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Highlights from Mel Kiper Jr.'s conference call
February 22, 2018 04:12 PM | Tim Twentyman
According to ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr., help could be on the way for Detroit's rushing attack in 2018 and beyond.

This year's class of running backs is talented and deep, and Kiper thinks the Lions will tap into that talent early on, and grab LSU's Derrius Guice in the first round with their No. 20 overall selection.

"This is a spot to watch for a rising pass-rusher, but Detroit would be thrilled with the No. 2 running back on the board," Kiper wrote in his second mock draft released Wednesday morning on ESPN.com. "Guice is a true every-down back, which Matthew Stafford has never had in his career.

"Ameer Abdullah averaged only 3.3 yards per carry in 2017, while Theo Riddick is more of a versatile pass-catcher. Guice had 26 rushing touchdowns over the past two seasons, and he looked every bit as good for the Tigers as Leonard Fournette did in 2016. I also like the fit for USC running back Ronald Jones II and Detroit, so he's another option as the second back to be drafted (Saquon Barkley)."

Kiper said Guice and Jones are very close in terms of being the second best back in this draft behind Barkley, but he chose Guice to the Lions based on what he's been hearing around the league.

The Lions were the worst rushing team in the NFL both in yards per game (76.3) and yards per attempt (3.4) this past season.

General manager Bob Quinn said this offseason he plans to add to the running back group, and expressed his view that he liked the personnel upfront along the offesive line, and didn't believe Detroit's struggles in the run game were as much an issue with those guys as it was needing more talent at the running back spot.

Guice had a career rushing average of 6.5 yards per attempt over his three years at LSU.

In 2016, LSU lost No. 1 running back Leonard Fournette to injury, giving Guice an opportunity to play the No. 1 role. It was his first real chance to showcase his skillset in a leading role. He rewarded LSU by leading the SEC in rushing yards (1,387) and rushing touchdowns (15), despite starting just six of 12 games played.

He followed that up by rushing for 1,251 yards and 11 touchdowns on 237 carries (5.3 average) this past season, and also caught 18 passes for 124 yards and two more scores.

The Lions certainly need some more pop in their running game, and could add to that group in free agency and the draft. Only 36 percent of Detroit's rushes last year gained at least four yards, and they had just seven runs of at least 20 yards all season, which ranked 26th.

The good thing for the Lions is that Kiper thinks there are a lot of running backs in this class that can come in and help right away.

"It's really between Guice and Ronald Jones II from USC to see who the second running back taken will be," Kiper said in a conference call Wednesday afternoon. "Then you fall in with Sony Michel from Georgia, Rashaad Penny from San Diego State and Nick Chubb from Georgia.

"A guy I like is Nyheim Hines from N.C. State - caught the ball, kick and punt returner, good speed, good year running the football. Mark Walton, unfortunately he had the injury (ankle), he would have been a second-round pick had it not been for that injury. Then, Royce Freeman from Oregon.

"There's some really good backs this year you can pick up in the middle rounds."

Kiper also touched on a couple other subjects in the hour-long call.

On the defensive end group:

"This is a bad, bad year for down defensive ends," Kiper said.

He views NC State's Bradley Chubb as the clear No. 1 end in this class. Then there's a gap between him and the second-best rusher, Texas-San Antonio's Marcus Davenport. After Davenport, Kiper thinks there's a considerable drop in talent to the No. 3 down defensive end and beyond.

The Lions have a need for another pass rusher, even if the team uses the franchise tag on Ziggy Ansah.

Kiper seems to think there's more value at pass rusher on Day 2 with players like Sam Hubbard (Ohio State), Rasheem Green (USC), Tyquan Lewis (Ohio State), Jalyn Holmes (Ohio State) and Chad Thomas (Miami).

On the wide receivers:

Need a receiver? Kiper says this is a bad year for receivers in the first round. In fact, Alabama's Calvin Ridley might be the only first rounder taken, according to Kiper.

But he also said it's a good year for receivers in the second, third and fourth rounds. Kiper thinks there's a lot of value there.

On the NFL Scouting Combine:

Now that players train for months exclusively for the combine drills, have they lost their luster or importance in the evaluation process?

"The fact is you can compare players from other eras," Kiper said. "You can compare players at each position from year to year compared to what they do this year at the Combine and that is important. Obviously, to get the accurate measurable on the underclassmen is important. The interviews and the medicals are all critical.

"But I think in terms of the drills, to have that comparable number and be able to go back and plug that in and see where those guys figured in, is very important. Those numbers do determine a lot about how effective a player is."

On a QB comparison:

Kiper compared Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen to Matthew Stafford when he was coming out of Georgia in 2009.

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