Linebackers Are Hard To Come By In This Years Draft, So Detroit Better Select Carefully
Welcome to this year’s draft overview series. In this series, I take a look at five possible options at each position that Detroit could end up taking in this years NFL draft. Last week, I looked at the defensive line, next up is the linebacker position.
Linebackers for Detroit last season was the biggest area of weakness on the defense. Sure you could say the defensive line couldn’t create pressure, or that the coverage was weak, but the linebacker position was depleted due to injuries and it was an easy thing for opposing offenses to attack. DeAndre Levy returned and got injured week one. He would struggle with injuries all season long and only appeared in five games. Detroit made the shocking move to begin free agency and cut Levy. Behind him it wasn’t much better. Tahir Whitehead lead the team in tackles, but his coverage skills were exposed as he was targeted heavily.
Josh Bynes would later return to the team after getting cut during the preseason and did well in his return. The bad news is he hasn’t been re-signed by the Lions, but the good news is nobody else has signed him. Jon Bostic never played due to a fractured left foot and Detroit hasn’t re-signed him either. Rookie Antwione Williams had plenty of playing time, and did average with his chance. Thurston Armbrister saw playing time as well and struggled.
Detroit didn’t make any splashes in free agency when it came to the linebacker position, signing Paul Worrilow and Nick Bellore. The Lions are looking towards the draft to add a solid starting linebacker to these signings. Here are just five players Detroit could target to help the linebackers not the weakest link on the defense.
1. Haason Reddick (Temple)
Reddick is one of two linebackers here who have experience playing on the defensive line. He totaled 149 tackles, 47 for loss, 17.5 sacks, five pass deflections, four forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and one interception.
Reddick can disrupt offensive lines if he is asked to start from the linebacker position rather than on the line. He can quickly get around ends to get to the quarterback. Has a shifty type of body that can move around and never be truly locked up. He has a tendency to stick to offensive tackles when he tries to undermine them, which can take him out of the play. Durability is a question with only playing less than 70 percent of snaps, he might not have the endurance to stay on the field. Has good eyes to see where the play is headed and has an athletic body.
Reddick is a lock to be taken in the first round as many see him as a linebacker or defensive end and he has experience in playing both. The only chance to get Reddick is at pick 21 and Detroit might not want to blow their chance with a player like him.
2. Raekwon McMillan (Ohio State)
Now when looking outside of the first round at linebackers, McMillan is the first name that should pop up. McMillan had 275 tackles, 18 for loss, 10 pass deflections, six sacks, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and a pick six.
McMillan attacks head on when getting to the ball carrier. Quick and and can get around guards easily. He is slow when he is getting blocked and takes time to leave the blocker and try and get the ball carrier. Struggles in man coverage at times, does better in zone. Can read quarterbacks’ eyes and get to where they are throwing to. Good tackling ability.
McMillan has been impressing teams and if Detroit isn’t able to get Reddick in the first, McMillan might still be there in the second round and his addition would doubtless boost the linebacker corps.
3. Tyus Bowser (Houston)
While Bowser doesn’t have the prettiest numbers, that doesn’t mean he can’t help the team out. Bowser ended with 137 tackles, 28 for loss, 22.5 sacks, nine pass deflections, three forced fumbles, two interceptions and fumble recoveries.
Bowser is the other linebacker that has experience on the defensive line on this list. Like Reddick, Bowser is quick and a linebacker that can constantly move around to get to the ball carrier. Good coverage skills. Can get around the edge in a rush for the sack or tackle for loss. Bowser does need to work on his pass rushing skills, and get bigger if he is going to blitz more. He can change his direction quickly, which helps when the running backs first option isn’t there and they have to go elsewhere. Can go toe-to-toe with tight ends.
Bowser has been rising on draft boards and while some have him in the first, he most likely will be a second round pick and someone Detroit should look at if they don’t take a linebacker in the opening round.
4. Zach Cunningham (Vanderbilt)
Cunningham had some production at Vanderbilt, totaling 256 tackles, 36 for loss, seven fumble recoveries, and getting six sacks, pass deflections and forced fumbles.
Cunningham has some good notes, as he can be fast and fights hard when up against the offense. His coverage skills are there and he can target the lone ball carrier and eliminate him. His biggest flaw is tackling. He uses his arms too much and lets some people get away. He does get eaten by the offensive line on occasion, which makes him useless when it happens. Once he gets a grip on you though, good luck getting out.
Cunningham’s draft stock has taken the biggest hit out of all the linebackers listed here. He was a former first rounder, now he has fallen to the second and sometimes even the third round. Cunningham in either of those rounds is good value for the Lions.
5. Anthony Walker Jr. (Northwestern)
Walker leads this group in tackles with 276, 38 for loss, 12 pass deflections, eight forced fumbles, seven and a half sacks, six fumble recoveries, and four interceptions.
He shows good ability to disengage with linemen and attack the ball carrier. Good field awareness. Can force runners to the outside and trap them into a corner. Does have a high amount of missed tackles. Tough for him to redirect his body when ball carriers go a different route. Walker does have a good instinct and when to help others with coverage and can take out wide receiver screen plays. Good coverage skills.
Walker Jr. is the only strong third round possibility on this list and if Bob Quinn thinks the need for a linebacker isn’t as big as everyone else thinks, he could snag Walker Jr. here for a good price.