by: P.J. Wascher
So how did the Lions do? Hard to say, I think they got some interesting pieces, but I feel a bit underwhelmed. Will this draft help the team turn the corner? I don’t see it. Mayhew says his goal is to draft 3 starters every year. Looking at this year’s draft, I see three starters for the 2014 season, but one of them is a kicker. The rest are projects. It’s been a while since the Lions have had much luck with development picks. This article will recap the picks and predictions made before the draft.
First Round: Eric Ebron, North Carolina (TE)
Well I was surprised by this pick. I can’t hate the pick, but I don’t love it. Sammy Watkins appeared to be one of the targets Thursday night, but I think all Lions fans are relieved to see them step out of that bidding war with Buffalo. Giving up a first round pick is just not worth it, unless you think he’s the next Calvin Johnson. I do not think that. I think he could be a great compliment to Calvin, but I’m not sold he’s a feature receiver in the NFL. By the time the lions picked, most of the elite defensive talent was off the board. As discussed in my last piece, the Lions do not like drafting corners in the first round. Too much development work required to become an immediate contributor. So the options were pretty wide open at that point. Drafting a TE with “elite” receiver skills makes a bit more sense when we’re reminded of the coaching change that took place in the offseason. The hope is Ebron can produce similar mismatches to Jimmy Graham. This could add a whole new dimension to the offense. My concern is how the Lions will attempt to use him. With Pettigrew resigned, I’m anticipating several two tight end sets. I personally prefer to spread the field out, putting less pressure on the O-Line during run plays. This can still be achieved if the Lions are willing to flex Ebron out wide, but it’s hard to anticipate what their plans are at the moment. New coaching staff with a new offensive scheme makes this pick hard to judge.
Second Round: Kyle Van Noy, BYU (OLB)
The Lions had an obvious hole at linebacker. New DC, Teryl Austin, has left hints he’s interested in using more 3-4. Kyle Van Noy looks ready to step in. Scouting reports describe Van Noy as a strong pass rush linebacker that can also drop back in coverage, giving him a lot of opportunities to be on the field. Been awhile sense the Lions made an impact draft pick at linebacker.
Third Round: Travis Swanson, Arkansas (C)
Finding a replacement for Raiola in this draft was predictable. Drafting that eventual replacement in the third round was a little surprising, especially with no secondary players drafted up to that point. The Swanson pick gives the Lions a decent backup at guard and center for the season. It sounds like they’ll have Swanson focusing on the guard position for the upcoming season, which could leave some possibility he could replace Rob Sims. I still think it’s more likely he slides into the center position for the 2015 season, but I won’t rule out either option. Swanson has been a durable four year starter at Arkansas. He’ll bring some much needed size to center at 6-5, 312 lbs, which will help give him flexibility to slide over to guard. It’s easy to define a role for Swanson, but the question remains if the Lions ignored greater needs for a future offensive line move. It’s hard to pick out a specific player they missed out on with this pick, but their underwhelming draft for the secondary makes this pick standout. I think the Swanson pick looks promising, but it’s not a win-now move.
Fourth Round: Nevin Lawson, Utah State (CB)
The Lions finally drafted somebody for their secondary. It’s hard to believe this was their number one target, but taking value into account, it’s the first time the Lions felt comfortable making an addition in this year’s draft. To be honest, it’s an underwhelming pick. Lawson, an undersized corner, has some clear flaws. He’s aggressive, but is prone to holding. This pick reminds me of the Jonte Green pick a few years ago. Expectations are low, but he’s aggressive and may get some opportunities thanks to his physical play. Most likely, he’s a special teams player, which is disappointing for a team that could use more playmakers at CB.
Fourth Round: Larry Webster, Bloomsburg (DE)
The Lions finished the fourth round with their second compensatory pick. Only two picks after the Lions selected Lawson. The Webster pick began the Lions move towards development players. Webster is a very raw, small school athlete that has only been playing football for two years. These picks are always intriguing. Tall and fast, Webster has the physical tools to be a special player. But turning these “diamond in the rough” players into real contributors is very difficult. The Lions have not had much luck with this strategy. It’s not easy for any team to pull off, but examples like Antonio Gates will keep teams testing this strategy out in the late rounds. Can’t blame them for making this move in the fourth round. The Lions could have use an extra defensive end and by the fourth round, teams can start making some gambles. Will be curious to see what kind of role the Lions give Webster this season, too raw to expect much in 2014.
Fifth Round: Caruan Reid, Princeton (DT)
The Lions continued their development draft pick phase with Caruan Reid. The strategy behind this pick is obvious. Reid projects as a nose tackle in a 3-4 defense, but scouting reports aren’t limiting him to a single defensive formation. For a team that is only “mixing” in the 3-4, Austin looks ready to play in both formations. Compared to Webster, I have a little more hope this pick can be productive. Webster’s extremely limited football background makes it a huge risk. Prefer the risk being taken with Reid.
Sixth Round: TJ Jones, Notre Dame (WR)
Now the Lions grab a WR. At this point in the draft teams are just trying to find players that can make the roster. This pick gives the Lions a little more depth in the slot when Ebron is not there. Broyles and Ogletree will also be options here, but neither has stood out. I still like Broyles, but injuries have taken their toll. He is no longer a reliable option. TJ Jones had a solid senior year at Notre Dame and does the small things right. He has a shot to contribute.
Nate Freese, Boston College (K)
This was predictable. It’s not very popular for teams to draft special teams, but as long as they get it right I don’t mind. The Lions need a kicker. A weak kicker class did not leave me hopeful they could find a replacement for Hanson this season. Have not seen much tape on Freese, but scouting reports call him reliable, outdoors weather tested, but does not have great length. It would be nice to have that long distance option, but accuracy is king with this position. I can only tolerate this pick if the Lions promise to not do it again for at least five years.
How Did Those Predictions Go?
QB – Lions signed UDFA James Franklin, which was the predicted move. Sounds like they were looking for a late round QB in the draft, but the players were off the board when the Lions picked, a familiar trend in this year’s draft for the Lions.
RB – Did not expect any moves at RB, gave it my lowest “Possibility” number. That was correct. Lions have enough players to work with here.
WR – I expected the Lions to draft a WR high. I still think they looked at Watkins, but price was too steep. Thought they would then draft one in mid rounds. Drafting Ebron changed that.
TE – Did not understand why mock drafts had Ebron and the Lions as a possibility. I was wrong.
OT/G/C – Thought it was a possibility to draft someone on the line. Was hard to predict where the Lions would focus. Finding a Raiola replacement seemed the most likely. That was correct.
DE – Thought the Lions would grab another DE after letting Willie Young walk. Did not expect the pick to be this raw.
DT – Grabbing an insurance DT in the late rounds, check!
OLB – Thought they would consider drafting an OLB if Watkins was off board. Barr being off the board made that even tougher. Ended up waiting to the next round for Van Noy.
ILB – Did not rate this as a high possibility, but didn’t rule it out for the late rounds. Lions did not make a move here.
CB – Was surprised by this. Thought for sure the Lions would grab a corner in the first three rounds. I was wrong. Hope they still make an offseason trade here.
S – Weak Safety class did not give the Lions many options in the late rounds. Considered it a possibility for the first round, but the Lions had other ideas.
K – Yes, the Lions drafted a kicker, yes I said they might do that. Weak kicker class kept me a little cool on the idea though.
The draft is a time for optimism. New pieces that can transform the way a team plays in a single season. I like to think I’m a positive evaluator for the draft, but I try my best to realistic. This season, I’m coming away a little less excited than usual. I do not see any major changes in store. Just lots of role players. Ebron should help diversify this offense, but he’s not a game changer like Watkins. Barr and Gilbert could have added elite talent to the defense, but were picked right before ten. That’s how most of the draft felt this season. It just didn’t break the Lions way. The Lions did the best they could, but it will require the core group of players to rise to the next level for any real change to occur. I still do not see a complete roster yet and anticipate the Lions will make more moves before the end of August. That secondary really needs some help.