Letters from Boca Raton (Seven Round Mock Draft 1.0)

The annual owners meeting in Boca Raton, FL concluded on Wednesday, and Thursday marked the five-week point from Day 1 of the NFL Draft. The first wave of free agency is over, and the off-season figures to be quiet from now until April 28th. With compensatory picks having been awarded last week, there’s no better time to unleash a seven-round mock draft.

We now have a very good idea of what the team will look like come draft day. Bob Quinn has made a litany of moves in his short time as GM, and the roster is more or less set for the time being – barring depth pickups and/or any trades. They resigned their free agent interior defensive linemen and added depth in the secondary. They won the Marvin Jones sweepstakes, but struck out on Russell Okung. Detroit’s biggest needs remain offensive tackle and defensive tackle (although not necessarily in that order.)

This mock draft sees the Lions address those needs in the first two rounds. Three of the first five selections are spent on defense, but the team ultimately splits their ten selections 50-50 on both sides of the ball. Three of the team’s ten picks are Big Ten players, the most of any conference in this mock, and two different non-Power 5 schools are represented as well. There is one prospect drafted that played his college ball in the state of Michigan. Without further ado…the mock draft…

Round 1, Pick 16 (16)
Vernon Butler, DT/NT (Louisiana Tech)

Late in the college football season last year, I found myself watching Southern Miss-Louisiana Tech – it was the only game on – and found myself being impressed by no. 9 of the Bulldogs. Fast forward to the NFL Combine in February, and that same man, Vernon Butler, was one of the prospects the Lions were interviewing. It wasn’t the first time the team met with Butler, though. They interviewed him during the Senior Bowl, where he was a standout. It wouldn’t be the last time either, as the Lions spoke with him at his Pro Day and were one of two teams to run him through line drills (the other being the Jets.) Some skeptics might view repeat meetings as due diligence rather than interest, but beat writers who cover the team can assure you the team is seriously considering Butler as an option.

In the Lions’ 4-3 front, a big nose tackle is a key component. They’re asked to occupy blocks and free up linebackers to make plays in the run game, and Butler can do all of that. NFL.com scout Lance Zierlein writes, “[Butler is] able to eat up double teams and keep his linebackers clean when asked to… [He has] excellent athleticism.” He’s 6’4″, 323 lbs with long arms (35 1/8″) and huge paws (10 3/4″) and is strong (26 BP reps) and explosive.

He would be a great fit in Teryl Austin’s defensive scheme, giving them the athletic, physically dominant present they’ve lacked since Ndamukong Suh took his talents to South Beach. In fact, Butler spoke highly of the former Lion, saying, “Suh is one of my favorite players, just the tenacity he plays with, his strength.” Ngata may be in town for the next few years, but he’s over the hill, and Detroit has no long-term contracts at DT that aren’t signed by Caraun Reid or Gabe Wright. As tempting as it would be to take Jack Conklin here, Butler is the call.

Round 2, Pick 15 (46)
Germain Ifedi, OT (Texas A&M)

As promised, the Lions fulfill their need at offensive tackle in the second round, taking the former Aggie to help protect Matt Stafford, who’s been sacked 89 times the past two seasons. Ifedi is a physical specimen with a mean streak. At 6’6″, 324 lbs. (36″ arms and 10 3/4″ hands), the tackle has all the measurables to play on Sundays.

Despite his high ceiling, Ifedi will fall to the second round due to some issues with his technique. He has a bad habit of lunging at defenders, and he can also be a bit handsy. Some scouts say he should have returned to school for his senior season because of it. However, those issues can be ironed out with NFL coaching.

Ifedi is versatile, having played both guard and tackle in college, so the Lions could groom him for where they think he fits best. It might be tempting to start him immediately, but Ola and Reiff were serviceable in the second half of the season, and he might be better off developing behind those two.

Round 3, Pick 33 (95)
Sean Davis, CB/SS (Maryland)

Sean Davis is another prospect that’s garnered interest from the team, and it could be due to his relationship with the Lions Director of Football Research & Special Projects, Randy Edsall, his former coach at Maryland. Davis played cornerback for the Terrapins last season after being converted from safety, so he has the versatility Quinn covets. As a cornerback, he was dismal in man coverage at times, especially against Bowling Green when he gave up three TDs. However, he projects as more of a strong safety at the NFL level.

Davis is an elite athlete and he proved it at the combine, and that athleticism translates well on the field. He has a real nose for the ball and is a good tackler with huge hitting ability, as he forced five fumbles in 2015. He recorded 100+ tackles in his sophomore and junior campaigns, but saw his production (expectedly) dip to just 88 as a corner in 2015.

Despite his occasional issues in coverage, Davis was learning a new position. He has the instincts and the athleticism to be good in man coverage, so he should be fine in the league with some coaching. With some uncertainty at the spot Ihedigbo and IAQ left vacant, strong safety might be the Lions’ biggest need behind the ones they addressed in the first two rounds. Davis could come in and earn immediate playing time.

Round 4, Pick 13 (111)
Travis Feeney, OLB (Washington)

Here, the Lions select yet another converted safety, Travis Feeney. The difference is that Feeney was moved up to linebacker, rather than outside to corner. He was also a combine standout, and he improved his stock from late-round flier to early Day 3 project.

At 6’4″, 230 lbs, Feeney is still undersized as a linebacker, and he struggles to combat blocks sometimes. He’s also had difficulties tackling. In 2014, he missed eleven tackles, but dropped that number to three in 2015. He makes up for these deficiencies in other areas, namely in coverage, and Teryl Austin asks his linebackers to cover a lot. He has the size and length to bother move tight ends in the NFL, and the speed (4.5s 40-yard dash) to cover running backs. With Tahir Whitehead being re-signed to play MIKE, per Bob Quinn, Feeney could be a good WILL across from Levy.

Furthermore, he was a special teams standout at Washington, and Bob Quinn has gone to great lengths to add quality special teamers this off-season. Even if he can’t come in and start at linebacker this season, he could provide an immediate impact on coverage teams while he packs on weight and hones his skills.

Round 5, Pick 12 (151)
Kenyan Drake, RB (Alabama)

My belief that Theo Riddick won’t be extended is well-documented, but a pass-catching back is a big part of the offense. Having that safety value out of the backfield is important to Stafford. If Riddick isn’t going to be around, somebody else has to fill that role. I believe that somebody will be Kenyan Drake.

Although he would have started at most Division I programs, Kenyan Drake was stuck behind Heisman winner Derrick Henry. Because of this, Drake was relegated to third-down and pass-catching duties during his time in Tuscaloosa. He was highly productive in that role, and was often used as a slot receiver for the Tide. He’s a good route runner and he’s elusive with the ball in his hands.

Drake has added value beyond his receiving ability, too. He’s good taking hand-offs out of the backfield, or at least better than Riddick. He was also explosive as a kick returner. His draft value is diminished by his injury history, as he suffered a broken leg in 2014 and a broken arm in 2015. If he can stay healthy, he’ll be a great addition to the offense.

Round 5, Pick 30 (169)
Blake Martinez, ILB (Stanford)

An All-PAC12 selection in 2015, Martinez is another player that has met with the team. The Stanford grad was the anchor of the Cardinal defense, racking up 141 tackles as a senior. Martinez is a physical linebacker that would have thrived in the days of old, but lacks the desired quickness of a prototypical linebacker in the modern NFL.

Martinez is good at combating blocks at the second level in order to make plays on the ball carrier. He’s very effective in run support, but he doesn’t have great recovery athleticism. If he’s redirected or sticks on a block, he’s out of the play at that point. However, in Austin’s scheme, the MIKE is often freed up by the linemen to go one-on-one with ball carriers, which is something Martinez could be effective in doing due to his fundamental tackling. He also has special teams experience, where he could immediately contribute.

Round 6, Pick 14 (191)
Luther Maddy, DT (Virginia Tech)

We had an interview with this guy at the Combine, and boy is he impressive on tape. During his 2015 season for the Hokies, he had 56 tackles and 11.5 sacks.

The main knock on him is his stature. At 6’0″, 290 lbs., he’s stubby and can be overwhelmed by larger interior lineman at times, and he doesn’t have the reach and will miss out on would-be sacks and TFLs because of it. Despite his small size, he benched 225 lbs thirty times at the combine.

“Big Lu” was the bell cow of the Virginia Tech defense, according to Bud Foster, and he has a great motor. He has great pre-snap instincts and fires off the ball really quickly, and can get into the backfield and disrupt running plays before they get started. He’s zippy and can affect the passing game, too.

He’s not going to fare well against double teams in the NFL, but he’ll predominantly be playing on passing downs. Teryl Austin likes to utilize stunts in such situations (the Lions were first in the league in 2015 at generating pressure on stunt plays, at 54.9%.) Maddy’s quickness could be utilized to great effect on stunts, and could nullify some of his size issues. He can be a good pass-rushing three-technique and be a rotational player for the Lions.

Round 6, Pick 27 (202)
Nate Sudfeld, QB (Indiana)

A lot of people really like Kevin Hogan here. The Lions met with him at the combine and he’s been touted as the most pro-ready QB by several scouts and draft pundits, but I just don’t see him making it to the Lions by the time they pick in the fifth.

This is convenient for me because I like Sudfeld better anyway, and for a few reasons. For starters, I think his skill set mirrors that of Stafford’s better than Hogan’s does. That’s not to say that Sudfeld is the transcendental talent Stafford was when the latter was coming out of Georgia in 2009, as evidenced by the former’s mid-to-late round stock. But, Sudfeld has a prototypical NFL frame (6’6″, 232 lbs.) and he has one of the strongest arms in the class.

Secondly, you don’t necessarily need your developmental project at quarterback to be ‘pro-ready.’ You want somebody you can induct into your system and teach them things your way. Lastly, your backup is, ideally, someone who can replicate what your starter brings to the table.

Sudfeld had a good 2015 campaign (247-412 for a 60% completion rate, 3573 yards, 27 TDs, 7 INTs) that could have been much better had any of his receivers been able to, you know, catch a football. (Seriously, did anybody see their game against Ohio State? It’s a miracle he completed even 60% of his passes with those clowns he was throwing to.) He isn’t as pro-ready as Hogan, but I think he has more arm talent and a higher ceiling.

Round 6, Pick 35 (210)
Daniel Braverman, WR (Western Michigan)

I really, really, really like Daniel Braverman. He’s somebody that I think could end up being a late round steal. The first sentence of his NFL.com draft profile reads, “Looks like a Patriots slot receiver from jump street.” Despite the pickups they’ve made A.R. (after retirement), I think the Lions will still look to add a receiver, and it could very well be this guy.

Braverman is a route technician that, while not crazy athletic, can do crazy stuff after the catch. He’s quick rather than fast, and is undersized for an NFL receiver (5’11”, 180 lbs) but he tore up the Buckeyes secondary in their September matchup, logging ten catches for 123 yards and a TD that came on a fifty-five yard bomb.

Despite this being a shallow receiving class, the questions about Braverman’s smaller frame make some teams hesitant. He’ll still be around on Day 3 of the draft, and he has the potential to be really good at the next level if he can take the hits. Even though Jeremy Kerley was recently signed, Braverman has a lot of talent and could come in and compete for the slot receiver role, which is still very much wide open.

Round 7, Pick 15 (236)
Dan Vitale, FB (Northwestern)

It may seem strange to see a fullback here considering Burton is on the roster, but Vitale was much more than that for the Wildcats in Pat Fitzgerald’s offense. He played a position called the “superback” for Northwestern, and moved all around the field. He played outside, in the slot, in-line as a tight end, behind center, and as an h-back in the backfield. This is the sort of versatility that Quinn covets.

Vitale had a good showing at the combine, where he ran a 4.6s 40-yard, posted a 38.5″ vert, and posted thirty reps on the bench, which are all very impressive measurables for a guy who’s 6’1″, 239 lbs. He’s a bit of a tweener because of his size (too short for tight end, too small for fullback) so teams might overlook him for brand name fullbacks like Glenn Gronkowski and Derek Watt. Still, Detroit doesn’t utilize a fullback proper very often, and Burton can play a lot of roles.

Scouts have raved about his heady play as a four-year starter in Evanston, and call him a coachable team leader. He might not ever be an impact player on Sundays, but versatility and character are valuable traits that make him worth a seventh-round flier.

There you have it folks, Bryce’s Mock Draft 1.0.  Bryce can be found on Twitter @btrossler, or on the Detroit Lions Subreddit as /u/logansknee.  Join the discussion on this and all our other articles in our Reddit community!

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