The LIONS made the Play-Offs with 10-Wins and but for a few less injuries, and a bit more talent at certain positions they might have been able to make a solid run at a Super Bowl appearance. Lots of teams could say the same thing, but those other teams weren’t setting a League record for futility by going 0-16 but a few years ago. The team has truly come a long way since the FORD family parted ways with MATT MILLEN, and turned most of the personnel matters, including the DRAFT, over to MARTIN MAYHEW. The 2011 DRAFT didn’t even yield much immediate help because of serious injuries to NICK FAIRLEY & MIKEL LESHOURE.
The 2012 LIONS DRAFT looks promising on paper. RILEY REIFF may be the most talented OL that the team has drafted in the past decade. Whether he takes over at LT or RT he almost certainly guarantees that MATTHEW STAFFORD will take less hits in the pocket starting now. He’s a good athlete and comes from the FERENTZ school of OL play, which means he’s fundamentally sound and tough already. He’s a great value at Pick 23. The team took a slight flier in Round 2, by picking OKLAHOMA/WR/RYAN BROYLES. He’s coming off a serious knee injury and will most likely start the season on the PUP list. But if he returns to pre-injury form he’ll make NATE BURLESON an extra piece by season’e end. He’s only the NCAA D1 all time receptions leader, and is a dangerous Return Man as well. Healthy, he was a marginal late first rounder only lacking in great speed.I like the calculated gamble.
Rounding out their Top 100 Picks at No. 85 was DWIGHT “BILL” BENTLEY/CB who may have been a slight unknown to those who only study Top 25 Boards on the internet, but is well regarded overall as potential starting CB, who should be ready for sub-package work at the least, immediately. These three Picks represent some very solid work by the end of Friday Draft Night.
MAYHEW and his staff regrouped for Draft Saturday and went right back to picking talented and useful players for HC JIM SCHWARTZ. RONNELL LEWIS, a pass-rush specialist came in Round 4. He’s undersized for every down work at 6’2/244, but he did a nice impersonation of ROBERT MATHIS/COLTS last season at OKlahoma. If he can eventually convert to OLB great, but if not he still brings good value at Pick 125. In keeping with the LB theme the team took TAHIR WHITEHEAD/TEMPLE in Round 5. He has a ways to go to play with the D, but certainly looks like a great combination of size, speed and toughness to shine on Special Teams. He was probably over-drafted for my money. It may take a while for the raw kid, from the small Indiana school to see much time on the field in the NFL, but CB/CHRIS GREENWOOD looks the part and has the measurables to cover fast receivers as a pro. He caught attention for his work during SHRINE Week, and looks like the real deal if coached up with a dose of patience.
Clearly, someone in the LIONS scouting department got up on the table and banged his fist for the potential of JONTE GREEN/CB/NEW MEXICO STATE. I had to dig deep to find his name when it was called. At this stage of the Draft (pick 196) it’s tough to get too critical, but I had names that looked a lot more useful to the team on my Board. Just loved the next Pick when they tagged TRAVIS LEWIS/LB/OKLAHOMA in Round 7. LEWIS was a sideline to sideline player, who started 53 games in his SOONERS career. He had the misfortune of breaking a bone in his foot last August. He returned to play, but was not as athletic or productive as he was pre-injury. I never expected him to fall this far from grace. He could be a super steal in a couple of seasons and earn a starting job, as well as dominate Special Teams play.
I cannot tell you I think they did anything special in signing Rookie Free Agents this year. PATRICK EDWARDS/WR/RS/HOUSTON is an old-fashioned smurf kind of receiver who might win a roster slot if indeed BROYLES can’t play as the season starts. It’s also possible that signee KELLEN MOORE/BOISE STATE might have a chance to be the third QB behind STAFFORD & HILL. Beyond that I see a bunch of smaller school, undersized players to take some reps in Training Camp only.
Other than a couple of “reaches” I think this is a very solid Draft class for Detroit. What I am particularly impressed with is that the team over and over again, got players at positions of need without reaching to fill their needs. They got quality and/or quantity at positions of talent needs at OT, LB, CB & WR. I’d say as many as half of their Draftees could become starters in the next few years, with REIFF being the biggest addition to impact things right from the start. BENTLEY could surprise and work his way into a starting CB position by October.
I’ll tab the team with a solid B grade.
And so begins the PHIL EMERY Drafting regime in Chicago. Not a bad effort, but one that has raised plenty of heat from a fan base that just loves to second guess their sports managers. Other than this city’s love for the hapless CUBBIES, a case could be made that the cities fandom is just as heartless as the reviled residents of Philadelphia. But that’s another story for another day. Some solid picks were made, but so were some pretty questionable ones. And the attempt to reunite JAY CUTLER with BRANDON MARSHALL probably falls somewhere between genius and folly.
I really like the long term pro prospects of SHEA McCLELLIN/DE/LB/BOISE STATE, but not as high as Pick 19 of the entire DRAFT, and not going to a team where he will have to learn to play with his hand off the ground in a 4-3 scheme, as opposed to a 3-4. Every NFL associate that I have spoken with asserts that OLB in a 4-3 scheme is a horse of another color for most players. I will lay odds that SHEA gets the job done and strengthens and aging, thin LB group in the Windy City, but his Rookie contribution will be less than what the team needs while he learns and adjusts. ALSHON JEFFERY/WR in Round 2 is the kind of gamble that most teams make every year or three in the DRAFT. EMERY is taking the chance now that the 215 lb. JEFFERY we saw, post 2011 college season is the guy DA BEARS will see catching 50-75 balls a year and being a major force in the Red Zone with his height, leaping ability and big hands. If he balloon s back up to 235+, then the team is stuck with the second coming of MIKE WILLIAMS. But I like the risk/reward factor here. With his head on straight and JAY as his QB ALSHON could come on strong & fast.
BRANDON HARDIN/S is another transition player (CB to S) who could have been had a round later in my mind. He may eventually see a couple of Pro Bowls (whatever that becomes) once he adjusts, because he will be far more athletic than your current average NFL S. But the learning curve will be significant, so don’t count on too much from him as a Rookie. EVAN RODRIQUEZ is a major reach, with questionable value in DA BEARS Offense. He’s a hybrid TE/H-B/FB with a rap sheet that scared off a few teams. I am sensing that DA BEARS talent evaluators thought they saw a player very similar to AARON HERNANDEZ/PATS. I don’t think so. He is neither as fast as, as strong as nor as sure handed as AARON. He’ll make a nice, versatile roster addition, but I again suspect he’s a reach of 1 to 2 Rounds.
Let’s see a show of hands from BEARS fans if they had heard of CB/ISAIAH FREY before DA BEARS selected him in Round 6. I didn’t even have him on my Big Board, never mind Draftable. A much better pick was their final choice of GREG McCOY/CB/RS in Round 7. He’s a bit small, and will remind some of TIM JENNINGS, but he is super quick, has some cover skills and is incredibly elusive in the Return Game. Like they need more help supplementing DEVIN HESTER on returns than they do along the OL.
Before I summarize we have to consider BRANDON MARSHALL/WR as part of this year’s DRAFT. He also cost part of next years effort as well. Some years ago in Denver, he and JAY CYTLER were one of the most prolific pitch and catch duos in the League. They were very effective in the Red Zone. It may be a bit of folly to think that old spark can be rekindled, but neither one of the two players has even reached his 30th birthday yet. If they could combine for just 5-6 catches a game, in a mix with JEFFERY, a healthy JOHNNY KNOX and whatever role they have in mind for HESTER, CUTLER could have a very talented and deep receiving corps. It could happen!
They might have a few Rookie Free Agents who can win a roster spot, the best and most useful most likely being JAMES BROWN/OG/TROY. I had BROWN ranked as my 99th best overall prospect and believe he could start in a year or two with the help of OL guru MIKE TICE, if he’s not too busy being the new Offensive Coordinator.
I do not consider this a very strong year-one effort for EMERY. Tell me who starts from this Draft in 2012, besides the veteran MARSHALL. Even beyond this season, I question the upside potential of much of this group. They drafted too many guys too soon, with questionable compatibility to DA BEARS systems. I hope EMERY does better for his new organization next DRAFT, when he has filled his staff with his own guys, not primarily leftovers from the ANGELO regime.
I honestly don’t see that this DRAFT does a whole lot to upgrade the play of DA BEARS as a team in 2012. I think perhaps too many leftover people, like LOVIE SMITH, are being delusional about how good this team was last year. They look back to the hot streak run in mid-season and believe that without the CUTLER/FORTE injuries they had a chance to challenge the PACKERS for the NFC North title. There are more holes in this roster than that run would indicate. They needed more help and talent than this effort provides. I give then a C- grade.
The VIKINGS are one of those teams, whose fans must remember that you cannot fix a bad team with only one DRAFT. And from a talent basis this has become a bad team. Some questionable to poor Drafts, expensive Free Agent signings and aging vets have put the team at an overall talent disadvantage in comparison to most NFL teams right now. So now that the CHILDRESS regime is over RICK SPIELMAN and his guys have the arduous task of significantly improving the team’s overall talent base. The good news is that SPIELMAN worked the DRAFT without getting too cute. He ended up having 10 Picks and getting value with almost every one of them.
MATT KALIL, is just what the doctor prescribed in Round 1. He may not quite be the second coming of RON YARY, but I would be surprised if he doesn’t anchor the LT slot for more than a decade, starting this September. If he can add another 10-15 lbs. of muscle mass without losing any quickness he could be monster good. I think they reached with their second Pick by taking HARRISON SMITH/S at Pick 29, but they were not alone in coveting him at that stage of the proceedings. I think he’s a tick slow in his anticipation of the ball in the air, but in today’s NFL guys who play S are asked to do a ton of things, and he can do a lot of them. He tackles like a small LB and pursues well. He’s a very good athlete, who may improve with pro coaching. And God knows they needed help at the position.
In Round 3 they helped their secondary again, but taking the fastest player at the 2012 COMBINE in JOSH ROBINSON/CB. But the good news is that ROBINSON is not just a straight line speed guy. In college he showed a nose for the ball, and used his speed to beat receivers to throws. He’s also not afraid to support against the run. He’s the 3rd probable immediate starter of the Draft class.
Way too many talented WR have exited Minnesota over the past few years and not been adequately replaced. SPIELMAN grabbed 2 guys from Arkansas with very different skill sets. In Round 4 the team took JARIUS WRIGHT who fits the mold of the speedy, quick cut slot receiver in the NFL. He’s a bit light @ 182 lbs., but id used correctly he’s going to be running away from people not looking for contact on most of his routes. He also would seem to be a logical candidate for some return work on Special Teams. On the other side of the coin the team took his college teammate GREG CHILDS/WR later in Round 4. CHILDS led the team in receptions as a Soph but suffered multiple injuries in 2010. including a torn patellar tendon in his right knee. He came back in 2011, but was not 100%. He did seem to lay more like his old self later in the season, and showed flashes during SHRINE GAME week. If he’s fully healthy he potentially fills the role that SIDNEY RICE did a few years ago. Patience will be a key with CHILDS and his knee.
The team made an interesting Pick in between the Razorbacks in RHETT ELLISON/FB/TE from USC. ELLISON reminds many of a guy named KLEINSASSER, who just retired from the VIKES. He’s a FB/H-B/TE hybrid who blacks like hell, catches well and can run a little bit between the tackles. He’ll also play on just about every Special Teams unit in his spare time. He has NFL pedigree and should be a valuable jack of all trades for the team. In Round 5 the team took another versatile guy who may make a better pro than he did a collegiate player: ROBERT BLANTON/DB/NOTRE DAME. I think he was miscast as a CB in college. He was not flexible enough to stay with cutting receivers and looked a step slow. He should be solid on some sub packages, and if I’m the VIKES I start working on his long term conversion to S right away. At the very least he can earn his keep on Special Teams over the short term.
They say you can’t blow a Pick in the final Rounds, but i have some serious questions about K/BLAIR WALSH. He fell apart in his senior season at Georgia, and looked totally lost kicking during SHRINE GAME week in St. Pete. He needs a sports psychologist and a helluva kicking guru to coach him back up. And then they ship LONGWELL out of town to make room for him. This looks like the mistake of their Draft to me.
Great bounce back with their final 2 Picks. I don’t understand how AUDIE COLE/LB went from being a solid prospect last Fall to a 7th Rounder in April. He moved Inside at State to help out the team. He has a nose for the ball and makes big plays on a weekly basis. I think he might have been better served as an OLB in a 3-4 scheme, but he can play. ON a team with the VIKINGS current roster he should improve their overall talent more than you should be able to expect from a 7th Rounder. I think the same could be said of TREVOR GUYTON/DE/CAL. GUYTON played primarily as a 3-4 DE as a senior, but has been all over the DL as a collegian. He’s highly coachable, a good athlete and a hustling football player. These two guys are gems for Round 7.
It looks to me like the VIKINGS had too many personnel people in a hurry to get home Saturday night after the DRAFT was over. Given what I feel the overall depth was in this year’s Draft Class they should have done better in the Rookie Free Agent signing process. They certainly have plenty of roster room for young talent. I see 4 names that seem to me to be obvious candidates for roster spots in their RFA group. DERRICK COLEMAN/RB/FB/UCLA got some good reviews from his Pro Day work. UCLA was a tough team to analyze, but the general consensus is that there was some talent there that flew under the radar and COLEMAN might be a prime example. QUENTIN SAULSBERRY/G/C/MISS STATE, would be a First Rounder if you considered only heart and attitude. He should have a solid chance to outwork some of the pretenders in their current OL corps. He can play all 3 inside OL slots effectively. On the defensive side of the ball TYDREKE POWELL/DT/UNC is nothing special, but he’s reliable and has decent size and athleticism to play inside. Can this staff find the tools to motivate and teach him? And finally, if you’re a VIKINGS fan you gotta love those hard working IOWA LBs like TYLER NIELSEN. He’s a smart, hard working kid who should fit on Special Teams and maybe develop into a sub-package defender at LB.
Their DRAFT effort was solid, above average, but I think they should have done more with Rookie Free Agents. I give the organization a B- overall.
You can read more of Pigskin Paul’s Packers & NFL Draft musings at Pigskin Paul’s Place.