Bill Bentley: Is there a lesson to be learned for the Detroit Lions?


When the Detroit Lions decided to part ways with 2012 third round draft choice Bill Bentley this week, many fans were left wondering whether or not it was a failure on the part of the personnel department. For perspective, a very basic review of NFL draft data at Pro Football Reference shows us that only 24% of cornerbacks drafted in the third round over the last ten years go on to be NFL starters. PFR’s definition of a “starter” is a player who has started in at least half of the games during their career. Obviously it doesn’t account for the quality of those starts, but it provides a baseline to help frame expectations.

Despite the low percentage, the expectation for NFL scouting departments when it comes to the third round is that the player must contribute immediately and have the potential to start down the line. For a variety of reasons, scouting is not an exact science, and given the reality that roughly only a quarter of cornerbacks drafted in the third round end up starting, teams have to ensure they’re checking every box to maximize their chance for success. Could Mayhew and the personnel staff have done more in this case to avoid having another early draft choice end up ultimately not becoming a longer term contributor? In my opinion, not much.

When I looked back at my scouting report on Bentley, the Lions selected him right where he should have been on an NFL draft board. I pegged him as a third round developmental prospect who could contribute early, with the athleticism to potentially play man coverage on the outside. Coming into a season in which Chris Houston was their only viable starter, the Lions drafted Bentley with the hope that he would be their number two cornerback.  Early signs were promising, as Bentley earned that spot out of training camp as a rookie.

Still, the main thing that always concerned me with Bentley, and it was peppered throughout my report, was his thin frame. His official combine measurement was 182 lbs. (at 5-10), though he played closer to 176 lbs. in college. Four games into his rookie year, Bentley injured his shoulder and was lost for the season. In 2013 Bentley moved into slot, where size isn’t as often a limiting factor in match-ups, and improved over the second half of the season while adjusting to the shift. Unfortunately he never got the chance to build on that success, as he tore his ACL in the season opener this year. In three seasons in Detroit, Bentley finished with 33 tackles and five defended passes.

Certainly another factor in his release was schematic fit. Bentley’s success at Lafayette was in a predominantly zone coverage scheme, where he didn’t have to play the more physical brand of press coverage run by Austin. Team schemes and philosophies change regularly as coaching staffs come and go – some players are versatile enough to make the adjustment, while others are not.

Back to the size factor – NFL scouting staffs establish clean prospect minimums (height and weight bare minimums) for every position. Certainly they deviate from them time to time based on value and circumstance.  However CPMs are based on years of success correlation data, cross-referenced with schematic fit. If there’s a lesson to be learned here, it’s probably that the weight/build minimum is a factor that needs to receive due consideration, especially if the height CPM is excused in the valuation. To wit, 2014 and 2015 selections Nevin Lawson and Quandre Diggs, both weigh at least eight pounds more than Bentley, despite being slightly more vertically challenged.

At the end of the day, there is no perfect way to project a prospect’s propensity for injury at the next level.  This is especially true in the case of a player like Bentley, where there wasn’t a history of repeat injuries in college. There are also far too many anomalies and other extenuating circumstances to say with specificity how much a lack of size contributed to the failed experiment. However, in the first three rounds when the stakes are higher, it probably pays to err on the side of playing the percentages.  In the case of Bill Bentley, deviating from a weight minimum was a gamble, and having an undersized frame may have been the factor that ultimately contributed the most to his unfortunate release