Wednesday, June 15, 2011

KD's NFL Draft Grades - Detroit Lions

On the Dolphins forum I belong to, several members, myself included, participate in a 2 round mock draft and "adopt" teams to draft for. I got my hometown Bengals and the Detroit Lions. Gross right? Well, the caveat for the mock draft is that we can't trade picks, so you're stuck where you're at. So, with my 4 picks, I managed to get 3 right. All of them except the Lions taking Nick Fairley with the 13th overall pick (Fairley was available in our mock draft surprisingly, but I really didn't think the Lions would consider it given the gaping hole they have at left tackle). So, I was wrong, but got the most picks right out of all contestants in the mock forum, so I'll take that. GM Martin Mayhew has done a fantastic job of adding talent to a Lions team that was run into the ground by Matt Millen. While Detroit's not all the way back, you can certainly tell they're more competitive and have some pieces to the puzzle. And after adding players like Calvin Johnson, Matthew Stafford, Ndaumkong Suh, and now Nick Fairley, the Lions fans have something to cheer about, and the rest of this draft class fits that bill. Let's have a look.

1st round, 13th overall) Nick Fairley - DT - Auburn
No player in college football exploded onto the scene like Nick Fairley did for Auburn last season. The 6'3" 291lbs defensive tackle recorded 60 tackles, 24 of which came behind the line of scrimmage, and 11.5 sacks. An explosive 1-gap penetrator Fairley carried the Auburn defense to a national title and for a time, had some draft experts debating who was better between he and Marcel Dareus. The fact that Dareus went 10 spots ahead of Fairley shouldn't be as damning as it sounds, as Fairley is an equally good player, but won't fit into every defense.

How he fits in: Fairley's stock slipped a bit do to some questions about his being a 1-year wonder and a shaky work ethic. I think he answered the latter by showing up at the Combine in terrific shape and dominating most of the workouts. The problem being, Marcel Dareus did equally well and is almost 30lbs larger than Fairley. I'd expect Fairley to be on the field plenty next to Ndamukong Suh, who won't let Fairley not work to his full potential, quite a bit even if Fairley's not technically a starter. Jim Schwartz's defenses in Tennessee utilized a fantastic DL rotation, and I'd expect the Lions will do that with Suh, Fairley, and veteran Corey Williams. They also have two younger players in Sammie Lee Hill and Andre Fluellen who will take some snaps away from Fairley in short yardage and goaline packages. However it plays out, Fairley will be on the field a lot, and with him playing next to Suh and in between Kyle Vanden Bosch and Cliff Avril, he'll be a solid cog in a very formidable defensive line.

Outlook: Detroit had it's pick of any offensive tackle save Tyron Smith at this spot. They also could've used Prince Amukamara desperately in the secondary, but instead opted to upgrade the strongest unit of their defense. Their D-line was good, and now it's really good. They're a double-digit sack defensive end away from being dominant. While I thought they would've opted to protect their $60M investment in Matthew Stafford, the Lions have faith in veteran Jeff Backus and the freshly minted Rob Sims to step in at left guard and keep Stafford protected. This was purely a BPA (best player available) pick, and it's a whale of a pick. After looking back on it, I understand it, and I love it.

2nd round, 44th overall) Titus Young - WR - Boise State
Detroit again went with the BPA move here and ended up with one of the more underrated receivers in the draft in Boise State's Titus Young. The charismatic receiver from Boise State has garnered comparisons to the Steelers' Mike Wallace. I think those are a little off as Young doesn't have quite that speed, but he can stretch a defense. Young's real benefit will come from playing both in the slot and opposite Calvin Johnson. Derrick Williams failed at this role since being drafted a few years back and Bryant Johnson is starting to slow down. Young should start off as the 3rd receiver behind Johnson and Nate Burleson who had something of a renaissance last year, but Young should eventually challenge for that starting role opposite Megatron. Young can also return kicks if needed, but Detroit is expected to roster Stefan Logan for those duties.

2nd round, 57th overall) Mikel Leshoure - RB - Illinois
As a Dolphins fan, I was hoping Leshoure would keep slipping even though I pegged him to the Lions in our forum two round mock draft. Leshoure failed a drug test prior to the Combine and his stock fell, but only slightly. Leshoure's a big back and should shoulder more of the load allowing Detroit to find ways to use the explosive Jahvid Best in space more. Leshoure is 5'11" 230lbs and runs with very good balance. He's not overly athletic and doesn't quite have the homerun type speed of a Steven Jackson, but he's not that far off. He's an excellent receiver and a pretty willing blocker, so Detroit's getting a true #1 RB here. Leshoure posted a very impressive season in 2010 running 281 times for 1,697 yards and 17TDs. He also hauled in 17 passes for 196 yards and 3 more TDs. Another great pick who will make an immediate impact from the get go.

5th round, 157th overall) Douglas Houge - LB - Syracuse
After giving up some picks to move up to get Mikel Leshoure, the Lions went back to addressing the defensive side of the ball, and their weak linebacking corps. DeAndre Levy is a very good player who should get to move back to his more natural weakside position after having played in the middle last year. Bobby Carpenter finished the year starting on the strongside, but probably shouldn't be handling those duties. The Lions also have their eye on Tennessee Titans tackling machine Stephen Tulloch, a free agent, to come in and start in the middle. Detroit's got some decent backup players, but they can easily be improved upon and they did so here with Hogue. A weakside linebacker for the Orange, Houge is pretty football savvy and is good in coverage. He's a reliable tackler and wrapped up 95 as a senior. He might stay on the weakside of Detroit's unable to land Tulloch and is forced to keep Levy in the middle. He's got starting potential down the road, but should be a nice role player for the Lions as a rookie.

7th round, 209th overall) Johnny Culbreath - T - South Carolina State
Detroit's added a few pieces to try and solidify their left tackle position. Jeff Backus will likely beat out Tony Ugoh, Jason Fox, and Corey Hilliard, but it doesn't hurt to add another project. Culbreath goes 6'5" 280lbs, but is very fleet of foot. He'll have to make a pretty big jump in competition and might be looking at a position switch to guard until he's able to add enough bulk to kick outside to tackle. Culbreath should be a nice player to have on the practice squad, and should be able to serve as a depth player in a year or two at the very least.

Overall Grade: A
See, I told you I give out A's to some teams. While Detroit ignored weaknesses at left tackle and at cornerback, you have to realize they've been rebuilding from an 0-16 that had an enormous amount of holes. GM Martin Mayhew's done a nice job of plugging some of the gaps, but, as the saying goes, Rome wasn't built in a day. Detroit is a team that needs talent everywhere, and they landed talent at DT, WR, RB, and LB, and got a nice project along the offensive line. The Lions are a team on the rise and should be able to draw some decent free agents in the secondary and in the linebacking unit to help sure up their defense. With the players they added this year, they'll see significant impacts from Fairley, Young, and Leshoure, and should get some help from Doug Houge. It's hard to not really like what the Lions did and if they can get expected production out of their first three picks, they could feasibly make a run at cracking the .500 mark. It's unfortunate that they reside in the NFC North, because if they were in the West, you're probably looking at the division favorite. They did a great job, and now that they've proven to themselves they can win on the road, I think Detroit will be in the thick of things for the first half of the season.

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