College Players Have Began To Declare For The 2017 Draft.
Nearing the end of the bowl season around this time of year, under age players start making decisions on whether or not they should enter the draft. While this is not a complete list, these are some guys at key positions the Lions will consider come draft day. Here are five that Lions fans should watch out for as potential picks this year:
If the Lions decide to address the defensive end position early this year, Solomon Thomas could be a consideration. The 6’3, 273 pound junior out of Stanford has been climbing up draft boards throughout the year due to his unique speed and agility for his size.
He’s a high character player with a blue collar work ethic, high motor, and impressive determination that is exactly the type of player a guy like Jim Caldwell would want to target. He also would provide a nice compliment with Ansah’s freak strength on the other side, creating a sort of JPP/Olivier Vernon dynamic on Detroits defensive line.
The points that impress me most about his game and sets him apart from the other undersized players that are filling up the upper end of the edge rusher class this year are his technique and his intelligence. He has a very refined pass rushing skill set which generally lends to immediate production at the next level. He also is very good at play recognition, making him both effective against the run and even when dropping back in coverage, something Terryl Austin has shown he loves to do with his d-linemen.
While he’s not quite there yet in the eyes of most media, I think after the combine and his pro day he will be well worth consideration in the mid 20’s.
While Nevin Lawson has been good most of this season he could certainly be upgraded on, and Sidney Jones would by far do that. Jones has proved time and again in his college career he is a shut down corner.
With prototypical size at 6’0, 180 pounds, and a projected 4.5 40 time, Jones has the measureables to matchup with any receiver anywhere on the field and take them out of the game. While he’s not a very physical player and doesn’t get very aggressive at the line, he more then makes up for that with smooth technique and solid positioning.
It’s thought he has generally good playmaking skills. It’s tough to see just how good his ball skills are since he’s rarely thrown at, but with seven interceptions the last two years he definitely has shown at least some hands.
An underrated part of his game that has especially developed this season is his run defense. Jones has become quite a sure tackler over this last year wrapping up guys at the point of contact, and has become adept at getting a jump off the edge. Getting tackles for loss against the run. He’s also very good at getting the ball out and creating turnovers, with five forced fumbles the past two seasons.
The key to Jones’ availability will be whether or not Marshon Lattimore from Ohio State declares or not as I have Lattimore as the #3 corner while Jones is the #5. If Lattimore is in the draft I think there’s a fair chance Jones just makes it down to where we will be selecting, if not I think it will be tough to see him go that low. Hopefully he does make his way down though, because almost any other year Jones is a borderline top 10 talent easily.
I think the Lions DT group is actually quite good currently but it lacks diversity. Ngata, Robinson, Charles, and Thornton are all run stuffers and Tyrunn Walker is just not the same guy since he broke his leg last season.
Davon Godchaux offers a little of that explosive pass rush Walker should have been adding to the pot as a true three technique. While he’s not going to wow you in a foot race, the 6’4, 293 pound Godchaux has one of the quickest first steps I’ve seen out of this defensive tackle class so far. He has a very high ceiling should he live up to his potential.
That ability to collapse the pocket and bust through interior gaps can be a game changing trait and he’s proven he can do that week in and week out against NFL quality interior o-line talent in the SEC. While he’s a little weak against the run, we have plenty of tackles that can be paired along side him with that skill set and could help bring him along a little in that regard. I think this would be a quality third round pickup for Detroit should they decide they want to add some pass rush from the interior in their defensive scheme.
If Jones is off the board once the Lions first pick comes around I think this is their next best option. Conley at 6’0, 195 pounds might be a half step slower then Jones, but his technique is right there with him, maybe even better. He has a true all around skill set that I think lends him to being a very high end #2 cornerback, with the ability to make teams pay for trying to throw away from the shut down corner, producing four picks this season.
His biggest asset though in my mind is his pedigree as Buckeyes products currently are by far the most pro ready prospects coming out today. Like Eli Apple this season, I see him as an immediate plug and play option on the outside, allowing Detroit to slide Lawson inside to compete with Quandre Diggs for the slot corner position.
Cornerback in the first round feels more and more like the best direction as this process moves on.
While Zach Zenner has come on in the last two weeks, has he really done enough to suggest that the Lions power running game is solved? I don’t think anyone who’s been watching Detroit this season can honestly say that is the case at this point. Zenner is a great backup but I’m not convinced he’s the guy that gives us what is needed out of the power run game in this committee.
At 6’2, 250 pound James Conner is a guy I would rely on. One of the biggest and best running backs in the college game entering his sophomore year, Conner tore his ACL and then got diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He then went on to rehab his leg, beat cancer, and be ready for the start of his junior season where he rushed for over 1,000 yards, caught 21 balls for 302 yards, and scored 20 TD’s.
While it looks like he hasn’t quite gotten back to full speed yet this year, that’s not as much of a concern for a team that is looking to use him as the Lions are: in short yardage and change up situations.
Regardless I don’t see much of a risk he doesn’t get back to full speed within a year or two, and even if he doesn’t, his current fourth to fifth round grade is well worth potentially gaining a player that was one of the most dominant runners in ACC history as a freshman. A guy that in year one was better then Dalvin Cook is now.
With the amount of talent and depth in this draft at power runner, although I’ve been hemming and hawing about it lately, Detroit can’t afford to take a mid round shot on a guy and I think Conner might be the best option. If you’re interested in looking around though, Samaje Perine, Corey Clement, De’veon Smith, Jamaal Williams, and Kareem Hunt should all be around in roughly the same range.