The 2014 NFL Scouting Combine continues in Indianapolis, with two days already in the books. The offensive players have worked out, with the defense yet to come.
There has been much to process from the combine so far. Between the interviews and the workouts, the Detroit Lions have seen all sorts of potential draft picks to sort out.
With the throngs of media covering all the happenings, some useful information regarding the Lions has come out. There have also been some players who certainly endeared themselves to general manager Martin Mayhew and his staff as well.
Here are a few early gleanings from the combine for Detroit:
Texas A&M wide receiver Mike Evans was one of the stars of the weekend. His tale of the tape is mighty impressive:
|Height||Weight||Arm||40-yard dash||10-yard split||Vertical|
Evans has generally been projected to go in the later realms of the first round than where the Lions pick at No. 10, but that might change.
As Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press noted, he expects the Lions to have interest:
If I was doing a mock draft today, 2-plus months out, that's who I'd give them RT @lionfan47: welcome to lions mike— Dave Birkett (@davebirkett) February 23, 2014
On the heels of his strong combine performance, you might see a lot of mock drafts projecting Evans to the Lions with the 10th pick. Bleacher Report's Matt Miller envisions Evans in that range:
Man, Mike Evans has really killed it here. Gotta think he goes top 13 at this stage.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) February 23, 2014
Before the players ever took to the turf at Lucas Oil Stadium, the Lions scored a nice little bonus. The NFL announced that the salary cap, which was projected to be $126 million in 2014, will instead be at $130 million.
ESPN's Adam Schefter broke the good news on Friday:
NFL's salary cap now projected to rise to about $130 million, up 5 percent from $123 million last year, per league sources. More $ for all.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) February 20, 2014
The news got even better when Schefter's ESPN colleague John Clayton followed up a few hours later with this tidbit:
According to a source, the projection for the 2014 salary cap is now at $132 million.— John Clayton (@ClaytonESPN) February 22, 2014
That's great news for the Lions, who just recently lowered their cap figure after releasing overpaid veterans Louis Delmas and Nate Burleson.
The Lions are currently committed to just over $120.1 million in cap value to just 52 players, according to Over The Cap.
This gives the Lions a little more leverage in long-term contract negotiations with Ndamukong Suh, whose new contract will eventually free up millions more in immediate cap room.
More importantly, it allows the team to shop for a higher class of free agent, if it so chooses. Instead of scouring the bargain basement, now the Lions can afford to splurge a little on a more proven, higher-profile wide receiver or safety.
One of the biggest strengths of the Lions in 2013 was the play of the offensive line. With new starters at three positions, the unit gelled into the best overall line the Lions have sported in years.
Riley Reiff fared pretty well in his inaugural season at left tackle. The 2012 first-round pick figures to only get better with more experience.
The most pleasant surprise was undrafted rookie LaAdrian Waddle, who took over at right tackle midway through the season. He wound up having the highest Pro Football Focus (subscription required) rating of any rookie tackle.
Despite the successful play of the young tackles, Josh Katzenstein of the Detroit News reported that the Lions could still be in the market for an upgrade at the position.
Katzenstein quoted Martin Mayhew as saying:
"I feel comfortable with those guys out there, but by the same token, if you can upgrade that position, I think you have to look into that."
While that comes across as a fairly generic statement, the impressive performances of players like Michigan's Taylor Lewan and Auburn's Greg Robinson are hard to ignore.
If the best player available on the board at the No. 10 pick is an offensive tackle like Lewan—and that could very well be the case come May—the Lions apparently will not hesitate to pull the trigger, despite having two impressive young talents already.
In an interview with Tim Twentyman of the Lions' official website, Mayhew made it pretty clear that finding help at wide receiver is a major priority. Right now Calvin Johnson is the only wideout with an active contract on the roster.
"We want guys that if, for whatever reason, Calvin’s getting doubled or he’s not playing in a particular game, can go out and make plays by himself."
But he's not just looking for a complementary piece to Megatron. Mayhew continues:
"So, you know, we’re going to be looking for receivers that can win one-on-one battles, win one-on-one matchups and make plays down the field."
Those kind of premium receivers go early in the draft. Even in this very deep class of wideouts, there is a clear cream at the top with Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans, Marqise Lee and perhaps Odell Beckham Jr., who merit consideration at No. 10.
The next tier is deep and should extend into the range where the Lions pick at No. 45 in the second round. Brandin Cooks of Oregon State highlights that group.
Cooks (pictured above) turned heads in Indy with his official 4.33 40 time. That number marks the fastest official time of any wide receiver.
Mayhew's intimation that the Lions are looking for a playmaking stud at receiver only confirms what everyone has long suspected. It will be more of a surprise if the Lions do not take a wide receiver in the first two rounds than if they do select one.
The Lions recently re-signed veteran stalwart Dominic Raiola to man the center position for one more season.
It's a one-year deal, and that's by design. The Lions are aware they need to find Raiola's eventual replacement in this offseason.
Mayhew said as much in his Friday media session, as reported by Tim Twentyman of the Lions' official website.
He likened it to the situation at left tackle, where Reiff was drafted in the first round in 2012 to mentor under veteran Jeff Backus for a year before taking the reins. That worked out well for the Lions, as their patience in developing Reiff was rewarded with a strong first season in 2013.
I think if you go back, the Backus transition went pretty smoothly by going out and finding the right candidate, a guy that we felt comfortable with that could move into that role and we hope to do sort of the same thing with Dom’s situation.
Unfortunately, the presumptive top two centers entering the combine, Arkansas' Travis Swanson and Weston Richburg from Colorado State, did not exactly impress in Indy.
Swanson had the fewest bench-press reps with just 20, and he was near the bottom in broad jump as well. Those are both indicators of explosive power, something centers need to be successful.
Richburg nearly fell in agility drills, though he turned in an impressive workout otherwise. However, he weighed in at just 298 pounds. It's generally regarded as a flag if an offensive lineman weighs under 300.
One of the more widely held presumptions surrounding this offseason is that tight end Brandon Pettigrew was not likely to return.
The former first-round pick is an unrestricted free agent and has not exactly lived up to expectations for most of his career. I recently wrote an article strongly advocating Detroit to say adios to Pettigrew, and others have voiced the same sentiment.
But the only opinions that really matter are those of Mayhew and new coach Jim Caldwell. And in Indy while meeting with the pool of local reporters, Mayhew came out in definite favor of bringing Pettigrew back into the den.
As reported by MLive's Justin Rogers, Mayhew told this to reporters when asked if Pettigrew's return was a priority:
"Yeah, definitely. We had our free agent meeting and the coaches liked him, liked what he can do. He's an all-around guy."
Rogers even noted the possibility that the Lions could use the franchise tag on Pettigrew, though that seems extremely unlikely.
This could be nothing more than a case of posturing and good faith with Pettigrew's agent, whom Rogers noted was meeting with the Lions over the weekend. But the exuberance of Mayhew's words seem to indicate genuine interest in keeping the big tight end in Detroit.
The aforementioned bump in salary cap room only helps facilitate his potential return.