Quick, name the two most recent linebackers the Detroit Lions have picked in the first round. Here’s a hint: neither is still on the roster, nor made the expected impression while they were there.
Still thinking? Unless you’re a walking catalogue of Lions information, it’s understandable how you might have forgotten, because there’s been so few. The last two, of course, were USC’s Chris Claiborne in 1999 and Florida State’s Ernie Sims in 2006. Each were selected ninth overall.
It’s also easy to forget both because neither made the desired impact on the field, which was due in part to their own shortcomings, but the shortcomings of the team in developing them, as well. Claiborne and Sims only lasted three years in Detroit, and a total of six between them.
With that in mind, the Lions should be careful evaluating the linebackers this draft season. Ignoring the likely unobtainable Khalil Mack, only one, UCLA’s Anthony Barr, warrants attention within the top 10. Detroit’s been linked to Barr for some time, but the question persists: is Barr a legitimate enough linebacker talent to select that high?
Some will unequivocally say yes, but others, including ESPN’s Todd McShay will argue no. Last week, in a piece compiled by MLive’s Kyle Meinke, McShay was quite succinct about the conundrum Barr will present teams early in round one. Originally one of his top players, McShay has moved Barr down a bit after watching more tape. What’s the reasoning?
“He’s not very strong at the point of attack,” McShay said. “He does not do a good job of setting the edge. He is close to a one trick pony as a pass rusher, in terms of just the speed rush. His speed-to-power moves stall—they almost always stall out.”
Selecting Barr at 10 would be a major gamble for the Lions, a team which is in need of a pass-rushing linebacker, yet should be gun-shy when making that selection early thanks to ghosts from the past. Both Sims and Claiborne were taken at pick nine, while Detroit currently sits at 10. Each were forced to make an impact from day one like Barr would be. Eerie similarities, no doubt.
If Detroit is committed to making Barr work, they will have to show him much more patience than they did Claiborne and Sims, both who failed to develop after facing major concerns entering the league themselves. Sims was undersized, while Claiborne graded out better physically, but wasn’t as tough. Arguably, both looked like severe reaches in the end.
The Lions were just as much to blame for this failure as the players themselves. By not sticking with their selection and attempting to make things work, the picks each look more disastrous in the end. Conversely, the players they have stuck with at the position, such as Chris Spielman, Stephen Boyd and DeAndre Levy have all thrived. None were first round picks. It can be a question of talent, but nurture also factors in.
Barr might end up becoming a hall of famer, a bust, or a solid football player, but if he’s Detroit’s pick, the Lions must have conviction and patience in the years ahead while helping him to develop in the beginning.
The linebacker road has been bumpy in the past during the first round, so the Lions must tread lightly but confidently if they choose to go in that direction.