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NFC North in the NFL Draft: Analyzing the Detroit Lions' draft needs and projections

Most projections have Detroit selecting an offensive tackle in round one of the NFL Draft. Here's why, as well as some other possible options for them later on in the draft.

Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

In a series we will continue up until the NFL Draft, Acme Packing Company will break down some of the expert opinions on each of the NFC North teams' draft needs and possibilities. Last week we addressed the Chicago Bears, but today's team is the Detroit Lions, who finished third in the North with a 7-9 record. Detroit earned their first win in the state of Wisconsin in the middle of the season when they beat the Green Bay Packers, but they lost to Green Bay on Aaron Rodgers' Hail Mary to Richard Rodgers.

However, after their 1-7 start, Detroit finished the season 6-2 in the second half, suggesting that there is reason for Lions fans to have hope for next year. That hope will begin with the NFL Draft, so here are a few breakdowns of how various individuals see the Lions' draft shaking out. You'll notice quite a trend with the Lions' first pick at number 16 overall.

SB Nation Writer's Mock Draft

Taylor Decker, OT, Ohio State

Jeremy Reisman of Pride of Detroit, SB Nation's Lions blog, went for an offensive tackle in round one. Here's an excerpt of his explanation of the pick:

Detroit has their pick of the litter at defensive tackle, a great pass rushing talent in Shaq Lawson, and offensive tackle Taylor Decker all as formidable options.

But with the Lions' biggest need being offensive tackle - and a draft class full of defensive line depth - I ended up going with Decker. Only five quarterbacks were sacked more than Matthew Stafford last year and the Lions' running game was atrocious in 2015. Decker can immediately jump in at right tackle and make the Lions' biggest weakness a strength. Decker's mean streak should bolster the Lions' running game, which has been floundering for the past five years. With Riley Reiff's contract expiring after the 2016 season, Decker would also give the Lions an option at left tackle beyond his rookie year.

Acme Packing Company Mock Draft

Jack Conklin, OT, Michigan State

It's another tackle in our mock draft, as Zach Roethlisberger went with the other Big Ten tackle who has a chance to go on day one of the draft. Roethlisberger considered picking Decker as well, but went with Conklin instead for the following reason:

After working with the New England Patriots the last 16 years, I think you see (Lions GM Bob) Quinn take the more conservative approach here in selecting Conklin from Michigan State. Decker has a bit bigger frame and may have the higher ceiling, but I think you get more of a steady ability from Conklin, especially from a guy that can step in right away, being more NFL ready.

ESPN Targets

Finally, in a piece posted to ESPN recently, Scouts Inc.'s Kevin Weidl looked at one player that each NFC North team should target on each day of the draft. Below we present Weidl's choices and analyze each of them in turn.

Day 1: Taylor Decker, OT, Ohio State

Reilly Reiff and Michael Ola were the No. 39 and No. 36 best tackles in football last season, respectively, per ProFootballFocus. Seidl makes note of the team signing Geoff Schwartz as well. There are no All-Pro players on the Detroit O-Line and adding Decker makes sense based on the importance of a dependable blocking unit.

Decker is a massive specimen, at 6'7" and 310 pounds, and can be featured as the Lions' starting right tackle year 1. Nothing stood out from Decker at the Combine, so adding the Buckeye would be filling a need and hoping for upside down the road. Detroit's going to have to address their offensive line at some point in the draft, but Decker might not move the needle immensely for the offense.

Day 2: Austin Johnson, DT, Penn State

Penn State had one of the most productive defensive lines in the nation. Carl Nassib led the country with 16 sacks andAustin Johnson surprised with his impressive play in the middle. The junior put up solid numbers, totaling 78 tackles and 6.5 sacks. The Nittany Lions had playmakers, so teams couldn't isolate just Nassib or Johnson.

Detroit has the all-decade Haloti Ngata, but could slot Johnson next to him. Johnson is the more athletic commodity and could be a consistent presence in the backfield for the Lions. Gone are the days of Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley. Johnson makes the Lions more finesse in the trenches and possibly more consistent on and off the field. The third round looks like a landing spot for Detroit to take the Nittany Lion.

Day 3: Nick Vigil, LB, Utah State

Utah State is becoming the G5's "Linebacker U", producing Zach Vigil last year and Kyler Fackrell and Nick Vigil to the NFL this season. Nick is one of the nation's top tacklers and has enough athleticism to possibly play fullback in the NFL.

He isn't rangy, but could be a situational linebacker that takes the field on only first and second downs. The Utah State product likely will start out on special teams, but would be a great value pick late in the draft for Detroit. It'll be difficult for him to replicate the 144 tackle total he put up last season at college, but there's evident talent.