Detroit Lions 2016 Draft Overview: Inside 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:

Inside Linebacker

The biggest question mark on the roster right now for the Detroit Lions is with Stephen Tulloch. In February, reports said that the Lions would cut the starting inside linebacker, he even went as far as thanking the city of Detroit on social media. They day came to start cutting players, and Tulloch was still on the roster. Rumors said he was retiring and we were giving him the $500,000 bonus as a thank you and he would retire, others say Detroit is trying to trade him. Nobody really knows what will happen with Tulloch, but we do know we are lacking depth at the inside linebacker position. Josh Bynes will take over for Tulloch if he leaves, but behind Bynes there are just outside linebackers who would have to play inside if needed. Detroit can look at this draft to address a possible backup option, but how early or late will they look for another addition to the roster? Let’s take a look at what could go down in the draft at the position and imagine Tulloch is off the team.

Draft Overview: Inside Linebacker Options

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1. Reggie Ragland – Alabama

Ragland is the best inside linebacker in this draft, and the only player at the position that should be taken in the first two rounds. Ragland is a true inside linebacker. He can blitz if needed and can cover as well. When he blitzes, he can find the holes and gash right through to the quarterback. His zone coverage skills are there and he has some strength in him. He has good field vision and knows where the play is happening. While he has zone coverage skills, his man cover skills are restricted as short routes seem to be alright for him, but going deep on Ragland will work a lot better. His speed is something to be worried about, scouts saying he looked sluggish at his pro day. He tends to take on linemen head-on, instead of using his hands and arms to punch and push them away, which won’t work in the NFL. Ragland does take chances and showed in his college career how he is willing to go downhill and get to the ball carrier. He can also knock some guys silly with his huge hit power. He ended with 220 tackles, 17.5 for loss, four sacks, one interception, 10 pass deflections, three fumble recoveries and four forced fumbles in his career at Alabama.

Ragland in the first round is a bit of a reach for Detroit, but he will be gone by their pick in the second. Trading back and taking him would be the best option if the front office likes Ragland. He could compete with Bynes to be a starter, and also be a valuable backup.

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2. Scooby Wright III – Arizona

A player with an injury history, something I tend to avoid, but this guy is too good to not have on this list. Wright did suffer a torn lateral meniscus in his left knee and a sprained right foot. While those injuries aren’t like an ACL/MCL tear, they are still something to watch. Wright knows what the play is and he tries his best to disrupt it. He is always moving, ready to attack and get to the ball carrier. His zone coverage skills are good and he forces running backs to change their direction on run plays. His timing on blitzes is impressive as well. While he can time blitzes well, he can get a little jumpy and get called offside. His strength and wrapping up tackles are issues that need to be addressed. At times, he tends to slide and go for the legs of the ball carrier, completely missing and giving the offense one less player to worry about. He is a productive player who can contribute by getting tackles, sacks or forcing fumbles. When he gets a good tackle in, he explodes with his hips and just nails the ball carrier. He can beat blockers by just getting underneath the arms and running right by. His career at Arizona is impressive, just imagine what he could have done with a full season in 2015 – he ended with 270 tackles, 43,5 for loss, 17 sacks, one interception, one pass deflection, one fumble recovery and five forced fumbles.

Wright III is a third round pick. Detroit should look at his injuries and see if they have affected his ability. He needs to work on his tackling, but hitting the gym shouldn’t be a problem for him. He could contribute and do what is asked by the coaches, maybe fight for the starting job against Bynes.

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3. Joshua Perry – Ohio State

Tackling isn’t an issue for Perry. Once he has you in his hands, there is no letting go. Perry is a strong player who can lock up the ball carrier and rarely allows a missed tackle to happen. Zone coverage skills are adequate. When it comes to man coverage, that is his kryptonite. He does get too engaged in the blocking and just battling him that he loses focus of the ball and the play. He also allows people to get underneath his frame and lock him up. Perry doesn’t quit though, if he gets locked up one play, the next he is going to try harder and make sure he can have an impact on the play. Will give 100 percent effort until the clock strikes zero. Screens and wide runs are his bread and butter, as he can sniff them out and make the play impossible for a gain. Perry finished with 296 tackles, 18 for loss, seven and a half sacks, one interception, eight pass deflections and a forced fumble.

Perry is another third round pick. He would be best for screens and blitzing packages, but his coverage skills need to improve if he wants to become a starter.

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4. Nick Vigil – Utah State

When I broke down outside linebackers, I talked about his teammate Kyler Fackrell, but now Vigil is getting all the attention. Vigil has the speed to get around blockers and flatten the quarterback. He wraps up the ball carrier too, so have fun fighting for extra yards against him. His coverage both zone and man are well and he can blitz too when needed. Being a former running back, he knows where the holes are and how to get through them quickly. With his good vision, he can tell which way the play is going. While he isn’t a short player, he can get creamed against tackles at times who have the size advantage on him. When he is trying to get to the ball carrier, he tends to bounce around in the traffic to him, making him useless. When he has the angle of some players, he might not be able to finish the play and get beat. He is a tough player when going through the middle, giving it his all against the line. His tackling form is a positive too as he goes from the chest up instead of going low like other players have started doing. Vigil was the like the Scooby Wright of the Mountain West, contributing on all cylinders, ending with 339 tackles, 40 for loss, 17.5 sacks, two interceptions, five pass deflections, two fumble recoveries and six forced fumbles.

Vigil is the final third round option for Detroit. They have three great options to take in this round, so it is good to have many options for Detroit, as it’s a postion in need of attention. Vigil, like Wright, can contribute day one and can do many things for this team. Like Fackrell, he could be a steal in this draft.

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5. Josh Forrest – Kentucky

Talk about speed. Forrest can catch up to running backs who bust to the outside and he can cut off the angle. His zone coverage is good and his tackling skills are impressive. Unlike Wright, when Forrest goes low and uses his arms, he can make the tackle. He can change directions to make it harder for the play to unfold. Man coverage for Forrest though is horrible. Tight ends who are physical can just blow Forrest away, as he needs to build his lower half. Seems to take some plays off and doesn’t appear to give his full effort all the time. Play-action and redirection plays fool him easily. Forrest can use his quick feet and hands to side-step blockers. He is a good blitzing inside linebacker who can make the tight fits and disrupt play. Forrest ended with 232 tackles, 16 for loss, four and a half sacks, five interceptions (one returned for a touchdown), seven pass deflections, and two forced fumbles.

Forrest is a fourth round pick for Detroit. He would be a backup instantly with his man coverage skills being weak and him taking off plays is something to watch out for. He can’t take off plays if he doesn’t play much.

There you have it, another installment of the draft overview series. Next I will be looking at cornerback. 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.