While the third day of the NFL draft may not have as much flash and excitement as days one and two, it’s still extremely important for filling out a roster. Typically you may not find starters in this round, but you will find the key backups, developmental players, and special teams players that fill crucial roles. This is the day that separates the true contenders from the middling teams as while you can afford to miss occasionally here and there you have to hit on a few players in order to keep pace and under the salary cap. While the Lions have generally had success in these later rounds recently, those trends need to continue in the 2017 draft if Detroit wants to continue their rise to the top of the league. Bob Quinn brought in a few nice additions here like Joe Dahl, Anthony Zettel, and Miles Killebrew (above) so let’s see if he can continue that trend. If you want to catch the first three rounds click here, as with the previous part to this article I have staff writer Cory Hayes and contributor Adam Klepp back with me for part two of our pre-Combine mock draft.
Round 4 (Pick 126)
Adam K: Connor Harris, MLB, Lindenwood
Cory: Jalen Reeves-Maybin, OLB, Tennessee
Adam O: Michael Roberts, TE, Toledo
Round four is generally your last chance to pick up immediate impact starters and role players so teams need to stay alert at the start of the draft’s longest day. One of the biggest immediate impacts that the Lions could grab in the 4th round might be Michael Roberts, the tight end from Toledo. The biggest things that Roberts brings to the table are that he’s an extremely hard worker and he produces regularly in pressure situations. Primarily a blocking tight end throughout his career, he became a major receiving threat in his senior season, showing off the type of talent that jumps off the screen with potential. While he’s still a little raw in some of his technique, he has the ability to line up and either block or catch all over the field and that’s the type of ability that can change the Lions’ game on the offensive side of the ball from day one.
Both Cory and Adam K found linebacker candidates here in round four. Connor Harris on one hand is absolutely all heart and determination. The division two star out of Lindenwood has gotten past a short stubby body type through out-working everyone else to become a very competent linebacker perfect for a Mike or ILB role. The biggest issue is whether his less than ideal size will translate to bigger stronger play at the next level, however his ability to cover in space and willingness to go downhill and hit the ball carrier is the absolute perfect blend of old school and new school play at the position should he find a way to get past that problem. I can’t see his floor being any lower then an elite special teams guy and that in and of itself could be enough to justify a fourth round valuation.
Jalen Reeves-Maybin on the other hand is a different prospect but with a potentially equal ceiling. He’s another guy that loves to get downhill and attack the ball carrier but lacks the size to bring them down some of the time, especially if a quality lineman pulls out in front. While you would think that he could grow a little in an NFL weight room to resolve this it looks like his frame is pretty close to capacity as almost everything about him is narrow. He’s a phenomenal cover guy which makes up for a lot of his deficiencies, however the size issue combined with a growing list of injuries might end up pushing him outside to the WLB spot. In an ideal situation he could definitely become a quality starting MLB but he’s a major gamble when you take all of the factors associated with him into account.
Round 5 ( Pick 166)
Adam K: Ryan Switzer, WR, North Carolina
Cory: Noah Brown, WR, Ohio St
Adam O: James Conner, RB, Pittsburgh
By round five, team’s are taking chances on their depth and development players as well as key special teams guys that may not make a difference now but could be huge down the road. Ryan Switzer, Adam K’s pick, is a shifty slot receiver and punt return man out of North Carolina. He’s a very reliable target across the middle of the field that runs great routes, however he also has a very small catch radius at just under 5’9. The long and short is he’s a poor man’s Julian Edelman who’s ceiling is becoming Edelman at some point. He has a future in the NFL so long as he is placed in the right offence and perfect situation. Whether that is Detroit remains to be seen.
My selection in the fifth was James Conner, an absolute battering ram of a runner. at 6’2, 235 lbs, Conner plows through contact between the tackles and gets yards out of nothing every time he’s headed north-south. While he’s probably never going to be versatile enough to be a three down guy in today’s NFL, he’s the perfect goal line/short yardage specialist to pair with an explosive lighting backfield. A leader known for his toughness and perseverance, Conner beat both a torn MCL and Hodgkin’s Lymphoma at the same time and returned to the field without missing a full season. If he continues to get burst and agility back he seemed to have lost in his last college season and returns to the form he had as a world beating freshman, the Lions would get hands down the steal of the draft at this pick.
Cory’s pick Noah Brown is a raw but talented possession receiver fit for the Lions third receiver role. While Brown doesn’t have a whole lot of production coming out of Ohio State after breaking his leg, sitting behind a bunch of positional depth over the years and then being under utilized last season, he still has a lot going for him. He’s got prototypical size for the outside at 6’2, 220 lbs and long arms, a powerful physical play style, good body control, and strong hands. If he can develop to run cleaner routes and gain some separation to actually fit the ball in he’s built to be a poor man’s Anquan Boldin. Considering the legacy that man has that’s by no means a slight.
Round 6 (Pick 206)
Adam K: Jeremiah Ledbetter, DT, Arkansas
Cory: Dan Skipper, OT, Arkansas
Adam O: Jordan Morgan, G, Kutztown
Once round six comes around it’s a complete free for all, where everyone’s board is completely different and near anything can happen. Here Cory see’s tackle Dan Skipper out of Arkansas as the best option for one particular reason: size. Skipper is a monster of a man at 6’10, 320 lbs but moves quite well for his abnormal size, with the dexterity to play competently at both tackle positions. That said though his blessing can also be his curse, as bull rushers can throw him off his center of gravity while speed rushers still have a chance to get clear around him with the right timed burst off the line. He might have a chance to start in a power run scheme, but his best fit is probably as a swing tackle that adds an extra wrinkle for defenses to consider should he come in to replace a team’s starting tackle.
Adam K also went to Arkansas here but on the other side of the ball with Jeremiah Ledbetter. Ledbetter has something special but will need a lot of work to get to where he needs to be as a defensive end who would be better suited as a defensive tackle. He’s got great size, long arms with great functional strength, and the ability to take on multiple blockers, however he will need to add close to twenty pounds to be effective at the next level. He will probably be less explosive at that weight and be more of a run stuffing, pocket pusher, but if he can find a way to develop some pass rush and keep a bit of speed watch out.
I managed to find Jordan Morgan with the first pick here out of middle of nowhere Kutztown. While he’s got four year starter experience at left tackle, he’s a nice looking guard in the NFL. He’s got absolutely everything you want out of a guard prospect in a zone scheme: fast feet, good hands, nice ‘pop’ out of the stance with power, just overall solid technique. His main issues that he will need to overcome will be balance and lack of a pedigree but he can over come that I think he’s capable of being a borderline day one starter with a pro bowl calibre ceiling.
Round 6 (Pick 216)
Adam K: Corn Elder, CB, Miami
Cory: Ben Braden, G, Michigan
Adam O: Montae Nicholson, SS, Michigan St
With the Lions second sixth round pick obtained from the Kyle Van Noy trade, I went with Montae Nicholson out of Michigan State. Nicholson is completely a developmental guy that you sit down for a few years before taking on any significant role, but he has all the traits to be a great player at the next level. Before he step’s on the field he’s a physical freak for the position, with crazy speed for his size, explosive as all hell, and has the ability and awareness to get anywhere on the field at any time. The tape though is simply not good. Playing on a really bad Michigan State team hurt Nicholson mentally to the point where he suffers from confidence issues and it showed. He was indecisive in almost every level of his game and will need extensive rehabilitation to get to playing the way he needs to be successful. That said though if the Lions find a way to get him there they’ve essentially picked up Kam Chancellor in the late sixth so that’s a fair risk in my opinion.
Cory went with Ben Braden here, a powerful guard out of Michigan. He’s a gritty, hard-nosed player with positional flexibility to fill four out of five offensive line spots, and multiple years of familiarity with the Lions third round pick from last year Graham Glasgow. He’s a guy that doesn’t have immense talent at the position but is better then more talented guys through his gutty play and heart to play through the whistle every time. If he can continue to make up for his deficiencies and show another gear at the next level, he could be a great primary interior backup for a Lions team that will need help on the interior line should there be a departure in the coming months.
Adam K found Corn Elder here, Miami’s pocket rocket cornerback. He’s got all the traits to be a successful NFL cornerback as a scrappy, confident, and tough guy that has all the knowledge and technique down. The problem he faces at the next level is he just doesn’t have the numbers. He’s 5’10, 180 lbs soaking wet, limiting him exclusively to a slot role in the NFL, and while he has agility he’s lacking top end speed. Big guys can box him out and fast guys can get a step on him and run right by. His best role if he can stick in the NFL might be as a special teams player and depth cornerback or as a low end slot option.
Round 7 (Pick 253)
Adam K: Roderick Johnson, OT, Florida St
Cory: De’Veon Smith, RB, Michigan
Adam O: Nyeem Wartman-White, LB, Penn St
To close out the draft, Cory pulled out De’Veon Smith the power runner out of Michigan in the seventh round. He’s a big pro style power back that can get north-south in a hurry with quick feet but no frills or fanciness whatsoever. He’s got strong vision, and identifies his hole and hits it with regularity, but the key will be whether he can generate his own push at the next level. He’s had issues in college at getting stuffed up if he doesn’t have a running lane and will not be able to create for himself with agility or speed at the next level. If he can demo through a blocked up line then he will be an asset, otherwise he’s a less dynamic Dwayne Washington.
Adam K had Roderick Johnson fall to him here with his 7th round pick. He’s a very long, perfectly built offensive tackle destined for the left side with his pass protection skills. That said though he’s also very raw technically with balance concerns and some footwork issues which some teams believe he could hide due to his size in college that will come up at the next level. While he may be a bit of a long shot to actually start at the next level he’s a phenomenal prospect and quality swing prospect to build off of. I expect him to be long gone at this point but if he makes it here then he’s great value for Detroit regardless of need.
Finally, my last pick here was Nyeem Wartman-White out of Penn State. He’s definitely gone through the ringer injury wise with two season ending injuries both the last two years, but he’s the exact kind of guy I love taking a shot on in late rounds. A lot of people forget about his ability after not playing more then a few games the last two years but when he’s on the field if you put his play in a bubble he’s a day 2 pick at linebacker with the ability to lead a defence from the MLB role, some nice lateral speed, and good coverage ability. If the Lions bury him down in their depth chart for a season and just let him come back from all the injuries he could turn into an absolute steal very late on draft day.
Condensed List of Picks
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