Jeff Risdon, DLD Editor
Another Super Bowl, another year with the Lions long hibernating well before the big game. This is draft season for Detroit. Here are some thoughts on some players and strategies rattling around my head for this national holiday.
1. A couple of different little birdies have intimated that Louis Delmas will have to swallow a lot of pride, not to mention a few million dollars, if he wants to return to Detroit. He might not be willing to do that, which makes getting a NFL-ready safety a much bigger priority in the draft.
I do not rate Ha Ha Clinton-Dix anywhere near 10th overall. Without knowing my final grades for all the prospects yet, I’ll be stunned if he winds up in my top 20. So taking him at 10 is out. The second round pick at 45, however, is prime safety territory. Deone Bucannon, Ahmad Dixon, and Jimmie Ward are all worthy candidates in that realm.
All three offer different skills. I like Ward as the best overall player, but in terms of fitting the Lions I like Dixon’s game the best. His instincts in coverage, both lined up in a single-high situation and hovering over the slot, are the most developed of the three. Bucannon is the most like Delmas, but his propensity for losing track of deep coverage and his too-frequent matador diving tackles are something I’d like to see less of in Detroit
2. Shaun Hill will not be back as Matthew Stafford’s backup. That leaves Kellen Moore, the only other QB on the roster, just one snap away from running the Lions.
Moore certainly improved from his rookie year to his second campaign. There is no denying that, and I’ve been perhaps his most ardent critic. I appreciate his increased core strength and more aggressive mentality. But I still want a better Plan B at quarterback.
While I’ve been a Keith Wenning proponent for months now, the player I really want the Lions to investigate is South Carolina’s Connor Shaw. His agility and gutsiness are reminiscent of Josh McCown and what he offered in a reserve role to Chicago. His injury history is a concern, as is his inconsistent career prior to his senior season.
Under Steve Spurrier, Shaw finally blossomed in 2013. He’s undervalued as a draft commodity and would be a nice steal for the Lions in the sixth round. If he’s there in the seventh, or the comp picks the team is likely to get at the end of the sixth, I’d bang the table for Connor Shaw.
3. After succeeding in taking punter Sam Martin a year ago, the Lions shouldn’t hesitate to use a pick on taking Jason Hanson’s successor. David Akers was a poor decision as a stop-gap, and Havard Rugland (Mr. Kickalicious) faded as camp progressed and didn’t shine in a later tryout.
Rugland will get another opportunity in Detroit if he chooses, but the team needs to draft a more proven commodity.
I paid more attention than usual to the kickers at both Shrine Game and Senior Bowl week, and the most consistent performer was Arkansas’ Zack Hocker. During Shrine practices, Hocker’s leg was so huge that Coach Jerry Glanville had to ask him to tone it down so the squad could practice returns; he was booming kickoffs through the uprights with ease, and one landed on the fly on the track that circled the field, some 15 yards behind the end line. He nailed a 60-yarder in one session, and when I asked him about his range he told me he’s very comfortable to 56 yards…outdoors. That’s worth a 5th round pick, but of course the Lions don’t have one of those.
Should he come off the board before Detroit picks after that, Tulane’s Cairo Santos comes next on my list, followed by Rice’s Chris Boswell, who did not have a great Senior Bowl week. Santos has a very interesting back story too.
4. Many Lions fans seem to have a football boner for Texas A&M wideout Mike Evans. Put away the Cialis, gentlemen, because Evans is not a good match for what Detroit needs across from Calvin Johnson.
Evans is a more athletic version of Kris Durham. He’s able to jump higher and use his strength will the ball in the air better, but the same inherent problem with Durham will remain with Evans. It’s all about separation, and Evans doesn’t get that very well from standard sets.
Much of Evans’ value comes from his ability to get open while Johnny Manziel scrambled around, creating throwing lanes and attracting attention from the defense away from Evans. Mr. Football threw him a lot of jump balls and back shoulder tosses, and Evans was quite good on those. But the Lions already have two receivers that thrive in those situations in Johnson and tight end Joseph Fauria.
The much more pressing need is for a quicker, more agile receiver that can get open quickly. Creating after the catch with elusiveness and speed is the missing component to the current Lions wideouts, too. Evans will make some plays as a NFL wideout, but that’s not his game at all.
I understand the attraction and the comparison to what Chicago has with Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. But Evans is not as strong or laterally agile as either of those guys. My Aggie spies tell me he might not break 4.58 in the 40, either. By way of comparison, Durham ran a 4.46 at the Combine.
5. Here’s a quick stock up/stock down based on my own personal evaluation and how it meshes with what their perceived stock and draft value is from others.
Guys I like more than most, in alphabetical order:
–Wisconsin LB Chris Borland
–Florida G Jon Halapio
–Oregon DL Taylor Hart
–USC WR Marqise Lee
–Alabama QB A.J. McCarron
–Notre Dame TE Troy Niklas
–Buffalo RB Branden Oliver
–Toledo WR Bernard Reedy
–Georgia Tech DB Jemea Thomas
–TCU CB Jason Verrett
–Notre Dame G Chris Watt
Guys I like less than most others, also in alphabetical order:
–Clemson QB Tajh Boyd
–Texas DE Jackson Jeffcoat
–Alabama T Cyrus Kouandjio
–LSU WR Jarvis Landry
–Michigan T Taylor Lewan
–Vanderbilt WR Jordan Matthews
–Florida CB Louchiez Purifoy
–Wyoming QB Brett Smith
–Arizona State DT Will Sutton