Setting Realistic Training Camp Expectations for Each Detroit Lions Rookie
The 2013 Detroit Lions rookies threw down a gauntlet to all later classes and set the bar at a near world-class level. Can the 2014 class measure up?
Frankly, who knows? It's early July, and most of these guys are sweating over their playbooks hoping that they won't be the guy getting chewed out on the sidelines the first day of training camp.
Or maybe that was just a high school flashback.
Regardless, click through to find out what the realistic expectations are for this year's crop of Lions rookies on the verge of their first training camp.
Cornerback Mohammed Seisay
Unfortunately for Mohammed Seisay, those opportunities won't extend to him.
The top three are likely to be Darius Slay, Rashean Mathis and Bill Bentley, with Nevin Lawson and veteran Cassius Vaughn holding down the reserves. That leaves one spot for Jonte Green, Chris Greenwood and Seisay to fight over, and the undrafted free agent couldn't crack Nebraska's starting lineup.
That leaves the college reserve with a practice-squad chance of staying in Detroit.
Offensive Guard D.J. Morrell
At least we can break out of the doldrums of cornerback discussion by kicking it up a notch with deep-reserve offensive guards.
And the sure-to-be-spotlighted position battle will heavily feature undrafted free agent D.J. Morrell.
Well, the battle for the practice squad. The 6'6", 325-pound guard has the size to compete with other rookies, but he's not beating out Rodney Austin or Travis Swanson for a roster spot.
Safety Gabe Lynn
The Lions, believe it or not, are set at safety.
Glover Quin and James Ihedigbo are a capable, competent duo. Quin's role will change to focus more on coverage, but the former cornerback should adapt quickly. Ihedigbo will hope to pick up where he left off in defensive coordinator Teryl Austin's system last year, as he posted a very solid season.
The depth will come down to veterans like Don Carey, Isa Abdul-Quddus (of whom fellow Bleacher Reporter Jeff Risdon is a fan) and DeJon Gomes. That leaves little room for Lynn, and the practice squad could be out of reach, as we'll discuss on an upcoming slide.
Defensive End Kalonji Kashama
The most promising aspect of Kalonji Kashama's future is that he earned his way on the team with his ability. When the pressure was on to earn a shot, he did just that in his tryout during rookie minicamp.
But now he'll need to beat out the big boys, not the rookies. And it's tough to see the Eastern Michigan prospect making it happen.
Kashama will need to show considerable upside to make the practice squad. The Lions drafted a rush-end prospect in Larry Webster, who will be discussed further in a bit, leaving little margin for error for an undrafted defensive end.
Linebacker Justin Jackson
Linebacker Justin Jackson faces the same type of uphill struggle.
The Lions added Kyle Van Noy in the second round to fill defensive coordinator Teryl Austin's need for an explosive linebacker, leaving Jackson on the outside looking in.
Jackson has plenty of athleticism. He displayed an impressive 39-inch vertical at his pro day to pair with a 4.46 40-yard dash. However, he'll need all of it to land on the practice squad.
Defensive Tackle Gregory Hickman
Defensive tackle Gregory Hickman might have been the most surprising late addition to the roster.
The converted linebacker is undersized compared to the rest of the interior defensive linemen on the roster. He stands just 6'0" and weighs in at 284 pounds.
There's no chance that Hickman vies for a roster spot with a mess of veterans and fifth-round pick Caraun Reid in front on him on the depth chart. He's a fringe practice-squad player at best.
Offensive Tackle A.J. Dalton
The parade of practice-squad hopefuls continues with A.J. Dalton.
Dalton was a steady starter at Robert Morris University. He began his career at guard and moved out to tackle for his last three years, earning 30 starts at the position.
He doesn't project well as an NFL tackle, especially on a Lions roster with better candidates for the position. Dalton's best chance will be as a practice-squad guard.
Offensive Guard Alex Bullard
Every time the record skips, it lands on the same spot—the practice squad.
Alex Bullard won't give any of the top dogs a run for their money. He needs to put together a solid camp and show some serious promise to beat out the others vying for one of the eight coveted spots.
He has the SEC pedigree from his Tennessee days. Now we'll find out if the 6'2", 300-pound guard can back it up.
Wide Receiver Andrew Peacock
The Lions needed wide receivers heading into the offseason. It's safe to say that undrafted free agent Andrew Peacock won't be the remedy to the problem.
Peacock had a nice career at Appalachian State, a school name that still sends shivers down the spine of plenty of Lions fans. He piled up 157 catches over his last two seasons and had the fifth-most receiving yards in school history with 2,108 over his career.
His 5'9", 192-pound frame means he's destined for the slot. He finds himself buried behind Jeremy Ross, Ryan Broyles and T.J. Jones and will have to show more promise than last year's sixth-rounder Corey Fuller to fight his way to the practice squad.
Tight End Jacob Maxwell
While the others listed so far would be put in the long-shot category, tight end Jacob Maxwell finds himself in the next tier.
Granted, it isn't much higher, but every inch counts in the NFL.
Maxwell didn't post great numbers at Louisiana-Lafayette. He totaled just 36 catches for 377 yards and six touchdowns. That isn't enough to beat out the likes of Brandon Pettigrew, Eric Ebron or Joseph Fauria, but his 4.68 40-yard dash and 38.5-inch vertical could be enticing enough for a year of development on the practice squad.
Offensive Lineman Bryce Quigley
Offensive lineman Bryce Quigley is the latest addition to the roster, taking the place vacated by veteran cornerback Chris Houston.
Congratulations! Now you get to fight with Cornelius Lucas and others to land the last tackle spot.
Quigley suffered a torn tendon in his foot during his final college game, which Lions Insider Tim Twentyman speculates could have been the reason he went undrafted. If his recovery matches his possible versatility, the Lions might stash him for a year on the practice squad and see if they can develop him.
Quarterback James Franklin
One of the more overblown battles heading into training camp will be fought between Kellen Moore and undrafted free agent James Franklin. It seems important because it includes the quarterback position, but there's no certainty that head coach Jim Caldwell will carry three quarterbacks on the roster.
I'm not insinuating that developing quarterbacking talent isn't important. However, the constant debate over Moore's "experience" and Franklin's upside is hot air. The simple truth is that if this season, or any in the near future, rests in either player's hands, the Lions are in trouble.
Regardless, we're here, so let's talk about it. Quickly.
Moore hasn't done anything in the past two years to warrant a real leg up. And Franklin's athleticism (1,729 rushing yards in college) is an advantage that Moore and his lack of arm strength can't combat.
Unless Franklin proves completely inept throwing the football, and considering the new staff's lack of allegiance to Moore, it'd be surprising if Moore beat out Franklin.
Safety Jerome Couplin
As documented on Gabe Lynn's slide, it's a real stretch to see either he or fellow undrafted free agent safety Jerome Couplin make the team. There are too many quality players ahead of them to give the idea any credence.
But, as has been the prominent theme throughout, the practice squad is the goal for most of these guys.
Couplin is a physical, hard-hitting safety from William & Mary. He plays too erratically and impulsively to garner any meaningful playing time in the near future, but his 4.55 40-yard dash and 41.5-inch vertical could be enough to warrant some development time.
Fullback Chad Abram
Finally, we have reached a player with an outside shot of making the roster, but no one is going to hand it to fullback Chad Abram.
For starters, the Lions signed Jed Collins to be their No. 1 at the position. Collins has experience with offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi from their time together and has eight career touchdowns to boot.
Abram does, however, bring plenty of raw talent. He posted a 4.58 40-yard dash and has the look of a professional fullback at 5'11" and 236 pounds. His ability to catch out of the backfield could force the Lions to carry two fullbacks, as long as he can contribute on special teams as well.
Offensive Tackle Cornelius Lucas
The last undrafted free agent is the cream of the crop—offensive tackle Cornelius Lucas.
The behemoth from Kansas State has caused quite a stir in Detroit. We all saw general manager Martin Mayhew unearth a starter in LaAdrian Waddle last year, so Lucas now has to live up to those unrealistic goals.
Furthering the belief that Lucas will be a factor this season is his size. The Kansas State product stands 6'8" and drapes 318 pounds over that long frame.
The truth—there's that word again—is that he won't be involved in the fight between Waddle and Corey Hilliard for the right-tackle spot. The ceiling this year is a roster spot as the fourth tackle, which is a very attainable goal.
Kicker Nate Freese
Detroit's kicking woes last year have been well-documented. There's no need to rehash them here. The bottom line is that the Lions needed a new kicker.
Thus, in the seventh round, the Lions drafted Nate Freese.
Freese put together an excellent college career. He didn't miss a single field-goal attempt his senior year and will be given every chance to beat out Giorgio Tavecchio. He hasn't been as accurate in the OTAs and minicamps, but the competition with Tavecchio won't be decided until the last moment.
Wide Receiver T.J. Jones
There won't be much focus on T.J. Jones at this year's training camp. The sixth-rounder from Notre Dame doesn't have the magnetism of Eric Ebron or the importance of Golden Tate.
But he does have talent.
Jones, Notre Dame's top receiver in 2013, put up 70 catches for 1,108 yards and nine scores his senior season. His production and 4.48 40-yard dash will give him a chance to battle Jeremy Ross, Ryan Broyles and Kevin Ogletree for the third or fourth spot.
Everything will depend on how many wideouts the Lions decide to carry, considering there will probably be at least four tight ends on the roster. There's a very good chance that Jones redshirts this year on the practice squad.
Defensive Tackle Caraun Reid
The response to defensive tackle Caraun Reid's selection has been overwhelming. It could be his Princeton pedigree or his 20.5 career sacks, but Reid looks like he could be a steal in the fifth round.
Yet not everyone is overly enthused. Fellow featured columnist Risdon threw some water on the fire last week, reminding everyone that Reid isn't going to climb higher than fourth on this year's depth chart.
And he's absolutely right.
Reid has some work to do before he's better than C.J. Mosley, who is one of the best backup defensive tackles in the league. However, if a fifth-rounder can at least enter the rotation in his rookie year, that's a win.
Defensive End Larry Webster
The fourth round was a bit strange for the Lions.
None only did they finally take a cornerback (see next slide), but they reached for a pass-rushing prospect who is probably two years away from meaningful snaps.
Larry Webster only played two years of college football. It should be noted, though, that in 2012 alone he notched a school-record 13.5 sacks and followed that up with 12.5 more in 2013.
Webster is the latest basketball convert trying to cash in on a gridiron career. He has all the raw tools to warrant a fifth-or sixth-round pick considering his 6'6" height, 4.58 40-yard dash and 36.5" vertical. Now he just needs the tutelage that he'd receive on the practice squad, since that's his most likely destination.
Cornerback Nevin Lawson
The other somewhat head-scratching pick of the fourth round was Nevin Lawson.
The cornerback from Utah State doesn't fit the press-man, big-body mold that defensive coordinator Teryl Austin covets for his aggressive defense. It seemed to be an odd marriage.
However, when speaking to the press general manager Martin Mayhew praised Lawson as "scrappy" and competitive." He also talked about Lawson's 4.5 40-yard dash, which he could use to put himself in better position and negate his length disadvantage.
Lawson will go through a learning curve as all rookie cornerbacks do; he'll just need to be quicker than most drafted as late as him. The Lions will be counting on him to emerge as the dime back, since he defaulted his way up the depth chart after Chris Houston was released.
Offensive Lineman Travis Swanson
While the fourth-round cornerback is likely to see some meaningful action in his early career, the Lions hope that isn't the case for third-round interior offensive lineman Travis Swanson.
Detroit drafted Swanson with the idea of eventually replacing longtime center Dominic Raiola. He was not drafted with the notion of playing much this year, considering Detroit's offensive line finished last season as one of the best units in the league.
If Swanson is called upon, there's a good chance it's at guard. Basically, his only duties this year will be to learn both the guard and center positions and hope no one gets injured.
Linebacker Kyle Van Noy
Finally, we get to someone whose ceiling for the 2014 season is no lower than Defensive Rookie of the Year. It might be unlikely, but it isn't that big of a stretch.
If Teryl Austin were to make his prototypical linebacker in a lab, he's end up with linebacker Kyle Van Noy. Without him, he wouldn't have the versatile playmaker he could move all over the field and who can raise hell in opposing backfields.
That's the key here. If Austin wants to blitz Van Noy, he can do so with confidence. If he wants to have Van Noy bluff the blitz and fall back into coverage while the opposite corner comes screaming in, the quarterback will have to adjust quickly, because if he throws an ill-advised pass Van Noy will take it to the house.
The options are nearly endless with the BYU product's addition to an already solid defense. If there was a better second-round pick, I must have missed it.
Tight End Eric Ebron
Not everything has gone according to Eric Ebron's plan. Coming off the field a few weeks ago, the first-round tight end told the Detroit Free Press' Jeff Seidel that he has "never made as many mistakes in football in my life."
For now, that's fine. He's learning multiple positions, since he'll be lining up all over the field. He's also learning how a professional football player lines up, gets off the line and runs routes. And it's likely that the Lions' playbook is a little longer than the North Carolina version he's used to.
Once it starts to click, Ebron's ceiling is similar to Van Noy's in the impact department. He won't put up numbers worthy of the Offensive Rookie of the Year, because the new offense will spread the ball around like the San Antonio Spurs do in the NBA. But defenses will know he's out there, which will give everyone on the offense enough room to operate.
Brandon Alisoglu is a Detroit Lions featured columnist who has written about the Lions on multiple sites. He also co-hosts a Lions-centric podcast, Lions Central Radio. Yell at him on Twitter about how wrong he is @BrandonAlisoglu.