Rogers: Four thoughts on the Lions’ NFL Draft haul
Allen Park — The 2018 NFL draft is in the books and the Detroit Lions came away with six shiny new rookies. After taking a little time to process what the team accomplished the past three days, here are four thoughts on the Lions’ haul.
The similarities between this year’s draft class and the 2015 version are striking.
In 2015, general manager Martin Mayhew’s last with the Lions, the team drafted an interior offensive lineman in the first round, a running back in the second and a big, versatile defensive back in the third. Having given up their fourth-round choice in a previous trade, the Lions worked their way back into the round by trading a future draft pick to snag a much-needed defensive lineman, then closed out the third day with a fullback, nickel corner and backup offense tackle.
Compare that to this class, which followed an identical pattern through four rounds, including the trade back into the round by sacrificing a future third-round choice. The Lions also added a fullback and backup offensive tackle down the stretch. All that’s missing is the nickel corner, but the Lions didn’t have a sixth-round selection this year. A shame, since Quandre Diggs, has been the best player from Detroit’s 2015 draft.
That return on investment in 2015 was brutal, with only Ameer Abdullah and Diggs remaining on the roster. As one Twitter follower suggested, 2018 could almost be viewed as a do-over for the shortcomings from three years ago.
And please don’t assume that because the 2015 strategy failed that it reflects on the potential of the 2018 class in any way. These prospects will carve out their own stories over the next several seasons.
Return of the fullback
In that 2015 draft class, the Lions selected fullback Michael Burton in the fifth round. He did a good job in his role, including special-teams contributions, but the Lions, like many other teams around the NFL, opted to dump the position from the offensive scheme, cutting Burton last May.
That decision is on track to be reversed with the selection of Nick Bawden in the seventh round on Saturday. The lead blocker for a 2,000-yard back each of the past two seasons, he could be a under-the-radar piece to the puzzle as Detroit to seeks long-lost balance on offense.
Even though the Lions largely maintained continuity on the offensive coaching staff this offseason, the potential reincorporation of a fullback has Matt Patricia’s thumbprint on it.
Look to New England, where the fullback remains an integral part of the team’s scheme. In 2012, the team signed James Develin, a former undrafted free agent, and he’s been on the field more than 250 snaps four of the past five seasons, missing the fifth year due to injury.
Jobs and roles will be sorted out on the field throughout the course of the offseason, but the addition of new talent can be indicative of certain veterans who suddenly face a steeper uphill climb to retain their spots.
After the draft, general manager Bob Quinn said he had no trade talks about any of the veterans on his roster, which is a little surprising given Ameer Abdullah is entering the final year of his contract. Despite his disappointing 2017 season, you’d think he’s shown enough in bursts to generate interest.
There’s value in holding on to insurance policies, in case of training camp and preseason injuries, but at some point, the Lions are going to need to trim the fat. Blount has played zero special-teams snaps the past three years, it’s been two seasons for Theo Riddick and Abdullah was on the field for 11 last year, likely all kickoff returns. Something has to give, because Tion Green and Zach Zenner can contribute in other ways.
Dwayne Washington is also still on the roster, but it’s tough to imagine a path where he sticks through to the regular season.
Switching gears to the defense line, Da’Shawn Hand sure looks like a one-to-one replacement for Cornelius Washington. It’s absolutely possible the Lions carry a fifth defensive end, but if Hand finds his footing quickly, he makes Washington expendable.
I liked the way Washington played last season. He’s a good run-stopper and has a beastly bull rush capable of overwhelming many offensive tackles. His previous experience in a 3-4 defense also gives him appealing versatility as the Lions switch to a varied front. But the team would be able to save $2.7 million in cap space if he’s cut.
Tight end squeeze
There was reasonable speculation the Lions would draft a tight end in the first three rounds, but the board didn’t fall that way. The top three prospects in the class — Hayden Hurst, Mike Gesicki and Dallas Goedert — were all taken in the top 50, while the Lions addressed other needs.
By the time the Lions were back on the clock in the third round, the best available options were UCF’s Jordan Akins and Indiana’s Ian Thomas. And as concerning as Detroit’s current collective of tight ends looks on paper, it’s difficult to suggest Akins or Thomas could have beat out the trio projected to make the team’s regular season roster.
Detroit is banking on potential with its current group. Luke Willson has shown the ability to be a dual-threat at the position, but will be asked to increase the volume of his production to career-high levels. And Michael Roberts, a fourth-round draft pick last year, will be looked at as a bigger part of the passing game after the team focused on developing his blocking during his rookie season.
If nothing else, the group should be a better run-blocking collective than the Lions have had in recent years, but will probably catch far fewer passes. If the ground game makes significant improvements, that’s a tradeoff you can live with.