Detroit Lions: Complete 2014 NFL Draft Wrap-Up and Analysis
The 2014 NFL draft and all of its glorious suspense has finally come to pass. There were surprise picks, trades and head-scratchers from the Detroit Lions that maintained the entertainment value throughout all three days.
Last year, general manager Martin Mayhew set the bar pretty high by drafting or signing four full-time starters and Darius Slay, who was in and out of the lineup due to injuries or poor play but he did show a few sparks.
Did Mayhew pull it off again?
In this wrap-up of all things related to Detroit's draft, I'll dish out a grade for Mayhew's overall performance, identify the best and worst picks and give you a snapshot of the undrafted free-agency class.
- Round 1, Pick 10: Tight End Eric Ebron
- Round 2, Pick 40: Linebacker Kyle Van Noy
- Round 3, Pick 76: Center Travis Swanson
- Round 4, Pick 133: Cornerback Nevin Lawson
- Round 4, Pick 136: Defensive End Larry Webster
- Round 5, Pick 158: Defensive Tackle Caraun Reid
- Round 6, Pick 189: Wide Receiver T.J. Jones
- Round 7, Pick 229: Kicker Nate Freese
The Grade: A-
It'll take time before we can confirm that Mayhew put together another great draft, but all of the makings of one are there.
He shocked and enraged a good portion of the fanbase with his somewhat surprising Eric Ebron selection. They were mostly upset that the price for Sammy Watkins was too expensive and the Lions missed out on adding a receiver at the top of the draft.
But they are slowly starting to recognize the genius of this pick. Ebron fills the same need that Watkins would have because he can line up all over the field and wreak havoc wherever he goes.
And he followed that up by giving up second-, fourth- and seventh-rounders to move up five spots in the second to grab Kyle Van Noy. Van Noy can have a huge impact as well, and he fills a gaping hole in the roster: pass-rushing linebacker. Plus, Van Noy can stuff the run and drop into coverage as well.
Center Travis Swanson is a solid pick. He wasn't the top center in this draft, but his value was about right and it answers the question of who will succeed Dominic Raiola in a year or two.
The fourth round was the only place where I felt Mayhew misstepped a bit. Cornerback Nevin Lawson is only 5'9", but Mayhew apparently trusts that he'll use his speed and length to make up for it. And Larry Webster was a bit of a head-scratcher at that spot.
Defensive tackle Caraun Reid could end up as the steal of the draft. The 302-pounder does everything well. However, he's at his best when he's rushing the passer using a nice repertoire of moves. This pick has so much potential that the Lions might not need to worry about declining Nick Fairley's option.
The T.J. Jones and Nate Freese picks both filled some huge needs. Jones was Notre Dame's top receiver last year, racking up 70 catches for 1,108 yards and nine scores. Meanwhile, Freese connected on 94.6 percent of his attempts over the last two years and could be the Lions kicker for a long time.
The Freese pick was acquired in exchange for dropping 12 spots, where Mayhew snagged Reid.
That deal is a microcosm of how this draft generally went for Detroit. The Lions continuously addressed needs in a way that blended the best-man-available approach and the result was near perfection.
Best Pick: Eric Ebron (By a Hair)
This was not an easy decision. I turned it over in my mind, waffled back and forth, agonized and ultimately came to the conclusion that what puts a team over the top is more important than a key cog.
Even I'm confused by that last sentence. And, so far as I know, I wrote it so I should probably explain myself.
Van Noy is going to be a fine player at a much-needed position. He's an immediate starter who will fill the role of the hybrid linebacker, handling duties such as blitzing the passer, stuffing the run and dropping into coverage.
While he's an integral piece moving forward, he isn't going to elevate the defense to the top of the league. Ebron might do exactly that for the offense.
Ebron is exactly the type of multifaceted tool offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi can use to torture defenses. He's a matchup nightmare who will line up in the slot, out wide and in tight. And whoever he draws in coverage will be at a disadvantage in either size or speed.
The offense will now have such a wide array of complementary weapons that the only thing that will hold it back are its own players. In Ebron's case, that would mean continuing to drop 11.4 percent of his passes (h/t to Rotoworld for the stat), and the whole thing is contingent on Matthew Stafford channeling the quarterback he was for the first half of the 2013 season.
That's why Ebron, ever so slightly, earns the nod over Van Noy—his ability and opportunity to make Detroit's offense the best in the league.
Worst Pick: Defensive End Larry Webster
Please take note the slide title doesn't call for a bad pick, but the worst one. Again, just like the last slide, let me explain.
Webster was not a terrible pick; he just raised a couple of concerns for me.
First, the Lions picked him way too early. His measurables are off the charts and in line with Jadeveon Clowney's, but he's not going to be lighting up opposing quarterbacks soon.
At this point, he's a workout warrior who hasn't had much grooming considering he played just two years of football for Bloomsburg. He did, however, play four years of basketball and is a blessed athlete.
Generally, these types of projects don't go too early. It's likely Detroit could have passed on him for another round or two and still snapped him up.
Second, developmental projects obviously carry more risk. Few are better at extracting production from talent than defensive line coaches Jim Washburn and Kris Kocurek, but nothing is certain. Webster relied on his athletic ability to rack up 12.5 sacks in 2013. However, he's going to need a lot more than that to beat offensive tackles in the NFL.
Undrafted Free Agents
Tight End Jacob Maxwell
Jacob Maxwell is a 6'4", 249-pound tight end from Louisiana-Lafayette. He has solid athleticism with as evidenced by his 4.68 40. According to RajunCajuns.com, he totaled just 12 catches for 158 yards and a pair of scores. It's hard to think he'll make the team with all the tight ends already on the roster.
Safety Gabe Lynn
The Oklahoma safety has good size at 6'2" and 206 pounds. He doesn't have the natural skills to stick in the league, though, with a 33" vertical leap. He finished last season with 57 tackles and four picks, per cfbstats.com.
Quarterback James Franklin
James Franklin is an interesting prospect who offers something different than the quarterbacks on the roster: running ability. He posted 981 rushing yards and 36 total touchdowns in 2011, per Sports-Reference.com. His production was scaled down over the next two years, but that was probably a coaching decision.
Safety Jerome Couplin
Small-school safety Jerome Couplin packs a big punch. He's a hard hitter who matches the intensity of his tackling with a decent 4.55 40 and a ridiculous 41.5" vertical. There's a decent possibility that his athleticism warrants a long-term investment (i.e. the practice squad).
Wide Receiver Andrew Peacock
Besides a great name, Andrew Peacock probably won't have a lot to offer the Lions. He lacks top-end speed (4.72 speed) and is just 5'9". He does, however, have solid hands. He posted 79 receptions in 2013 alone.
Offensive Line Cornelius Lucas
The most likely candidate to make the team is the massive tackle from Kansas State. Cornelius Lucas stands 6'8" and checks in at 325 pounds. However, the most telling detail came in the form of a $20,000 signing bonus, per Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun. Teams don't hand out signing bonuses unless there is a lot of competition for the player, meaning he's one of the better free agents out there.
Safety Garrett Waggoner
Fans can rightfully get excited about Garrett Waggoner's athleticism. The Dartmouth safety didn't get a lot of predraft burn because, well, he played for Dartmouth. But the 6'0", 224-pound prospect with the 39.5" vertical will have to make the roster before he goes about trying to make the team, per Aaron Wilson.
Offensive Tackle Jake Olson
The tackle from Central Michigan stands 6'4" and 301 pounds. He isn't as big as the other tackle signees, but he's big enough to handle the job. He started over Eric Fisher two years in a row but might not have the durability to last.
Offensive Tackle A.J. Dalton
A.J. Dalton is just a hair heavier than Jake Olson, standing 6'4" and weighing 307 pounds. He put up decent numbers at his pro day with a 5.25 40-yard dash, 29 bench reps, 26" vertical jump and a 7.69 three-cone drill.
Cornerback Mohammed Seisay
Mohammed Seisay is exactly the type of cornerback defensive coordinator Teryl Austin wants checking in at 6'2" with a 39" vertical. While he has the raw numbers, it's a bit curious that he wasn't able to crack the starting lineup at Nebraska.
Defensive Tackle Greg Hickman
Greg Hickman was a curious pickup for the Lions. The defensive tackle from Florida International only weighs 278 pounds and his 4.89 40-yard dash suggests that he doesn't have the speed to handle a shift to defensive end.
Fullback Chad Abram
Chad Abram was brought in to push Jed Collins for his spot as the lone fullback on the roster. It's impossible to carry two, and that's a shame because Abram has the athleticism and size to handle the job. It will be a shame if he gets cut, but hopefully he can put together enough tape to land a shot elsewhere.
What's Next for the Detroit Lions?
The infusion of young, cheap talent has set this team in a great direction for the 2014 season. There's absolutely no reason that Detroit should not make the playoffs next year.
But with those possibilities come expectations, which is something the team hasn't dealt well with in the past.
Will the new coaching staff bring in the type of discipline and accountability needed to close out games? Can the players avoid making the mistakes that significantly lower their odds of closing out a victory?
That's all in the air right now.
However, the roster is in a better place than it has been since the mid-90s and maybe earlier. The only significant question marks are the cornerbacks. It's remarkable how well Mayhew addressed needs throughout the draft without sacrificing talent.
The pressure is on, gentlemen.
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