With the NFL draft this weekend, let this first be a reminder that most draft picks shouldn’t be fully evaluated until three years later.
But, it can be worthwhile to look at progress reports of the players who have yet to reach the three-year mark in their career.
Obviously, it’s too soon to say exactly what kind of players the Lions’ 2015 picks will be for their careers, but they have provided a glimpse of what they’re capable of contributing. In the case of a few players, there’s several reasons for optimism heading into 2016, but some of the other picks remain a complete mystery.
Here’s a look at last year’s picks and what they could do next season:
Laken Tomlinson, G, Duke
What he did in 2015: Manny Ramirez was ahead of Tomlinson at left guard as the season approached, but an injury to right guard Larry Warford gave the rookie a chance to start Week 1 with Ramirez moving to the right side. After two weeks as a backup, Tomlinson returned to the lineup when Warford missed Weeks 4 and 5, and the rookie held the left guard spot for the rest of the season, playing the fourth most snaps among Lions offensive players. Tomlinson was a part of a line that had significant communication problems and struggled mightily in the first half of the season. But, when the Lions simplified the blocking scheme, Tomlinson was among the players who improved, though he was overpowered at times.
Expectations for 2016: Tomlinson did well enough last season that he’ll be slotted as the starter barring something unforeseen. Ramirez left in free agency, and even though the Lions signed veteran Geoff Schwartz, he’ll likely be the backup for multiple positions. A strong offseason from Tomlinson would help provide a reason to be optimistic about the line.
Ameer Abdullah, RB, Nebraska
What he did in 2015: Abdullah led the Lions with 143 carries for 597 yards, but frankly, he should’ve played more because he had a 4.2-yard average.
Ultimately, Abdullah played just 33 percent of the offensive snaps as fumbling issues — he had five — and struggles in the pass game, both blocking and being on the same page as the quarterback, led to a smaller-than-expected role on offense. Abdullah also contributed on special teams, ranking second in the NFL with a 29.1-yard average on kickoff returns.
Expectations for 2016: Unless the Lions draft a running back in the first three rounds, which seems unlikely, Abdullah should remain the top rusher on the team. However, Theo Riddick will cut into Abdullah’s playing time, and Stevan Ridley and Zach Zenner could receive time, too. Because Abdullah maxed out at 17 offensive touches in a game last year, it’s hard to see him suddenly being an every-down option, though improving the fumbling problem would give him more chances to play.
Alex Carter, CB, Stanford
What he did in 2015: Carter suffered an ankle injury right before training camp began last year and then started the season on injured reserve with designation for return before staying on IR for the whole season. So, a shorter answer is that Carter did nothing as a rookie besides sit in meeting rooms and learn.
Expectations for 2016: The Lions have tempered expectations publicly regarding Carter, but there’s still confidence he can become a good NFL player. How early the Lions take a cornerback in the draft — and how many — could be a sign into what the team really thinks Carter can contribute. Considering Carter is just 21, the Lions won’t rush him into a role, but he has all of the tools to become a successful player on the outside.
Gabe Wright, DT, Auburn
What he did in 2015: Wright appeared in seven games, including a start in Week 5, but he was inactive for the final seven weeks, most of which he was healthy. Playing just 135 defensive snaps, Wright had six tackles, including one for loss, but often looked like he lacked the strength to excel against interior linemen.
Expectations for 2016: Even though Wright will certainly have the chance to prove himself, his future with the Lions is seriously in doubt with a new front office in place. The team re-signed Haloti Ngata and Tyrunn Walker and added Stefan Charles, all of whom have had more success in the NFL than Wright to this point. Caraun Reid is ahead of Wright on the depth chart, too, and a draft pick could push Wright to the outside looking in despite the Lions trading their 2016 third-round pick to take him last year.
Michael Burton, FB, Rutgers
What he did in 2015: Burton slotted right into the starting job, played 22 percent of the offensive snaps and was a regular on special teams. He was typically successful as a lead blocker, but didn’t contribute much else on offense, finishing with four carries for two yards and six catches for 39 yards and a touchdown.
Expectations for 2016: It would be shocking to see the Lions to draft another fullback this year after Burton looked promising last season. So, barring something unexpected, Burton will be the starter again in 2016.
Quandre Diggs, CB, Texas
What he did in 2015: He looked like someone who should’ve been drafted much higher. Diggs played a bit as the backup nickel cornerback in the first half of the season then held the role full time when Josh Wilson suffered an injury in Week 10. From that point on, Diggs contributed with an all-around game that provided significant optimism for his future, finishing with 35 tackles, two for loss, six pass break-ups, a forced fumble and a recovery.
Expectations for 2016: Diggs will be the top option in the slot again, but the Lions haven’t really found his backup, which is why there could be a nickel cornerback coming in the draft.
Corey Robinson, OT, South Carolina
What he did in 2015: He was in for four special teams plays in the one game he was active. Despite the issues at right tackle, Robinson never had a chance to play on offense.
Expectations for 2016: Like with other players, the draft will clearly impact Robinson’s roster status. Going into the draft, he was still behind Riley Reiff, Michael Ola, Lamar Holmes and Cornelius Lucas, and a high pick would obviously add another person to the mix. Robinson really struggled early in training camp last year, so he has to show growth this offseason to stick around.