Combine Review/Early Draft Preview – Part 4

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.

In this series, I’m focusing on four positional groups; so far we’ve looked at offensive tackle, wide receiver and offensive tackle –  today we’re going to check out:

Linebacker

For the Lions, there is a lot yet to be known at the linebacker position. Assuming they resign Tahir Whitehead, the Lions can do a multitude of things. Draft your future MIKE backer and stick Tahir and Levy beside him, put Levy or Tahir at middle and draft an outside guy early, or stick Van Noy outside and take a developmental guy later. I’d rather draft a MIKE early, but Quinn and company have their fair share of options this off-season on what they want to do. Quinn is quoted saying he wants to get faster at the linebacker spot, shedding light on why Tulloch was cut so early on.

Round 1:

Reggie Ragland, LB, Alabama

Ragland is a pure thumper at 6’1”, 259lbs and is probably my favorite to go to the Lions at 16. It’s iffy whether he will fall that far, especially with the news about Jaylon Smith, but I’ll get into that later. Ragland is a rock. Much like his d-line friends, he’s a sure thing at the MIKE spot. From watching film, I believe if you draft Ragland you can put him at the middle linebacker spot and you won’t have to worry about that position for another ten years. People worry about his speed, but he ran a 4.74 at the combine. A 4.7 would be a major red flag for a LB who is a supposed speed guy, but that isn’t Ragland’s game. He does better in coverage than people give him credit for, and would be my number one choice for the Lions at 16. Quinn, Caldwell, and O’Brien all met with Ragland at the combine, so he is at least one of the players they would be interested in picking at 16. I think a group of Ragland, Levy, and Whitehead would give the team a great group of LBs for years to come.

Leonard Floyd, OLB, Georgia

Floyd is one of my favorite players in this draft, I like him more as a player compared to Ragland, I just think Ragland fits the Lions style of defense and draft needs better. Regardless, Floyd is an athletic freak at outside linebacker standing tall at 6’4” and 230lbs. A top performer in the combine at the vertical jump (39.5″), 40 yard dash (4.6s), and the broad jump (127″). He is built like a wide receiver, and even dons the unusual LB number 84 in college. The dude is a straight up baller. An elite pass rusher at OLB, expect his stock to skyrocket in the wake of Von Miller’s MVP performance Super Bowl. The only knock on Floyd is his lanky build; he could use a bit more bulk. Floyd will definitely be someone the Lions take a good look at, but ultimately I think his talents are more suited for a 3-4 defensive team that will use him primarily as a pass rusher.

Darron Lee, MLB/OLB, Ohio State

Like Floyd, Lee is an unbelievable athlete notching an LB best 4.47 40 yard dash, and was also among the best of the linebackers at the vertical and broad jump. At 6’2”, 228lbs, Lee is undersized but not small, meaning he is very compact. Lee on multiple occasions at the combine declared he could play the MIKE spot, saying he was part of a new breed of LBs that will become the norm in the NFL. I’m unsure if he can play the middle, but he has the confidence. Quinn said that he wants to get faster at LB, so Lee would be a perfect pick for what Quinn wants. I still don’t think Quinn would stick Lee in the middle from day one. Drafting Lee would likely mean moving Tahir to the middle. Lee is an exceptional cover guy and can run with anybody. He was a human highlight tape during the playoff game against Alabama last season, making plays all over the field. He takes the game very seriously, however is not a polished tackler which is always frustrating to watch; tending to fly in and not come to balance. Lee is a classic case of an unlimited ceiling and a bottomless floor. He could be the first of a new breed that takes the league by storm, could be an ineffective bandit (Bandit: player too small to play linebacker, too big to play safety). He will likely be available at 16, will be interesting to see if the Lions take the risk.

Round 2:

Kentrell Brothers, OLB/MLB, Mizzou

Even though he didn’t play the MIKE in college, I view Brothers as the poor man’s Reggie Ragland. A little shorter and smaller (6’0” 249), Brothers is the perfect example of someone who would be a top 10 pick twenty years ago. Old-school run game stuffer with great instincts and vision, makes sure you know he hit you. He’s slow at 4.94 and a liability in the passing game. I see him as a first and second down player who leaves the game in passing situations. Below average athleticism, above average instincts and production (122 tackles in the 2015 season).

Kyler Fackrell, OLB, Utah State

A pure athlete who played quarterback in high school, Fackrell has elite size at 6’4” and 244 pounds. A starter on the outside from day one, could groom him to be the guy in the middle, but I don’t think that suits his strengths. He is above average in coverage and has also flashed pass rushing ability. His height limits his quick-twitch ability. Health concerns are there with a torn ACL in 2014, but he had an injury free 2015 campaign that turned him into a top LB prospect.

Phillip ‘Scooby’ Wright III, MLB, Arizona

Scooby would be a fantastic choice for the Lions in round 2 if they decide to go DT or OT in round one. At 6’1” and 245lbs he has the size and build needed for an inside NFL linebacker. Elite production with 163 tackles in his final season at Arizona, scouts say he plays like he knows what the offensive play call is. One of the most passionate players in college football. He is an average athlete, but like Kentrell Brothers, you can’t overlook instincts and production.

Round 3:

Deion Jones, OLB, LSU

Defensive MVP, team captain, and 100 tackles in 2015, Jones had a stellar senior season. He possesses elite speed, running one of the best 40s for linebackers at the combine with a 4.59s. He is muscular at 6’1” 230 with a powerful lower body. A special-teams stud, he has a team first attitude that the Lions crave. Needs to become a more consistent tackler, and also has fatigue issues towards the end of games.

Blake Martinez, MLB, Stanford

A true inside linebacker at 6’1”, 239, Martinez proved his strength by benching 225lbs 22 times, a top mark among LB’s. A hard worker, Martinez has the attitude and nastiness needed to play inside. Provides instant value on special-teams has he develops into a true MLB. Not a great athlete, almost uncomfortable in coverage. Another guy who would’ve been a much higher pick twenty years ago.

Dominique Alexander, MLB, Oklahoma

Alexander hails from a football family, his brother is well on his way to an NFL career and his dad played in college. Undersized at 6’0”, 220lbs, he was able to play in the middle against Big 12 offenses built on speed not power. He didn’t run at the combine, but has speed for days. Sideline to sideline player. Gets blown up at the point of attack, and is reactionary, not smart. Easily taken out of plays by a simple pump fake or play-action look.

The Unknown

Jaylon Smith, MLB, Notre Dame

Once touted as the possible number one overall pick, Smith had an ACL tear in Notre Dame’s bowl game. It was bad news, but with so many players now days easily bouncing back from this type of injury, it was thought that he could still be a top-10 pick. However at the combine medical evaluation, it was made known that his tear was as bad as Marcus Lattimore’s, who had to retire due to his injury. Questions remain on what will happen to Smith. More will come out as the process continues.

Well there it is. Your combine review/way too early draft preview.  In this series, we’ve looked at four positions that are key to the Lions’ 2016-17 season. 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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