Round 1: Ryan Kelly, C, Alabama
There are some amazing defensive tackles in this draft and I hate having to overlook them, but imho Ryan Kelly is a prospect the Lions simply cannot pass up. Ryan Kelly’s bio reads like a prelude to a collegiate HOF ceremony. Kelly’s most notable award is probably the Rimington Trophy, an annual award for college’s best center. However the things Lions fans should salivate over are that Kelly surrendered no sacks in 2015 and was not flagged for a single infraction all season either. Selecting Kelly gives the Lions a pro bowl caliber prospect who will allow the Lions to upgrade their center position. They’ll also be able use Swanson in his more natural role as backup to fill the currently vacant (and highly valuable) game day reserve spot for a player who can line up at both guard and center. Finally, this move gives the Lions the flexibility to use recently signed offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz to increase the level of depth and competition at right tackle. With this one move the Lions improve three spots on the team’s weakest performing unit from 2015. Kelly’s talent alone justifies the 16th selection, but when viewed through the prism of how his addition positively impacts three separate positions along the offensive line (Starting C, Backup G/C and competition at RT) the value of drafting Kelly becomes apparent.
Round 2: Austin Johnson, DT, Penn State
2015 was such a bad year for the Lions defense that we tend to forget how special it was in 2014. The Lions defense only allowed 69.3 yards rushing yards per game which was not only the best in the league but was 10th best all-time. The 2014 unit only ceded 8 rushing touchdowns on the season en route to tying as the 2nd best scoring defense in the NFL. There was enormous turnover at defensive tackle during the off-season between the end of the 2014 season and the start of the 2015 season. Former Lions GM tried to address the turnover by signing Haloti Ngata & Tyrunn Walker, but age and injury prevented the tandem from having success. Enter Austin Johnson. The massive tackle (6’4, 314lb) former Nittany Lion finished the season as Pro Football Focus’s (hereafter known as PFF or PFF’s) 3rd best run defender among interior defensive linemen. Austin is a high volume run stopper who should help the team regains some of the traction against the run that was so frequently on display in 2014.
Round 3: Javon Hargrave, DT, South Carolina State
I’ve profiled Hargrave previously so I won’t go into detail on him other than to say I was fine passing on a defensive tackle in round 1 because I suspect teams will shun Hargrave until round 3 because of his small school pedigree. I believe Javon Hargrave will emerge as one of the premier 3-techniques in this draft. Hargrave is an explosive, technically sound interior pass rusher who uses strength, quickness and natural leverage to make plays both against the run as well as against the pass. When left single blocked Hargrave becomes an absolute game wrecker for the opposition. I know some fans may be clamoring for a WR, S, LB or some other position here because Ngata, Walker and Charles were recently signed or re-signed to the team. However none of those guys are long term solutions. Ngata proved he was well past his prime in 2015 while Walker and Charles were both rotational players prior to their arrival in Detroit. Johnson and Hargrave are the type of young, first round worthy talents the Lions need to properly replace Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley.
Round 4: Joe Haeg, OT, North Dakota State
Joe Haeg is a prospect that perfectly embodies why I love small school prospects. Haeg started 60 of a possible 61 games split between both the left and right tackle spots and that experience shows. Haeg is a stickler for detail, is meticulous in his preparation and is as technically sound as any offensive tackle in this draft. The only real question Haeg has to answer is with respect to his functional strength. The level of competition Haeg faced at North Dakota State can’t plow through blockers the way NFL defensive linemen can. Last preseason in a contest pitting Detroit vs Washington we saw Brandon Scherff of the Skins get bull rushed into RGIII. I remember GIFs of that play circulating around the web for days with Lions fans mocking Skins fans for spending the 5th overall pick on Scherff. By midseason though, Scherff had gained the strength he needed to execute Washington’s blocking scheme properly and that helped fuel a stellar season by Washington QB Kick Cousins. I believe Haeg will undergo a similar career arc; getting overwhelmed by power if pressed to action early, but by midseason will emerge as a solid starter with a bright future.
Round 5: Kevin Byard, FS, Middle Tennessee
Most Lions fans would deem this a ‘luxury pick’ with Glover Quin on the roster. To those I say, look at Quin’s age (30) and cap hit ($7.8M) vs dead money ($2.8M) in 2017. GM Bob Quinn’s New England lineage suggests that he will view a player like Glover Quin as a terminable or movable asset in 2017. If that’s true the time to find a replacement free safety is now. On film, Byard looks perfectly capable of filling Glover Quin’s role as ball-hawk of the defense. Byard intercepted 19 passes over the course of his collegiate career returning 4 of them for touchdowns. PFF’s analysis team said the following of Byard “Kevin Byard might be one of the few players in this draft capable of playing the Earl Thomas role as a single-high deep-lying free safety. He may not have Earl Thomas range or ability, but neither does anybody else trying to occupy that space in NFL defenses right now. He does have a good nose for the ball and the ability to understand route concepts and passing threats from that alignment and influence the play in a way most can’t. In a league crying out for players to play in that position, Byard is one of the few in this draft class with the potential to pull it off.” I love Glover Quin and will always be grateful for what he’s done for the Lions defense; however this may well be his last season in Detroit. If the Lions have to replace Quin, I don’t think they could find a better replacement this year than Kevin Byard.
Round 5: Kalen Reed, CB Southern Mississippi
Reed is another small school ball hawk with who demonstrated exceptional ball skills as evidenced by 19 career pass breakups and 4 interceptions, including 2 pick sixes. PFF’s advanced analytics prove Reed’s production was not a fluke either as he graded out as 3rd best in coverage among all draft participants. Though not a combine invitee, Reed absolutely dominated testing at his pro day. At that event he posted a 4.38 in the 40-yard dash and recorded a vertical of 41.5 inches. Those athletic traits are on readily apparent on film where Reed appears as fluid an athlete as any prospect in this draft class. What’s most impressive with Reed though is his physicality. There are not many cover corners who relish ‘mixing it up’ in the ground game. In the film I watched Reed did not hesitate to blow up ball carriers when sufficient opportunity arose. I also noticed that he didn’t avoid contact as many DBs tend to do. Reed’s physicality combined with his innate feel in coverage screams for the Lions to take a flyer on him in Round 5.
Round 6: Moritz Boehringer, WR, Germany
Wide Receiver is viewed as the team’s biggest need by most who do not follow the franchise so why would I wait until the end of the draft to secure a wide receiver? Simple, wide receivers, even future Hall of Fame players like Calvin Johnson cannot change the fortunes of a team on their own. Hardcore fans recall CJ setting an NFL record for receiving yards in 2012 yet his team finished 4-12 that season. In fact, the Lions posted losing records in 7 of Johnson’s 9 seasons in Detroit. That’s certainly no indictment against Johnson just a sobering reality that one player, not matter how dynamic cannot overcome a flawed roster. Boehringer is a 6’4, 220lb German prospect who snagged over 1400 yards and 16TDs as a member of the German Football League. While Boehringer’s a physical marvel who posted a 4.43 40-yard dash and leaped 39” in the vertical he’d be relegated to a Joseph Fauria role in Detroit, i.e., a dedicated redzone target, at the onset of his career. His longevity with the team will be dependent upon his ability to prove himself worthy of an expanded role over time.
Round 6: Kavon Frazier, SS, Central Michigan
I continue with the theme of upgrading the secondary in the top of round 6 by selecting another small school prospect. This time I look to Central Michigan’s Kavon Frazier. Frazier is coached by former Lions Special Teams Coordinator John Bonamego. This coaching influence is readily seen on Frazier’s tape as he plays the position looking to make a thudding impact on the field as if he’s an unknown special teamer hoping to gain enough attention to gain a few snaps on defense. Make no mistake about it though Frazier was a starting safety for Central Michigan and acquitted himself well in that role. He is a proven backend enforcer who can energize a defense with his leadership skills and ‘statement’ tackles. Why he’s a can’t miss prospect for the Lions is his ability on special teams. While Frazier is acclimating to the NFL he can become a stalwart on special teams, anchoring both kick and punt coverage units as he learns the intricacies of playing safety in the NFL.
Round 6: Dean Lowry, DE-DT, Northwestern
The Lions opted not to re-sign Jason Jones leaving a gaping hole at the ‘closed’ end position along their defensive front. While Devin Taylor looks poised to assume a starting role in the defense, depth is a crucial element in keeping players healthy over a 16 game seasons. Closed ends are not typically quick twitch athletes. They are in effect run defenders who set the edge on a defensive line and have the versatility lineup inside at either the 1 or 3 techniques. Dean Lowry is a perfect fit for Teryl Austin’s defense as he spent 55% of his snaps outside tackles in college with the other 45% coming inside. While not an edge rusher from the standpoint of blurring passed offensive linemen with speed he is exceptionally powerful and can bull rush his way to the passer with great effectiveness. In fact, PFF tabbed Lowry as the 3rd most productive pass rusher in FBS when engaging bull rushing the opposition. Lowry represents excellent value to the Lions are attributes many teams would deem unattractive are coveted in Detroit.
Round 7: Darius Jackson, RB, Eastern Michigan
The Lions desperately need to upgrade their rushing offense. In the latter stages of the draft there were two RB prospects available – Keith Marshall of UGA and Darius Jackson of EMU. Both players are phenomenal athletes with Marshall famously posting a 4.3 at the NFL combine while Jackson posted a sub-4.40 at Michigan’s pro day. Jackson also posted an insane 41” vertical leap and an 11’1” broad jump. Despite ‘scouting reports’ written on each player there’s too little ‘film’ to show either player is a bona fide NFL prospect. In my opinion both are better athletes than players at this juncture in their careers. That said, Marshall was continually limited by injury while Jackson was underutilized for other reasons. I believe Jackson is the right pick for the Lions because he’s been relatively healthy throughout his career, has very little wear on his body, recording just 365 career touches, offers value on special teams and has contributed more as a blocker and pass catcher than Marshall. When the Lions were a truly dangerous offense they had three players with sub-4.4 speed on the field at the same time. Jackson potentially adds a level of explosiveness to the offensive back the team hasn’t possessed since the days of Jahvid Best.
That’s my draft. I went with linemen over smaller player early in the draft and locked in on more physically gifted small school talents over more well known prospects from larger programs later in the draft. That’s my best guess as to what philosophy Quinn might use in selecting player in this year’s draft. What’s your take? Do you think Quinn will pursue more well known commodities than those I chose? Did I miss one of your favorite prospects? If so let me know on Twitter @dmacali818.