Previewing What the Detroit Lions Will Be Looking for at the Scouting Combine
While the scouts and staff will pay attention to every player there to some degree, there are definitely some players and positions that will merit more focus than others.
Between the on-field workouts, the extensive medical examinations, the player interviews and the sales jobs by zealous agents, there will be much for Martin Mayhew and the Lions staff to process.
Here's a look at some of Detroit's potential focal points in Indy...
Receivers Not Named Sammy Watkins
Clemson wideout Sammy Watkins is not going to be available to the Lions with the 10th overall pick. It's just not going to happen.
Instead, the Lions figure to look long and hard at the next tier of wide receivers. It would be a big surprise, not to mention a crushing disappointment to the loyal fanbase, if Detroit ignored the glaring need at wideout in the first two rounds of the draft in May.
Three characteristics the Lions should be looking for as they watch workouts and interview potential players:
- Catching the ball with hands only during positional drills. The receivers are catching throws from unfamiliar quarterbacks, a good test of pure hands and receiving ability.
- Actual measurements versus college listings. Players tend to lose height and weight, which are almost always inflated by the colleges to look more impressive. The ones that lose more than an inch of height and are more than 10 pounds off raise flags.
- Ten-yard split time on the 40-yard dash. Beyond speed, that's the best barometer of burst off the line. The quicker top speed is achieved, the easier the receiver can get open.
The wide receiver group is incredibly unsettled heading into Indianapolis. Some teams might have Florida State's Kelvin Benjamin as the potential second receiver, while others might see him as the eighth.
Detroit will use the NFL combine in part to help sort out Marqise Lee from Jordan Matthews and Davante Adams, among others.
How Will the Big Corners Run?
Many draft prognosticators hold the opinion that the Lions are very much in the market for another cornerback.
After Seattle's Super Bowl win keyed by the "Legion of Boom" secondary, seemingly every team is looking at getting bigger at corner. Detroit is no exception, even with Darius Slay and Chris Greenwood already locked up.
One of the keys for the bigger corners is how well they run. That extends beyond the 40-yard dash time, too, though that's certainly a key component.
The shuttle run, or 5-10-5 drill, is a critical evaluation tool for defensive backs. NFL Network's Mike Mayock does a great job breaking down the drill in this video.
Bigger defensive backs tend to have trouble with short-area quickness. If one of the corners taller than 6'0" shines in that drill, as well as the 40-yard dash, he will make a stronger case for consideration from the Lions.
Some of the taller corners to look at include:
- Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Nebraska
- Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State
- Pierre Desir, Lindenwood
- Keith McGill, Utah
- Antone Exum, Virginia Tech
The Lions will also be looking to see just how tall these players really are. Collegiate listings of 6'1" have a funny way of coming in at 5'11.5" in more independent measurements.
North Carolina Tight End Eric Ebron
One of the draft scenarios that hasn't received due traction is the potential for the Lions to take a tight end with the No. 10 overall pick.
Should Brandon Pettigrew depart via free agency, he will need to be replaced. Taking a tight end that high would even present a shot at a major upgrade.
Even though some (myself included) will rate Texas Tech's Jace Amaro as the top tight end on the board, the only realistic prospect at the 10th pick is North Carolina's Eric Ebron.
He is a dynamic receiving target, averaging 15.7 yards per reception in 2013. His ability to stretch the seam and quickly get open across the middle would help alleviate the crying need for wide receivers.
One of the things the Lions, and everyone else, will be looking at closely is his weight. According to Bleacher Report's Dan Pompei:
Ebron has put on some significant weight since his junior season in an effort to be a better blocker, and one veteran front-office man said Ebron isn't as fast as he was, but he still is pretty special.
If Ebron doesn't shine with his speed and movement skills, Detroit will quickly turn away from the option of taking him with such a prominent pick. However, if he clocks a strong 40-yard dash time and handles the agility and receiving gauntlet drills swiftly, Ebron becomes a more viable first-round option in Detroit.
Versatile Offensive Linemen
Even with veteran center Dominic Raiola back in the Honolulu blue and silver for another season, the Lions are still very much in the market for an interior offensive lineman.
One of the facets the Lions can look for at the combine is players who can play both guard and center. With the starting five almost certainly intact already, any draftee is going to serve as a reserve in 2014. That makes positional versatility a key.
While the positions are right next to each other, center and guard do tend to favor different athletic traits. Centers are typically quicker and more agile, while guards are bulkier and powerful.
Finding players who blend those traits well enough to be trusted at either spot is something Mayhew and Co. need to explore.
Of course, players with experience at both spots in college have a leg up.
Some of the combine athletes who merit long looks as the long-term replacement for either Dominic Raiola or left guard Rob Sims include:
- Weston Richburg, Colorado State
- Travis Swanson, Arkansas (pictured above)
- Matt Armstrong, Grand Valley State
- Trai Turner, LSU
- Chris Watt, Notre Dame
Late-Round Quarterback Value
With longtime backup quarterback Shaun Hill a free agent the Lions probably cannot afford to bring back, Detroit is in the market for a reserve signal-caller.
Sure, Kellen Moore will be back, but the third-year pro from Boise State needs to have some competition.
It's not a major priority, but expect the Lions to kick the tires on several late-round quarterback candidates.
Among those with intrigue at the combine:
- Keith Wenning, Ball State (pictured above)
- Connor Shaw, South Carolina
- Tom Savage, Pittsburgh
- Jeff Mathews, Cornell
Mathews is participating as a throwing quarterback, which means he will not go through the other positional drills. He will, however, be available for interviews with the team.
Those interviews will be critical for any chance to become a Detroit Lion. Impressing the coaching staff in the conference room and on the grease board breaking down plays could lead one of those prospects to wind up being drafted by Detroit in the sixth or seventh round.
Testing the Trade Waters
Even though the combine is ostensibly about the college prospects, that's only part of the action.
With every GM, coach, and almost every owner in one concentrated area for a long weekend, the combine serves as the breeding ground for draft trade talks.
It could be as simple as meting out how interested Team X might be in trading into the 10th spot, or what player(s) might pique enough interest to take those preliminary talks to the consummation stage.
The downtown Indianapolis steakhouses and taverns will host plenty of this sort of back-channel, unofficial chatter. Hotel lobbies and coffee shops will feature many hush-hush draft hypothetical scenarios.
While nothing official or concrete will be hammered out, laying the groundwork is important. So is gauging what other teams are trying to buy or sell their draft slots. NFL teams are far more adroit at this than the media likes to credit them for being.
If the Lions do ultimately trade out of the 10th pick, or make a move with later picks, it's a fair assumption that the seeds for that maneuver were planted at the combine.
As an example, the Lions once traded for Chris Houston shortly after the combine. That was a deal that was no doubt birthed in Indianapolis.