secondary with safeties Jabrill Peppers (Michigan), Obi Melifonwu (Connecticut) and Budda Baker (Washington) possible targets as well as corners Marlon Humphrey (Alabama), Quincy Wilson (Florida) and Tre'Davious White (LSU).