Round 1: Jason Spriggs, OT, Indiana
Once thought the 5th best OT prospect in the draft, Spriggs has been on a meteoric rise of late and is being discussed in some circles as the 2nd best left tackle prospect in the draft behind Tunsil. Were Mayhew still in place this would be pick that would not help the Lions in 2016 as Mayhew often gave his offensive line draftees a year to acclimate to the league. I get sense Quinn will expect all players, including recent draftees, to contribute to the team from day 1. In reviewing Spriggs’ film I believe he can wrest the starting RT position away from Ola by the end of training camp and may well challenge Reiff for the start at LT. Spriggs is riding a streak where he ranked as Pro Football Focus’ (hereafter known as PFF’s) 3rd highest pass blocking efficiency grade then won a Senior Bowl best 60% of his one-on-one matchups. Irrespective of where he starts, Spriggs’ unique athleticism & proficiency in pass protection will be a welcome asset to a Lions offensive line whose play was downright offensive at times in 2015.
Round 2: Sheldon Day, DT, Notre Dame
Sheldon Day is firmly in the discussion as the best 3-technique in this year’s draft. Day possesses uncanny quickness combined with an instinctive ability to find the angles needed to defeat would be blockers. While not gifted with ideal length or strength, Day is stout enough at the point of attack to disrupt opposing rushing offenses all while making dropbacks from opposing quarterbacks exercises in futility. Day is undersized so he will likely drop to the 2nd round draft behind players who have superior measurables, but when a player earns PFF’s highest rating among defensive tackles it’s worth taking a closer look at his game film. This squatty, sub 300-pound player looks to be in the mold of other not so big, not so tall defensive tackles like Donald, Atkins and Short who have exceeded expectations.
Round 3: Jatavis Brown, Hybrid OLB/SS
The sexy trend for NFL defenses involves finding college players who have overlapping attributes requisite to playing both as a box safety and WILL linebacker. At 5’11, 225lbs with 4.47 speed Brown fits the physical profile teams are now seeking for they hybrid safety roles. In response to a question asked about his versatility, Brown stated “”I am versatile. I can do it all, honestly. Not to sound cocky, but I can be a run stopper, rush the passer, run with receivers down the field. I love special teams – they want me focusing on defense so they don’t let me play special teams this year.”
Round 4: Jordan Howard, RB, Indiana
Howard is not a household name at this point, but he was PFF’s 4th highest graded back in this draft class and led the nation with 3.7 yards AFTER contact. Why Lions fans should be excited about Howard is he’s part of the answer to a question that’s plagued the team over the past few seasons, which is, how do the Lions hold onto leads in the 2nd half. The solution is to be physical enough at the point of attack to amass first downs despite stout opposition from competing teams. Howard (and later selections) give(s) the Lions a chance to physically meet the challenges they’ve failed to meet in seasons past.
Round 5: Austin Blythe, C, Iowa
While offensive tackle is the most widely discussed position of need along the offensive line, Center was the team’s most dire need in 2015. Travis Swanson was among the worst players at his position at any level of football. While there is some latitude given due to how poorly Lombardi’s blocking scheme fit Swanson and his fellow line mates, even after Cooter simplified the blocking scheme there was little from Swanson that showed he deserves to be in consideration for the starting job in 2016. Enter Iowa’s Austin Blythe. Like many Iowa linemen Blythe doesn’t excel in pass protection which is why he tumbles down to the 5th round (or lower) on most draft boards. However, he was PFF’s highest graded run blocking center in this year’s draft class. Iowa offensive linemen seem to take to run blocking as well or better than prospects of other programs. While Blythe’s pass protection will be a work in progress early in his career, he should immediately give the Lions a substantial boost in rushing offense. Combined with Howard (and to a lesser extent, Spriggs as well as my 6th round pick) the Lions will leave the 2016 NFL Draft able to run the ball effectively, a feat they haven’t accomplished more than twice since Barry Sanders retired.
Round 5: Mike Thomas, WR, Southern Miss
In reviewing Thomas’s game film, I saw him create separation in multiple ways. On some plays Thomas created room with pure speed. On other plays Thomas created space by varying his rate of acceleration, but he was most impressive when going over the top of defenders contorting his body in the most improbable of ways to snag errant passes. I love Matthew Stafford’s game and believe he is improving his accuracy and decision-making. That said, Stafford’s a QB who sometimes struggles with ball placement and on more than a few occasions receivers will need to utilize aerial acrobatics to snatch interceptions away from defenders. According to PFF Thomas won more contested passes than any of the top receivers in this draft class.
Round 6: Kalan Reed, CB, Southern Miss
One of the ‘deep sleepers’ of this draft is Kalan Reed. The 5’11” 199lb prospect is gifted with 4.38 speed, loose hips and an internal homing beacon that’s hardwired to lock onto incoming passes. Why Reed is a ‘must draft’ prospect for the Lions is he combines fantastic coverage ability with a penchant for dislodging would be receptions with well-timed hits. Reed’s also a tenacious tackler. His signature play involves a clutch, game-saving tackle on 4th down while in the shadow of his own endzone. As a small school prospect, some teams will ignore Reed’s production citing poor level of competition. However, things such as speed, football IQ and ball skills are universal. Rashean Mathis’ retirement left a gaping hole beside Slay in the starting lineup. Reed could emerge as Mathis’ long term replacement.
Round 6: Matt Johnson, QB, Bowling Green
Bob Quinn recently went on record saying it was ‘good football business’ to add a young quarterback every year or two. Since Mayhew failed to draft a single QB during his tenure it’s almost a certainty Quinn will draft one. Matt Johnson is my favorite option. I believe he will still be available in the middle of the 6th round despite being PFF’s 2nd highest graded passer. While the Lions offense is no longer predicated upon deep ball passing that threatened defenses with 4.3 speed coming from CJ, Titus Young and Jahvid Best there is still value in being able to stretch the field vertically. Johnson had more touchdown passes of 20+ yards than any other QB in college football. He was extremely accurate too, recording only 1 interception on 107 downfield attempts. Johnson drops this far in the draft because of his diminutive size. He’s only 5’11” tall and played at a small school. What really sinks Johnson’s draft stock is the offense he played within did not ask him to go through progressions. Add in predefined reads in his former offensive system with less than ideal size plus a questionable level of competition and it’s easy to see a scenario in which Johnson going undrafted. Fortunately, the Lions have 3 of the best quarterback coaches in the NFL in Caldwell, Gase and Callahan. That should bode well for Johnson who could become the team’s #1 backup in a couple of years. Additionally, if the dearth of talent at QB continues to prevail within the NFL Quinn could trade Johnson one day as the Patriots have successfully done with many of their backups over the years.
Round 6: LaQuan McGowan, TE, Baylor
At 6’7, 410 pounds McGowan puts the JUMBO in Jumbo Package. While size is his most recognizable trait, McGowan isn’t just an extra-large guy. He’s actually a pretty good athlete for a man his size. He ran a 5.4 40-yard dash and put up 37 reps at 225 pounds on the bench press. McGowan is athletic enough execute move/reach blocks and physical enough at the point of attack to completely engulf defenders at the point of attack. He isn’t well conditioned enough to pull off those requisite tasks for more than a few snaps each game so he will not easily translate to guard or tackle in the NFL, but he should have a defined role as an extra blocker on special teams, goal line and short yardage situations McGowan gives the Lions a unique and versatile athlete who can block inline, lead block from the backfield and can even become the eligible tackle in goal line situations who catches a touchdown or two when defenses are least expecting it.
Round 7: Jakeem Grant, WR, Texas Tech
In 2016 Jakeem Grant was arguably the fastest man in college football. Grant has been connected with 40-yard dash times that range from the 4.1’s to the 4.3’s. Without an NFL combine invite it’s hard to say what Grant’s actual time is, but even if he’s ONLY a 4.3 40-yard dash guy he’d immediately become one of the fastest player on Detroit’s roster. Beyond speed, Grant has another factor in his favor — Texas Tech’s recent track record of producing quality NFL wide receivers. Players like Michael Crabtree, Wes Welker and Danny Amendola have carved out varying levels of success on pro football’s largest state. Though Grant is smaller than any of the other receivers Tech Tech has sent to the NFL his combined production both as a returner and receiver are commensurate with Wes Welker’s. If nothing else Grant’s return abilities should provide enough depth and competition at returner to ensure Golden Tate is never again considered an option to return kicks or punts. For this reason alone, Grant is worthy of the Lions’ final selection in the 2016 NFL Draft.
That’s my take on a successful draft haul for the Lions in 2016. If I missed one of your favorite draft prospects or you think you have a better plan share it on Twitter @dmacali818.