Detroit Lions Draft: Justin Zimmer

Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports /

Not everyone puts too much stock in workout numbers.  As a math guy, I only pay attention to them when they are statistically significant, which in the case of the NFL draft they are very much so.  Should the Detroit Lions draft a defensive tackle, defensive end, or offensive tackle this season, I’m going to pay very close attention to those numbers since they have a strong correlation with NFL success.  If that pick is instead used for a safety, I would prefer an athlete but since there is no correlation to success the old “numbers don’t matter” argument has weight.  If I’m pulling the trigger on draft picks this year, though, who would I have the Detroit Lions draft?  Well, we’ve covered a range of possibilities in our mock drafts, but who is a player I’m just pounding the table for earlier than most would expect?  Justin Zimmer, defensive tackle from Ferris State.

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Out of the 381 defensive tackles that I’ve collected measurements on since 2000, small school Justin Zimmer measured out as the most athletic.  That’s ahead of names like Aaron Donald, Ndamukong Suh, and Geno Atkins.  The talent is clearly there, but most of the reports on Zimmer have him being taken in the late rounds, most often the 6th or 7th rounds.  There must be something to his tape that says he shouldn’t be taken early, right?

On a quick historical note, of the top 15 defensive tackles to have qualifying RAS, 3 were first round picks (Aaron Donald, Brodrick Bunkley, and Luis Castillo) and 4 were 2nd round picks (Igor Olshansky, Kendall Reyes, Marvin Austin, and Derek Wolfe).  That’s about half for those keeping score.  The remaining are listed here:
Lawrence Okoye – Foreign prospect (UK)
Vaughn Martin – Foreign prospect (Jamaica), CFL prospect
Jason Shirley – 4 career sacks at Fresno State
Mike Martin – 10 career sacks at Michigan
Markus Kuhn – Foreign prospect (Germany), productive at NCSU
Barry Cofield – Productive career at Northwestern
Clinton McDonald – Productive career at Memphis

I found it interesting that 4 of the top 15 athletes (Olshansky was born in the Soviet Union) at defensive tackles were foreign prospects, but more notable for those listed above is that they all took a unique journey to the NFL.  Another trend among these players is generally modest production on their way to being drafted.

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Justin Zimmer’s

biggest knock

is that he’s from a small school in the GLIAC.  With 13 sacks in 2015, Zimmer matched or beat the CAREER totals for nearly every prospect I listed above. Production wasn’t an issue like it was some of the other ‘athlete first’ players taken in the past 16 seasons.  In a draft where we’re talking about Carson Wentz (NDSU) and Paxton Lynch (Memphis) two of the top 3 QBs drafted, and the likes of Noah Spence (Eastern Kentucky), Javon Hargrave (South Carolina State), and Ron Blair (App. State) are thrown around in the top 100, are we really going to split hairs based on what helmet these guys wore in college?

On tape, Zimmer often embarrassed his competition and was rarely overmatched.  In fact, he rarely even tied his match ups.  If you’re looking at a small school prospect moving to the NFL, you want them to dominate their competition and Justin Zimmer absolutely does that.  The guy just destroyed opposing interior OL, and even splitting outside he was so much better that he constantly bodied offensive tackles and guards alike.  He doesn’t project as a DE, but the fact that he’s versatile enough to swing outside and knows how to play the perimeter is a huge plus from a depth perspective. When you have a guy dominating his opponents so completely, you have to start looking at individual traits to see how he will project making the jump to the pro ranks.

While not a snap jumper, Zimmer tends to time his jump well lined up inside.  The further he is from the ball, the slower he gets off the snap, though it never appeared to be a liability.  The former Bulldog often jolts upright at the snap, negating much of his leverage advantage for his low, technically sound pre snap stance. This hurts taller tackles more than it does guys of his size, but it’s something that will need to be cleaned up in the NFL where the low man wins.  He won more often with his athleticism than his technique, and while not completely devoid of pass rushing moves he will have to develop his repertoire before he’s any more than a rotational player.  I’ve seen some mention of lining him up in a 3-4 front as a DE, but I feel his inability to bend the edge from outside would limit him too much there.  Put the guy in a 4-3 as a DT, teach him how to use his many physical advantages, and sit back to watch him wreck shop.

I usually see Justin Zimmer projected in the 6th round with a ‘generous’ 5th round bump for folks that like to point out that great athletes tend to go earlier.  With impeccable work ethic, athletic ability, and an overall productive career to go along with versatility showing coachability, I felt comfortable putting Zimmer in the 3rd round of my RAS mock and feel that’s a safe ceiling for him.  If the 4th round comes around and he’s somehow still there, you can bet he won’t be once your next pick hits.

What do you think, Lions fans?  Do you think this local product would be worth taking in the 2016 NFL draft?  Where do you feel comfortable taking him?  Let us know in the comments or get ahold of us on Twitter @SideLionReport or ask me for more numbers @MathBomb!

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