Detroit Lions 2016 Draft Overview: Outside Linebacker

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In the Draft Overview series, I’ll be looking at five college players that might get drafted by Detroit position-by-position, breaking down the positives and negatives of each player and projecting if Detroit were to take them, which round they would be taken in. The position I am looking at today is:

Outside Linebacker

The Detroit Lions were missing a big piece last year at outside linebacker with DeAndre Levy having a hip injury that would cause him to miss most of last season. We still don’t know about the entire Stephen Tulloch situation, which does affect who will be moving from outside linebacker to inside linebacker. The players who could move to the middle/inside position from the outside linebacker position are Josh Bynes and Tahir Whitehead. For this scenario, let’s say that Tulloch is finally gone, and Bynes is the new starting middle linebacker and Whitehead stays at outside linebacker. Detroit still doesn’t have any depth behind Levy and Whitehead. Kyle Van Noy missed his entire rookie season in 2013, and has only played in 23 of the 33 possible games the past two years. He needs a pick year this season or else he could be heading out the door. Besides Van Noy, Detroit has Brandon Copeland (who mostly plays special teams), Jerry Franklin and Khaseem Greene at the outside linebacker position. Detroit will need to take a linebacker for depth purposes and for our future. This upcoming class is a strong class, but the majority of all stars will be taken within the first two rounds, with some others could be great players, lingering into the fourth round. Let’s take a look at who Detroit could take!

Draft Overview: Outside Linebacker Options

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1. Darron Lee – Ohio State

Lee is a versatile linebacker. He can lineup and play defensive end if needed and he can use a good burst of speed to get around the tackle and disrupt the play. He can find out where the run play is going and he has a sense of where the pass may go as well. He finds his way to the ball carrier the quickest way possible. When engaging from the outside to the middle of the offensive line on blitzes, he gets swallowed up and contained. He had 21 missed tackles and five broken tackles last year, so he needs to improving on his tackling skills and increase his strength. Coverage skills for zone could improve; his man coverage skills though are impressive. If there is a hole for him to squeeze through, Lee will shimmy himself right in and get to the ball carrier. With loose hips and quick feet, he can get to the ball carrier quicker and easier. In only two years playing at Ohio State, Lee had 146 tackles, 27 for a loss, 11 sacks, five pass deflections, two fumble recoveries, three forced fumbles and three interceptions.

Lee in the first round would be a questionable, but a smart pick. The defensive tackle depth is deep, so we could still find a great player in the second. Detroit may not look at tackle with Geoff Schwartz on the team and they may feel comfortable at the middle linebacker position. The best outside linebackers will be gone by the second round, so why not snag one up before they are off the shelf? Lee wouldn’t start, but he would come out in certain packages and still contribute.

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2. Jaylon Smith – Notre Dame

How isn’t Jaylon Smith number one on this list? He’s the best ranked outside linebacker in this draft! Well, injuries have a huge impact on a incoming player. Detroit has taken the risk in drafting a player with ACL injuries (see Ryan Broyles) and it didn’t work out. The player isn’t what he once was. Smith is no doubt the best outside linebacker and overall linebacker in this draft, but tearing your ACL and MCL is a serious injury. According to multiple sources Smith may not even play in 2016. Now let’s look at what he has done and how he is as a player.

Smith is built and a strong player. His tackles are loud – you can hear the padding go against one another and you can see the force in the tackles he makes. He can change direction quickly while his hips are low. He can track the ball well and he can go from one side of the line to the other in order to stop the play from doing any damage. When he has the corner and can take down a running back, he turns his speed up to 11 and will race the back to the corner, and stop it dead in its tracks. Smith does have some problems with quick, elusive running backs though as a simple cut, juke, or spin can leave him on an island. Instead of attacking a play and helping out the team, he tends to wait for the play to come to him. He also tends to use his arms to help him tackle rather than getting himself into a better position that he doesn’t need to rely on his arms. When he takes on a blocker, he stays clean with his arms extending and he can throw a punch or two to get free. Man coverage is impressive and the zone play is good as well. Smith had a great career at Notre Dame, ending with 284 tackles, 23.5 for a loss, four and a half sacks, 10 pass deflections, three forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries.

A second round pick on Smith, while a huge risk for Detroit, seems the only chance to grab him. He would be available in the first – maybe – but a first round pick on a guy who will miss the entire season and may not come back as the same player he once was, is too big of a risk for Detroit to take when we are in win now mode. Taking him in the second is the only chance Detroit will get because I don’t believe he will fall inside the third round and below. The second round is still a high pick, but with another position already addressed, Detroit could gamble with Smith.

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3. Su’a Cravens – USC

Former safety turned outside linebacker, Su’a Cravens is a looking to make a future in the NFL. Cravens, unlike Smith, likes to get into the piles and doesn’t wait for the play to come to him. Has great hands and can hop off the wide receiver or fullback that is blocking him to make the tackle. He has good arm extension skills to make sure it is a clean engagement. When he is on the edge though, his length will hurt him and it will be tough to get around the tackle. Since he is a former safety, he will still need time to adjust on how to play the position. His man coverage skills are weak and when he goes to tackle he likes to dive than make the safe play and wrap up the player. If you give him the chance to snag that ball out of the air though, he will take it down with him. His zone coverage is well and he knows when he can blitz. While at USC, Cravens had 207 tackles, 34.5 for loss, 10.5 sacks, nine interceptions, 16 pass deflections, four forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.

Cravens is a second round pick. While he wouldn’t start, he could provide depth and can help at the safety position too if needed, which is another position Detroit needs some help in.

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4. Kyler Fackrell – Utah State

Talk about athleticism. Fackrell could be a steal if Detroit takes him. At 6 foot 5 inches, this guy has some speed and power to his game. He can get by either tackle on a blitz with his arms/hands he dips underneath the tackles and gets his arm over him and get to the quarterback. His attack is so strong, he often draws holding penalties. If he attacks from the outside to the middle, he can find the gap, break in and stop the play. His man and zone coverage skills are excellent. He suffered an ACL injury in 2014, costing him the entire season, but 2015 he came back and had his best season ever. If he gets stuffed on the line, his counter attack isn’t that great and is basically done on the play. Has trouble when he is redirected and he has balance issues. Fackrell’s arm extension has a good length, giving him the control the point of attack with his punches. Since he plays on such a high motor, his tackle radius is huge and he can wrap anyone up. His field awareness is also a positive, always knowing where the ball is going. Fackrell ended up with 253 tackles, 36 for loss, 13 sacks, four interceptions, one pass deflection, five fumble recoveries and four forced fumbles.

Fackrell is a third round pick, but taking him in the second wouldn’t be a bad idea for Detroit either. He is someone I would watch out for in this draft. He has the potential to be a great linebacker or even a defensive end. He seems to have recovered well from the ACL injury, something that is huge in my book.

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5. Kentrell Brothers – Missouri

Another possible steal in this draft is Kentrell Brothers. His vision is amazing as he can find the ball in an instant. He knows where to run to get to the ball carrier the quickest. Since his vision is so impressive he can go under or over the blocks, able to find the wrinkles and attack. Knows where the play is headed and is at the point of attack before the blockers can get there to stop him. He does have short arms and his lower half is stocky. Since his speed isn’t the best, he has to have crazy good instincts. Man coverage isn’t the worst, but when it comes to deep plays, he tends to lack in keeping up with the receiver. Zone coverage though by Brothers is good. Keeps his hands clean so no penalties are drawn. With his huge hands, he can finish the tackles with just his arms. Once he has you in his sights and in his grasp, there is no getting out of it, great tackler. He isn’t a fool with play-action plays, watches the quarterback to where the ball is going. Brothers ended with 357 tackles, 23.5 for loss, four and a half sacks, five interceptions, 11 pass deflections, and four forced fumbles.

Brothers is a solid third round pick. With his skills in making good tackles, having good zone coverage and able to find the weak points and attack the line, Brothers could have an impact on Detroit if given the chance.

There you have it, another installment of the draft overview series. Next I will be looking at inside linebacker. Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @BKnappBlogs, find me on Reddit at /u/sportsguy4life and leave me your thoughts in the Detroit Lions subreddit.

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About the Author

Brandon Knapp
Brandon Knapp is a senior at Central Michigan University, majoring in Journalism, minoring in Sports Management. He was born and raised in the city of Marysville, MI. He also writes for and covers the Michigan Wolverines Football team (his other love). Brandon also enjoys watching the Detroit Red Wings, Pistons and Tigers.