One of the final legacies of former Detroit Lions GM Martin Mayhew is the curious case of Gabe Wright. Mayhew traded the 2016 third-round pick back in the fourth round of the 2015 NFL Draft to move up and snag the Auburn defensive tackle.
Thus far, it’s been a massive bust move. Wright appeared in seven games as a rookie and was obviously in way over his head. He recorded 6 tackles (5 solo, 1 assist) and did not make a single play behind the line of scrimmage. That includes QB pressures or hits; he did nothing to disrupt the opposing offense. He also chipped in on special teams, registering 40 plays on coverage and kicking units.
Watching Wright’s meager action proved quite frustrating. Aside from the NFL.com app crashing no less than 135 times–once for every snap Wright played–he essentially is doing nothing more than occupying space.
Occupying space has a place for a defensive lineman, to be sure. And Wright did a solid job working the stalemate in the run game. In fact, his first play from scrimmage in the Week 2 loss to Minnesota he effectively took out a double team, albeit in the unconventional way of falling down.
If Wright is to develop into a more active role, he must quickly develop his hand usage. He tried to use his brute power to get through blocks instead of using hands and shoulders to get off or avoid them.
I’ll harken back to my scouting report from his Auburn days. From the notes:
- Wins with first step, otherwise he loses
- Short-armed, doesn’t actively use them
- Likes to use his belly and shoulder to gain leverage
- Doesn’t move backwards
- Not a finisher, most of his tackles were the ball coming right to him
- Best fit is 5T in a heavy 3-4
The hope was Defensive Line Coach Kris Kocurek and the rest of the Lions staff could coach him up and teach him how to use his strength and good first step into something more efficient and effective. Thus far, we haven’t seen that.
Wright’s inability to inspire any real confidence from either the coaching staff or the new front office regime is part of why the Lions brought back Haloti Ngata and Tyrunn Walker. It’s why Stefan Charles came in via free agency and why the team drafted both A’Shawn Robinson and Anthony Zettel. Factor in Caraun Reid, and Wright sits no higher than sixth on the DT depth chart (noting here that Charles and especially Zettel will primarily play end).
If Jason Jones unexpectedly comes back, that’s a sure sign Wright is not long for Detroit. For someone with the resources sunken into him, that’s a colossal failure. Given the changing team dynamics, I believe Wright has one real shot at redemption.
Lions fans should want Wright to capitalize in training camp and preseason. Mayhew wasn’t the only evaluator who thought fairly highly of him; there is some NFL talent and ability there. The key is for Jim Caldwell, Kocurek and Teryl Austin to find a role he fits. It’s on Wright himself to get into great shape and take a strong mental approach to his challenge.
Wright has to stand out right away as a useful 3T, or somehow show enough overall growth to his game to prove he deserves more time, there’s a real good chance his days in Detroit are numbered. Many folks, including Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, have intimated as much.
By the way, the pick Mayhew traded away to Philadelphia eventually wound up with Carolina after being traded by Cleveland. The Panthers chose West Virginia CB Daryl Worley, a player the Lions likely had little interest in. The only real fair way to judge Wright is to compare him to the pick that was made, so pay attention to Worley with the Panthers. Two players who would have looked great in Detroit did come off the board in the next few picks: Braxton Miller and Javon Hargrave. Sigh.