The Detroit Lions were in a rare position this year. They made the playoffs for the first time since 1999… that’s 11 years of bad teams and bad seasons. The Lions started getting used to picking in the first ten picks year after year (Detroit had a pick in the first ten picks 8 times during that playoff drought- even having the 1st pick once, the 2nd pick twice, and the 3rd pick once). This season the Lions were drafting from the unfamiliar position of the 23rd selection, and they needed to wait a while to see who fell to them.
With cornerback being the Lions’ top need, there were hopes that one of the top three cornerbacks in the draft (Morris Claiborne, Stephon Gilmore, and Dre Kirkpatrick) would drop to them with 23rd pick. There were even rumors that the Lions would be interested in trading up to select CB Stephon Gilmore, a cornerback with great potential that was expected to be drafted anywhere in the first 20 picks. All three corners however were gone by the 17th pick (Claiborne- 6th, Gilmore- 10th, and Kirkpatrick- 17th). Instead, two Top-10 prospects surprisingly fell to Detroit at pick 23- OT Riley Reiff and OG David DeCastro. The Lions decided to select the elite left tackle Riley Reiff out of Iowa, who should be able to compete for a starting job. Reiff came to Iowa as a three-time all-state selection playing both tight end and defensive end and was a three-time state wrestling champion with a 121 – 1 record. He was moved to offensive tackle his freshman year at Iowa and brought great strength and athleticism to the position. He started 11 of 13 games in his redshirt freshman season (seven at left guard, three at left tackle, and one at right tackle) before becoming the starting left tackle his sophomore season. After two seasons as the starting left tackle for the Hawkeyes, Reiff decided to declare early for the draft after being a 1st Team All-Big Ten selection. At 6’5”, 313-pounds, Reiff is very intelligent and uses great fundamentals and athleticism to keep defenders at bay in the passing game. He also uses his strength and experience as a defensive end and a wrestler to be a true mauler in the running game. The only reason Reiff fell in the draft was because his arms (33 ¼” long) are considered to be too short for a left tackle, although the Cleveland Browns All-Pro left tackle Joe Thomas has shorter arms than Reiff’s. With his abilities, Reiff comes to the Lions with the versatility to play either tackle position. At the very least, Reiff should be able to compete with LT Jeff Backus and RT Gosder Cherilus for a starting job at offensive tackle. While DeCastro would have been an instant starter for Detroit, the Lions made the right choice by selecting Reiff. The Lions need to get used to drafting after pick 20, and it is very rare to have an elite left tackle like Reiff fall that far. Reiff is easily the franchise left tackle the Lions need for their future. (Picture taken from footballnation.com)
After not selecting a cornerback in the 1st Round, it was expected that the Lions would grab one of the many talented corners still on the board with their 2nd Round pick. Ex-Lion and Hall of Fame RB Barry Sanders stunned everyone as he announced the Lions pick to be the 5’10”, 190-pound wide receiver out of Oklahoma- Ryan Broyles. Broyles was a four-year starter at Oklahoma where he was a 1st Team All-Big 12 selection his last three years and an All-American his last two years. After turning down the NFL as a potential 1st Round pick and returning to the Sooners for his senior season, Broyles draft stock took a huge hit when he tore his ACL in the ninth game of the season. Broyles leaves Oklahoma as the NCAA all-time leader in receptions (349) and second all-time in receiving yards (4,586). Broyles had surgery on his knee in November and considers his recovery to be ahead of schedule. Even when 100% healthy, Broyles doesn’t have sprinter speed (4.5 40-time) or great size. He does however know how to get open, has the toughness to go across the middle, has great hands to make a catch in traffic, and has the quickness and shiftiness to make defenders miss after the catch. Broyles also brings the versatility of having some experience in the return game. While this pick seems more like a luxury than one of need especially with other players of need on the board (LB Lavonte David and C Peter Konz were both considered potential 1st Round picks that play positions of need for Detroit), the Lions stuck to their game-plan of picking the top player available regardless of position or need. Honestly, you can’t argue with the results…the Lions have gone from a 0 – 16 team to a playoff team in three years using this philosophy in the draft. Broyles was a potential 1st Round pick before the knee injury and fell to the Lions at the end of Round Two. Nate Burleson is approaching his mid-30s, and the Lions could really use a slot receiver that can go across the middle. I really like the value the Lions got with this pick especially since Detroit loves to pass the ball and doesn’t have to rush him onto the field with three quality receivers already on the roster. (Picture taken from footballsfuture.com)
In the 3rd Round, the Lions finally addressed their biggest need by drafting CB Dwight “Bill” Bentley (5’10”, 181-pounds) out of Louisiana-Lafayette. Bentley, a 1st Team All-Sun Belt selection this season, really turned heads in the opener against Oklahoma St. In that game, Bentley was paired against the duo of 1st Round pick WR Justin Blackmon and 1st Round pick QB Brandon Weeden. While Blackmon did come away with eight catches for 144-yards, Bentley held him to no touchdowns while finishing with six tackles and two interceptions. Bentley also played very well in the Senior Bowl and performed well at the Combine running a 4.37 40-yard dash. He does a nice job in coverage, has the speed to catch up if he gets beat, and has good flexibility to turn and run with a receiver. The reasons Bentley was still on the board in the 3rd Round were: his lack of size and strength, he played in an inferior conference (Sun Belt Conference), and he needs to improve his instincts. All in all, Bentley has a nice package of skills to eventually become a starter in the NFL. More than likely, he should start out as a nickel or dime corner. (Picture taken from newsok.com)
In the 4th Round, the Lions traded down 8 picks with San Francisco (picking up a 6th Round pick in the process) before drafting DE/LB Ronnell Lewis (6’2”, 254-pounds) out of Oklahoma. Lewis was a 1st Team All-Big 12 selection this past season after making 59 tackles (13 for loss), 5 ½ sacks, an interception, 5 pass break-ups, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery in 10 games at defensive end. Many looked at Lewis as more of a 3-4 outside linebacker than a 4-3 defensive end due to his lack of elite size for a defensive end. Lewis was also looked at as being a little inconsistent from week to week in his performances. Bottom line, Lewis knows how to get to the quarterback and lays a big hit on whoever has the football, which earned him the nickname “The Hammer” from Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops. Considering the success the Lions have had so far developing DE Willie Young, who they drafted in the 7th Round in 2010 and had good height, speed, and athleticism but lacked size and strength, Lewis definitely has the strength, speed, athleticism, and pass rush ability to develop into a very servicable, if not good defensive end. He also has the versatility to play outside linebacker in a pinch as well as play on special teams. And with Cliff Avril under the franchise tag with an uncertain future, Vanden Bosch turning 34 this year, and Lawrence Jackson in the last year of his contract, it doesn’t hurt having some good depth at the position. (Picture taken from sportsagentblog.com)
In the 5th Round, the Lions made an interesting move. They switched draft position in the 7th Round and gave up their 4th Round pick next year to get the 3rd pick of the 5th Round from Minnesota. With that pick, the Lions selected LB Tahir Whitehead (6’2”, 233-pounds) out of Temple. Whitehead was a 2nd Team All-MAC selection last season after making 59 tackles (12 for loss), 5 sacks, and 4 forced fumbles as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. While Whitehead is a little bit of a mystery to most, the Lions brass saw something in this kid that they coveted enough to give up a 4th Round pick next year for. While not very big, Whitehead has very good speed and can be found all over the field making plays. He does a good job laying a hit on the ball carrier, can effectively defend the tight end in pass coverage, and can get after the quarterback on a blitz. He definitely is a project however that will need some work, but he should be able to contribute right away on special teams. And considering that DeAndre Levy and Justin Durant are in the last year of their contracts, depth at linebacker is an important area to address. (Picture taken from sidelionreport.com)
The Lions again saw a player on the board in the 5th Round that they coveted, so they traded one of their two 7th Round picks to Oakland to move up 10 picks. With the 13th pick of the 5th Round, the Lions selected CB Chris Greenwood (6’1”, 193-pounds) out of Division III Albion College. Greenwood really impressed scouts at his pro day with his athleticism- he ran an official 4.41 40-yard dash, had a 43-inch vertical, and did 16 reps on the bench press (at 225-pounds). Greenwood will need some time to adjust to the jump in the level of competition he is playing against, but the Lions believe that he has the size, speed, skills, and athleticism to make the transition (they saw DT Sammie Lee Hill the same way when they drafted him out of Stillman College in 2009). “’For me, he has a big upside,’ said Tim Walton, the Detroit Lions defensive back coach. ‘He has the measurables and has the talent. Once we tap into that potential, the sky is the limit for this kid. We’re excited to work with him. He has the tools to work with.’” What has the Lion even more exciting than just the size, speed, and raw skills Greenwood brings is that Greenwood reminds defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham of CB Brandon Carr, who was drafted by Kansas City out of Grand Valley St. in the 5th Round in 2008 when Cunningham was the defensive coordinator there (Carr has since become one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL). The Lions hope those comparisons translate into big things for Greenwood and their defense. In the mean time, he should be able to contribute right away on special teams. (Picture taken from d3football.com)
In the 6th Round, the Lions again addressed one of their biggest needs coming into the draft by selecting CB Jonte Green (6’0”, 183-pounds) out of New Mexico St. Green is an aggressive player with a nice combination of speed, range, and cover skills. He finished last season with 64 tackles, one interception, and 14 pass break-ups for the Aggies in the WAC Conference. The Lions liked Green very early in the drafting process and were ecstatic to see him still on the board as they selected in the 6th Round. Green will need to improve his strength and contribute right away on special team just to potentially fight his way onto the roster- being the third cornerback drafted and having four already on the roster. The Lions wouldn’t have drafted him however if they didn’t think he was up to the challenge. (Picture taken from crucessports.blogspot.com)
In the 7th Round, the Lions may have got a steal when they selected LB Travis Lewis (6’2”, 245-pounds) out of Oklahoma. Lewis burst onto the scene as a redshirt freshman starting 14 games for the Sooners while making 144 tackles (11 ½ for loss) with 3 ½ sacks, 4 interceptions, 3 pass break-ups, and one forced fumble. That outstanding production broke Brian Bosworth’s school record for tackles by a freshman and earned him Big 12 Freshman of the Year and 1st Team All-Big 12 honors. Lewis finished his four-year career at Oklahoma with 451 total tackles (32 ½ for loss), 8 sacks, 9 interceptions, 4 forced fumbles, and 2 fumble recoveries. Lewis has a ton of talent and potential, shows tremendous instincts, and does a solid job in coverage. His stock fell after a dip in production his senior season while playing with a broken toe and after running a disappointing 4.81 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. There is no ignoring the production he put up at a school like Oklahoma. Even more motivation for Lewis was watching 222 names be called before finally hearing his name selected by the Lions. The Lions couldn’t believe their luck to get a linebacker like Lewis in the 7th Round that could easily become a starter for them. (Picture taken from flickr.com)
Within hours of the end of the draft, the Lions addressed another need by signing undrafted rookie free agent QB Kellen Moore (6’0”, 196-pounds) out of Boise St. Moore is your classic system quarterback who will go down as one of the elite college quarterbacks of all time passing for 14,667 yards, 143 passing touchdowns, and only 28 interceptions for 50 wins. Moore lacks ideal size, athleticism, and arm strength however, which resulted in his name not being called during the draft. What Moore lacks in those areas, he makes up for in accuracy, instincts, work ethic, and competitiveness. The Lions, who had a need for a third quarterback after QB Drew Stanton left as a free agent, couldn’t be happier to get Moore. With current back-up QB Shaun Hill under contract for two more seasons, Moore should have plenty of time to learn the system and improve his skills before potentially becoming the primary back-up. Moore should benefit from having Hill to learn from, since Hill also uses accuracy and anticipation to make up for the lack of a rocket arm. (Picture taken from ogdraft.com)
After the draft was over, I gave the Lions a solid “B” grade…with the addition of Moore however, I confidently move that grade up to a B+. The Lions did address their biggest weakness by adding three cornerbacks. And while some might not like the fact that the Lions waited until the 3rd Round to take their first cornerback of the draft, I thought that Bentley was a 2nd Round talent that fell to the 3rd Round making it a nice value. The Lions addressed their aging offensive line by stealing the 2nd best offensive tackle in the draft late in the 1st Round. The Lions also addressed depth questions at the linebacker position by drafting two. It will be interesting to see what happens with Whitehead, who seemed to be the only real stretch of the Lions draft, and to see if all three cornerbacks drafted can supplant current roster members. Getting Moore as an undrafted rookie free agent was just icing on the cake. Congratulations Lions organization for yet another solid draft.