The NFL Combine–or what some people like to refer to as the "Underwear Olympics"–get underway in Indianapolis this Wednesday and finally conclude by next Tuesday. During that time, plenty of young players will try and showcase their stuff to legions of interested scouts.
With a top five pick, the Detroit Lions will be closely watching the performances of players at several positions. Here's five areas to watch and a few drills to remember as each group gets put to the ultimate test.
1. Cornerback and Safety. The Lions' need here is certainly immense, meaning two players could be selected for the backfield. The most important figure to watch is Dee Milliner, the cornerback out of Alabama. Milliner could be a top five pick and is of huge interest to Detroit, given his excellent cover skills and top flight ability. Desmond Trufant from Washington could fall to the Lions in the second round. Later, smaller school players will be important to watch, including David Amerson, Will Davis, Robert Alford and Jamar Taylor. Interestingly, the "Honey Badger" Tyrann Mathieu might also catch Detroit's eye given his speed and ability. If he interviews well and runs drills well, Mathieu could be an interesting late round pick.
2. Defensive End. The biggest figures to watch here are Damontre Moore, Bjoern Werner, Dion Jordan, Ezekiel Ansah and Barkevious Mingo. Considering the loss of Kyle Vanden Bosch and the uncertainty of free agent Cliff Avril's future, all could be in the Lions' plans at pick number five if they show well enough and can be explosive in drills. Alex Okafor would probably be second in the pecking order if he fell, so Lions fans might root for him to have a lower profile week to wind up in round two. If the Lions choose to go in another direction in later rounds, players such as Tank Carradine, William Gholston or the more raw Corey Lemonier out of Auburn could be of interest. Considering Martin Mayhew's affinity for smaller school players, watch out for Quanterius Smith of Western Kentucky as well. He's coming off a knee injury, but could become an option with a good combine.
3. Running Back. Depending on what the Lions choose to do in free agency with their speculated impending courtship of Reggie Bush, Detroit could be in the market for a young running back anywhere from the second round on. Definitely watch speedy Eddie Lacy and Kenjon Barner, as the Lions need a faster back to complement Mikel Leshoure. If those two don't tickle their fancy, other names such as Stepfan Taylor, Mike Gillislee, Montee Ball and Andre Ellington could be available in the early to middle rounds. The most important drills to watch from Detroit's perspective will be the 40 yard dash and cone drills, as the Lions will likely want a runner with agility and foot speed to compliment Leshoure.
4. Offensive Line. Considering Detroit recently released guard Stephen Peterman and there is much uncertainty given the potential retirement of Jeff Backus and loss of Godster Cherilus, the offensive line could be needing several young upgrades. Detroit has Riley Reiff, Jason Fox and Bill Nagy already in the fold so knowing this, might the team still consider Luke Joeckel at five? Perhaps if he shows well. Guard Larry Warford competed at a high level at the Senior Bowl and looks like a good prospect. Highly decorated Barrett Jones could play guard as well as center in the future, making him just the type of player the Lions might covet in round two or three.
5. Wide Receiver. Suppress your laughter. The Lions won't head into 2013 with Calvin Johnson and Kris Durham as their only two healthy options at receiver, so count on someone to be added here, likely in the draft given the lack of second tier free agents. Watch for speed and hands, as the Lions probably want to add a burner to stretch the field opposite Johnson or a player who can serve as a possession receiver. Special teams will also be of interest here Ace Sanders, Ryan Swope, Josh Boyce and Denard Robinson could each fit that mold. Don't count on the Lions to draft a top prospect high given all their holes.
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