Which Lions Rookie Are You Most Excited For?
Bob Quinn had a very successful first draft as the Detroit Lions’ general manager. He added a lot of different pieces that contributed in a variety of different fashions last year. Players had an impact on both sides of the ball, and the rookies contributed at a level that exceeded even the most optimistic expectations. After last year, hopes are high for this incoming rookie class that includes a lot of new faces. Some players are sure to make an immediate impact. Some will see playing time as early as week one. We hope to see an equally robust return in 2017.
Throughout the draft process, we all found our favorite incoming players. Most of them went to other teams. Some even went to division rivals. For some of us, one of our favorite prospects, throughout the draft process, ended up a Detroit Lion. This is a look at the Lions rookie that the Detroit Lions Podcast’s writing staff is most excited for in the coming seasons.
I’ve warmed up to this Detroit Lions rookie class. For the NFL draft, I took a few days off work, and I went back to my parent’s house to watch the event away from distractions. After hundreds of hours of dedication to watching these players, for no other reason than my own education and the love of the game, I had predictably found my “draft crushes”. The guys that I was sure would be stars that everyone was overlooking. I had found the guys that I liked in every round. The Lions took none of them.
I like Jarrad Davis, but by the time our pick came around, I was fairly certain that is who we were taking. The novelty ran out before it even reached our pick. By the time we reached the fourth round, I was emotionally drained from the disappointment. It’s not that I didn’t like the Lions rookie picks. It was just that they hadn’t taken any of “my guys”. Then the Lions selected Michael Roberts.
Through all of the George Kittle talk, I was consistently lobbying (without an audience) for Michael Roberts. Everything that I watched on film of him was everything that we wanted to see out of a Lions rookie. He blocks well. He catches well. He is a big-bodied player that can help in the red-zone. Michael Roberts is a match made in heaven.
Beyond his individual impact, I am excited to see what his presence does for Eric Ebron. We don’t know how the Lions are going to deploy their personnel this year, but it seems as though Ebron will get his shot at being the player that he was drafted to be.
Jarrad Davis is the only “sure-fire” starter at this point, but beyond that, Michael Roberts brings the most impact to the Lions immediately. It doesn’t have to come in the form of production, but I think that his presence alone is going to allow the Lions to move their offense in a direction that they couldn’t previously.
Jalen Reeves-Maybin, the 124th overall selection out of Tennessee, is the pick that intrigues me the most. Having lived in Nashville, Tennessee during the 2016 college football season, I can personally attest to how exciting he is as a player. A lot of Volunteer fans were distraught when JRM went down with a season-ending shoulder injury just four games into their campaign, and understandably so. Heading into the year, he was talked about as a potential second-round pick moving forward, and he may have even improved his stock further had he not sustained the shoulder injury. So the talent is there, and the pick makes sense, too.
The decline, and subsequent release, of DeAndre Levy necessitated that Bob Quinn find a playmaking WILL for defensive coordinator Teryl Austin’s 4-3 scheme. Reeves-Maybin is a fast, instinctive weak-side linebacker with plus coverage ability. His skillset nicely fits both what the job in Detroit demands, and the direction in which the position is trending in today’s pass-happy league.
The question for Reeves-Maybin is whether his smaller frame – and his oft-ailing shoulder – can handle the rigors of NFL linebacking. If he can stay healthy, he’ll be looked at as a value pick for years to come. If not, he’ll go down as a gamble that didn’t pay off.
And speaking of gambling, my trifecta bet is on Reeves-Maybin (WILL), Jarrad Davis (MIKE), and Tahir Whitehead (SAM) to be the three starting linebackers heading into Week one. Reeves-Maybin doesn’t have the requisite strength and bulk to handle blocking tight ends on run down, so those duties will be delegated to the older, more physically imposing Whitehead. Reeves-Maybin will be called upon to play the role Levy was when he was healthy. His instincts and speed will allow him to avoid blocks in pursuit to the ball and make plays in zone coverage against the passing game. If he’s healthy for Week one, I think he’ll be yet another immediate impact rookie drafted by Bob Quinn.
Jarrad Davis is the rookie I am most excited to see this season. While Detroit did address the cornerback position, something I was high on, the need for a linebacker was greater and it seems that Detroit got the safest player at pick 21. Davis seems to be the future of the linebacking core for Detroit, and a long time leader of the group. While I am concerned about his injuries, it doesn’t have too much weight to it as other players in the draft.
Detroit needed some help at the position as DeAndre Levy was surprisingly released, leaving a huge gap in the position as Tahir Whitehead was the best player left in the group, and we know how many feel about him. Besides Whitehead, the Lions don’t have much talent behind him. Second-year player Antwione Williams isn’t ready to start in the NFL yet, Josh Bynes wasn’t re-signed, and free agent addition Paul Worrilow seems to be more of a depth piece than a starting linebacker.
Davis can bring a big help to a position Detroit struggled with all of 2016. Most of the problems were injuries, but when the backups were asked to step up and start, they didn’t do as well and it hurt the team. It gave opponents an easy target as the tight end and/or running back were the easiest passes to get completed.
Davis does have some good character traits, and we all know how Jim Caldwell likes guys with good character traits. He won’t cause problems in the locker room, or off the field. He will come to work hungry and ready to bring it all every day. Davis might not be on the all-rookie team, but he excites me the most overall because he brings the most help to the team and can turn the defense around.
While the number three tight end may not be exciting to a lot of people, Michael Roberts is a massive addition to the Lions’ roster that everyone should get fired up about. The 6’4 270 pound Toledo grad is a versatile inline tight end that can contribute both as a a blocker and a short yardage receiver day one.
One of the biggest flaws in Detroit’s offense last year was the lack of a run game, and while injuries certainly played a big role in that, poor blocking on the edges was the next leading contributor. Roberts will combine with veteran Darren Fells to offer a legitimate blocking presence for Detroit’s runners that will far surpass anything the Lions rolled out last season. He should also show off some versatility and slide into the H-back role with Michael Burton now having been released, allowing him to offer more rookie impact than previously anticipated.
On the other hand, in the passing game, with Anquan Boldin gone, a legitimate red-zone target needed to be found, and Roberts can offer that as well. His often talked about massive hands reeled in 16 touchdowns last year, and that trend should continue in Detroit. Expect him both inside the 20s and, as he develops further, as a safety outlet for Stafford, if options down the field are locked up.
While he will have a learning curve, as all young tight ends do, expect Michael Roberts to be a big impact piece under the radar for years to come in the Lions’ offense.