Diagnosing a draft is seldom a worthwhile endeavor, but I will provide my insight and analysis (for what it's worth, $0, lol), keeping in mind scheme, fit, and the "big picture" type of things that I have discerned.
It's impossible to know what we are looking at until we see the product hit the field, but from an overall standpoint in offensive and defensive philosophy, things are becoming clear in the manner by which these picks were made. I approach my analysis from the standpoint that there are five people in the Lions war room on draft day who are the biggest decision makers and power brokers of decisions made. Martin Mayhew represents both the entire scouting department, and the final say on all matters. Coach Caldwell represents the priorities he gives to each side of the ball. His three coordinators have analyzed their roster for strengths and weaknesses, have prioritized what they want, what they are looking for, and have provided input as to who will fit best the scheme they are looking to employ.
Without further ado, lets dive in.
1st Round - Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina - I can see what Coach Lombardi was going for in this pick. With Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate, adding another high profile, "blow-the-top" off the defense type of receiver would have not been simply redundant, it would have been stupid in the extreme. What the Lions offense lacks, and has been lacking for a couple of years, is a true mid-range play maker, capable of exposing underneath coverage gaps and keeping the defense honest. In Ebron, they are hoping they have found that explosive mid-range playmaker.
My Analysis - I am not convinced that this was a good choice. I personally had Jace Amaro ranked higher on my own personal board in terms of scheme fit, player talent, and ceiling. That being said, any single other choice that would have been made could easily be picked apart, and to a higher degree than this one. Ebron was a consensus top talent in this draft, regardless of my opinion, and was the "safe" choice for the Lions front office to make. My biggest problem with this pick is the manner in which it was made. Running to the podium, and allowing no time to elapse to even see if the phone would ring, in my opinion, is not the type of thing a professional NFL front office should do. The NFL is replete in its history of last second deals struck during the draft. Unless it is an EVERY DOWN player, no NFL front office should be so wrapped up in a guy that they fail to take this step. Fact of the matter is, Ebron is going to be a package player starting out. There will be times and situations where he will be substituted for on the field.
Who I would have chosen - At the end of the day, after all things had played out, I would have made the same choice, I too would have picked Ebron. It's simply a dirty shame that Barr went in the pick ahead of us. If I were forced to choose an alternative, I would have chosen Darqueze Dennard, or Jimmy Ward. I believe Dennard fits the type of press corner that Coach Austin favors, bringing a tenacious every down presence. Ward is a highly under-rated corner that is both an aggressive defender, and has great interception skills. Both would have brought an every down presence to the defense, and Ward in particular would have helped turn around the Lions most devastatingly horrible statistic from last year - defensive turnovers.
My Final Grade on this Pick - D+ = 1.75. Although I myself would have made the same choice, I wouldn't let myself off the hook for this either. This is simply in terms of value for the pick, and not a knock on Ebron himself. Ebron in the second round? A. Did I acquire an every down player with my Top 10 pick? No, knock down a grade. Was he valued enough by other teams that there were trade inquiries for this pick/did other teams make a good offer for this pick signifying there was good talent level to be had here? No, knock down another grade. Does he show a talent level above and beyond his peers in his class. In my own opinion, No, knock down another grade, especially in light of where Amaro went in this draft. Does he fill a definitive and outstanding need? Mostly yes, while not a guy who is going to help our turnover ratio, Ebron fills a glaring need for a mid-range threat, but I'm still knocking a quarter off. This may seem like a harsh grade, but it has more to do with the talent drop-off, in my own opinion, between the ninth and the tenth pick in this draft than it does with Ebron himself.
Player Comparison - Rickey Dudley.
2nd Round - Kyle Van Noy, OLB, BYU - The first drafted piece in what I expect to be the installation of a phased in, Ray Horton type of hybrid defense, the selection of Van Noy has the fingerprints of Coach Austin all over it. Coming out of a 3-4 defense in BYU, Van Noy by projection has all the tools necessary to be versatile to either a 3-4 or 4-3 scheme. He is expected to immediately compete for the starting job currently held by Ashlee Palmer.
My Analysis - Highly productive at BYU, I question whether that will translate to the next level. Van Noy was not impressive or outstanding at the combine. In watching the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl against Washington, I was simply unimpressed by him. Bowl games are what they are, I know that, but he failed my eyeball test. He looked slow, slow to read and react, slow to shed blocks, slow to get to the point of attack. He flashed on some plays, but not enough to warrant trading up for, in my opinion.
Who I would have chosen - Had I gone a different direction in the first round, this is definitely where I would have chosen Jace Amaro. Amaro was the highest ranked TE on my board for a mid-range explosive offensive threat. In keeping with the fact that I too would have chosen Ebron in the same situation, my other alternative for this selection would have been Timmy Jernigan. The Lions lack a true NT, and if as I suspect, they want to incorporate more 3-4 elements into their defensive scheme, adding Jernigan would have been a good complimentary piece to those efforts.
My Final Grade on this Pick - B- = 2.875. I have to knock off a full grade because I do not believe that Van Noy is all that distinguished from the peers in his class, I also have to knock off a shade due to the fact the Lions traded up to get him. They did get what I believe is an every down starter out of this pick, and they did fill a definitive and outstanding need. Palmer is a "serviceable" starter only in that he doesn't screw up too often, he is not a playmaker, and does not generate turnovers. With Van Noy, that is a distinct possibility.
Player Comparison - Kevin Burnett.
3rd Round - Travis Swanson, C, Arkansas. I believe this pick was driven by Mayhew and the front office. It's easy to see both the value and sense in this pick. Swanson, who has experience at both Guard and Center, could immediately be expected to become the top reserve for the three interior line spots this year while he understudies to Dominic Raiola in the same manner that Reiff was used during his redshirt year behind Backus.
My Analysis - Swanson was the top rated interior lineman on my board, inclusive of all guards. In keeping with the mold started last year in selecting Larry Warford, Swanson is a big, mean, tough SOB, who can plow his way to sunlight. He is both a technician, and student of the game, always seeking to learn and improve, and has displayed visual improvement in each of his years at Arkansas. Although he will be understudying to Raiola, I believe he is an every down capable, NFL caliber plus starter, right now. I've had my eye on Swanson for quite some time now, and I firmly believe that this guy will end up being the steal of the entire draft.
Who I would have chosen - No one else. Even in the hypothetical. His availability at this point in the draft is a gift horse. This guy, at this point, IS the guy you rush to the podium for.
My Final Grade on this Pick - A+ = 4.0. I fully believe Swanson is the guy that will stand out from this Lions class five years from now. This was an outstanding pick. He meets all the criteria I judge by, and in the third round.
Player Comparison - Jim Langer.
4th Round - Nevin Lawson, CB, Utah State - This may have been a Coach Austin pick, or a Mayhew pick, or both, but what it was without a shred of doubt was a vote of no confidence in Bill Bentley. I can only assume that after player evaluations, either by our scouting department, or Coach Austin, Bentley was found to be lacking enough to make this a priority position in the draft, because it certainly wasn't a value pick.
My Analysis - I first saw Lawson over a year ago while studying Aggies running back Sherwin Williams. My thoughts when seeing Lawson were, "Man, this guy is a pest!". This little shrimp was zipping all over the field, seemed like he was in the receivers hip pocket. Which is good against WAC competition, I'm not sure how well he'll translate to the pro's. Nothing from his combine numbers looks all that outstanding, and say what you will, but a sub-par showing is never a good thing.
Who I would have chosen - Dion Bailey. I'm still shocked this guy didn't get drafted. When you look at his numbers, his measurable, and his production, this guy looks solid as they come. All I can figure is he must have done something the public is not privy to, but which red-flagged him to every single team. On my board, he would have been gone prior to this. For the Lions, I saw him as the perfect ball-hawking type safety that would have found immediate work on obvious passing downs, replacing Ihedigbo.
My Final Grade on this Pick - C = 2.0. Bottom line, I don't see Lawson and Bentley inhabiting the same roster come fall. This is an unfortunately static grade due to this. If Lawson unseats Bentley, this is a B+ pick, if not, it's an F.
Player Comparison - Buster Skrine.
4th Round - Larry Webster, DE/OLB/TE/ATH///, Bloomsburg - Yes, before you say anything, I am well aware that the Lions have stated they plan on using him as a DE, but the potential is there. Webster at this point must still be considered more Athlete than football player. This pick is both classic Mayhew and has Coach Austin's fingerprints, and probably a good nod from Coach Caldwell as well.
My Analysis - As I said, Webster is more Athlete than football player at this point. two years of beating up on JV DII opponents does not make one Jadeveon Clowney, nor does it give one a higher level of coaching (his dad probably did that). At first blush, this pick makes no sense, and reminded me of the John Taylor, DE, Montana pick by Millen. After some study, this pick makes quite a bit of sense. With depth at DE, there will be no issue with redshirting Webster for a year. He is my prime candidate for a mystery, season-ending "abdominal injury", at the end of pre-season. As I believe Coach Austin will be phasing in more 3-4 alignments next season, Webster is the perfect candidate to play a Paul Kruger type role on defense, only with more athleticism. It remains to be seen weather he can cover in space, but this is a very Sammie Lee Hill type developmental pick with the potential to pay big dividends.
Who I would have chosen - The more I study the pick, the more I like it. That being said, if I were to have made an alternative choice, it would have been in the same vein, and it would have been the guy chosen immediately after Webster, Dakota Dozier. I believe strongly in a team building philosophy that putting good beef up front makes life easier for everyone behind you, and that applies to both sides of the ball. Dozier is an interesting small school developmental type that could evolve into something special with good offensive line coaching, and we have good offensive line coaching.
My Final Grade on this Pick - B- = 2.875. For this stage in the draft, Webster is a solid developmental pick, but make no mistake, the ceiling is sky high, but the floor could come up real fast too. He is a tweener, with limited small school experience on a defense in flux, not a great combination. On the other hand he has great family support, and a ton of athletic ability.
Player Comparison - Robert Mathis.
5th Round - Caraun Reid, DT, Princeton - To the surprise of no one, the choice of Reid in this draft screams "Insurance Policy!". Nevertheless, Reid is a good developmental prospect coming into a great situation for a 5th round pick. Reid was also a strong special teams contributor at Princeton, which never hurts.
My Analysis - This was a plus selection in the fifth round, in my opinion. Reid will likely have every incentive to use this year as a springboard, as he may get a very open shot at a starting position as soon as next year. Reid is an athletic 300 pounder, unlike Tubby Fairley, and carries his weight well. He has an explosive first step, and should only get better as he spends time in an NFL weight room.
Who I would have chosen - As much as I like Reid, there are two other players who were available at this point that I also would have lauded the Lions for choosing. Jordan Tripp, the OLB from Montana, would have been an impact selection at this point had we failed to land a linebacker, and AJ McCarron, the QB from Alabama, who I think would have made a solid developmental choice as a backup QB.
My Final Grade on this Pick - A = 3.875. At this point in the draft, it's a roll of the dice, but Reid looks as solid as they come.
Player Comparison - Geno Atkins.
6th Round - TJ Jones, WR, Notre Dame - This is another Lombardi pick. For teams that want to flood the field with Linebackers and safeties to clamp down on Ebron, Ward is the type of slippery-quick slot receiver that can make you pay. It's a mis-match pick that can pay high dividends, and the type of weapon the Lions have been lacking in the absence of Ryan Broyles.
My Analysis - It's not often that you see a guy of Jones's high praise for route running, decent speed, and production against top competition, fall into the 6th round. This happens when scouts feel you maxed out in high school, and that you can't really battle for the ball. As a specialized weapon, Jones has a legitimate shot at making this team, this year, and being a package contributor right away as a slot receiver. It's not too often that you can find a receiver with great route running, great hands, this late in the draft, but that's what the Lions have in Jones.
Who I would have chosen - Jay Prosch, my top rated Fullback on my board, is the only other player I would have chosen. However, as I doubt the Lions will carry more than one Fullback, and Jed Collins is already familiar with Lombardi's system, and in conjunction with the mystery meat that make up Ryan Broyles legs, this pick is as solid as they come.
My Final Grade on this Pick - A+ = 4.0. An impact player in the 6th round? We shall see, but I personally expect big things out of Mr. Jones.
Player Comparison - Antonio Brown.
7th Round - Nate "Mr" Freese, K, Boston College - Obviously, Kicker was a big need for us, and after John Bonamego's work with Sam Martin last year, I expect the Lions made the right call on this one as well.
My Analysis - How often does a 7th round pick make a football team, let alone have the opportunity to become one of its leading scorers? My hats off to the Lions front office for making our later round picks relevant again the last two years. Let's see other teams try to ice Mr. Freese. Freese was the top rated kicker on KDawg's board, and highly ranked on my own.
Who I would have chosen - Personally, I would have chosen Fera out of Texas, he was highly ranked on my board, but I'll trust Coach Bonamego's choice over my stab in the dark on Kickers any day of the week.l
My Final Grade on this Pick - A+ = 4.0. A 7th rounder that is expected to make the team and contribute immediately, what more could you possibly ask for?
Player Comparison - Eddie Murray, who coincidentally, was also a 7th round pick of the Lions in 1980.
Final Grade - 3.171875, we'll call it a B+.
If you made it this far, thank you for sticking with me, please leave your thoughts!