DETROIT – With the No. 3 overall pick, the Detroit Lions have a range of options as wide as any other team heading into the 2020 NFL draft.
Most people expect the Cincinnati Bengals to draft LSU quarterback Joe Burrow at No. 1 and the Washington Redskins to draft Ohio State defensive end Chase Young at No. 2.
The drama begins at No. 3, because the Lions have so many options.
Detroit has been a popular candidate to trade out of the third slot because it has so many needs and would benefit from having multiple high selections.
The Miami Dolphins, New York Giants and others have been rumored to have interest in moving up to No. 3, and the more teams the Lions can engage in those talks, the more the price will rise.
Miami makes a lot of sense. With the No. 5, No. 18 and No. 26 picks in the first round, they have the draft capital to make a move and select an offensive tackle or a quarterback. Like the Lions, they have a host of needs before they can become a contender.
Bob Quinn and Matt Patricia haven’t exactly earned much job security in Detroit, so the team needs to see drastic improvements this season to ensure the front office won’t see more changes. With a roster that’s several players away from even sniffing contention, even a star player at No. 3 likely wouldn’t be enough to make Detroit a playoff contender.
But a trade back to No. 5 that includes another first-round pick, or a similar trade with another team, would have a greater impact as the Lions start to fill multiple holes, especially on defense and along the offensive line.
Alabama’s star quarterback is the most intriguing player to watch Thursday night, as he could be drafted in the top three or outside the top 10.
Detroit seemingly has Matthew Stafford cemented as its starting quarterback for the near future, so why would it consider using a first-round pick on Tua Tagovailoa? Well, because with a pick this high and a quarterback this talented, it always has to be an option.
As good as Stafford has been at times in his career, look at the impact some of the young quarterbacks have had around the league. Patrick Mahommes was the 10th overall pick in 2017. Lamar Jackson went 32nd in 2018. Kyler Murray went No. 1 overall last year.
Those are three of the top stars in the NFL now, with Mahommes and Jackson expected to compete for Super Bowls each of the next several years. A young, inexpensive quarterback could be Detroit’s golden ticket out of irrelevance and into contention.
Is Tagovailoa the quarterback to make that difference? It’s almost impossible to say. For every first-round arm that works out, there are multiple who don’t live up to the hype. Mitchell Trubisky comes to mind. Jameis Winston was a No. 1 overall pick. Robert Griffin III and Ryan Tannehill haven’t returned top 10 value since 2012.
Fans probably don’t trust the Lions to select the league’s next star quarterback, and that skepticism has certainly been earned by the franchise’s epic list of boneheaded moves. But the argument for drafting Tagovailoa is this: If you never try to find the diamond in the rough, you never will.
The Lions haven’t taken a shot at an elite quarterback draft prospect in more than a decade. Maybe it’s time?
If all else fails, the Lions can always fall back their many defensive needs, whether their pick is at No. 3, No. 5 or even later in the first round.
The Lion’s defense was putrid last season. Despite spending in free agency, the defensive line couldn’t get any pressure. A secondary full of household names didn’t live up to the hype. The linebackers needed an upgrade.
Luckily for Quinn, there are a number of defensive players worthy of being picked in the top five this season. The Lions just have to decide which player is the best, and which spot most needs filling.
Remember: While the goal for Lions fans is to build a franchise that can win at a sustained level for the foreseeable future, this front office has another agenda. Time might be running short if this season is another disaster, so they could be leaning toward picking the player who helps the team most in 2020.
Is that the best decision for the franchise as a whole? Maybe, maybe not. But the elephant in the room is that Quinn and Patricia can’t afford another season with double-digit losses.
Jeffrey Okudah is one name that’s been linked to the Lions for months. The former Ohio State cornerback could replace Darius Slay as the team’s top defensive back, but what good did that do them the last five years?
Auburn defensive tackle Derrick Brown is another option. The defensive line was an abomination last year, and the Lions have to replace Damon Harrison in the middle.
Clemson linebacker Isaiah Simmons is another option. Quinn has put a premium on players with leadership qualities who come from winning programs -- how did Jarrad Davis work out, though? -- and Simmons also has the talent to justify a top 10 selection.
Simmons could either anchor a new-look linebacker corps or fill a hole in the secondary -- or both.
Dark horse options
Nobody seems to be talking about the Lions selecting an offensive tackle, but this draft is loaded with talent at the position, and the Lions have needs along the line.
Jedrick Willis (Alabama), Andrew Thomas (Georgia), Tristan Wirfs (Iowa) and and Mekhi Becton (Louisville) could all go in the top 10 of this year’s draft. Can the Lions afford to miss out on all that talent?
Drafting a wide receiver would be a complete shock, but can you really put that past the Lions? CeeDee Lamb, from Oklahoma, and Jerry Jeudy, from Alabama, are the top playmakers if the Lions draft back from No. 3.