With the NFL offseason in full force, the Lions are doing their homework and bringing in some prospects for private workouts and pre-draft visits. So far, most of their resources have been spent checking out WRs and DBs. This is a little surprising because the Lions have already drafted 4 CBs over the past 2 years. I strongly believe that the Lions could use some help on their defensive line. We have our starters in place, but could use some depth. Suh and Fairley are locked in as starters on the interior, but Suh is still looking for a long-term deal, and Fairley is set to hit free agency in 2015. Ziggy Ansah and Willie Young started at DE for us last year, but Young plays for the Bears now, leaving Jason Jones the likely starter opposite Ansah. Jones missed the entire season last year due to a left knee injury, so there is still cause for concern. Devin Taylor showed some promise as a rookie last year, and will likely see his playing time increase as well. The Lions also signed Darryl Tapp to a one-year deal.
The Lions already have 3 1st round draft picks invested on their d-line, and they're in a spot where they most likely will not go that direction again, unless they trade up for Clowney or stay put and select Aaron Donald. Addressing the DL on day 2 and/or day 3 of the draft seems more likely at this point, and one guy who stands out among others to me is North Carolina defensive end, Kareem Martin. Martin's stock has risen fast, and currently, he's projected to be a 2nd round pick according to CBSSports. He fits the mold of what the Lions are looking for in a DE. He's tall (6'6), has long arms, and is very athletic. His combine numbers and measurables really stand out in this year's class. If you don't believe me, check them out for yourself.
Also, according to Nathan Forster's 2014 SackSEER ratings, Kareem Martin received a SackSEER rating of 90.8%, and labeled him as a potential sleeper. Below is what Mr. Forster has to say about Martin, as well as Larry Webster from Bloomsburg, who the Lions have brought in for a pre-draft visit already.
Most of the talent SackSEER likes in this draft is at the top, but there are a few potential value adds. Kareem Martin of North Carolina is the most significant, a potential steal in the third round. Martin is open to "one-year wonder" criticism, but he had a nice, solid Combine workout and an above-average passes defensed rate. Deeper in the draft, Larry Webster is a nice lottery ticket-type pick from the tiny school of Bloomsburg. He had great sack production and a strong Combine performance, but gets marked down for his sub-FCS level of competition.
Rotoworld Draft Analyst Greg Peshek also had a Sack Study metric article involving Kareem Martin. He was pretty much in the middle of the pack in almost every metric, so I didn't feel the need to share anything in particular. But if you want to check it out anyways, here is a link. Definitely worth a read.
Martin's college production doesn't exactly blow you away, but his steady progression throughout his career is a good sign, and he had a solid end to his career, racking up 11.5 sacks and 21.5 tackles for a loss in 2013. With his length, you would have liked to have seen more pass deflections at the line of scrimmage. When I first started to pay closer attention to Martin a couple months ago, he was projected to go anywhere from the 4th-5th round. Now, after his impressive combine numbers and a solid pro day performance, there has been a lot more talk of him being selected anywhere from the 2nd-3rd round.
Martin reminds me a lot of Devin Taylor. The Lions have expressed their desire for tall, long and athletic DE's, and both Martin and Taylor fit that description perfectly. When I took a look at Taylor's game tape last year, I was left unimpressed. I thought that playing on the opposite side of a guy like Jadeveon Clowney would allow him to receive plenty of 1-on-1 matchups, where he could show off his ability to get to the QB. Instead, I saw him get swallowed up by guys smaller than him, and he really didn't generate a whole lot of pressure. Clowney clearly stood out on film, and compared to him, Devin Taylor looked like a nobody. The Lions saw something in him anyways. They saw his tremendous upside, and knew that if they could fix his technique, he could turn into a solid rotational DE, and that's exactly what Taylor was able to do for them last year. On only 308 snaps, Taylor had a Pass Rushing Productivity rating of 9.8, which was tied with teammate Willie Young, who had an impressive 60 total pressures via Pro Football Focus. Taylor proved that he could be a solid situational pass rusher in this league, and he's only getting better. Martin looks better on tape to me, and he didn't have the luxury of having Jadeveon Clowney opposite him.
Martin is a prime example of where the stats don't necessarily match up with the tape. 11.5 sacks in one year sounds great, but there was a lot of inconsistency throughout the year. You could watch one half of Kareem Martin, and he would be completely invisible, while the next half, he'll completely dominate.
Against BC in the first half, Martin was nearly invisible. He accounted for one sack, but the QB had already held onto the ball for about 4-5 seconds before Martin finally got to him. In the 2nd half, Martin went on a spurt of complete dominance, tallying 2 sacks over the span of 3 drives, and also knocked a blocker flat on his ass, before getting in the QB's face. In the first play of the clip, he actually bull rushes the tackle straight into the QB and records a sack. It was a rarity to see Martin show such brute force and actually find success off of a bull rush, so some scouts may look at this play and see a nice flash of potential there. On the next drive, Martin lines up as a LDE on 3rd and long, and uses his hands well to free himself from the RT and record another sack, forcing another punt. On the first play of the next drive, he abuses the RT again with a quick push to the side, ending with the lineman losing his balance and falling down, and a QB pressure for Martin.
Stopping the Run
Martin had his ups and downs in the run game. He had a good number of tackles for a loss, but I noticed a lot of those plays were made unblocked. He has a great initial burst off the line of scrimmage, and is able to make plays in the backfield when chasing the ball carrier from behind, but when he's matched up against a blocker on a run play, he would get driven out of the play often, and sometimes would get thrown to the ground.
Here is an example of an HB Delay to the left, where the LT completely manhandles Martin and throws him to the ground. He's definitely going to have to work on getting stronger, because the transition to the NFL is only going to be harder.
Another run play, this time against a power running offense in Boston College. Gets thrown to the ground by the LT.
One more instance of the LT pancaking Martin here. There were a couple more plays like this, but you get the point.
Not everything was so bad for him in the running game though. Like I said before, Kareem Martin is fast. His first step off of the line is elite, and he has elite closing speed for a big man. His 10-yard split (1.53) was faster than guys like Anthony Barr, Khalil Mack, Jadeveon Clowney, Mike Evans, Kelvin Benjamin, and right on the mark with, yes, Sammy Watkins.
In the play above, you'll see Martin be the first to explode off of the line and quickly disengage himself from the right guard with his hands, and is able to bring the ball carrier down to a short loss. His initial burst is what makes him a great prospect, and if he is able to explode off the line and use his hands correctly, then there is no stopping him. Unfortunately for him, he just isn't that great after his initial burst yet. If he doesn't blow by his man, then it's unlikely that he'll make a play afterwards.
Plays like these will get you excited about Kareem Martin, and with the right coaching, he could turn into a very good pass rusher, and maybe even a solid 3-down lineman.
Why We Should Draft Him
Kareem Martin can help add some depth to a suspect DE group on the Lions. He would likely earn some reps as a situational pass rusher, and would get help from a coaching staff who have already did a nice job on a guy like Devin Taylor that Martin so closely resembles. He has an extremely high ceiling for a DE, and his first step and initial burst off the line of scrimmage is just something you cannot teach. I expect him to get selected anywhere from the 2nd to the 4th round, and if he's available for the Lions in the 3rd or 4th, it would be a nice steal for them. They have Ziggy Ansah already locked in as a starter, but it remains to be seen who will take over the left side. Jones would likely win the position outright over Taylor, but he's coming off of a major injury, so adding some insurance and competition to the DE position would be a smart move for the Lions.
Why We Shouldn't Draft Him
Kareem Martin doesn't exactly blow you away on tape. He would often get bullied by linemen in the run game, and found himself on his back looking up at the sky a little too often. He may not ever develop into a 3-down defensive lineman, and could be limited to being just a situational pass rusher. His stock has risen fast, so the Lions might have to spend a 2nd or 3rd round pick on him, which may not be the best idea for a guy who probably won't end up winning the starting job opposite Ansah right away. As a pass rusher, he needs to be more consistent. He would often be invisible for an extended amount of time, only to reappear and make a few splash plays later on.
The Lions Select Series:
It's getting closer and closer to the draft, so I'm trying to get some later round draft picks in. Offense is up next, so I'll likely do some mid-late round WRs or TEs. Anyway, rec the post if you liked it, and discuss below. Thanks.