Combine Review, Early Draft Preview

As I see it today, the Detroit Lions’ needs at the draft this year are defensive tackle, offensive tackle, linebacker, and – depending on the status of Calvin Johnson – wide receiver. They also have a lesser need at center, and I wouldn’t be against drafting a developmental QB prospect in the later rounds. With free agency right upon us, there’s still a lot of dominoes to fall. I hope the Lions can at least secure one of their top needs in free agency, then focus on building their roster in the draft.

One important aspect for Lions fans to understand is that the team will be attacking the draft exactly as the Patriots have during their Tom Brady era. The Patriots have drafted a defensive player with their first round pick in eight of the last nine drafts. Obviously having Tom Brady allows you to do this because his skill makes up for the holes on the offense, but it still is something to keep in mind. They also haven’t drafted a first round wide-out since the 1996 draft, so even if Laquon Treadwell falls to 16, you can expect his slide to continue. The Patriots also like to trade back and collect picks, and continually rank in the top 5 or so teams in their average picks per draft. Expect GM Bob Quinn to pick 4-5 players he would be happy drafting at #16, and if there are three or so of those guys on the board when the Lions are on the clock, they will move back.

For the sake of this article, let’s all agree that the Lions’ top four needs are wide receiver, offensive tackle, defensive tackle, and linebacker. Even if Calvin returns, I’d still say receiver is a need as far as depth goes. TJ Jones is far from a sure thing, and if I have to sit through another season of Corey Fuller and his block in the back penalties I may not live to see week nine. I’m going to focus on the first three rounds here because there is still a lot to happen with guys’ draft stock rising and falling. Plus admittedly I don’t know specifics on a lot of the guys deeper in the draft. In this, the first of a four-part series, I’m going to list out a few guys for each position that are projected 1-3 round picks, their overall scouting reports, and some of their combine results.  For the first look:

Offensive Tackle

This year’s tackle class is pretty standard, but is led by sure thing and candidate for the 1st overall selection Laremy Tunsil. Other than Tunsil and Notre Dame tackle Ronnie Stanley who will likely go top ten, the better prospects project as solid right tackles and developmental left tackles. Unless the Lions land a stud LT in free agency, Reiff will likely stay as the anchor on the left side, while the drafted tackle would fit in on the right side.

Round 1:

Jack Conklin, OT, Michigan State

At 6’6” 325, Conklin has the ideal size NFL scouts look for in a left or right tackle. He isn’t a top flight prospect, but the Lions can’t be expecting to find the next hall of fame left tackle at pick sixteen. Conklin would probably be immediately inserted at the right tackle spot, a place where many scouts think he can be a solid starter from day one. He isn’t a freak athlete, but plays with grit and heart. Being from MSU, it would be cool to keep the talent in state.

Taylor Decker, OT, Ohio State

Decker stands tall at 6’7” and weighs 320 pounds. Since he is so tall, Decker often has issues keeping his pad-level low. In the trenches, the low man always wins. Defensive coaches will exploit this weakness by lining up shorter pass rushers against him. On the positive side, Decker is a leader and a powerful blocker. Like Conklin, he is projected to be a solid starter in the league at right tackle.

Round Two:

Jason Spriggs, OT, Indiana

Spriggs, 6’5” 305, had a stellar combine performance. He was the top performer out of all offensive lineman in the 40 yard dash (4.94s), bench press (31 reps), broad jump (9’7″), and 20 yard shuttle. He is an athlete at the tackle position, and also a finisher. He lacks brute strength, and some people think he should be moved inside to a guard or center position to get him away from the powerful NFL edge rushers. Following his impressive combine, Spriggs could climb into the end of the first round.

Shon Coleman, OT, Auburn

Diagnosed with Leukemia in 2010, Coleman has faced his fair share of adversity. He was finally cleared to play in 2012, and spent his freshman year getting back into football shape. A back-up to the second overall pick in 2013 Greg Robinson, he started every game the past two years. Now a candidate to be a 2/3 round pick, he has a big frame at 6’6” 313, and a powerful upper body. He has a tendency to grab, and also gets caught leaning a lot which would make him a human turnstile in the NFL if coaches cannot fix that issue.

Round Three:

Willie Beavers, OT, Western Michigan

Beavers is 6’4” 324 and moves extremely well for his size. A solid athlete, on tape he consistently makes blocks at the second level. Mike Mayock has him ranked as his fifth overall tackle but many people on twitter scoffed at that idea. Beavers could use a year or so in an NFL lifting program, he is pretty weak in his upper body and core.

Le’Raven Clark, OT, Texas Tech

Coming into the combine, Clark boasts a sweet name that would be a close second behind JBC, 50+ starts at Texas Tech, and a 6’5” 302 pound frame. His extraordinarily long arms (7’1″ span) allow him to disrupt defensive ends before they can even make a pass rush move. Due to his long arms, he tends to get caught leaning forward. This is something he got away with against lesser athletes in college, but an NFL pass rusher would take advantage of this easily. Clark has a lot of upside, and I think his stock will rise as the draft process continues.

Gerald Hawkins, OT, LSU

Hawkins fits the prototypical size expected for an NFL Tackle at 6’6” 305, but is underwhelming in a lot of the aspects in his game. For his size, he lacks power from the waist down. He also tends to miss a lot of blocks at the second level when doing a DE to LB combo block. He is quick off the ball, and also held his own against first round Alabama defensive line prospect A’Shawn Robinson.

Evan Boehm, C, Mizzou

Yeah, I know I said offensive tackle, but frankly Travis Swanson is a horrific NFL center and Boehm is one of my favorite players in the draft. A hearty Mizzou boy, ‘The Big Boehm Theory’ plays with grit and passion. Last year, Mizzou center Mitch Morse became a solid starter and a pleasant surprise in his rookie year for the Chiefs. Why can’t Boehm do the same for the Lions? He is a little undersized at 6’2”-300 and lacks length. He isn’t an immediate need but is worth a flyer if he falls past round three.

Well, there it is – your combine review/way too early draft preview, at least for the offensive tackles. Keep in mind that we are still two months away from the draft, and so much can happen between now and then. Use this as a guide, formulate your own opinions. Chances are these are the same guys the Lions are taking a good look at.

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