Jeff Risdon, DLD Editor
The Lions are in the market for a speed back to complement Mikel Leshoure and Joique Bell, as well as to perhaps take over the vacant punt and kick return duties. Free agent Reggie Bush is the best option, but being in salary cap hell probably makes that an impossibility. If the Lions choose to address this in the draft, here are some names from the Combine to remember.
Johnathan Franklin, UCLA: I was already a fan of Franklin, a decisive slashing runner who gets north-south quickly and has open field speed to pull away from defenders. During Senior Bowl week he was far and away the best back in pass protection, something that OC Scott Linehan values highly. Speaking of the Senior Bowl, don’t forget that the Lions staff coached him there, so he is more familiar with the playbook and the team more familiar with him as a person and potential employee. His 4.43 speed is legit from film, but what I liked just as much was his 11.33 60-yard shuttle, which tied for the best time in the best test of RB agility. Franklin is very much in play for the Lions in the 3rd round, though perhaps not at the current slot.
Kerwynn Williams, Utah State: Williams is smaller than Franklin at 5’8” and 195, and he’s also more of an inside-out runner than his UCLA counterpart. Here’s what will make him attractive to the Lions: he’s played wide receiver in packages, and he’s shown he has decent return man potential. Williams doesn’t have great vision or pass protection skills, which will wash out his impressive 40 time. He’s a 6th round talent. RBs in that range typically have to make their mark on special teams, and fortunately for Williams he can do that very well.
Andre Ellington, Clemson: He disappointed in the 40 at just 4.61 and pulled up lame in the process. This is a recurring theme for Ellington, unfortunately. He’s had toe and hamstring problems throughout his college career, and he often ran with what appeared to be a genuine fear of contact. The blazing speed is there on game tape, and he can catch the ball well. But unless the RBs as a whole fall about 20 picks from expectation, Ellington would require the Lions’ 2nd round pick. That’s too high for what would be the #3 running back, and an injury prone one at that.
Joseph Randle, Oklahoma State: Randle ran even slower than Ellington at 4.63 and did so without injuring himself. That’s a bad time for a one-speed back like Randle, who is not terribly quick either. He is one of the big losers of the Combine thus far, as Randle was a guy who needed to flash the jets in the 4.4s to merit consideration in the top 100. Because he doesn’t offer great power, agility, or return ability, the poor time here crushes his stock. If the Lions want him, and if they do it’s because he’s an excellent receiver, he’ll be there in the 5th round. If he doesn’t break 4.55 at OSU’s pro day, he could very well be there in the 6th.
Kenjon Barner, Oregon: Open field speed is his calling card, and though his 4.52 time isn’t fantastic, it shouldn’t hurt him. Barner looked outstanding in the receiving drills, something carried over from his Senior Bowl performance. He’s never going to break tackles or stonewall blitzers, but Barner offers the Lions a faster alternative to Joique Bell as a 3rd down back and good open field vision after the catch. The potential is there for Barner to be an effective punt return man as well. If he’s still there in the 5th round, Barner is a good fit for the Lions. It might require a 4th round compensatory pick to secure his services, however.
Knile Davis, Arkansas: I ran into Davis along the sidelines in Mobile as he was attempting to get his name back in circulation. He was gracious with his time and told me he was going to blow it up in Indy. That he did. At 227 pounds he clocked in at 4.37 and also led all RBs in the bench press drill with 31 reps. That showed me his knee is back to 2010 form, when he was just as good as Marcus Lattimore. Davis has one of the longest injury listings of any draft prospect I’ve ever seen. He missed 2011 with a bad ankle injury, and that injury bled into 2012. He missed parts of games in ’10 and ’09 with shoulder and ankle injuries. He missed significant time in his final two years of high school with ankle injuries. There is a very good chance that all those issues get him medically removed from many draft boards. If he goes undrafted, the Lions should kick the tires on Davis as a priority free agent. Just don’t kick too hard…
Onterrio McCaleb, Auburn: Pick your jaws up off the ground from his amazing 40 time and 10 yard split, both of which rank in the top 10 all-time in the Combine annals. McCaleb is a fragile-looking return specialist along the line of Tiny Trindon Holiday. He weighs just 168, up from 164 last month and completely maxing out his frame. Keep in mind that at Auburn he gained a fifth of his kick return yards on one effort, a 100-yarder against Mississippi State. If Stefan Logan couldn’t make a dent as a runner in Detroit, McCaleb won’t either. I’m not a fan of burning a pick on a tiny return specialist; I’d rather draft a punter like Ryan Allen or Scott Kovanda.