Lions add 'do-it-all' TE Isaac Nauta, fearsome DT PJ Johnson in seventh round
Allen Park — The Lions wrapped up their NFL Draft haul almost the same way it started.
With the first of two seventh-round picks, Detroit took Georgia tight end Isaac Nauta with the No. 224 overall pick on Saturday.
Nauta was the second tight end the team selected in the draft, along with first-round pick T.J. Hockenson.
“Well, I think competition is good. I think I’m efficient, bring the best out of people,” Nauta told reporters during a conference call. “If you have a bunch of talented guys that (are) all challenging each other every day to get better and to be the best player they can be — I think there’s a chance to have a really exciting and really good tight end room and help the Lions win a lot of football games. I’m just excited to get to work with these guys.”
Nauta (6-foot-3, 244 pounds) was the fourth-leading receiver on Georgia’s team this past season, racking up 30 catches for 430 yards and three touchdowns in 14 games to bounce back from a rough sophomore campaign.
While Nauta's stats don't exactly jump out, his efficiency numbers point to a lack of opportunities in Georgia's passing attack. Per Pro Football Focus, he had an 86-percent completion percentage and averaged 12.3 yards per target, which were the second-best marks in the tight end class.
Lions general manager Bob Quinn said Nauta was a player the team had "really good grades on" even though he didn't test well at the NFL Combine.
"You watch this guy at Georgia and he gets open in the passing game," Quinn said. "At the board at that time he was sticking out like a sore thumb, so we felt like it was a really, really good value.
"He's got position flexibility, too. He's a guy that we can move around a little bit — move him off the ball, move in the backfield a little bit. He has that type of athleticism, the type of movement skills that he's not just an in-line guy, he's not just a receiver guy."
Nauta joins a revamped tight end corps that also includes Jesse James and Logan Thomas, who the Lions signed this offseason.
“I think I do a lot of things well,” said Nauta, who was recruited by Michigan coming out of high school. “I think I can do it all, as far as block, as far as catch the football, I can be protective, got good hands. I think playing the tight end position you have to have a lot of intelligence because there’s a lot that goes into it. You have to know blocking schemes, coverages, where the back is going to be and what the quarterback is thinking.
“There’s a whole other intelligent-side to it, too. It takes a lot of work to build up, but I think when you have a lot of good guys in the room that can help you learn, and you can learn from, it can only help all of us in the end. I can’t mess with something that I have in my favor.”
Five picks later, the Lions closed things out by drafting Arizona defensive tackle PJ Johnson at No. 229.
At 6-foot-4 and 334 pounds, Johnson is an intimidating figure who tallied 31 tackles, including 8.5 tackles for loss and three sacks, and likes “putting fear" in offensive linemen's hearts.
He also picked up the nickname "Grizzly Bear" at Arizona because he was the big brother who protected others and can be aggressive on the field when he needs to be.
But Johnson was a little bit busy when Detroit first started to ring him.
“It was kind of funny. I was on the phone with the Ravens about getting a (undrafted free agent) deal after the draft,” Johnson said. “I was like, ‘The Lions have a pick coming up, and I know they really like me. They might call me then.’ They were trying to keep me on the phone.
“I tried to be polite as possible. They were talking all fast and I was like, ‘Excuse me, excuse me, excuse me. The Lions are calling, and I have to go.’”
Johnson took the long road to get that call. He started his college career at Sacramento State and had a stop at the City College of San Francisco before he landed at Arizona.
“I just kept my head (down) and hoped that God would put me in a place and take care of me,” Johnson said. “I didn’t necessarily see this happening, but I’m so happy and grateful that it happened.”
Meet Isaac Nauta
Notable stats: He had some of his best games against the top teams in the Southeastern Conference, hauling in five catches for 73 yards against Florida and four receptions for 81 yards and a touchdown against Alabama.
Analysis: Nauta didn’t wow at the NFL Combine and isn’t much of a big-play threat, but he’s a solid route runner and has reliable hands. He posted a 146.4 passer rating when targeted and had a 3.2-percent drop rate, marks that ranked second and tied for seventh in his class according to Pro Football Focus. He also graded out well as a sound run-blocker.
Meet PJ Johnson
Notable stats: Recorded 31 tackles, including 22 solo stops, with 8.5 tackles for loss and three sacks in 10 games (nine starts).
Analysis: Johnson eats up space, can play multiple positions up front and is a disruptive force on the interior thanks to his massive size (6-foot-4, 334 pounds). The hope is he could be a diamond in the rough who could carve out a rotational role as a wrecker against the run.