As anyone who's watched ESPN desperately try to keep eyeballs tuned to its marathon coverage of Day 2 of the draft has been told, franchises can be destroyed by bad drafting on Day 1, but dynasties are built by great drafting on Day 2. Great late-round drafting makes an immediate impact on special teams play, and in some of the less-flashy positions like offensive guard, tight end, and safety. Also, you'll see value when players change position--like when Bills signed an undrafted free agent tight end from Arkansas named Jason Peters and a few years later had a franchise left tackle. Great late-round drafting makes a long-term impact by building depth that lets teams excel through six months of violence--and by building depth that makes losses to age or free agency sting much less. The Patriots, Colts, Eagles, Chargers, and Steelers are all great examples of this; players in the late rounds will, after two or three years, either challenge for starting spots or go on to start elsewhere.
The Lions, thanks to trades that brought them Cliff Avril and the Cowboys' first and third-rounders, have traded away their fourth-, fifth- and seventh-round picks--but added the Cowboy's sixth-rounder, and received a compensatory seventh-round pick from the league. So the Lions are working with the 6.1, 6.20, and 7.46. Of course, the Lions needs are so great that rookies from almost any round, in almost any position, will have a chance to see the field. Still, I think that there are couple of positions that the Lions will have in mind going into the latter rounds of the draft.
After three years of Rod Marinelli not keeping special teams specialists around, that cupboard is almost bare. Look for the Lions to look hard at the safety/OLB 'tweeners with speed and who love to hit . . . guys like Ohio University prospect Michael Mitchell. 6'-1", 220 pounds, ran a 4.4 at his Pro Day and benched 22 reps of 225 pounds. He wasn't invited to the combine, so he's just now starting to climb up team's radar. He could be an impact gunner right away, and possibly take the roster spot of whichever of the Lions' many question-mark-surrounded safeties flame out this training camp or offseason. In a couple of years, this kid could be out of the NFL, or a valuable starter, but I look at him, and other players with a similar skill set, as a strong possiblity for one of the three late-round picks.
Another type I think the Lions will look hard at--if not addressed in the earlier rounds--is wide receiver/kick returner. The Lions need lots of help at both WR and CB, and they desperately need all the experienced returners they can get. A wideout that's caught my eye--and the Lions' eye--is Washington State senior Brandon Gibson. A big target at 6'-1", 210, he's very strong and physical, has great feet and body control, and runs excellent routes. In his junior season, he led the Pac 10 in receptions and yardage with 67 grabs for 1,180 yards. His production took a step back his senior year, as he was essentially the only worthwhile offensive player on the field for Washington State, but he still hauled in 50 passes for 793 yards. He returned kicks well in both high school and college, once earning a nomination for Pac-10 special teams Player of the Week. He was unable to attend the combine, or Wazzou's Pro Day, due to a hamstring pull. But, he held a repeat workout day at a local high school. The Lions had scouts in attendance, as he worked out in the wind and rain. Partially thanks to the conditions, he didn't put up great numbers; his 40 run was timed in the high 4.5 to low 4.6 range. Since his deep speed was really the biggest question on his resume, having subpar times in iffy conditions didn't really help. Still, going into his senior season, he was on the preseason Maxwell award(given to the nation's most outstanding player) watch list--the kid has first-round talent. Did I mention that Lions OL coach George Yarno was coaching at Wazzou during Gibson's freshman and sophomore years? Gibson's not going to sneak past the Lions. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised to see them make a move into the low fourth or high fifth to get him, if he's there.
Finally, I think the Lions could be looking at tight end in the later rounds. Whether or not they surprise everyone and take a TE early, the Lions' depth at tight end needs to be rebuilt. Casey Fitzsimmons hasn't shown any NFL ability since his rookie season, and that was five years ago. Michael Gaines was neither a great blocker nor offensive weapon, and John Owens is gone. Free agent signee Will Heller looks like a pure blocker. It's well known that one of the greatest crutches for a QB is a tight end with great hands, who can get open quick and catch the ball reliably, especially on third down--and whether or not the Lions draft Stafford, the Lions's QBs will need all the crutches they can get. A guy I really hope might be there is N.C. State's Anthony Hill. At 6'-5", 262, Hill's a really big, strong guy with a long frame. He's a great inline blocker, but he's got really nice hands and can get open in traffic. I think the Lions desperately need this kind of TE, a big blocker who can get open and make the catch on 3rd-and-6; move the sticks, over and over and over. I don't think the Lions are really in need of the field stretching, Gates/Winslow type. Johnson and Johnson are both deep threats; there should be plenty of space underneath for a TE like Hill.