How Each Draft Pick Fits into Detroit Lions' Plan in 2012
With eight picks, it's entirely possible the Lions drafted exactly zero starters.
That has less to do with the talent level of the players and a lot more to do with the fact that the team is built well enough right now to not get an instant upgrade from a rookie player and the fact that the Lions plan on being very good for a very long time.
For that reason, this might be Martin Mayhew's least popular draft since 2009, but it might also be one of the best when all is said and done.
But there's little point in projecting what these players are going to do in 2014, even though that will likely be when they start having their greatest impact. But how do these guys figure into the Lions' plans in 2012? Is there any instant impact to be found in this class?
The short answer is maybe. The longer answer is spread over the next eight pages.
1st Round (23rd Overall): Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa
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It's understandable to expect that an NFL team's first-round pick is an impact player from the moment he steps on the field.
Unfortunately, that seems a bit presumptuous with Riley Reiff, who steps in as the new kid on a unit with lots of history together.
Reiff was drafted with the left tackle position in mind. There is very nearly a zero-percent chance he plays a single snap at left tackle this year. Jeff Backus is a fixture, and they're not paying the man $10 million to watch this kid for the next two years. He has very little to worry about.
Now Gosder Cherilus, on the other hand, should start wondering about how well his skill set applies to playing guard. Reiff may not be ready for left tackle right out of college, but he's good enough to start. The logical landing place for him is right tackle where Cherilus has had a tenuous grasp for the last four years.
What Reiff needs more than anything over the next year or two is experience and seasoning. He could get that by playing guard, but he'd get it much better at right tackle.
All that said, Schwartz called Reiff both "a left tackle" and "not a developmental player." So does that mean Backus' long-awaited move to guard is upon us? I wouldn't count on it just yet, but it's definitely something to keep an eye on.
I don't think Reiff takes over at left tackle just yet, but I think there's a better than 50-50 shot he cracks the starting lineup this season.
2nd Round (54th Overall): Ryan Broyles, WR, Oklahoma
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In the long run, Ryan Broyles is the heir apparent to Nate Burleson and may have better production than Burleson ever did with the Lions.
In the short term...well, although Broyles appears on pace to be ready to play by training camp, you have to wonder if he'll truly be firing on all cylinders in 2012. Even if he is, Burleson isn't ready to be put out to pasture just yet.
Besides all of that, nobody truly gives credit to how difficult it is to learn the wide receiver position in the NFL. Not only do they have to learn basic routes, option routes, hot routes, audibles and blocking schemes, but they also have to figure out how to deal with corners that are faster, more physical and slicker than any they've faced in college.
Learning to create separation in the NFL is a difficult process, which is why you very rarely see Pro Bowl rookie wideouts. This is why I expect Titus Young to have a breakout year in 2012 and Broyles to show some flashes and some struggles.
This is the year Young passes Burleson in terms of production, and 2013 should be the year Broyles does the same—barring an injury.
3rd Round (85th Overall): Dwight "Bill" Bentley, CB, Louisiana-Lafayette
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I'm not exactly sure where the nickname comes from, but it seems that we're going to be referring to the Lions' third-round pick as Bill Bentley, so I figure I'll just jump on that now.
Of the three rookie cornerbacks the Lions drafted this year, Bentley has the best chance of showing up on the field during the regular season. But this is a Gunther Cunningham defense, so that chance still isn't great.
But when you consider that Aaron Berry and Jacob Lacey are Bentley's barriers to entry, you have to think that chance is better than nothing.
Most likely, Bentley battles with Alphonso Smith at situational dime corner and works his way up the depth chart from there, but don't be surprised to see him take on an even bigger role in the defense. That has a little to do with him, and a lot to do with Berry and Lacey.
Will Berry continue to grow over the offseason program? Is Lacey better than the Colts defense allowed him to be?
If those answers are "yes," Bentley will have to wait his turn. If not, the sky's the limit. Cunningham doesn't like rookie corners, but even he was ready to start Berry at nickel corner as a UDFA in 2010.
4th Round (125th Overall from 49ers): Ronnell Lewis, DE/OLB, Oklahoma
In my initial evaluation of Lewis, I graded him down (slightly!) for being a DE/OLB "tweener."
Since then, I have remembered that the Lions run the wide nine and might be absolute geniuses for this pick, which was already a great value in the fourth round. Defensive ends in the wide nine tend to have a lot in common with 3-4 rush linebackers, except that they very rarely have to do anything other than rush the passer.
If that's how the Lions see Lewis, then they might have a guy with the perfect frame, but they do need to work on his pass-rush technique. Lewis doesn't have the most explosive first step off the line, but the wide nine compensates for that a bit by giving guys a better rush angle and a head of steam getting into the line.
Of course, this is all conjecture for the future. I don't see a great chance of Lewis breaking the Lions defensive rotation this year, on the line or at linebacker. What I do see is him figuring out what his role is in that defense, learning it and refining his ability there for 2013.
I also see him being a terror on special teams, as perhaps the heir apparent to the "Pain Train," Zack Follett, only with more long-term defensive skills. As Jim Schwartz said, he's expected to play "the hammer position."
If you doubt me, play the video to see the pops he put on Stanford in the 2010 Brut Sun Bowl. His long-term potential is far greater than special teams, but he'll be okay on special teams in the meantime.
And if you pay close attention, one of the great things is that while Lewis is laying big hits, they're legal, clean hits right in the numbers. Nothing he'll get flagged or fined for at the NFL level.
He's the right kind of mean, and it's beautiful.
5th Round (138th Overall from Vikings): Tahir Whitehead, OLB, Temple
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Tahir Whitehead is my least favorite pick in this draft, and until I hear some kind of rationale for his selection, I just don't understand why he was worth (effectively) a 2013 fourth-round pick.
Whitehead is a decent run-defender with some pop, and he can play effective bump coverage against TEs, but I don't see how he makes sense at this point in the draft or in the Lions' scheme. He's a liability in short-zone coverage (where the Lions got murdered repeatedly last year) and could conceivably have been available 75 picks later.
I'm sure the Lions have a plan and an idea about what they want from this kid, but don't look for him to turn heads anytime soon. He'll battle for time on special teams this season.
5th Round (148th Overall from Raiders): Chris Greenwood, CB, Albion
Reportedly, Chris Greenwood comes in at 6' 1", 193 lbs, runs the 40 in 4.34 seconds and has a 43-inch vertical leap.
That's the kind of guy you tend to be able to coach up a bit. Football skills can be taught, freakish athleticism can't.
Greenwood, the Detroit native coming from Division III Albion College, is as raw as they come, but so was Sammie Hill out of Stillman College in 2009. Hill was made a solid player over time because he had the size and strength to refine his raw talent into professional ability.
The Lions will be looking to do the same thing with Greenwood's size and speed, and although it will take time, it could pay off in a big way over the long haul. The comparisons to Brandon Carr aren't for nothing.
Greenwood will have a difficult time getting on the field in 2012, but he'll make the final 53-man roster—possibly as a special teamer. I don't think the Lions dare put him on the practice squad given the height of his ceiling.
This is the pick that should have Alphonso Smith on notice. I'm not sure if the Lions will take six corners into this season, though it wouldn't be unheard of given the pass-happy NFC North.
6th Round (196th Overall from NO Via MIA, SF): Jonte Green, CB, New Mexico St.
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It's hard to criticize the Lions' scattershot approach to late-round cornerback drafting.
So the Lions drafted a third cornerback in this year's draft. So what? Is that too many? Was there anyone on the board in the sixth round that would have instantly upgraded the Lions? If lightning strikes here and Jonte Green ends up being that surprise stud at cornerback, wouldn't we have trashed the front office for not taking him?
Of course, the Lions would never admit to this approach. They were just trusting their board, taking the best player they saw. Those players just so happened to be cornerbacks and linebackers.
Given their second-round pick, I'm inclined to believe them. Still, unless Green was just playing possum during the draft process, he has some stiff competition to make the 53-man roster. Chris Houston, Aaron Berry and Jacob Lacey are near locks to stick around; Alphonso Smith is on high alert but still in the mix; and Green is the last of three rookies added to the mix.
That's seven cornerbacks. Last year the Lions took five out of training camp. Granted, there were less talent (and recent draft picks) at the position last year, so say they bring that number up to six, cutting a special teams linebacker in the process.
That still makes it difficult for Green, who would likely battle with Greenwood and Smith for the last two spots.
The only way I can see the Lions taking all seven cornerbacks into the season is if one of them ends up taking Stefan Logan's position as kick returner—which is possible but unlikely.
The Lions likely wouldn't hate some extra depth at corner given all the injuries there last year, but I have to think Green's most likely spot in 2012 is the practice squad—barring a significant roster realignment or him being absolutely brilliant in training camp.
7th Round (223rd Overall from PHI Via NE, MIN): Travis Lewis, OLB, Oklahoma
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Sleep on Travis Lewis at your own risk.
I'm talking to you, DeAndre Levy.
Lewis is an incredible steal in the seventh round, so much so that I wouldn't be surprised to see him push the starters by the end of this season.
The Lions lost an important piece of depth when Bobby Carpenter signed with the New England Patriots, but Lewis might be good enough—immediately—to fill that role without much falloff. Lewis ran a disappointing 4.88 40 at the NFL Combine which dropped his stock some, but he plays much faster than that on the field because of his understanding of the game.
Lewis isn't a perfect player; there's a reason he wasn't a first-round lock. He lacks some size and strength for a linebacker and doesn't match up well with tight ends.
He does show tremendous instincts, especially on runs and screens, and plays solid in coverage. Most of the flaws in his game (aside from his size) are coachable.
But for a player with his skill and potential to fall to the seventh round is nothing short of a gift. I'm sure Lewis will get a look on special teams this year, but don't be at all shocked if the Lions keep him away from special teams to get him worked into a significant depth position at linebacker.
Be even less shocked if he's in the mix for a starting job when 2013 rolls around.
Follow Dean on Twitter: @Dean_Holden