The Detroit Lions 2014 NFL Draft Watch List gives you college football players to watch who could be on the Lions’ radar next spring.
Senior Bowl – 4:00 p.m. (EST) – NFL Network
The Senior Bowl is the National Football League’s premier senior showcase event. It annually features the country’s best senior collegiate football players and top draft prospects on teams representing the North and South that are coached by two NFL teams. Every NFL franchise sends down a heavy contingent of personnel evaluators and coaches to primarily watch the practices leading up the game and conduct interviews. The Lions are no exception and were key beneficiaries of the opportunity to coach the South squad in last year’s Senior Bowl, ultimately selecting participants Ziggy Ansah and Larry Warford.
Chris Borland (#44), MLB – Wisconsin
Though he lacks prototypical size (5-11, 246 lbs.), Chris Borland had an ultra-productive career at Wisconsin, finishing with 420 tackles, 50.0 tackles for loss, 17.0 sacks, 15 forced fumbles and three interceptions. He’s extremely instinctive and his ability to key and diagnose quickly allows him to consistently get a jump on the play, compensating for his lack of elite speed. While he lacks true sideline-to-sideline range, he simply finds a way to get the job done through sheer intensity and effort. Borland has the potential to be a valuable special teams player and solid back-up in year one, whose high motor play and determination will make it very difficult for coaches to keep him off the field. He may drop to day three due to his lack of size, but if a team takes him in the third round, they won’t regret it.
Kyle Van Noy (#3), OLB – BYU
Kyle Van Noy was one of my favorite prospects heading into the season. In the 2012 Poinsettia Bowl, Van Noy turned in one of the most dominant performances I’ve ever seen by a defensive player where he recorded eight tackles, one and a half sacks, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery (for a touchdown), one interception (for a touchdown) and a blocked punt. His 2012 statistics for the season were also noteworthy: 53 tackles, 22 tackles-for-loss, 13 sacks, two interceptions, six forced fumbles, one fumble recovery, eight quarterback hurries, five pass break-ups and two blocked kicks. Van Noy is one of those players who just jumps out when watching a BYU game. He has excellent read and react skills and his natural instincts always put him in position to make a play. He also exhibits outstanding pass rush skills when working off the edge, but is fluid enough in his change of direction to drop into coverage. Because his numbers were down for the 2013 season, Van Noy will likely drop into day two, but he has first round talent and will provide a defense with a three-down backer who is capable of making big plays.
Michael Sam (#52), DE – Missouri
Another favorite, Michael Sam enjoyed a breakout year with 11.5 sacks and 19 tackles for loss, placing him among the top ten in college football for both categories. With only ten career starts coming into the year, Sam’s play has earned him recognition as a finalist for the Lombardi, Nagurski and Hendricks awards. At 6-2, 255 lbs., he lacks prototypical length and bulk for the position, but is able to overcome his lack of ideal measureables with a quick first step and high effort play. Even more impressive, given his lack of size, is his productivity versus the run, where he showcases the upper body strength and arm length to keep opposing linemen from getting inside his frame. Though he may be smallish and might not test well at the combine, you can’t overlook his productivity in a big time conference. Sam was asked to attempt the transition to linebacker at Senior Bowl practices, but his real value is as a situational pass rusher. Sam is likely the kind of prospect who will get drafted later than he should due to lack of ideal size, but will end up outplaying his draft status at the next level.
Isaiah Lewis (#9), SS – Michigan State
A three year starter, Isaiah Lewis doesn’t get the attention fellow Spartan Darqueze Dennard does, but he’s quietly enjoyed a productive career in East Lansing. Lewis collected 227 tackles, 26 passes defended, eight interceptions and 18 pass break-ups in his 53 career games. At 5-10 and 210 lbs., Lewis has decent size and enough power to stop running backs on contact and is a fundamentally sound tackler when playing in the box or in space. What’s most impressive (and more important in today’s NFL) is Lewis’ ability in coverage. He showcases fluid hips, the speed to get to the sideline from two-deep or hold up in man to man and possesses natural ball skills as well. A likely day three selection, Lewis has the potential to be a solid starter in year two.
Telvin Smith (#22), OLB – Florida State
An underappreciated defender due to his lack of size (6-3, 218 lbs.), Telvin Smith had a breakout year in his first season as a starter. With 90 tackles (including 11 in the national championship game), nine and a half tackles for loss and two sacks, Smith also proved his ability to hold up in coverage by notching three interceptions. He struggles anchoring versus downhill run blocks if he allows offensive linemen to get inside his frame, however, Smith would thrive in the Lions’ system where he is protected up front and free to flow to the ball. He has excellent speed with sideline-to-sideline range and the fluidity to match up with most backs in coverage. Certainly, he’ll need to add size and strength to hold up versus stronger ball carriers at the next level, but his outstanding athleticism allows him to stay on the field on passing downs, which is critical in today’s NFL. The team that ends up taking a chance on Smith may end up getting a draft day bargain if he responds well to an NFL strength program. It would be worth taking a chance on him in the third round, but he will likely go later due to his lack of size.