The Detroit Lions have let Josh Norman change teams with nary a look, instead choosing to bolster the team’s funds in preparation for long term contracts due soon to the 2013 draft class. If Devin Taylor starts and succeeds at the left defensive end spot this year, that is going to probably be four sizeable contracts for Taylor, Ziggy Ansah, Darius Slay, and Larry Warford.
The Lions did not make a huge splash in free agency this year after landing Marvin Jones as a partial replacement for Calvin Johnson, opting to build depth and special teams ability. So, where does the team go from here with just a few days remaining before the 2016 NFL Draft? The Lions need youth and talent at defensive tackle, an upgrade at safety, an upgrade at center, depth and upside at defensive end, depth and upside at offensive tackle, depth and upside at linebacker, depth and upside at receiver. Oh, and it’s highly probable they’ll take a QB at some point to develop behind Matthew Stafford.
That all being said, can they accomplish the goal of filling all of those needs in 10 picks? I’m not sure, but the value in this draft seems to line up with those needs fairly well.
With the 16th pick in the first round, the Detroit Lions select Ryan Kelly, C, Alabama.
This is a possibility that has been gaining some traction over the past couple of weeks, and while I would personally like the value Ryan Kelly better in a trade down, taking the best center in the draft would certainly have its perks. For all of Martin Mayhew’s attempts to bolster the interior offensive line last offseason, his overconfidence in Travis Swanson proved to be a weak link in an offensive line that was only about halfway put together to start the year.
Ryan Kelly, by most scouts and coaches’ opinions, will be ready to start day one. Kelly is extremely coachable and knowledgeable at the position on the line which demands those features as absolute requirements for success. His weaknesses are few, far between and correctable. He can stand to gain some leg strength, for example. He can also get little too giddy getting out to the second level, but on tape that’s always overshadowed by his ability to get there. Such minor correctable issues are barely noticeable.
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Kelly has not given up a sack in two years, which should be music to the ears of Lions fans everywhere. Kelly is quick both athletically and with anticipation with an anchor that rarely gives way. He has long arms for the center spot which helps keep defenders at bay. Athleticism, leadership, pedigree, toughness, frame, it’s all there for Kelly. It’s not a sexy pick, but it does not need to be if it contributes to giving Matthew Stafford sorely needed additional time to throw.
Adding Kelly, who I believe can be one of the game’s best centers in short order, will also put less pressure on Laken Tomlinson and Larry Warford, who have the talent to be one of the game’s better guard duos as well. This pick arguably leaves offensive tackle to essentially be the only position on the line that could use an upgrade.
With the 46th overall pick in the 2nd round, the Detroit Lions select Kenny Clark, DT, UCLA.
The Lions have done significant research into the defensive tackles in the first and second round areas of the draft. While I think they’d hope for Vernon Butler to fall here as he has higher upside, there still should be a good defensive tackle available, and I think that will be Kenny Clark.
Clark’s hallmark is stoutness in the run game. In that area he is a definite fit as a long-term successor to Haloti Ngata, having often commanded double teams and still not giving way throughout his time at UCLA. Clark also possesses some pass rush upside, showing off explosiveness with his bullrush on film as well as having some of the better measured quickness numbers for DTs. His size is suitable but not spectacular at 6-2 and a half and 312 pounds, but he’s already strong enough to function as a boulder so that size is fine.
Clark should get some early work helping Ngata get breathers as well as replacing him on some passing downs to pair with quicker tackles such as Tyrunn Walker.
With the 95th overall pick in the 3rd round (compensatory pick), the Detroit Lions select Sean Davis, S, Maryland.
Sean Davis is also a guy who’s been rising up boards over the past couple of weeks, but is still generally projected to go in the 3rd or 4th round area. A hybrid corner and safety prospect, Davis displays the run-stopping aggressiveness and ability that would suit the Lions opposite Glover Quin.
Davis’s ability against the pass is a bit of a work in progress but in the role he’d be playing with the Lions, his skills in that department would prove more than adequate. Davis is aggressive, physical, and his 4.5 speed combined with his toughness and instincts will allow him to succeed in Detroit.
With the lack of upside at the safety spot today, Davis would have a shot to start right away.
With the 111th overall pick in the 4th round, the Detroit Lions select Kyle Murphy, OT, Stanford.
Kyle Murphy flanked the left side of a Stanford line that this season that allowed Christian McCaffrey to gain 5.8 yards per carry on his way to 3,496 all-purpose yards. While that is an accomplishment to admire, Murphy is now looking ahead to the NFL as a guy who might not be quick enough to play left tackle. Murphy has a prototypical left tackle frame at about 6-6 and 305, lean through the middle with a thick enough lower body to anchor and direct traffic around the quarterback.
The questions surrounding his quickness were not able to be answered after a hamstring injury at the combine and from most accounts Murphy needs to add strength to play on the right side if that is where a team wants to play him.
After watching his tape, I think that the best case for Murphy is similar to what the Lions have with Riley Reiff – an average and sometimes above average left tackle who may be better suited on the right side. Worst case, I think he can fill in at any of the four spots that are not named center, so he’d be a good depth acquisition regardless. The selection of him by the Lions would help avoid a total disaster in the case of an injury to Reiff in 2016 while Murphy adds strength and works his technique to compete for a starting spot on either side of the line next year.
With the 151st overall pick in the 5th round, the Lions select Dean Lowry, DE, Northwestern.
Dean Lowry would bring additional depth to the closed defensive end role that the Lions often use. Lowry showed somewhat surprising athleticism in the offseason process that wasn’t always evident on film, and that combined with his ideal size at 6-6 and 290 pounds should give coaches a clear goal and positive ideas about what could potentially be.
Lowry may be on the inactive roster to start out but he has the upside to be a plus rotational player on both pass and run downs and is a good developmental option that won’t be forced into playing time right away in the Lions’ situation.
With the 169th overall pick in the 5th round, the Lions select Tyrone Holmes, DE/OLB, Montana.
If the Lions are looking for a guy to replace Darryl Tapp’s role as a situational pass rusher that can sometimes drop into coverage, they should look no further than Tyrone Holmes. Holmes had 18 sacks in 2016 as part of 87 total tackles and can definitely rush the pasher, also possessing one of the top 5 Sparq scores for edge rushers in this draft.
Holmes has an endless motor as well and, if some team falls in love with him like I have, he may go much sooner than the fifth round. Holmes is a day one special teamer and situational edge rusher that should push for the active roster with his pass rush ability.
With the 191st overall pick in the 6th round, the Lions select Darius Jackson, RB, Eastern Michigan.
The Lions have looked into this size and athleticism freak a few times this offseason and Jackson would bring an upside candidate to the backfield. Among Stevan Ridley, Ameer Abdullah, Zach Zenner and Theo Riddick, the backfield is beginning to get a little crowded, but Zenner and Ridley aren’t roster guarantees and if the team uses Abdullah and Riddick in the slot a bit more, there could be room for one more.
With his straight line speed, Jackson could add a threat on special teams as well. Jackson is a good option to explode and fall forward in short yardage situations, and if they do draft him he may cause Ridley to be obsolete sooner than later. Jackson has every down upside and depending on how soon he picks up the scheme and pass protections he could be active right away.
With the 202nd overall pick in the 6th round, the Lions select James Bradberry, CB, Samford.
The Lions triple dip in the athletic upside department here. First Holmes, then Jackson, then James Bradberry would give the Lions guys that could potentially contribute on special teams from the start and develop into role players throughout the season. James Bradberry has a good frame for the position at 6 feet and 210 pounds and he has adequate quickness to match. He might be able to step in for some press man coverage right away, but ultimately would be a developmental prospect.
With the 210th overall pick in the 6th round, the Lions select Kevin Hogan, QB, Stanford.
It has been no secret that the Lions are looking for a developmental quarterback to groom behind Stafford and Orlovsky. Most are not enamored with Hogan’s throwing motion and for good reason. It is not pretty and takes a long time to complete. That being said, Hogan made a lot of mental strides last season and if the Lions are looking for a good backup, Hogan could be that in time with the Harvard alum having both mental and physical upside. If he quickens his throwing motion and release, he could be capable of successfully starting a few games a year down the road.
With the 236th overall pick in the 7th round, the Lions select Antwione Williams, LB, Georgia Southern.
With their final pick, the Lions select a linebacker that has the size and speed combination that would be ready to contribute on special teams from the start. With that being a theme here in the back half of the draft, the 6-3 240+ pounder from Georgia Southern fits the bill as a developmental option behind Deandre Levy, Tahir Whitehead, Josh Bynes, Brandon Copeland and Kyle Van Noy. Williams may be a practice squadder to begin but does appear to have the traits the Lions are looking for in development.
Williams racked up the stat sheet at Georgia Southern, boasting over 100 tackles in his final season. The best case with this pick is a replacement for Tahir Whitehead after his contract expires in 2018.
Undrafted Free Agents
After the Lions are finished with the draft, I expect them to target prospects they have looked into that may need more development time than the guys they’ve drafted. Campbell defensive tackle Greg Milhouse and Texas-San Antonio tight end David Morgan are two guys I could see the team targeting. Since they still have a sizeable amount of cap space, they can bid a little higher than some teams in this area to build additional depth. Brandon Pettigrew is coming off another ACL repair so I definitely expect them to add a blocking tight end in some fashion. They may also target a wide receiver that will push Corey Fuller for his roster spot.
Overall, the theme here is lining up value with need early on while selecting calculated options for development in the back half of the draft. This contributes to both this year and building the depth-churning machine that new GM Bob Quinn desires. Admittedly I would like to have done more with linebacker and wide receiver but hoping young guys can step up.
For 2016, the ideal playout for the depth chart would be as below with new acquisitions in bold.
QB: Matthew Stafford / Dan Orlovsky / Kevin Hogan
RB: Ameer Abdullah / Darius Jackson / Zach Zenner / Theo Riddick
FB: Michael Burton
WR1: Marvin Jones / Corey Fuller
Slot: Jeremy Kerley
LT: Riley Reiff / Kyle Murphy
LG: Laken Tomlinson
C: Ryan Kelly / Travis Swanson
RG: Larry Warford / Geoff Schwartz
RT: Michael Ola / Lamar Holmes
TE: Eric Ebron / David Morgan / Tim Wright (Brandon Pettigrew when back from injury)
WR2: Golden Tate / TJ Jones
RDE: Ziggy Ansah / Tyrone Holmes
DT: Tyrunn Walker / Caraun Reid / Stefan Charles or Gabe Wright
DT: Haloti Ngata / Kenny Clark
LDE: Devin Taylor / Wallace Gilberry / Dean Lowry
OLB: Deandre Levy / Kyle Van Noy
MLB: Tahir Whitehead
OLB: Josh Bynes / Brandon Copeland or Antwione Williams
CB: Nevin Lawson / Alex Carter / James Bradberry
FS: Glover Quin / Tavon Wilson
SS: Sean Davis / Rafael Bush
CB: Darius Slay / Quandre Diggs / Johnson Bademosi
Special Teams: 3
K: Matt Prater
P: Sam Martin
LS: Don Muhlbach