Ten draft takeaways: Davis right choice for Lions
Allen Park — If you’re looking for grades on the Detroit Lions’ 2017 draft class, you’ve come to the wrong place. Nothing against the age-old gimmick, but it’s not for me. It’s ridiculous to assign value to a group of players who have yet to step on a professional field.
But there’s still plenty of post-draft analysis to be offered, so here are 10 takeaways from what the Lions were able to accomplish over the weekend:
Was Davis right pick?
No pick generates more debate than the first-rounder. The Lions grabbed Florida linebacker Jarrad Davis at No. 21, which I was lucky to nail in my mock last week.
It’s a good selection and clear fit, filling a significant roster need with a highly athletic, high-character player. Outside of some durability concerns, there’s little to dislike about Davis. But could the Lions have done better? It’s certainly a fair debate.
A lot of it depends on your opinion of Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster, who many observers ranked just ahead of Davis. But if you factor in everything —from Foster’s own injury issues (concussions, shoulder) to his character concerns, including but not limited to being sent home from the combine after an altercation with a medical official and getting knocked with a diluted urine sample on his drug test at the event — Davis was the easy choice.
At defensive end, the Lions passed on a number of options. At the end of the day, and as we wrote several times, Charles Harris and Takk McKinley weren’t scheme fits. They were too undersized to play opposite Ziggy Ansah. As for Taco Charlton, he’ll be the one we’ll weigh Davis against in the future, because the former Wolverine checked all the boxes for the Lions as an edge defender.
New, improved LB corps
The Lions entered the draft with a patchwork group at LB and came out of the event with a fortified unit. Davis should start immediately, while fourth-rounder Jalen Reeves-Maybin gives them an instinctual athlete who can cover a lot of space and potentially start later this year or early next season, while contributing on special teams out the gate.
With Tahir Whitehead and Paul Worrilow only under contract through this year, you could see Davis, Reeves-Maybin and 2016 fifth-round pick Antwione Williams as your starting group in 2018.
The most striking change should be in coverage. The Lions have struggled to protect the middle of the field since DeAndre Levy’s injuries started mounting, and both Davis and Reeves-Maybin have skill sets to shore up that weakness.
Out on a limb
Teez Tabor’s film and production at Florida are impressive. In many ways, he epitomized a shutdown corner. But after he ran a shockingly slow 40 at the Combine and pro day, doubt was cast on his ability to port his skills to the NFL.
Instead of writing off the team’s initial report, Quinn put on his scouting hat and pored over more than a dozen Tabor’s games to confirm the young corner was who the Lions thought he was.
If Quinn is right, Detroit’s secondary is going to look good for a long time with Tabor and Darius Slay patrolling the perimeter. But you can’t help but wonder if the metrics were a warning sign the GM tricked himself into ignoring.
The success and failure of all picks fall on the general manager, but few more so than this selection because of how much time Quinn personally invested into researching the prospect. This could end up being one of his legacy-defining choices.
Ground game unchanged
Quinn believes in Ameer Abdullah and so do I. As a back who will carry the ball between 12-20 times per game, with some receiving targets sprinkled in, he’s a dynamic, game-changing weapon. But Quinn is surprisingly comfortable banking on Abullah’s durability after being bit so hard by his absence last year.
Instead of trading down in the third round, the Lions might have been better off taking Toledo’s Kareem Hunt or Texas’ D’Onta Foreman. Instead, both backs came off the board the next four picks and the Lions opted for a receiver at the end of the round. This one could come back to bite them.
Diggs on notice
When you talk about football character, Quandre Diggs has it in spades. He’s tough, works hard and gives it everything he has, every day. But he had shortcomings on the field last season, particularly in coverage.
To add competition to the spot, the Lions signed former first-rounder D.J. Hayden to a one-year deal and added small-school corner Jamal Agnew in the fifth round on Saturday. It’s going to take Agnew some time to get acclimated to the level of competition, but the San Diego speedster is a more athletic version of Diggs, with some impressive ball-skill numbers coming out of college.
If he develops quickly, Agnew has the desired skill set to improve the Lions’ nickel situation.
Can O’Connor make it?
Expectations aren’t high for seventh-rounders, but the Lions saw enough in Eastern Michigan’s Pat O’Connor that they didn’t want to risk losing him in the competitive undrafted free agent market.
O’Connor has good size at 6-foot-4 and 270 pounds and plays with a relentless motor. His most appealing stat last season was five forced fumbles.
It’s an uphill battle, but if he flashes some of that playmaking ability in the preseason, it’s possible O’Connor could overtake Armonty Bryant or Anthony Zettel in training camp.
What Kaaya offers
The Lions needed a third quarterback for training camp and Brad Kaaya sitting there in the sixth round proved to be value the Lions couldn’t pass up. The addition makes for an interesting competition with current backup Jake Rudock.
Rudock might not be the prospect Kaaya is coming out of college, but he has the leg up with a year in the system. Regardless, the two should push each other, and the Lions will be a better team for it, whether the team keeps two or three quarterbacks when the roster is trimmed to 53.
Quinn noted that the Lions haven’t closed the door on bringing back Anquan Boldin, but drafting Kenny Golladay in the third round certainly lessens the urgency to re-sign the veteran. The Lions could certainly trim back their three-receiver set usage, at least early in 2017, to bring Golladay along slowly.
If you re-sign Boldin, and the corps remains healthy, Golladay wouldn’t see the field much as a rookie.
While the 2016 team had a number of flaws, the draft appeared to directly address some of them.
For one, the Lions allowed an outlandish percentage of passes to be completed last year, especially across the middle the field. If Davis, Reeves-Maybin and Agnew get to a point where they’re sharing the field, the windows for opposing quarterbacks are going to be far smaller. And on the outside, Tabor will contest plenty of throws in front of him, it’s the deep ball that’s the concern with his recorded speed.
Another issue last season were dropped passes. Look at the two weapons the Lions added in Golladay and tight end Michael Roberts, both noted for their hands. A dropped pass is a wasted play and the Lions want to curb some of their issues there.
The Lions didn’t add a trench player until the sixth-round, selecting 280-pound Jerimiah Ledbetter. The team has committed to playing him at defensive tackle, which means he’ll likely need to pack 10-15 pounds on to his 6-foot-3 frame.
Moving him inside is the right choice. Athletically, he’d be considered well above average as a tackle, compared to a marginal athlete as an edge rusher. Detroit’s pass-rushing scheme is about attacking and Ledbetter has an intriguing ceiling as a 3-tech tackle.