NFL combine preview: Offensive players to watch for Lions
Indianapolis — When you finish the previous season with a 6-10 record, you inevitably have many needs to address. The Detroit Lions enter the 2019 offseason with holes all over the roster.
Free agency will be the next opportunity to plug some of those holes, but this week the league's attention is squarely on the lead-up to April's draft with the annual scouting combine.
There will be 256 players drafted in April, but more than 330 have been invited to Indianapolis for medical and on-field testing, as well as individual meetings with their prospective employers.
In this first of two installments, we'll focus on what to watch with the offensive groups, with a particular focus on Detroit's needs at each position.
There might not be a more important number this week than Kyler Murray's height. The Heisman winner is listed at 5-foot-10, which already would make him shorter than any starting quarterback, and there's plenty of skepticism about that number. If Murray ends up measuring in at 5-foot-8, how much will it sink the potential top-10 pick's draft stock?
As for the Lions, despite general manager Bob Quinn stating his team will consider all options with the No. 8 pick, no one genuinely believes he'll seriously look to draft Matthew Stafford's heir apparent. But the team will certainly be on the lookout for mid-round options to compete for the backup job.
►Player to watch for Lions: Tyree Jackson, Buffalo
The supersized signal-caller (6-foot-7, 245 pounds) had a knack for making jaw-dropping throws in college. But his accuracy, the result of poor mechanics, was inconsistent and raises questions about his pro potential. He's been focusing on improving those fundamentals ahead of the draft, and the combine will offer an opportunity to show the progress he's making.
There isn't a clear star in this class, but the general consensus is Alabama's Josh Jacobs is the most likely to be selected in the first round. And college teammate Damien Harris might end up being the second back off the board come April.
After scoring Kerryon Johnson in the second round last year, the Lions are expected to be in the market for a backfield complement this offseason, given LeGarrette Blount and Zach Zenner are headed to free agency and Theo Riddick is a potential cap casualty.
It's setting up to be a solid group in the middle rounds and a strong 40 time is a quick way for someone to separate themselves from the pack.
►Player to watch for Lions: Darrell Henderson, Memphis
If Oklahoma's Rodney Anderson was participating this week, he'd be the choice, but he's limited to the bench press while continuing to work his way back from a season-ending knee injury.
The 5-foot-9, 200-pound Henderson is a different type of back, a true home-run threat who averaged a gaudy 8.9 yards per carry for the Tigers last season, while scoring 22 times on the ground. Keep an eye on his short shuttle and 3-cone times, which could alleviate some concerns about his change-of-direction quickness.
There's still some jostling going at the top of the draft, but it's led by a pair from Ole Miss, D.K. Metcalf and A.J. Brown. Oklahoma's Marquise Brown, a premier playmaker, would be in that mix had he not broken his foot late last season.
Metcalf is physically imposing. A chiseled 6-foot-4, 225-pounder, he looks more like an in-the-box safety than a wideout. It will be interesting to see how that muscle mass impacts his ability to perform in some of the agility drills.
For the Lions, the team is in the market for a third musketeer that can fill Golden Tate's shoes. The offense tanked after the shifty slot receiver was traded midseason, and the team could use an underneath option to complement the field-stretching ability of Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones on the outside.
►Player to watch for Lions: Parris Campbell, Ohio State
There are some concerns with Campbell's skill set, but speed is not one of them. He's one of the few players who is a legitimate threat to break 4.3 seconds in the 40 this year. He won't be able to prove much about his route running or hands in this environment, but his resume carries some appealing versatility.
Many analysts have raved about the depth of this tight end class.
"One of the better tight end drafts we've had in a while with premier top-end guys as well as a lot of depth all the way through," NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah said during a conference call this week.
The Lions have been linked to T.J. Hockenson in a number of mock drafts after the Iowa product established himself as the cream of the crop this past season, but Detroit is the only team to have selected a tight end in the top 10 in the past dozen years and it didn't work out well.
If the Lions aren't able to trade down, and go a different route early, there should be plenty of options available to them on Day 2.
►Player to watch for Lions: Irv Smith Jr., Alabama
Smith exploded onto the scene in 2018, catching 44 passes and averaging 16.1 yards per reception. He's also shown he's a capable run blocker, a critical skill to have in Darrell Bevell's offensive scheme. It will be interesting to see if Smith's combine numbers match what appeared to be top-tier, on-field athleticism.
Like running back, there isn't a dominant offensive lineman in this class. In fact, there's a decent possibility one isn't drafted inside the top 10. But that doesn't mean there isn't plenty of talent in this class.
The Lions have invested heavily in its line via the draft under Quinn, with two first-round picks, a third-round selection and two fifth-round choices in three years.
T.J. Lang's bloated 2019 cap hit remains on Detroit's books. If that's not reworked, and he's eventually released, filling the right guard spot becomes one of the team's top offseason priorities.
The Lions also could be in the market for late-round depth at both tackle and guard to compete for backup jobs.
►Player to watch for Lions: Elgton Jenkins, Mississippi State
A two-year starting center in the Southeastern Conference, Jenkins also played left tackle, right tackle and guard during his time with the Bulldogs, giving him appealing versatility. He won't play tackle in the pros, but he has the necessary athleticism to make a smooth transition to full-time guard, similar to what the Lions did with Frank Ragnow a year ago.