How One Pick Spoiled A Solid Lions Draft Class
By Scott McMahon
The 2014 NFL Draft has come and gone, and all 32 teams have moved one step closer to filling their most glaring needs for the upcoming season. The Lions entered last week’s festivities in relatively good shape, and although they picked among the top 10, Jim Caldwell’s staff had the luxury of being able to shop for depth rather than necessity.
With that in mind, the Lions still had some holes that they needed to fill, most notably in the secondary. After seven rounds and eight total picks, the Lions added four defensive players, three on offense, and one on special teams. I was happy to see a more defensive-minded draft overall, but did the Lions’ eight picks address the Lions’ biggest needs?
Round 1, Pick 10: TE Eric Ebron
I wrote a little bit more about this on Saturday, but to put it briefly, this pick infuriated me. How many receivers does Matthew Stafford need, and how many tight ends do the Lions need? Ebron has plenty of talent and should add another dimension to an already strong offense, but the Lions offense would have been just fine this season without him.
By taking Ebron, the Lions ignored their massive need of a shutdown cornerback, which I saw in Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard, whom the Bengals took at pick 24. I wish nothing but the best of luck to Ebron during his time in Detroit, but I really think the Lions missed with this pick.
Round 2, Pick 40: OLB Kyle Van Noy
Van Noy looks like the fans’ most popular pick, as the Lions traded up a few spots to nab the physical linebacker from Brigham Young. Van Noy should add another playmaker to a solid front seven, which includes his college teammate Ziggy Ansah. The Lions have much room to improve on their pass rush, especially in the sack department, and Van Noy showed tremendous potential in reaching the quarterback.
Add in the fact that veterans DeAndre Levy, Stephen Tulloch, and Ashlee Palmer will be available to teach the young linebacker, and Van Noy is in great position to succeed in Detroit.
Round 3, Pick 76: C Travis Swanson
Swanson was another popular pick, as the third-rounder from Arkansas looks to be the heir-apparent to 35-year-old Dominic Raiola. Swanson played in 50 games throughout his college career, and brings an eager attitude to Detroit. Swanson will also have the luxury of learning first-hand from Raiola, and picking the brain of one of the best centers in the league from 2013.
Another plus for Swanson is that he is able to play other positions on the line, and could be plugged in at guard if necessary. The Swanson pick brings in a capable center who should thrive under the tutelage of the Lions veterans and coaching staff.
Round 4, Pick 133: CB Nevin Lawson
Sadly, 132 were selected before the Lions took their first cornerback of the draft. In my mind, the Lions needed defensive backs the most, but GM Martin Mayhew and the Lions staff clearly felt otherwise.
All of this is not a knock on Lawson, who started all four years at Utah State and was a two-time All-MWC corner. Lawson also intercepted four passes and broke up 13 more in 2013.
His biggest downsides: Lawson did his work in a non-power conference, and his 5’9” stature may inhibit him against larger NFL receivers. He’s not expected to be a #1 cornerback anytime soon, but should be able to contribute immediately.
Round 4, Pick 136: DE Larry Webster
Webster is an interesting prospect for the Lions—some list the Bloomsburg product as a tight end, while others classify him as a defensive end. Wherever the Lions decide to use him, he will add depth to either position. I would imagine that Webster would start at the defensive end position, where the Lions are coming off of the losses of both Willie Young and Israel Idonije.
Even more interesting is Webster’s story—he played basketball at Bloomsburg for four years, and then decided to join the football team in his final year of eligibility. In his only season, Webster compiled 13.5 sacks and 15 tackles for loss, which clearly caught the Lions’ eyes.
His 6’6” frame lends itself well to either the defensive end or tight end position, although he will have to further transition his body from basketball to football.
Round 5, Pick 158: DT Caraun Reid
Reid was a monster presence in the middle of the Princeton defensive line during his three-year career, collecting 20 sacks and earning All-American honors twice. Reid is smart on and off the field, has strong moves to get to the quarterback, and has shown a proven ability to stuff the run. The biggest question will be whether or not those skills can translate to the bigger and more physical NFL.
As most fifth round picks go, Reid will provide depth to a defensive line that ranked among the highest in the NFL in rush defense. Reid will certainly use Pro Bowler Ndamukong Suh to his disposal, and could see some playing time in the foreseeable future if he pans out.
Round 6, Pick 189: WR T.J. Jones
Jones starred at Notre Dame as the Irish’s #1 receiver last season, claiming the Fighting Irish team MVP award in 2013 with 70 receptions for 1,108 yards and nine touchdowns. Jones will bring an above-average set of hands to a team that struggled mightily with drops in 2013, and will give the Lions even more depth on offense.
Many analysts considered Jones a steal in the sixth round, considering his value to a good team and the pro-level coaching he played under at Notre Dame. Jones will team up with former teammates Golden Tate and Theo Riddick in Detroit, and should have a good chance to learn from a Super Bowl champion (not to mention Calvin Johnson). I see a lot of upside in Jones if he can work his way into the rotation.
Round 7, Pick 229: K Nate Freese
Lions kicker David Akers is 39 years old, and will likely retire in the very near future. With a seventh round pick, why not go after a kicker in hopes that he can turn into a long-term investment?
Freese kicked extremely well at Boston College, connecting on 86.4% of his kicks throughout his career with the Golden Eagles, with a long of 52 yards. Freese also handled kickoffs at BC, and will surely have the capability to do so if the Lions ever need him to.
On the whole, the Lions drafted good players that should fit well with the team. However, my biggest problem with the front office’s strategy was their lack of attention toward the defense’s biggest need. Mayhew believes that the defense is fine, which showed in his decision-making, but even if it was “fine,” it certainly wasn’t good enough to only draft one defensive back. The selection of Ebron at #10 was also questionable, and in my opinion ruined an otherwise decent draft.
With their other seven picks, the Lions added some promising depth, a good-looking starting outside linebacker, and a few potential diamonds in the rough. I would have been much happier with this strategy had the first rounder been spent on improving the weakest part of the team—the secondary.