On the Third day of draftmas, Ash Thompson gave to thee,
Defenders for each round in threes.
The 2020 Detroit Lions defense was the worst in the NFL in 2020. If it was not for losing their entire wide receiver corps in free agency, it would be an easy sell for them to use their entire draft on defensive players. They have spots without guaranteed starters on the line, in the linebacker group, and in the secondary. That is a tall order for Brad Holmes to fill in a single draft in which he has only six picks.
So what I’ll be doing today is going over three players in each round that the Lions should be seriously considering with their draft selections
Round One: Let’s Make an Impact
Patrick Surtain II is the best defensive player in this draft that doesn’t need back surgery every second year. He is an immediate long-term upgrade to the Lions corner group who might step in and start from day one. There is a possibility that the Lions are set at corner long term, Amani Oruwariye may be a starting corner in the NFL. We just don’t know, and losing a good one because you have three is always better than extending a bad one because you don’t have another choice. Surtain also has a lot of buzz as a possible mover to the safety spot, but I don’t believe in drafting players in the top ten with the intent of changing their position. Surtain is the only defensive player in the draft that the Lions should be considering at seven.
Zaven Collins is the best linebacker in the draft. End of sentence. If you want a player who can stack guards, blitz, come off the edge, or drop in coverage and run with 90% of tight ends, you want Zaven Collins. With the proliferation of nickel defenses as base defenses, the versatility of the linebackers who do play on the fields paramount. Collins isn’t a jack of all trades and master of none. He has the one ring to rule them all. If the Lions were going to pick a linebacker in round one, the one that can actually play linebacker well, not the athlete with questionable instincts and terrible coverage technique, should be the choice. Neither should be on the table at 7, but in a trade-back out of the top-ten, Zaven Collins is a dude.
Jaelan Phillips is the best pass rusher in this class. The only reason he hasn’t been in the top ten conversation in this draft is his medical history. I am not saying the Lions should take Phillips at seven, but they definitely should be intimately acquainted with Phillips’ medical record. he has the size, length, and athleticism to be a top-tier edge defender in the NFL. Whether they want him to stand up or play with his hand in the dirt, Phillips is capable. No media member has access to the only thing that matters about Phillips, but teams do. If his the medical side of this equation checks out, this is an immediate impact player that lets the Lions move on from Trey Flowers really bad contract a year from now.
Round Two: Let’s Get a Starter
Cameron McGrone can start for the Lions if Jarred Davis is the template for what Dan Campbell wants at linebacker. Have you ever seen them in the same room? they might be the same person. McGrone is a great blitzer who thrives with simple responsibilities. in coverage, you don’t want him responsible for too much space in a zone defense, and you don’t want running backs to get a two-way go. That should sound familiar to Lions fans. However, when he’s moving forward he is a 1920s dust storm ruining the best-laid plans of mice and men. McGrone isn’t tall, but his wingspan is 6’5″ and his speed is impressive. If he was taller and had not been prevented from testing by ACL surgery he would likely be getting buzz for round one with the lack of top-tier defensive prospects in this draft. The team that overlooks his 6′ stature will be getting a heck of a player.
Richie Grant is a day one starter in the NFL, and the lack of hype surrounding him is ridiculous to me. He gets the ball back from the offense. He’s got the size to play the position, if not any extra. He does miss the occasional tackle when he takes a bad line to the ball. In the Lions defense, he would form a deadly cover-two shell with Tracy Walker, and he’s capable of dropping down to the box in other coverage schemes, unlike Walker.
Jamar Johnson is the player that Bob Quinn somehow thought Will Harris was. He can play half the field in a cover two, take the strong safety role in cover three, or drop down and handle a big slot when asked. He also has a history of quality turnover generation with six interceptions in the last two seasons. He makes plays, and hot damn the Lions need players that can do that. He’s a day one starter in the NFL.
Round Three: Let’s Get a Starter for Next Year
Milton Williams is a 6’4″ 284lb defensive lineman who can play the three-technique on passing downs while he packs on a few lbs to take the role next year after Nick Williams heads to free agency. He is a very good run defender with a quick first step to fire through a gap and cause problems for an offense. He’s a little light to take on the job full time, but after a year of NFL strength and conditioning, he could be a heck of a player.
Pete Werner is ready to start at middle linebacker for an NFL team. Baron Browning is getting all the hype, but Werner got more playing time at Ohio State. At 6’3″ 238lbs with 4.58 speed, Werner is a very good modern linebacker prospect, but he needs to build up some lower body strength. He’s agile, but in order to take the MLB job full time, he needs to get a bit stronger at the point of attack.
Benjamin St-Juste is a tall, long corner with press man abilities. I look at St-Juste in a similar light as I did Amani Oruwariye two years ago. I love the athletic upside. He has the physical tools to be great. but he’s not great yet. He needs to have a simple job and help over the top right now. Luckily that’s likely to be exactly what the Lions are doing in coverage moving forward.
Round Four: Let’s Get a Situational Contributor
Chazz Surat is a former quarterback, and that’s something I love in a linebacker. He does kind of play linebacker like a former quarterback though. He’s athletic, physical, and smart, but he’s really raw. He is immediately a potential nickel contributor, and a very likely candidate to step into Jamie Collins spot as the run and hit linebacker who isn’t in charge of getting things lined up. He may even be able to take the MLB role on in a couple years with good coaching. Surat is a moldable piece of clay that I’d like to see in a Lions uniform.
Patrick Jones II isn’t big or long. He also tweaked his hamstring running at his pro day and clocked a 4.8 40. That is not what you see on tape, and watching him run it’s pretty obvious when he did it. He’s a pretty good athlete on the edge, but Pitt didn’t have him standing up or dropping into coverage. He can be a part of the team’s pass rush rotation and perhaps become more over time. his footwork when he’s doing anything but bursting forward off the line is terrible.
Devine Diablo is a converted wide receiver. He’s not the greatest athlete, and his future is likely as a nickel linebacker in the NFL. at 6’3″ 226, when you look at what he did on tape, he projects extremely well into that role. If he is given a role where he doesn’t have to directly take on offensive linemen he can thrive in underneath coverage with help over the top. He likely starts as a special teamer with a few packages on defense to deal with dangerous tight ends. He’s the kind of defensive player you would deploy to handle Kyle Pitts. He only gives un 2″ and 20lbs.
Round Five: Can He Play Special Teams at Least?
Ar’Darius Washington is small and slow, but he’s a good football player. If he wasn’t 5’8″ 175lbs and he didn’t run a 4.61 40 yard dash at his pro day, he would be in the conversation for a second-round pick. He came out early as a redshirt Sophomore. which is understandable, because he’s not likely to grow three inches next year, and that’s about what would be required to elevate his draft position. He is likely to be a special teams contributor for a long time, but may never develop into much else. It’s just really difficult for a player to overcome a size and athleticism deficiency. Day three picks have a 25% chance of being on the team that drafted them to start their fourth season. Watching Washington play football it’s hard not to think he’s got a better chance than most.
Isaiah McDuffie is an undersized linebacker who may develop into a passing down contributor at the NFL level. He bulked way up to 227 for his pro day and still put up solid workout numbers, drawing comparisons to Bills linebacker Matt Milano. he is a decent-sized fast linebacker, which would give him a lot of opportunities to contribute on special teams. He is a linear player, and the Lions are moving to a point-and-click defensive style that should favor guys that can just run to their assignment.
Shaun Wade is a day one starting nickel corner who got hung out to dry on the outside by his coaches as a senior. If this guy actually falls this far, the team that gets him is going to be a very happy one. He was expected to fill Jeff Okudah’s shoes and was absolutely not able to do it. However, given the nickel duties that he excelled in, Wade is a pro-ready prospect.
Round Six: Can We Stash Him on the Practice Squad?
Tarron Jackson played defensive end for Coastal Carolina in the Sun Belt. he’s a guy who plays through blocks, not around them. He’s strong against the run and quick enough to get around the edge. We’re talking about round six here, but if you told me that Jackson turned into Romeo Okwara a couple of years from now I’d believe you. He played at a lower level of competition in college, but he beat the men in front of him and that’s all you can really ask of a player. With coaching, there could be a solid player here.
Jalen Twyman may be the best gap-shooting defensive tackle among the day three prospects. He’s only 6’2″ and that will turn a lot of teams off. He is a bit of a one-move pass rusher at this point, but most college rushers are when that move works. He is not as long as you’d like, but he’s good. Brad Holmes has a history of not being all that concerned about a player’s length on the interior if they’re quick.
Shemar Jean-Charles is a corner out of Appalachian State. At the NFL level, he’s going to move into the slot, and he’s a violent-handed press corner. He contests catches, which is something I love. He doesn’t have the length you’d prefer a guy who plays like he does to have, but his tenacity speaks well of his potential to develop while he helps out on special teams.
Round Seven: There’s Something There
Damar Hamlin is my favorite day three safety He is an every-down player, if by that you mean he’s equally capable in the box, and in half field deep coverage. He is also an average-sized player, but boy does he tackle well. He’s fundamentally sound, but not supremely athletically gifted. He contests balls well when he gets there, but the main reason I like this guy is that I think he will destroy the league on special teams while he finds his role on defense.
Rashad Weaver is an edge player who needs to get stronger than he was at Pitt to thrive in the NFL. He’s not a bursty player on the edge, and his likely best role is the 5 technique role that Trey Flowers has been playing. Power over speed, go through the blocker not around. With that said he was coming back from a knee injury that cost him the entire 2019 season in 2020. He was still productive, and there might be more he has to offer as he gets healthier.
Rachad Wildgoose Jr. made a mistake entering the NFL early. He just doesn’t have enough tape to watch, but what you can find on him is promising enough to risk a seventh-round pick on. He was looking good for two games in 2020 before he hurt his shoulder. He finds the ball in run support. I would be very curious to find out why he declared for the draft, but his quick feet lead me to believe he’s got a shot. It’s the seventh round and he has an awesome name. Sue me.
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