The NFL world descends upon Indianapolis for the next week as the annual Combine takes place. Here are some things Lions fans will want to pay some mind during the proceedings.
1. The 10-yard splits and 3-cone times of the second-tier running backs. Detroit is in the market for a speed back to handle third down packages and perhaps return kickoffs. Barring a Reggie Bush (who would be perfect, if affordable) signing, keep an eye on guys like Jonathan Franklin, Kenjon Barner, and Christine Michael and how well they show both quickness and speed. Everyone knows Barner is fast, but how quickly he gets to top speed (the 10-yard split) and how quick he is in tight quarters (the 3-cone drill) are questionable. Michael should fare well in these drills and get some attention. His issue is durability. If there is a surprise speed performer from lesser-known talents like Stony Brook’s Miguel Maysonet or Kerwynn Williams from Utah State, expect the Lions to show more late-round interest there as well.
2. The medicals on Dion Jordan and Jarvis Jones. Both these players are viable candidates for the #5 overall pick, but both bring durability and injury issues to the table. The primary function for most teams at the Combine is to get extensive medical evaluations of all the players, who get poked, prodded, MRI’d, and tested for ailments and structural issues that most of us have probably never heard of. Jones has a serious enough condition of spinal stenosis that USC refused to let him play, and in this increasingly long-term injury conscious day and age that will be closely scrutinized. Jordan has had a variety of injuries that blur the line between unlucky and injury-prone. I’ve heard rumblings from a trusted Lions source that Detroit will be paying very close attention to both these players and what the doctors have to say about them, Jordan more so than Jones.
3. The speed stars from the Senior Bowl. Two players grabbed lots of attention in Mobile for their speed: Texas WR Marquise Goodwin and SE Louisiana corner Robert Alford. Both showed more than just blazing jets during Senior Bowl week, and both happen to play positions that the Lions need with attributes that Mayhew & Co. value. Goodwin claims to have run a 4.28 40 as recently as Groundhog Day, and he was timed in Spring Practice at running a 9.97 100, which is close to Olympic medal long speed. Ironically it is the non-athletic performance that will be important for Goodwin; he needs to ace the grease boards and film questions, as well as interview questions about why he accomplished so little at Texas. Alford must build on his momentum, and performing well in strength and agility drills will help reinforce him as a potential top 50 pick. If he shows more than just the great speed, I believe Alford is very much in play for Detroit at #36 in part because of his return skills.
4. Arm strength on developmental QBs. It might not seem like a pressing need, but a Lions offensive staffer I talked to on the All Star circuit advised me the team is quite interested in finding a strong arm to compete with Kellen Moore as the developmental QB on the team, perhaps even emerging as the backup sooner than later. The team has not necessarily soured on Moore, but would like to find an option that is more able to run the offense that Matt Stafford runs, something Moore simply cannot do with his limited arm. Keep an eye on Nathan Stanley from SE Louisiana, who the Lions made a point of talking to during Shrine Game week.
5. The smoke on impending free agents. Combine weekend is where agents and teams get a lot of legwork done on negotiating free agent deals, even though it’s technically not allowed at that time. The Lions will get a better concept for the market value of some players, notably Cliff Avril, Gosder Cherilus, and DeAndre Levy. The players themselves could be in for a reality check as well, as there is not a lot of cap room for too many players to get the lucrative paydays they anticipate. The hotel lobbies, steakhouse bars, and nooks and crannies inside the Lucas Oil Arena complex are notorious for highly credible leaks on the free agent front, some of them carefully planted by one side or another. Be skeptical of the intensity of the fire, but know that the smoke is probably not just coming from a homeless guy with a cheap cigar.
6. Small school offensive linemen. It’s no secret the Lions are overhauling the offensive line, and if the right player comes along in the 3rd-7th rounds I have very strong and ample reason to believe that full makeover gets accelerated. The Combine is a great chance for unheralded small-school linemen to prove they have the requisite athleticism to make the jump. Keep an eye on three players in particular: Edmund Kugbila from Valdosta State, Lamar Mady from Youngstown State, and Jamal Johnson-Webb from Alabama A&M. Of those three I’ve only seen one game from Mady (he dominated) and brief clips of Kugbila and Johnson-Webb so far, and how well they hang with the “big boys” will go a long way towards determining how much more in depth I evaluate them. Someone who would know told me to watch Kugbila in the bench press, it will be worth our attention.
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Tags: Bjoern Werner, Cliff Avril, Damontre Moore, Dion Jordan, Edmund Kugbila, Ezekiel Ansah, Jamal Johnson-Webb, Jarvis Jones, Kenjon Barner, Lamar Mady, Marquise Goodwin, Matt Stafford, Nathan Stanley, NFL Combine, Robert Alford