The Detroit Lions draft class was yet another polarizing one. Or perhaps it’s just the loudest members of the fan base are also the most negative ones. I’ll be the first to say that I do not think this was a bad class, I thought it was a solid haul. Was I happy with every pick? No, of course not. Yes, Bob Quinn has most likely forgotten more about football than I will ever know, but that does not make him infallible and that does not mean that you have to blindly trust or like every pick. And it’s not like I’m always right, so do not think for a second that I think I am. Quinn clearly has a plan for specific types of players and while he and Patricia love to talk about scheme versatility on defense, they sure do look for guys that only fit certain types of requirements. I would say my main gripe over the years with Quinn is he rarely tries to play the board and does not quite seem to care much about draft pick value. If his guy is there, he just takes him. Rarely does he trade back (yes, he traded back this year and I understand the irony of criticizing him for this in a year that he did it) and still get the guy he was targeting. I would prefer to see him move up and down the board and acquire more assets en route to making the team better and still get his guy.
Now obviously your first response is, “dude how do you know they could move up and down the draft and still get their guys? Quinn is more plugged in than you.” Yes. Yes he is. But that does not mean that I can’t want what the Patriots, Seahawks, and Colts have and turn one pick into 4-7 picks with some creativity.
Obviously it’s not easy, otherwise everyone would do it. I just think that the Lions have a tendency to over-like players and rather than try to get the most value out of the draft to help their team, they get over-anxious and are content with taking their guy. Now if the players they take all turn into starters, I’m more than happy to take a big time L on this. But you never truly know how players are going to develop and if you did have all of the answers, there would not be any busts. If you want to spin it into a positive though, you could think that Quinn’s confidence in identifying talent is a big asset and he always follows his board. At any rate, that’s my little rant, let’s take look at the picks.
1st Round, 8th Overall: TJ Hockenson, TE, Iowa
In my pre-draft preview, I listed Hockenson and Jonah Williams as the two most-likely players to end up as Detroit Lions with their first round pick based on the pre-draft clues they unintentionally laid.
(At the 32 second mark Quinn tells Hockenson that they intentionally did not have a lot of contact with him)
I would have preferred Ed Oliver or Devin Bush to Hockenson at 8th overall, but based on what Bob Quinn has said after the draft, it seems like any interest in those players was nothing more than a smokescreen and neither one fit the size requirements they have. I’m sure the Lions thought about trading down, but anyone with a pulse knew that the Bills and Broncos were interested in a tight end (unless of course those were just smokescreens as well)…but as soon as the Lions took Hockenson, the Broncos pulled the chute and traded down and ended up with Noah Fant.
Ultimately, I would have preferred a different player or a trade down, but the Lions were not going to get Hockenson if they traded down. Anyone upset by this pick because it’s the Lions 3rd tight end picked in the 1st round in their last 11 drafts…well, I do not blame you. With only 10 first round tight ends and the Lions having drafted 3 of them…quite tough to not want more or something different. BUT, Hockenson is way different than Pettigrew or Ebron. Pettigrew was more or less a 6th offensive lineman and Ebron is a completely different style player. Coming out of North Carolina, Ebron could not block and had an abysmal drop rate. He was nothing more than a physical specimen that was supposed to move around and be a matchup nightmare. He was an okay player in Detroit that was more productive than the general public would have you believe. Fortunately for him and the Lions Ebron is gone. It was far too toxic of an environment for him to ever develop here after the amount of superstars that were picked after him.
So let’s be clear, Hockenson is not this guy. He’s a solid athlete but he’s not setting the world on fire. He’s a good blocker and he only had two drops in his career. He’s a blue-collar guy and I think that he’ll develop into a fan favorite…provided he lives up to his billing as the safest player in the draft.
I like him. I think he’s a high-end player and I think he’s going to be good in Detroit. Anyone expected Gronk is going to be sorely disappointed. When I watched him I thought more Jason Witten/Heath Miller. Also, do not expect Hockenson to have a major impact year one, tight end is a tough position to adjust to at the next level. The Lions also have Jesse James signed to a big money contract so expect a lot of 12 personnel (2 tight end sets).
Or maybe everyone is just going to continue to overreact and hate the pick and run him out of town.
Round 2, 43rd Overall: Jahlani Tavai, LB, Hawaii
Now I unequivocally did not like this pick when it happened. My first thoughts were as follows: 1) Why not take Devin Bush and then Irv Smith Jr Rd 2 if you were going to address linebacker this early? 2) Why take Tavai this early when he was thought of mostly as a 3rd-4th round pick with below average athleticism? 3) Why not trade down and STILL pick him in the second round which could be viewed as a reach anyways but at least you added some assets?
Well. In the days following the draft, I’ve ascertained the answers to these questions.
1) The Lions clearly have size requirements for positions now that Patricia is here and feel that certain players with more length fit their defense better, so I’m assuming they would not be interested in a smaller tight end as well. Taking that scenario completely out of the realm of possibility.
2)/3) Sure looks like Tavai was underrated by media analysts, myself and #DraftTwitter, probably because he’s not very scheme versatile. So either the NFL is going to be wrong about him or the rest of us will be and dear god I hope myself and the general public are wrong.
Bedard asked this after Round 1…and well, the Dolphins traded down after the Lions picked Tavai and the Patriots traded up and drafted JoeJuan. So either both were completely feigning interest in Tavai and set Quinn up, or both were absolutely interested in him. Remember all 3 teams run similar defenses so he would have fit each one. If you read this article from Kyle Meinke, he breaks down what Quinn said on 97.1 and Quinn believes that Tavai would not have lasted another 15 picks, let alone another round.
At any rate, what is done is done. Tavai is a Lion and I hope I’m wrong about him. I hope that his slow 40 time and poor testing are because of the lingering shoulder injury, even though he worked out after his Pro Day at a special date. It’s high-risk to take a linebacker with this poor of an athletic profile this early in the draft; especially with how offenses are evolving around the league. He would have gone to the Senior Bowl and was invited to the Combine despite his injury so keep in mind it’s not like the Lions drafted some nobody. Quinn’s trade mark seems to be at least one off-the-board pick each draft, and this appears to be it. I hope that even though Tavai produced a ton of tackles, he gets better at tackling, because man he still misses a lot. I mean, he missed a tackle in the highlight video the Lions social media group put together at the 1:00 min mark…which reflects poorly on him and especially them.
But at least he fits the scheme and will allow them to move Jarrad Davis around. He certainly has tremendous size and length and was extremely productive in college in terms of tackles. He’s a smart player…so hopefully his brain will help his lack of elite athleticism.
Alright, enough with beating the dead horse. Moving on.
3rd Round, 81st Overall: Will Harris, S, Boston College
After the Tavai pick, the Lions came back and hit another one of their trademarks which is a Senior Bowl participant and a captain of their college team. They very clearly have specific culture requirements that will limit the players that they take (which I’m fine with) and they clearly LOVE Senior Bowl players.
Will Harris is a pick that even after a week of reading up on him and watching some film that I’m still undecided on. I love his athletic profile. I’m not sure with his athleticism that he’s only going to play safety, I would guess he’ll get moved around the secondary and play on special teams. He’s a big time athlete but it seems like he’s not much of a thinker. The main question for me is why trade up for him and not address a position of need? I liked the development of Tracy Walker last year and they gave Quandre Diggs a fat contract. Add in Tavon Wilson and Miles Killebrew and you’re already at 5 safeties.
Perhaps the Lions thought this athletic profile was too good to pass on and he’s going to be a core day one special teamer. I’m not sure, but I doubt he’s the starting safety at any point this year barring injury.
4th Round, 117th Overall: Austin Bryant, DE/LB, Clemson
The Austin Bryant pick is interesting from the stand point that he was announced as a linebacker and he’s listed here as a defensive end. It seems as though some think he’s going to be a JACK LB in the Lions system.
Thought this was a really good description from Omar Kelly, a Dolphins beat writer, on the Patriots/Dolphins/Lions LB roles.
Austin Bryant is a tough MF’er and played most of the year with a torn pec muscle and that’s what kept him from working out at the Combine or his Pro Day. I’m always a fan of a guy playing through injury and though he’s not the best pass rusher, he can certainly be a depth role player for the Lions. He will have to improve on his hand usage and get a few more pass rushing moves in his bag to be effective in the NFL, but trading down (!!!) and adding him? Great value for Quinn here.
5th Round, 146th Overall: Amani Oruwariye, CB, Penn State
Amani was probably the Lions best pick in terms of value and most certainly a steal…or he’s going to be a guy that a lot of people are wrong about. I was shocked to see him fall out of the third round and I would love to know why exactly he slipped so far.
His athletic profile and size are very good and I think there is a legitimate chance that he starts at some point this year. He’s got great ball skills and had 3 INTs and 11 PBUs last year. His biggest knock is his run defense support, but I’m willing to give up some in run support if he can replace Mike Ford, Teez Tabor, or Jamal Agnew as a starting cornerback and not be a liability. Quinn said he almost took him in the 4th so the interest was clearly there. Any time a corner has that size and athleticism, it’s hard not to be interested.
6th Round, 184th Overall: Travis Fulgham, WR, Old Dominion
Alright, I’m not going to lie to you and tell you that I saw anything of Fulgham this year. I know he had a big game against Virginia Tech and that intrigues me. But at this point in the draft, you’re purely taking a chance on traits. These are basically lottery tickets and I like his traits. He’s 6’2″ 215 with a 36.5″ vertical, a 10′ broad jump and then ran a 4.51 40 at his Pro Day. On top of this, he was a walk-on in college that did not start playing football until he was a Junior in high school. Having 128 career catches for 2,044 yards and 18 TDs to go along with a Senior Bowl invite is one helluva way to develop.
6th Round, 185th Overall: Ty Johnson, RB, Maryland
Man, as soon as I saw this pick, I immediately thought of what he did to Michigan.
He’s got speed for days.
The Lions have a pretty full depth chart at running back right now with Kerryon Johnson, Theo Riddick, Zach Zenner and CJ Anderson…but I would expect Ty Johnson to push for spot. He did not catch a lot of passes in college, but my immediate reaction was that here is a replacement for Theo Riddick. If Riddick is cut before June 1st, the Lions will save $3.6 million in cap and Johnson adds an element to the return game. Agnew will still return punts (I think) and this would open the window for Johnson to return kicks. Just ask Harbaugh, he’s good at it.
7th Round, 224th Overall: Isaac Nauta, TE, Georgia
Nauta was a guy that I wanted the Lions to take in the mid-rounds of the NFL Draft until he showed up to the Combine and put up a 40-time that made him look like he might need to switch to guard (mostly kidding).
Quinn said that Nauta was sticking out as the clear-cut best player left on their board and that’s why they took him and I don’t blame him. I thought he played a lot faster than he tested and he was obviously productive in college and can block. It would not shock me to see them try to work him in as a H-Back and get some run as a FB as well just so they can find a roster spot for him. At the end of the day, easily worth a 7th round flyer on.
7th Round, 229th Overall: PJ Johnson, DT, Arizona
I had literally never heard of Johnson until he was picked by the Lions. But, he’s 6’4″ 335 lbs and I’m guessing that if he makes the roster, it’ll be to be a backup for Snacks Harrison. He went the FCS route and redshirted twice (once medical), then went the JUCO route and ended up at Arizona for one-year. He had 3 sacks and was one of the Lions pre-draft 30 they brought in so obviously they’ve been interested for a while. I’m not sure if he will make the roster, but I hope he at least makes the practice squad.
Undrafted Free Agent Signings
The Lions undrafted free agent class is actually quite intriguing. They picked up two intriguing receiving options in Fulgham’s teammate and Donald Parham, who is massive. Then they gave big money to a raw tackle from San Diego State and signed a Beau Benzschawel from Wisconsin who was loved by PFF and probably went undrafted because he got wrecked at the Senior Bowl.
DT Ray Smith, Boston College
WR Jonathan Duhart, Old Dominion
LB Tre Lamar, Clemson
TE Nate Becker, Miami (OH)
DE Malik Carney, North Carolina
DL Matt Nelson, Iowa
WR Andre Wilson, UAB
OG Micah St. Andrew, Fresno State
TE Donald Parham, Stetson
CB Josh Miller, Ball State
OT Ryan Pope, San Diego State
OG Beau Benzschawel, Wisconsin
I agree with competitiveness…definitely culture…but some of these guys do not have speed or athleticism.
At the end of the day, I think the Lions got better. How much better? Well, I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
[Photo via @Lions)