2012 NFL Combine: 9 Prospects Detroit Lions Coaches Will Be Tracking Closely

Dean Holden@@Dean_HoldenAnalyst IJanuary 31, 2012

2012 NFL Combine: 9 Prospects Detroit Lions Coaches Will Be Tracking Closely

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    The Senior Bowl is over, and so begins the countdown to the next big pre-draft event: the NFL Scouting Combine.

    Opinions differ regarding how much credence should be given to the Combine. Do you make your drafting decisions based more on game stats or 40-yard-dash stats? Game film or drills? Perceived attitude or interviews?

    Generally, if you go to either extreme, you're doing it wrong. The Combine is an opportunity for physically talented players who didn't shine in their college programs to show what they can do in a neutral location. It's where you separate the "system" players from the ones who can plug in anywhere.

    By this point, everyone knows more or less how the draft is going to fall. The Combine will change the fortunes of a few, and there will be a handful of shockers on draft day (be they reaches or free-falls), but the draft board you see today won't differ too terribly from the one you see three months from now.

    Of course, none of this changes the fact that the Lions, shrewd as they are, will undoubtedly be eying the results of the Combine, looking for those overlooked and underrated players to perform.

    Their list goes several (dozen?) pages longer than this one, but here's a starter for what the Lions may be looking for in February.

Ben Jones, C, Georgia

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    I go back and forth on Ben Jones.

    On one hand, he's a solid player. On the other, I don't think he's strong enough to be the dominant run-blocker the Lions so desperately need in the middle.

    Jones is really more Dominic Raiola than he is Nick Mangold, and if he's just a younger Raiola, then that's just a lateral move with a younger player, not an upgrade.

    Of course, Jones could start changing my mind with strong bench press numbers and by showing decent drive in one-on-one drills.

    The Lions might take notice of that, too.

Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama

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    Here's what we know about Janoris Jenkins to this point in his career. Janoris Jenkins cares about Janoris Jenkins, and will probably tell his future team that, in the third person, during a rookie contract holdout.

    Also, he will probably outrun, outjump, and outcover every other corner at the Combine (maybe not LSU's Morris Claiborne, but we'll see).

    At least, that's what the Jenkins of 2011 was like. He's currently engaged in a serious image rebuilding effort, but his dominant play has always spoken for itself.

    But this is a guy who got himself kicked off the Florida football team for misconduct (many of them drug-related).

    Seriously, from Florida. Do you know how hard it is to get booted from an SEC school (other than Vanderbilt) when you're really good at football?

    This guy is that bad. So when his physical skills blow the doors off Lucas Oil Stadium, everyone will shrug. This is what we expect, and nobody will be that impressed.

    The money is going to be in his interviews. That's where his prospective future coaches are going throw everything at him to see if he's really changed, or just putting on a "good boy" act until he gets his first paycheck.

Nigel Bradham, LB, Florida State

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    Nigel Bradham had a fantastic Senior Bowl, and he likely caught the eye of many a scout with his performance.

    Bradham's stock is likely to catch fire at the Combine, as his physical skills are indisputable. The problem with Bradham is that he shows poor instincts and football IQ. That's a big no-no for a linebacker, especially one who projects well physically to the middle position.

    The Lions like this kind of player—talented but raw. It makes sense: speed and size can't be taught; reading an offense can. They've had success coaching up small-school prospects Sammie Hill and Willie Young, and are currently in the process with Doug Hogue. Bradham could be next on the list, though his draft price could be higher than those guys.

    Bradham has all the physical tools to be successful, and he will show them off at the Combine. His big moment will be, believe it or not, the interviews. Everybody knows Bradham can run, jump and tackle. What he has to prove now is that he can learn.

Russell Wilson, QB, Wisconsin

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    You think they won't? They might.

    I'm not saying the Lions are going to run out and draft Russell Wilson (though I might later...), but you'd better believe they'll be paying attention to where Wilson grades out.

    There's no question the Lions feel just fine about Matthew Stafford anchoring the QB position in Detroit for about the next 15 years, if possible. Passing for 5,000 yards and 41 touchdowns, as it turns out, is pretty good for job security.

    But behind him? Shaun Hill and Drew Stanton, both free agents. Maybe both will be back, maybe neither.

    There have been some calls to carry only two quarterbacks on the roster, which sounds great after Stafford's first full season, but I don't think the Lions can so quickly forget the possibility of injury, just one year removed from starting at least three quarterbacks three seasons in a row.

    Besides, now that the Lions have their franchise quarterback, it's time for them to play the draft Patriots-style, and start developing backup quarterbacks that can be passed off as starters for incredible return in trade value.

    The Patriots did it once with Matt Cassel, and likely will again with Ryan Mallett, and the Packers missed their chance with Matt Flynn.

    So why not the Lions after a couple years of developing Russell Wilson?

Brandon Boykin, CB, Georgia

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    A much safer (but less explosive) alternative to drafting ticking-personality-time-bomb Janoris Jenkins is to opt for Brandon Boykin a couple of rounds later.

    Of course, what the Lions will be looking for out of Boykin at the Combine is exceedingly simple: Will he participate?

    Boykin looked like a monster during Senior Bowl week, flashing elite-caliber quickness and the ability to fight off bigger receivers, but he left the game with a leg injury.

    Boykin himself claims he'll be back in action in three weeks (read: in time for the Combine), but you can never be sure.with this sort of thing. Even if he is back, you have to wonder if he'll be fully recovered, or will his Combine performance suffer as a result of his participating at 80 percent?

    What's sad is that Boykin's stock was booming by the end of the Senior Bowl practice week, and the injury probably makes the whole week a negative overall, especially if his Combine performance suffers.

    Of course, if Boykin's stock falls because of injury concerns, and the Lions manage to grab him in the third round, it might work out just fine.

James Michael Johnson, LB, Nevada

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    In simple terms, James Michael Johnson is the anti-Nigel Bradham.

    Where Bradham is a physical monster with poor instincts, Johnson is a little slower and smaller, but he can read a defense like a sticky note on the fridge.

    Johnson impressed at the Senior Bowl, and everybody already knows he won't be among the leaders in 40 time or the high jump in workouts. But with what teams already know about his mind for the game, if he puts up even respectable numbers in the physical drills, his stock should increase considerably. 

    At this point, every scout knows that Johnson will play faster on the field than he does in drills because of his instincts and knowledge, so if he's already relatively fast, that just makes him that much better.

Joe Adams, WR/KR, Arkansas

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    Joe Adams was the star of the Senior Bowl, and a lot of teams could be looking to him to be the next Wes Welker.

    Welker and the Patriots have developed a formula for their passing game that a bunch of teams would love to emulate, and South quarterbacks did just that with Joe Adams in the Senior Bowl.

    Now that Adams' name is out there, teams are already starting to wonder if he could be that next lethal slot weapon. The Combine is where we find out where his upside lands. Is his quickness and agility akin to that of Welker, or is he just a good possession receiver who can run routes over the middle?

    At this point, Adams could be either, or anything in between. The Combine will get us a little closer to figuring out which.

    Though with that said, it isn't like Welker himself blew away every Combine metric, so maybe it won't tell us anything. That's just another one of those questions about how important the Combine really is.

Cordy Glenn, G, Georgia

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    I swear, I don't have some kind of crush on Georgia—they're just producing a lot of good players at positions the Lions need.

    And Cordy Glenn is among the best of them.

    Glenn played tackle his last year at Georgia, and it's a foregone conclusion that the 350-pound mauler will switch to guard at the NFL level. That's too much weight for him to be sufficiently agile as a tackle.

    The question is: is he too big even for a guard? Does he weigh that much because he's strong, or just big? Most importantly, is there a threat of that weight ballooning after he gets drafted?

    It seems silly, but I will actually be watching for Glenn's speed and agility drills. I don't expect him to run the 40 in 4.4 seconds, or even under five at all. But I expect him to come in under, say, six.

    For a guy like Glenn, who is already this big in college, the question is always about conditioning. If he weighs 350 pounds and can show he's still in good shape at the Combine, he's a first-round lock, especially considering his known ability as a run blocker.

    But if he weighs 350 pounds just because he likes to eat, it's buyer beware. The last thing the Lions need is another Aaron Gibson.

Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama

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    Last year, the Alabama Crimson Tide had a running back that was, at worst, a top-15 lock.

    Mark Ingram went 28th overall to the New Orleans Saints.

    Now, by most accounts, Trent Richardson is a better prospect than his former Alabama teammate, but the running back position is seeing a serious decline in draft value because of the slow extinction of the "feature" back and more dual-threat and committee systems.

    Ergo, there's no reason the same shocking slide that sent Ingram down draft boards couldn't happen again for Richardson.

    As much as it pains me to think of the Lions taking a running back in the first round (2010), second round (2011) and first round again (2012), the Lions are facing some concerns about Jahvid Best, and if Richardson is on the board at 23, "Best Player Available" dictates that they might just take him.

    At the very least, they'll have an eye on him at the Combine, to see where he falls if that "in case" scenario should rear its head.