Detroit Lions GM Bob Quinn May Have Eyes For Ryan Switzer.
In his inaugural offseason as the Lions GM, Bob Quinn added two big-name free agents to the team’s receiving corps. One was Marvin Jones, coming off of a rookie deal with Cincinnati. Jones was signed to a 5-year, $40M deal to become the 1B opposite 2014 Pro Bowler Golden Tate. The other was Anquan Boldin, a Super Bowl champion and a three-time Pro Bowler who was 36 and entering his 14th year in the league.
Boldin inked a modest contract (1-year, $2.75M) to provide Matthew Stafford with a sure-handed veteran option. Boldin arguably outperformed his deal as he hauled in 67 passes for 584 yards and eight TDs, and he often came through big on third down, near the goal line, and in clutch situations. Until about two weeks ago, it was uncertain whether Boldin would be returning for a 15th season. Despite announcing his desire to play in 2017 since then, the Lions have not yet resigned the aging wideout, and it remains to be seen whether or not they have any intention of doing so.
This has to lead the Detroit faithful to clamor for a big-bodied, possession receiver to fill that role in case the team doesn’t retain his services. It’s yet to be reported that the Lions are in talks with Boldin, and they weren’t really players in the free-agent market at the position. However, due to the free agent acquisition of Darren Fells, I believe that it’s ultimately Eric Ebron who will fill Boldin’s role. Still, it’s reasonable to assume – given the lack of proven options on the roster after Tate and Jones – that they’ll seriously consider adding one through the draft.
According to Pride of Detroit, the team has met with eight receivers: Purdue’s DeAngelo Yancey, Washington’s John Ross, Clemson’s Mike Williams, Northern Illinois’s Kenny Golladay, Virginia Tech’s Isiah Ford, Louisiana Tech’s Trent Taylor and Carlos Henderson, and UNC’s Ryan Switzer. Out of those eight, the one they’ve focused most intently on has been Switzer, an undersized slot receiver and a former teammate of Eric Ebron.
The Lions have met with him on multiple occasions, according to various sources. According to Max DeMara of 247 Sports, Switzer was “the object of Detroit’s affection at the Senior Bowl.” They also had an interview with him at the Combine, per MLive beat writer Kyle Meinke. Then, NDT Scouting’s Joe Marino noted that WR coach Ron Prince was present at UNC’s Pro Day. And if all that weren’t enough to indicate interest, ESPN Mike Rothstein also reported that the Lions director of player personnel Kyle O’Brien, Quinn’s right-hand man, was in Chapel Hill for the event, as well.
#Lions WR coach Robert Prince is present at the UNC pro day. Ryan Switzer, Mack Hollins and Bugg Howard being the attraction.
— Joe Marino (@TheJoeMarino) March 21, 2017
Normally any of these facts could be interpreted to be due diligence if they occurred by themselves. But if you connect the dots, it’s pretty apparent the Lions have an interest in the Tar Heel. And you get past his short stature, it’s easy to see why. Switzer would fill a couple of important roles for the Lions: 1) he would give Matthew Stafford a reliable target out of the slot, and 2) he’d provide special teams value as a punt returner.
According to PFF’s John Breitenbach, Switzer ranked in the top ten among collegiate receivers in both yards per route run (7.72) and catch rate (78.6%) out of the slot in 2016. He also had the third best drop rate, with 91 catches to just 3 drops. He accomplished all this, Breitenbach noted, while nursing a hand injury.
Switzer was also a prolific punt returner throughout his career in Chapel Hill. Entering his senior season, he was one punt return TD short of tying the NCAA record for most in a career, shared by Oklahoma’s Antonio Perkins (2001-04) and Texas Tech’s Wes Welker (2000-03), both of whom are tied with eight. Switzer fell just short of tying the record, ending his career with 101 returns for 1082 yards and seven TDs. He may have gotten it too, had it not been for a controversial penalty that negated what would have been his eighth against Pittsburgh. Given the departure of Andre Roberts, who had two runbacks for touchdowns last year, the Lions are yet again in the market for a returner.
Lions have met with Ryan Switzer too, by the way
— Kyle Meinke (@kmeinke) March 3, 2017
Despite his collegiate production and his utility, the scouting community has some serious doubts regarding Switzer making the jump to the next level. Obviously, size is one of them. UNC had listed him as 5’10” throughout his four years in the program, but he measured at just 5’8″ at the combine. That’s undersized, even by slot receiver standards. He also had the second-shortest short arms (28″) of anyone at the combine, and the shortest of all non-kickers.
His small stature translates to durability and play strength concerns, and his short limbs mean he has a much smaller catch radius than most receivers. Consequently, Lance Zierlein of NFL.com says that he’ll require a very accurate quarterback. While that may be a problem for most teams, Matthew Stafford has the ability to fit throws into windows only a few other QBs in the league can. That concern becomes minimized if Switzer winds up in Detroit.
He’s also been designated with the ‘quicker than fast’ and ‘sneaky athletic,’ which has essentially become a code word for white receivers, much like ‘mobile quarterback’ is for black quarterbacks. He ran a 4.51 at the combine, he looks fast on tape and had no problem covering against some good cornerbacks in the ACC, so I’m not worried about his speed. Most of his production came from underneath routes, but he caught some home run balls up the seam, too. Nobody will mistake Switzer for a speed demon, but he’s fast enough that NFL cornerbacks aren’t going to be able to squat on his work underneath.
The mark of a successful GM is the ability to find out what a player can do, instead of what he can’t do, and how that player fits your system. Switzer’s draft position will certainly be predicated on scheme fit to a degree, but he fits the Lions’ offensive system. A lot of his work at UNC came on short-to-intermediate routes and screens. Detroit’s offense under Jim Bob Cooter has largely been predicated on Matthew Stafford’s ability to hit targets in stride and afford them YAC opportunities.
This West Coast influenced approach signaled a departure from the vertical scheme of the Linehan and Lombardi days. Switzer can have great success in such a system. He has elite change of direction ability, and his field vision is very good, as evidenced by his success as a returner. He’s already an NFL-caliber route runner, although there’s always room for improvement in that regard. All of this would explain the interest he’s drawn from the Lions front office.
He has been mocked as a Day three prospect, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he made it into Day two. He’s one of those players that somebody is going to fall in love with, and will consequently go earlier than projected. There are certainly better, and more complete, wideout prospects in this class, but a team will get great value if they land Switzer on Day three of the draft. And if their sniffing around is any indication, that team just might be the Lions.