Breaking Down the Most Important Pro Days for the Detroit Lions

Jeff RisdonContributor IMarch 19, 2014

Breaking Down the Most Important Pro Days for the Detroit Lions

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    Colin Hackley/Associated Press

    Pro days for NFL prospects are a big deal on the NFL draft calendar. The Detroit Lions, like all teams, dispatch staffers of various levels to colleges all over the nation to watch these carefully choreographed workouts.

    Some pro days mean more than others. 

    While nearly every college across the country holds a pro day to showcase their draft-eligible wannabes, only a select few pique enough interest for the Lions to dispatch general manager Martin Mayhew, head coach Jim Caldwell or a position coach or two. 

    Several major pro days have already taken place, while some are still coming between now and the beginning of April. Here are a few that have either already drawn major interest from Detroit, or are expected to when they occur. 

UCLA

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    Alex Gallardo/Associated Press

    How important was UCLA's pro day to the Detroit Lions?

    Even though it was the opening day of NFL free agency on March 12, general manager Martin Mayhew still trekked across the country to personally attend the Bruins event.

    While UCLA does have a couple of later-round prospects that figure to interest Detroit in wide receiver Shaq Evans and defensive end Cassius Marsh, there is no doubt why Mayhew made such an effort.

    Linebacker Anthony Barr was the featured performer, and perform he did. As noted in Justin Rogers' MLive report:

    Barr made improvements to all of his combine numbers at his pro day, running a significantly faster 40-yard dash, adding several inches to his vertical leap and putting the bench press up four more times.

    While he's not an ideal fit for the Lions and the conventional 4-3 defense, his athletic traits and rapid development at his new position—Barr converted from running back just two years ago—make him an intriguing option at No. 10 overall. 

    Mayhew certainly must think so, or else he wouldn't have taken the time on such a critical day to investigate him. Many have compared Barr to Denver's Von Miller, and he's thrived in a base 4-3 despite projections to the contrary. An elite pass-rusher like that would bring a strong dynamic to Detroit. 

    As for the aforementioned Shaq Evans, keep an eye on the sturdy wideout in the sixth round. He plays faster than he times (4.51 at the combineper NFL.com) and offers sure hands and great blocking.

Louisville

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    Timothy D. Easley/Associated Press

    Another recent pro day the Lions checked out was in Louisville. Much of the football world was zeroed in on quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, but not the Lions.

    Detroit only had one scout in attendance, and his intentions were plainly obvious:

    @davebirkett Only one scout here from the Lions. He was looking closely at Calvin Pryor.

    — Josiah Blevins (@Josiah_Blevins) March 17, 2014

    Pryor is a big, hard-hitting safety who is an outside candidate for the No. 10 overall pick. 

    The Lions scout at the Cardinals pro day would have to be incredibly impressed for Pryor to be the 10th pick. Here is where Pryor ranks on several current boards:

    That would make him a more likely candidate if the Lions were to trade back in the first round. There is a chance he could fall to Detroit at No. 45 in the second round, too. 

    Louisville does have a couple of other prospects who should draw draft interest from Detroit. 

    Linebacker Preston Brown, whom I personally witnessed talking with the Lions during Shrine Game week, has impressive length and athleticism. He was kind of an all-or-nothing player with the Cardinals, as noted in this solid scouting report from National Football Post. 

    Defensive end Marcus Smith projects higher than Brown, though as CBS notes, he's a bit of a linebacker/defensive end "tweener."

Oklahoma State

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    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    It's always noteworthy when Mayhew opts to visit a pro day in person, and the Lions general manager did so with Oklahoma State. 

    Lions GM Martin Mayhew scopes out Justin Gilbert at Oklahoma State pro day http://t.co/HApCkGSEsl

    — Detroit Lions News (@LionsMLive) March 14, 2014

    While the Cowboys do have a decent middle-round option in defensive tackle Calvin Barnett, Mayhew was in Stillwater to check out cornerback Justin Gilbert (pictured). 

    Gilbert has been a mainstay selection for Detroit in many mock drafts, though those projections fluctuate with every changing wind.

    He's often mentioned because of his outstanding blend of length and speed. At 6'0" and with arms over 33" long, Gilbert blazed a 4.37 in the 40-yard dash at the combine, per NFL.com.

    That makes him fit the profile of corners Mayhew has selected in recent drafts and a near carbon copy of last year's second-rounder, Darius Slay. 

    Of course, all of those picks invested in cornerbacks in recent drafts make it sketchy that the Lions would devote even more resources to the well-stocked position. Still, if Gilbert intrigued Mayhew enough to make the trip to Oklahoma during the heart of free agency, he must be a serious contender at the No. 10 pick. 

Florida State

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    Colin Hackley/Associated Press

    The national champion Seminoles offer a veritable buffet of NFL draft prospects. Florida State's pro day was tempting enough for the Lions that both Mayhew and Caldwell flew in to witness it firsthand.

    Martin Mayhew and Jim Caldwell attend Florida State pro day; Detroit Lions' focus reportedly on DBs http://t.co/oSBTNJWqog

    — Detroit Lions News (@LionsMLive) March 19, 2014

    If you look carefully, you can see Mayhew in the picture (he's in the white hat second from the right).

    As noted in the MLive report, a pair of defensive backs had the Lions' rapt attention.

    Lamarcus Joyner is a playmaking back with lightning quickness and a flair for the dramatic. He's small even for a corner at just 5'8", and it's unclear exactly what position he will play in the NFL. He has experience at both safety and corner, as noted in his Bleacher Report draft profile

    Safety Terrence Brooks is another second-day (second and third rounds) prospect with great versatility. He thrived as the Noles' primary coverage safety, demonstrating impressive range and savvy instincts. For more on Brooks, check out this comprehensive scouting report from With the First Pick. 

    Of course, the Seminoles have some other potential Lions, too. 

    Gigantic wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin is even bigger than Texas A&M's Mike Evans at 6'5" and 240 pounds. His game needs refinement, but his tantalizing size and clutch ability—he caught the game-sealing touchdown in the BCS championship game—make him a viable candidate for the 45th pick...if he lasts that long.

    Linebacker Telvin Smith is built like a safety, but he offers the coverage ability to play as a hybrid safety/linebacker. As Mike Loyko of NE Patriots Draft noted, he had a strong Senior Bowl week:

    Telvin Smith, Florida State – Really stood out to me today. Extremely fast to cover the flats and was discipline in coverage, not biting on play-fakes. He needs to add at least 12 pounds to his frame, but his speed in coverage will play at the next level.

    His lack of size is a big factor. At 6'3" and 217 pounds, he's smaller than many wide receivers and lacks the bulk to fend off blocks at the next level. Still, he's a potential candidate for Detroit's third-round pick. 

    Christian Jones played as both a linebacker and defensive end for Florida State. Like Joyner, his lack of a true position makes him a difficult NFL projection, but he should merit consideration from the Lions in the fourth round.

    Center Bryan Stork is light on his feet and isn't afraid to mix it up with defenders all the way to the whistle. He's the fourth-rated center at CBS, where his top-heavy physique and lack of body control are listed as negatives. He's also an option in the fourth round. 

Vanderbilt

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    It's not the highest profile program, but the Vanderbilt Commodores have several prospects who are potential fits for the Lions.

    Among those expected to work out on March 21 include:

    • Wideout Jordan Matthews
    • Corner Andre Hal
    • Safety Kenny Ladler
    • Offensive tackle Wesley Johnson

    Matthews (pictured) is the cream of the Commodore crop. He's a smooth athlete at 6'3" and 212 pounds, with decent speed and strong hands. As noted in his Bleacher Report draft profile, Matthews racked up a slew of honors and comparisons to Green Bay Packers stud Jordy Nelson.

    He figures to be a second-round candidate for the Lions, though in several recent mock drafts, Matthews has fallen well past Detroit's pick at No. 45. His lack of any elite trait and relative passivity with the ball in the air, as noted by Darren Page of Detroit Lions Draft, water down his draft stock. 

    Hal is the latest in a fairly impressive line of Vandy corners. As noted by the Tennessee Titans' official website, he hopes to follow in the footsteps of Casey Hayward, D.J. Moore and Myron Lewis into the NFL. 

    He has some impressive game tape, notably against Ole Miss wideout Donte Moncrief, but did not stand out during Shrine Game week when compared to the likes of Rice's Phillip Gaines or Lindenwood's Pierre Desir. His lack of top-end speed and size make him a late-round candidate who could surprise at the next level.

    Ladler is a player the Lions need to strongly consider in the middle rounds. Despite his embarrassing tumble at the combine, he really impressed in Indianapolis:

    #Vanderbilt S Kenny Ladler ran a 4.7, but tore it up in other events. Top performer in position in bench (24), vert (36.5) and broad (127.0)

    — Jim Wyatt (@jwyattsports) February 25, 2014

    He earned his nickname "The Swiper" for his ability to force fumbles and pick off passes. Creating big plays is something the Lions ought to value highly in replacing Louis Delmas at safety. Ladler should be an option for Detroit in the fourth round. 

    Johnson is one of the most technically proficient tackles in the draft. His footwork, his flexibility and his hand placement are all outstanding. Johnson gives strong effort and consistently demonstrates a high football IQ.

    Unfortunately, he weighs just 297 pounds and has a leaner build than many tight ends. Johnson will need to add more functional bulk in order to make an impact in the NFL. Still, if the Lions are willing to invest a sixth- or seventh-round pick, they could have a versatile and inexpensive tackle on their hands.