As I see it today, the Detroit Lions’ needs at the draft this year are defensive tackle, offensive tackle, linebacker, and – depending on the status of Calvin Johnson – wide receiver. They also have a lesser need at center, and I wouldn’t be against drafting a developmental QB prospect in the later rounds. With free agency right upon us, there’s still a lot of dominoes to fall. I hope the Lions can at least secure one of their top needs in free agency, then focus on building their roster in the draft.
In this series, I’m focusing on four positional groups; last time out we looked at offensive tackle, today we’re going to check out:
Billed as the top defensive line class in history, there are about 12 guys along the d-line who would be first round picks in a normal draft class. This is a huge advantage for the Lions, because they don’t have to take a defensive tackle in the first round to get a guy with first-round talent. Even if the Lions sign Ngata, they still could use another big body as Tyrunn Walker is an unknown at this point.
Jarran Reed, DT, Alabama
An immediate plug-and-play starter, Reed measures in at 6’3”, 311lbs. He plays with great leverage, as the low man he always wins. He is a run-stuffer supreme, with fantastic vision and instincts. I’d rather the Lions draft someone with more pass-rushing abilities to play with Ngata to create more havoc in the quarterback’s face, but overall Reed is as sure as it gets for a defensive tackle.
A’Shawn Robinson, DT, Alabama
Reed’s counterpart along the d-line, Robinson is similar in weight at 312lbs and just a tad taller at 6’4”. At times Robinson has issues with his pad level, playing too high. He isn’t stiff however and shows the ability to get low, it just doesn’t happen for some reason. He struggles as a pass rusher, lacking that go-to rush move that leaves centers and guards looking like Travis Swanson.
Sheldon Rankins, DT, Louisville
One of my favorites that I’d hope for the Lions to select at 16, Rankins is an athletic yet powerful player in the trenches. On the shorter side at 6’1” (which can be a positive for a defensive tackle, in Rankins’ case it is) and weighing 304 pounds, he has elite foot quickness and leaves less athletically gifted guards in his wake. People worry about him being undersized, but Aaron Donald is a whole 20 pounds lighter and an inch shorter and in my opinion was the best d-lineman in football last year.
Vernon Butler, DT, Louisiana Tech
In any other draft, Butler would be a sure-fire top 15 pick. His stock has risen since the senior bowl, but I see him going from the 20’s on up. I’d be all-in if the Lions could move back and get him. A big man at 6’3” and 325lbs, he has power for days and can play in two gaps. Eats up double teams and plays until the echo of the whistle. Benching 225 26 times at the combine, Butler has extreme strength. In college he was able to out-muscle a lot of guards instead of developing pass-rush moves. If a good d-line coach gets a hold of this guy he will be a menace in the league for years to come.
Andrew Billings, NT, Baylor
A young buck, Billings enters the combine at 19 years and 11 months. A powerful man, he was among the top performers at the combine with 31 bench press reps. It’s also rumored that he is able to squat 805 pounds. He’s a freight train, and has issues changing direction. Raw as a pass-rusher, he often relies on raw power rather than finesse moves to rush the passer which could make him one-dimensional in the NFL.
Austin Johnson, NT, Penn State
Johnson had an unprecedented 75 tackles from the nose tackle position in 2015. A big guy at 6’4”, 325 pounds, he’s a bull rusher from the nose tackle spot and is rarely dominated at the line of scrimmage. He is a constant ball of energy and effort. Johnson has great physical traits, but needs to improve upon his technique in order to become the best NFL player he can be.
Kenny Clark, NT, UCLA
6’3” 310 with a wrestler background, he will handle less physically gifted guards with ease. He has great vision and feel for the game. He missed four tackles this past year which is a lot for a nose tackle. The missed tackles aren’t the only thing slowing down the hype train. Clark did most of his damage against lesser competition, and was just a guy against the better players. Clark had a satisfactory combine, he could slip into the 3rd round.
Javon Hargrave, DT, South Carolina State
A sack machine at 6’1” 309, Hargrave racked up thirty sacks his junior and senior season. An athletic pass rusher, great motor and effort. He has short arms and lacks instincts. Hargrave is raw, but with the right coaching he could develop into a solid starting defensive tackle.
Chris Jones, DT, Mississippi State
Jones had one of the more embarrassing moments in combine history, google it. It’s not obscene, but I’ll still put a NSFW label on it. Jones stands out among his peers at 6’6” 308, but his height is a detriment to him. Personally, I’d prefer a below average height guy at defensive tackle than an above average one. He has the potential to be versatile and play multiple positions. He left school early, much to the dismay of many scouts who don’t think he is quite ready for the NFL yet. Inconsistency is all over him. An unknown until his senior high school season, he had a disappointing sophomore campaign at Mississippi State before having a solid junior year. With Jones, you’re buying upside and not a proven player.
Maliek Collins, DT, Nebraska
Another DT with a wrestling background, Collins is 6’2” and a little light at 300 pounds but that isn’t a huge concern. He flashes on film with exceptional play, just can’t seem to string it together consistently. Ends up on the ground a ton, which is extremely concerning. Isn’t versatile, which is a problem especially for GM Bob Quinn who is looking for players who can do more than one thing than just fill the a-gap.
Sheldon Day, DT, Notre Dame
Physically the same as Aaron Donald at 6 foot and 286lbs, Day can play all the positions along the d-line and shoots gaps with his quick get-off. He is an athlete, and was even doing linebacker drills at the combine. Also skilled in pass coverage. No, that isn’t a typo. He performs well in drop zones with blitzing linebackers which Teryl Austin likes to do. His squat frame, lackluster pass rusher ability, and inability to beat double teams is what knocks Day into round 3. I think he would be a fantastic pick in the third round, it just depends on how far he falls.
So there you have it – your combine review/way too early draft preview for the defensive tackles who showed up at the Combine this year. Keep in mind that we are still two months away from the draft, and so much can happen between now and then. Use this as a guide, formulate your own opinions. Chances are these are the same guys the Lions are taking a good look at!