I’ll be the first to admit that I was one of those that questioned nearly every selection the Lions made during the 2012 NFL Draft.
A backup offensive tackle, a fourth wide receiver, some added depth at the linebacker position, and three cornerbacks that were far from household names was far from I thought the Lions needed. The team had just taken a giant step forward, and it was time to play for the ‘now’. Take players at positions of need that could have the greatest impact in the upcoming season.
But this coaching staff and front office continues to stick to their guns, and it is starting to show why their plan has been so successful up to this point. In the past few weeks, especially in this weekend’s win over the lowly Jaguars, the rookies have had increased playing time and the dividends have been noticeable.
The Lions clearly had a vision with Riley Reiff when they selected him in the first round of this year’s draft. Whether or not the Lions had planned then to use him in this fashion is unknown, but the first-year tackle from Iowa is displaying the kind of run-blocking the team had envisioned when selecting him with their first pick. This run package with Reiff in as a third offensive tackle has been highly successful because of his ability to push the pile. He was on the field for all four rushing touchdowns the Lions had on Sunday.
The other draft pick that has seen his snaps increase has been second-round pick Ryan Broyles. With the injury to Burleson, the former Oklahoma product is getting his chance to produce and is not disappointing. While not a burner, Broyles has great quickness to get to the spot he needs to get to in his route. He just knows how to get open, and it has been a key reason as to why the Lions have been extremely successful of late on third-down opportunities. Broyles finished with six catches for 52 yards in the win.
Easily the biggest surprise this season has been the play of sixth-round pick Jonte Green. After posing as a whipping boy for the first few weeks (PI penalties, big plays allowed, blown up on kickoff returns), Green has assumed the starting role opposite Chris Houston because of the injury to fellow rookie Bill Bentley. Since then, the only plays Green has been a part of are that of the positive variety. That trend continued in Jacksonville where he had an easy pick of quarterback Blaine Gabbert. There is plenty of room from improvement for Green, but if he can show consistency throughout the second half of the year, the Lions may have found a gem.
Schwartz and Co. continue to preach that they will take the best player available in the draft. That will not change. Whether the fans agree or disagree, that’s their plan and they are sticking to it. The three rookies mentioned have come on of late to make significant impacts. Going forward, the other first-year players will have their shots at making similar contributions. Let’s hope they do just that.