The Detroit Lions have done a good job increasing the overall athleticism of their team in recent years, especially in their defensive front. The 2014 NFL Draft provided yet another chance to get faster, more physical and more versatile, and that was accomplished.
I really like the pieces the Lions added to their defensive front seven, adding Kyle Van Noy (OLB, BYU) in the second round, Larry Webster (DE, Bloomsburg) in the fourth and Caraun Reid (DT, Princeton) in the fifth. Van Noy was a solid value at 40 overall, as many thought he could sneak into the tail end of the first round, especially with the Aldon Smith brouhaha ongoing with the San Francisco 49ers. Van Noy is a smart, instinctive playmaker with natural pass rushing ability and could push Ashlee Palmer to a backup job by the time week one rolls around.
Webster was one of the more intriguing prospects in the entire draft. He’s incredibly raw, even more so than Ziggy Ansah was going into last year, and he’ll take some time to get acclimated to the professional level after only two football playing years at small school power Bloomsburg (played basketball before that). He’s incredibly explosive and athletic and offers huge upside as an edge rusher, or could even switch over to TE.
Reid, projected by most to go late second/early third, could go down as one of the steals in the entire draft after falling to 158th overall. He’s a guy who knows how to get upfield from the interior and can collapse the pocket. He needs to get stronger against the run, but could potentially replace Nick Fairley down the road.
Travis Swanson (C, Arkansas) was a solid pick in the third round. He’s a smart, heady player with four years starting experience in the SEC, was a two time captain and is sound mechanically. He’s limited athletically, but makes up for it with good leverage and football IQ. He actually reminds me a lot of current starting center Dominic Raiola coming out in 2001, though not quite as athletic or mobile.
Those were my favorite picks by the Lions in this draft. The others (Eric Ebron in the 1st, Nevin Lawson in the 4th, T.J. Jones in the 6th and Nate Freese in the 7th) aren’t necessarily bad picks, but maybe not as logical at first glance as the previous mentioned. Namely, the selection of Ebron (TE, UNC) at no. 10 overall.
Hey, Ebron is a top notch athlete and a mismatch waiting to happen. I fully understand how much he’ll further improve the pass offense and help take pressure of WR Calvin Johnson. I get all that, so don’t just respond and say I’m an idiot because Ebron’s awesome. I’m just curious as to why they didn’t trade down, accumulate some draft capital, and take a CB or S in the first round, where their biggest holes lie. An elite, athletic, pass-catching tight end isn’t going to be what gets this team over the hump. Remember, the Lions were third in the league passing last year but still lost nine games and missed the playoffs again, namely because of the defense couldn’t stop the pass (23rd in the league at 246 ypg), in a division featuring Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler.
Lawson (CB, Utah State) was a solid add but likely doesn’t have the size or strength to play outside or anywhere but the nickel, where Bill Bentley is firmly entrenched, so I wasn’t crazy over that pick either. Jones (WR, Notre Dame) will be a longshot to make the team out of camp in a full stable of WRs, but has good hands. K Freese will battle for starting job with Giorgio Tavecchio.
So all in all, a solid haul for the Lions, especially on the defensive front. High ceiling guys litter this list. Still, my biggest concern is that they still haven’t added a dynamic playmaker in the secondary, instead choosing to add to the already good passing offense.