This was a really good year for the Detroit Lions in the NFL Draft. If I were inclined to give it a grade, it would fall in the B+ range. Nothing truly spectacular or ground-breaking, but they picked up quite a few solid pieces that should contribute right away. This is always the key when you have needs that must be filled and don’t have the cap room to always keep players or sign free agents. Surprisingly, this was also the first NFL Draft that the Lions did not select a wide receiver with Martin Mayhew as GM and it was one of the deepest years at wide receiver ever.
1st Round, 28th Overall: Laken Tomlinson, OG, Duke
I really liked this pick; plain and simple. Tomlinson is a lot like Larry Warford and he is going to be an instant starter at left guard. He’s a phenomenal pass blocker (and an absolute load at 6’3″ 323 lbs with 33 5/8″ arms) and that should help keep the pocket clean for Stafford. He dominated at the Senior Bowl, and gave Danny Shelton (who went 12th to Cleveland) absolute fits. Tomlinson does a great job getting leverage and moving guys off the ball in the run game and he does an even better job with his lateral quickness and staying balanced in pass protection. You won’t ever see him get put on skates by a defensive player and that is crucial. You never want an offensive lineman to get pushed back into your quarterback as he’s trying to make a throw.
He only put up 25 reps on the bench and had a 31.5 inch vertical, but he clearly doesn’t need to be an elite athlete because of his technique. He really is Larry Warford 2.0.
The best part though was trading down and adding Manny Ramirez and a 5th round pick on top of it (which offset one of the picks they used to acquire Haloti Ngata). The Lions struggled when their offensive line suffered from a multitude of injuries last year and they improved the depth immensely.
I would expect the starting offensive line to look like this: LT Riley Reiff/LG Laken Tomlinson/C Travis Swanson/RG Larry Warford/RT La’Adrian Waddle.
Ramirez gives them a backup interior offensive lineman that can literally play all 3 spots. He might even challenge Swanson for the starting spot at center. Overall, Lions fans should be extremely happy that they addressed their offensive line in such a big way. It will help the offense and should open up more holes for a run game that was abysmal last year.
2nd Round, 54th Overall: Ameer Abdullah, RB, Nebraska
The Lions selected Ameer Abdullah ahead of Duke Johnson and Tevin Coleman and this didn’t exactly thrill me. But, Abdullah is still an explosive playmaker that will help open up the run game next year. He has fumble issues (lost 17 of 24 career fumbles in college) and struggles mightily in pass protection, but he can also do stuff like this:
Abdullah is 5’9″ 205 lbs and only ran a 4.6 40-yard dash, but he’s an explosive athlete. He posted 24 reps on the bench and a 42″ vertical with a 10′ 10″ broad jump. Quite frankly, I’m not sure why his 40 time wasn’t better because of his lower body explosion. He has great balance and really excels at putting his foot in the ground and bolting up field. He’s very good cutting with the football and can leave defenders in his wake with ease.
If he can get ahold of the fumbling and pass block better, he could end up being a huge asset. He’s a very solid replacement for Reggie Bush, even if he’s not an improvement holding onto the football. He’ll certainly get a look at kick returner and punt returner and I really hope he can take the job after the abysmal year Jeremy Ross had.
Now hopefully Matthew Stafford will stop under-throwing the running backs when they run their routes.
3rd Round, 80th Overall: Alex Carter, CB, Stanford
Alex Carter was a bit of a reach in the third round but at the time the Lions didn’t have a 4th round pick and getting a young corner was a big need. Carter is a bigger, athletic corner at 6′ 196 lbs and ran a 4.51 40. He also added 17 reps on the bench and has a 40″ vertical. He’s not the best in pure man-to-man coverage, but he’s a very good tackler and is a physical cover corner. If they can teach him to be better in coverage he could very well be the future replacement for Rashean Mathis on the outside. I don’t expect him to be a superstar, but he does have the tools to make for a great #2 across from Darius Slay. He fits the mold of a bigger press-man cover corner, which pairs nicely with a speedster that excels in pure man-to-man.
4th Round, 113th Overall: Gabe Wright, DT, Auburn
Gabe Wright replaced Nick Fairley at Auburn and it appears that he is now going to replace him here in Detroit. The Lions traded up to get Wright and while it cost them a 3rd round pick in 2016, it was a necessary move. There were some other defensive tackles on the board that I would have preferred, but defensive coordinator Teryl Austin pounded the table for him and so I’m going to get on board with the pick. Wright didn’t have outstanding production last year but he’s an explosive player that will be effective in the rotation on the defensive line. One of his best assets though is his durability, he played all 52 games in his career and that is crucial. Players that can stay healthy are extremely valuable throughout the long season.
Wright weighed in at 6’3″ 300 lbs at the Combine and put up 34 reps on the bench with a 26.5″ vertical and had a 1.79 10-yard split. He does a good job keeping his pad level low and getting a good first punch on the blocker. He also supports the run well, but he does have an inconsistent motor. If he can stay motivated he can be a big asset. Hopefully playing next to Haloti Ngata on the line will help him figure it out.
5th Round, 168th Overall: Michael Burton, FB, Rutgers
I was not thrilled with drafting a fullback in the 5th round, not when there were other needs still on the board. But, the Lions clearly made it a big time priority to improve their run game and Burton is probably the best run blocking fullback in the whole draft. He’s 5’11” 242 lbs so he’s an absolute load and he can also catch some passes. The Lions let Jed Collins walk in free agency and Burton seems to be quite a solid replacement. Mike Mayock called him a “thug in a good way” and seems to be a pretty big fan of his. He even said they might as well put “60-something” on his jersey because of how good of a blocker he is. Sure they may have taken him too early, but if he can help the lethargic run game then I’m going to be okay with the pick. Not to mention that he played on every single special teams unit at Rutgers so he can contribute right away.
6th Round, 200th Overall: Quandre Diggs, CB, Texas
If Quandre Diggs was taller and faster he would have gone three rounds earlier. But instead he ran a 4.56 40 and is listed at 5’9″ 196 lbs. This limits him to nickel corner and even though the Lions have Nevin Lawson there, they clearly don’t think that Lawson coming off a knee injury is a guarantee to start at the nickel. Diggs is an intelligent player with experience starting inside and outside and is a solid tackler who can come up and support the run; a crucial part of playing in the nickel. While he’s solid in man coverage, his lack of quickness could cause problems for him lining up on agile slot receivers. He did put up 17 reps on the bench and has a 35.5″ vertical so he’s not totally unathletic, he’s just not a superior athlete.
7th Round, 240th Overall: Corey Robinson, OT, South Carolina
Corey Robinson is an extremely raw offensive tackle and reminds me a lot of Cornelius Lucas. He’s not going to contribute right away, but he could develop down the line into a player that can be in the rotation of the offensive line. He’s absolutely massive at 6’7″ 324 lbs with 35 5/8″ arms and though he apparently has problems with motivation and is wildly inconsistent, he’s the type of guy that you take a shot in the dark with late in the draft.
You can see that with his battle with Vic Beasley that he’s got serious potential. He does a good job of using his body and length to redirect players that have beat him with speed. Sometimes his base gets to narrow and he gets put on skates and he doesn’t have elite strength (though 28 reps on the bench with his long arms is solid). Either way, don’t expect much out of Robinson, just hope he can develop and become a usable player. He has shown flashes and it’s tough to ignore his potential.
2015 Lions Undrafted Free Agent Signings:
You can check out the list below but I would have to say that Zach Zenner and Isaiah Johnson are the only two that really have a chance to make the actual roster. People have raved about Zenner and many were surprised he didn’t get drafted. He’s really a similar player to Joique Bell and George Winn and had 3 seasons in a row of 2,000 yards rushing or more in college.
His tape is impressive and I hope he makes the team. Here is the full list of signings:
- QB Anthony Boone (Duke)
- RB Rasheed Williams (Alfred State)
- RB Zach Zenner (South Dakota State)
- WR Vernon Johnson (Texas A&M University-Commerce)
- WR Desmond Lawrence (North Carolina A&T)
- TE Casey Pierce (Kent State)
- OG Al Bond (Memphis)
- OG Torrian Wilson (UCF)
- LB Kevin Snyder (Rutgers)
- S Isaiah Johnson (Georgia Tech)
- S Brian Suite (Utah State)
- K Kyle Brindza (Notre Dame)
Players Invited To Try Out At Lions’ Rookie Minicamp:
- QB Rob Bolden (Eastern Michigan)
- RB Desmond Martin (Wayne State)
- WR Marcus Beaurem (Tiffin)
- WR Jarred Haggins (Florida State)
- WR Nathan Hartline (Adrian College)
- WR Erik Lora (Eastern Illinois)
- WR Verlon Reed (Findlay)
- TE Tyreese Russell (Eastern Michigan)
- TE Josh Bordner (Boston College)
- TE Deon Butler (Central Michigan)
- OT Lincoln Hansen (Eastern Michigan)
- OT Matt Hall (Belhaven College)
- OT Dallas Lewallen (Wisconsin)
- C Austin Gund (Richmond)
- DE Nick Richardson (Abilene Christian)
- DE Diaheem Watkins (UAB)
- DE Reuben Frank (Connecticut)
- DE Alec May (Georgetown)
- DT Robert Howell (Northern State)
- LB Justin Cherocci (Central Michigan)
- LB Marcell Jones (Wayne State)
- CB Delonte Hollowell (Michigan)
- CB Tim Bennett (Indiana)
- CB Deven Drane (Cincinnati)
- CB Ryan Griffin (Jackson State)
- S Nathan Lindsey (Fort Hays State)
- S Bradley Njoku (Idaho)
- S Zack Richardson (Henderson State)
- K Kenny Spencer (North Alabama)
- P Darragh O’Neill (Colorado)
- LS Trever Kruzel (Northern Michigan)
The Lions ended up signing Erik Lora, Jarred Haggins and Nathan Lindsey after their rookie mini-camp this weekend and they will be in training camp.