The Detroit Lions are on their way to the top of the NFL Ranks
It’s a quiet time in the world of Lions football news these days. My regular morning ritual of getting coffee and doing a quick Google News search for "Detroit Lions News" is almost meaningless as very few pieces of news are being heard coming from the Lions team offices in Allen Park, MI.
That being said, thank God for Bleacher Report and all the great op-ed writers here contributing to the discussion on Lions football, even when news is scarce. I’ve been busy working my day job(s) over the offseason but read most of the articles posted and there have been many good ones, including many great new writers contributing to the discussion.
It’s no surprise after the way the Lions finished out the 2010 season that there is more excitement in the Honolulu blue and silver air. With that being said, I’m going to take all the mock drafts and news articles into account and try to make some predictions about the draft coming up in just under a month.
For a while Jimmy Smith's draft stock was falling like a rock in water over concerns about his personality, maturity and ability to apply himself (and stay out of trouble). There were concerns that he was simply not worthy of being a first-round pick because guys like Kipper and Mayock have him graded with higher bust potential than other CBs in the draft.
All that changed though when Smith visited Detroit two weeks ago, and (the Wizard) Lions GM Martin Mayhew had a chance to sit down and talk face to face with the young prospect from Colorado. Mayhew, a former NFL cornerback himself, knows what it takes to be an elite corner in the NFL. Corners are different than many other positions when it comes to mentality because a good corner has a certain swagger, a certain confidence that you simply cannot teach. Smith has it, and Mayhew knows it.
Mayhew is also good friends with arguably the best corner to ever play the game of football in Deion Sanders. Something interesting about this, is that Deion had that “swagger” too. It was exactly the reason that many fans loved to hate neon-Deion Sanders.
Physically speaking, Jimmy Smith has some of the best measurable traits of any of the corners in the 2011 draft. At Colorado‘s pro day he weighed in at 211 and ran a 4.38, making him bigger than every corner except Patrick Peterson, and one of the fastest NFL players. Some draft boards even have Smith rated above Prince Amukamara because of his size/speed combination.
The most important factor here though is not size, speed or measurable traits. The most important factor is how comfortable the Detroit Lions coaching staff is taking Jimmy Smith in the first round. We can glean a little insight into the opinions Mayhew told the Detroit Free Press about Smith based on his comments after meeting with him a couple weeks:
“I think (Smith's) a guy that’s made some mistakes and that seems to now realize the mistakes that he made,” Mayhew said. “I think he’s a young guy that’s very talented, or we wouldn’t even be talking to him. He’s got a really good skill level, he’s got size and he’s got speed, and you look at our corners, and we don’t really have a corner with size. So that’s always appealing. He’s an interesting guy."
What we are talking about here is the fit the Lions really need. A corner with the size and speed and man-to-man coverage skills to truly shut down the best wide receivers in the NFL. Based on these factors alone (and ignoring personal history issues), Smith is arguably a better fit than even Prince Amukamara, though if Amukamara falls to the Lions at No. 13 he will absolutely be wearing blue and silver in 2011.
Watch his interview at the combine to see his own take on his maturity, skills and abilities.
Other possibilities: CB Prince Amukamara, OT Tyron Smith
Bruce Carter would be a consensus first-round draft pick if he were healthy right now. He would also be ranked above Akeem Ayers as the best OLB in the draft because his film shows a guy that continues to pursue all the time, unlike Ayers.
Fortunately for the Lions, the rest of the NFL will be shy on taking Carter before the third round. At this point in the draft, though, the Lions can afford to take a gamble on a guy with loads of solid video showcasing his abilities, despite a knee injury that has kept him sidelined through the process of the draft.
Bruce Carter is sound in both run support and pass coverage, which is what the Lions look for in a linebacker. He's also got good size and speed for an LB. Even with his injury he's ranked as a second- to third-round prospect on many draft boards and ranking sites.
Even the name "Bruce Carter" sounds like a good old American name that a linebacker in the NFL should have.
Most importantly, he will be able to start for a Lions LB corps that desperately needs help as soon as he is healthy.
Anytime you have a chance to add a starter in the third round, it's time to jump on the opportunity.
Casey Matthews does not have great measurable abilities. He's not huge. He's not really fast. He's not extremely strong for a linebacker. He didn't even play outside linebacker at Oregon; he played inside linebacker.
What Matthews has is the lineage of a professional football player in his blood, a motor that runs nonstop, possibly the best instincts of any LB in this draft class and the film to back it up. Best of all, he can even drop into coverage and play the pass. And once again, the Lions require the versatility to play the run and the pass out of their linebackers.
Casey Matthews has five relatives who have played or are playing in the NFL. Having relatives like his brother (Clay Matthews), his father (Clay Matthews Jr.), his grandfather (Clay Matthews Sr.), his uncle (Bruce), as well as his cousin (Kevin), does not mean he will automatically be a success at the pro level, but I would say the odds of him being a bust are much lower than many other prospects in the NFL.
The Matthews home in Westlake Village, CA is sure to be equipped to watch both the Packers and the Lions play at the same time (unless they're playing each other) to watch both of the Matthews linebackers showcasing their elite talents every Sunday.
Even though he played ILB in college the Lions could take this solid, young prospect with the intentions of turning him into either a WSLB or SSLB. He could even play ILB if he adds 15-20 lbs.
OK, so this one may be a leap, and it may not be. It's very hard to project the draft positions of anyone in the fifth round. That being said, there is very little footage on Mario Fannin because he was the third-string back at Auburn.
The Lions desperately need a big back who can blast through the line with a head of steam and pick up those short distances. We all know how weak the Lions' interior running game has been. Jahvid Best is an exceptional athlete, but he has not proven the ability to consistently run between the tackles after contact has been made.
At 5'10", 231 lbs., Fannin is a big running back. There are only a couple of backs who have more weight than Fannin in this draft and they don't outweigh him by much. The biggest running backs in the draft are Mikel Leshoure (232 lbs.) and Jamie Harper (233 lbs.).
Now, this is the part where it gets really interesting.
Mario Fannin ran a 4.37 40-yard dash at the combine, and he can catch the ball out of the backfield.
At 231 lbs., he's among the largest running backs in this draft class. At 4.37 he's among the fastest athletes of any kind in this draft. Yet he was the third-string running back at Auburn. It truly does make me ask, "Why on earth did Auburn not start this guy?"
With his size and speed combination, he could be the next Jerome Bettis (aka "The Bus") in the NFL. A guy with his speed is hard to catch, but with his size too? We're talking trying to tackle a freight train with a head of steam.
The real question is will other teams take a chance on this guy despite limited film? Or will he be there in the fifth round for the Lions to grab a power back with some seriously freakish numbers, who just never got a shot on a star-studded national champion Auburn football team?
Could Detroit pick up a "Super Mario" star in the fifth round of this draft??
Detroit is on it's way up.
13th: Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado
44th: Torrey Smith, WR, Maryland
75th: Bruce Carter, LB, UNC
107th: Casey Matthews, LB, Oregon
154th: Mario Fannin, RB, Auburn
With this draft class, the Lions would add many of the pieces they're lacking to be a complete team with the talent to win consistently on Sundays. There was no attention paid to the offensive tackle positions because the Lions have much more pressing needs to fill and when you already have the best LT in the NFC North, they cannot afford to ignore the CB/LB holes the defense has.
By adding a couple of playmakers (Torrey Smith and Mario Fannin) the offense should have all the tools it needs to be explosive, and difficult to contain.
By adding a shutdown corner and two solid linebackers, the Lions defense will have the talent it needs to stay in every single game in 2011.
I hope you enjoyed my 2011 mock draft.
Jared Johnston is an insurance agent who loves Lions football and writes periodic posts about the Lions on www.thebleacherreport.com