The Ole’ Mock Draft Switcheroo
We’re just one week away from the draft and things are really starting to heat up. In the past week, both the first and second overall selections have been traded. Yesterday, Josh Norman was released from his franchise tag. A lot of crazy stuff is going on, and I love it. As I wrote in my column yesterday, it had been difficult to predict what the Lions were going to do. The Browns-Eagles trade offered some clarity, so time is of the essence to unleash the second edition of my seven round mock.
ROUND 1, PICK 16 (16)
In last week’s column, I wrote briefly about some of the potential implications of the Rams-Titans blockbuster. One of the things I talked about was how it affected the draft stock of Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch. Lynch, who had been mocked by many analysts to Los Angeles at no. 15, is now likely to still be on the board when Detroit is on the clock. I speculated that this could open up a trade avenue for the Lions. The Bills’ and Jets’ quarterback situations will lead them to strongly consider Lynch at 19th and 20th overall, respectively. Consequently, the Broncos, who would be rolling out Mark Sanchez if the season kicked off today, could be forced to trade up if they want to snag Lynch. As NFL.com’s Chad Reuter noted, Lynch is a “similar prospect to Denver’s former ‘starter of the future’ Osweiler.” It’s a natural fit.
All the elements are here for a trade. The defending Super Bowl champions have very few real needs – with quarterback being their biggest – but a decent amount of draft picks. The Lions, on the other hand, have a lot of needs and find themselves in a precarious draft position once again. This move allows. Rather than reach on somebody midway through the first, they move back to the end of the first and pick up an extra second-round pick, as well as a seventh. In addition to the 16th overall pick, Detroit sends a fifth- and sixth-rounder to Denver.
According to Chase Stuart’s Draft Value Index, this is close to a perfect trade, with a very slight edge going to the Lions. It’s also practical. This move allows the Broncos to take their quarterback of the future, and gives the Lions. more early round selections with which to take starting-caliber players.
Lions receive: 31st overall pick, 63rd overall pick, 228th overall pick
Broncos receive: 16th overall pick, 151st overall pick, 191st overall pick
ROUND 1, PICK 31 (31) [acquired from DEN via trade]
OT Jason Spriggs, Indiana
It’s no secret that the Lions have been dismal up front on offense. In the past two seasons, the offensive line has given up 89 sacks. In 2014, the Detroit rushing attack ranked 28th in the league; in 2015, it was dead last. Something has to give, and the Lions will take an offensive lineman in the first round for the second year in a row.
Jason Spriggs turned a lot of heads at the combine, boosting his draft stock considerably. He was a third or fourth round pick prior to his showing in Indy, but now he’s likely going to be a late first or early second round selection. He’s athletic enough to play in the league, albeit a bit unpolished. He’s not an elite run-blocker, but a a year in an NFL strength and conditioning program could help in that regard.
Where Spriggs excels is pass protection. He has good length, active hands, and excellent lateral quickness. The Lions offense has been pass-happy in recent years, and there’s no reason that should change this year. For these reasons, Spriggs can step in and immediately own the left tackle spot in Detroit’s offense. Not only does this improve the blindside spot, but it affords Jim Caldwell the ability to rotate Riley Reiff over to right tackle, which is his more natural spot. This pick would upgrade two positions in one move, and would go a long ways toward keeping Stafford upright.
ROUND 2, PICK 15 (45)
DT Vernon Butler, Louisiana Tech
Despite returning Haloti Ngata and Tyrunn Walker, the future of the interior defensive line is still very much up in the air. Ngata is 32 years old and is well past his prime, and Walker is only on a one-year deal after suffering a gruesome injury. Caraun Reid, Stefan Charles, and Gabe Wright have been little more than role players at this point in their respective careers, so they’re still question marks. It makes sense to invest in a defensive tackle in what is perhaps the deepest draft ever at the position.
Vernon Butler is one of the better defensive tackles available, and he should still be available midway through the second. He’s somebody the Lions have really had their eye on, and it’s not hard to see why. He’s a monstrous presence inside and he has the explosiveness to disrupt plays before they get started.
In Teryl Austin’s defensive scheme, the tackles are asked to occupy blocks and keep the linebackers clean to make plays. At 6’5″, 323 lbs, Butler can do just that, while also being athletic enough to be a playmaker in his own regard. He can take over the role of nose tackle in Detroit’s defense once Haloti Ngata is gone, which could be sooner rather than later.
ROUND 2, PICK 32 (63)
SS Jeremy Cash, Duke
After offensive tackle and defensive tackle, the strong safety spot might be the biggest question mark on Detroit’s roster. Isa Abdul-Quddus hit free agency and signed with the Dolphins, and James Ihedigbo won’t be returning to the Lions in 2016. Rafael Bush and Tavon Wilson were brought in via free agency, but it doesn’t seem safe to expect either to be an impact player going into the season.
Detroit needs a strong safety that can step up into the box and provide support against the run. Jeremy Cash can be that guy. He racked up 326 tackles over the past three seasons at the college level. In 2015, he recorded 98 tackles, 34 of which came within two yards or less of the line of scrimmage.
He’s somewhat limited in coverage, but he’s a good fit in Detroit’s system because of how often the strong safety is asked to defend the run. The Lions often operate out of a nickel as a second base defense, and Cash would be perfect for the sub package. He would represent an upgrade in coverage over a third linebacker, while also providing more-than-adequate run support against 3WR sets.
ROUND 3, PICK 33 (95)
DE Matt Judon, Grand Valley State
Devin Taylor saw significant action in fifteen games in 2015, posting seven sacks and 35 tackles as a rotational piece. With the departure of Jason Jones, Taylor looks to see his role increase even more. However, there’s very little depth at either defensive end position, and there’s no guarantee Taylor will own the starting role.
Matt Judon led all college defenders with 20 sacks in 2015, and also logged 23.5 TFLs and 81 tackles. While he did post these stats against D-II competition, Judon has the athleticism to play the position at the NFL level. He recorded a top five 40-yard dash time (4.73) and a top five bench press (30 reps). While he won’t be nearly as dominant in the NFL as he was in college, his physical skillset will translate to the pros.
Judon is unlikely to be a day-one starter, but he’s an intriguing prospect with developmental qualities, and he can contribute along the line and provide depth immediately. Caldwell and Austin have done a great job with Ezekiel Ansah the past two seasons, so they could teach Judon accordingly. While he isn’t the caliber of athlete that Ziggy is, and doesn’t have the same ceiling, the precedent is there for Judon to grow.
ROUND 4, PICK 13 (111)
C Jack Allen, Michigan State
Travis Swanson was, quite frankly, dismal in his first full season as the Lions’ center. There’s no guarantee he can be the long-term answer at center, so it would be wise for Detroit to bring in some competition for him.
Jack Allen was a two-time All-American at Michigan State. Scouts have questions about his size (6’1″, 294 lbs), but his toughness and tenacity are unmatched among his peers in this class. As a former wrestler, he makes very good use of his hands and is a grinder in the middle. Several teams’ personnel have also remarked about his natural leadership ability, and view him as a plus in any locker room he walks into. Quinn has made instituting a winning culture a point of emphasis.
Allen has the competitive streak to give Swanson a run for his money, and the skillset to earn the starting job. If the Lions are worried about reliving the Dominic Raiola years, it would make a lot of sense to keep Allen in-state.
ROUND 5, PICK 30 (169)
WR Jay Lee, Baylor
With the retirement of Calvin Johnson, the Lions are going to need help at receiver, even with the addition of Marvin Jones. However, with Pro Bowler Golden Tate on the roster, the arrival of Jones, and the emergence of Theo Riddick, I’m not sure they need an immediate impact talent. With their many late round picks, I think they’ll go with a project instead.
Enter Jay Lee, the other Baylor receiver. Lee is a size-speed prospect who wasn’t asked to be a polished wideout in Art Briles’ prolific offense. He has issues with his catching technique and didn’t have to run a very diverse route tree, but all the physical qualities are there. He’s very sudden in and out of his breaks and has the traits to be a playmaker after the catch.
With Tate being a really good slot receiver, I see the Lions as needing an outside guy rather than another slot target, especially with the addition of Jeremy Kerley. I don’t see Lee as being the next Megatron, not by a long shot, but he has the tools to become a productive receiver in a Detroit offense with a lot of weapons.
ROUND 6, PICK 27 (202)
DT Luther Maddy, Virginia Tech
For reasons discussed earlier, I think the Lions have a vested interest in continuing to build defensive tackle depth. After having taken a nose tackle earlier in this mock (Vernon Butler), I think adding a penetrating three-technique is a logical move.
At 6’0″, 287 lbs, Maddy is a bit undersized for a defensive tackle, but he’s extremely active and is a great fit for what Teryl Austin does in Detroit. In 2015, the Lions were the number one team at applying pressure on stunt plays, and the quick Maddy could do just that. He’s got great lateral quickness and is explosive coming off the ball.
Devin Taylor was moved inside on obvious passing downs last season, and Maddy could see action as a rotational interior pass-rusher. Stefan Charles, Caraun Reid, and Gabe Wright aren’t ideally suited to apply pressure with their bulk, and will likely see more work on running downs. Maddy could be paired with Tyrunn Walker in passing situations to get after opposing quarterbacks.
ROUND 6, PICK 35 (210)
RB Darius Jackson, Eastern Michigan
It might seem odd with Detroit’s crowded backfield that they would take a running back, but it’s not that weird if you think about it. Ridley is on a one-year deal, Riddick is set to be a free agent, and Zenner is unproven and coming off of an injury. The only player who’s (contractually) guaranteed to be on the roster in 2017 is Ameer Abdullah.
Lions personnel visited the Eastern Michigan pro day, and reportedly came away very impressed with Darius Jackson. They watched film with him thereafter, and even spent one of their thirty official draft visits on him. The interest is certainly there. It’s easy to see why. He had insane measurables at his pro day. His numbers: a 41″ vertical, a 4.35 40 time, a 133″ broad jump, a 4.29 three cone drill, a 6.87 shuttle, and 20 reps on the bench press. For comparison’s sake, Ezekiel Elliott, the no. 1 RB in the draft, ran a 4.47, broad jumped 118″, and posted a vertical leap of 32.5″. Jackson is crazy athletic.
Athleticism, as we know, doesn’t always translate to on-field success, and Jackson faced relatively paltry competition at a weak Eastern Michigan program. However, against LSU in 2015, he ran for 88 yards and a TD, despite his team being vastly overmatched. Still, he doesn’t have to contribute immediately, and a sixth round flier on somebody with his measurables is worth it.
ROUND 7, PICK 7 (228)
QB Cody Kessler, USC
Bob Quinn has made it very apparent that he intends to go after a quarterback this draft. He called it “good football business” to take a young quarterback every few years, something the Lions haven’t done since taking Stafford first overall in 2009.
Cody Kessler is one of two quarterbacks – the other being Stanford’s Kevin Hogan – that Quinn has spent an official visit on. A three-year starter at USC, nothing about Kessler immediately stands out. At 6’1″, he’s kind of short for a quarterback and he doesn’t have a huge arm. He’s not particularly fast, either. However, Kessler was very efficient during his time as a Trojan. He owns the school record for career completion percentage at 67.5%, which, despite their recent struggles, speaks volumes.
Unlike Stafford, Kessler doesn’t take a whole lot of risks. His TD-to-INT ratio the past two seasons was 68-12. Even if he’s not a transcendent talent, he’s a proven game manager. If nothing else, a backup just needs to make as few mistakes as possible. Should Stafford go down, Kessler would be more than capable of that.
ROUND 7, PICK 15 (236)
FB Dan Vitale, Northwestern
Just having drafted Michael Burton out of Rutgers last season, it might not make sense to take a fullback. However, Dan Vitale was much more than that for the Wildcats. He played a position called the “superback,” which required him to lineup behind center, as an h-back, as an inline tight-end, and in the slot.
Bob Quinn values depth and versatility, and that’s something Vitale can provide. He’s a plus route-runner, a capable run blocker, and he’s fairly athletic, too. With as many pistol and two-tight end sets the Lions use, they could find a role for him in the offense, especially after Pettigrew leaves, which could be soon.