It's that time of year again. Well, it's probably a little early, but I'm too anxious to get things rolling, so y'all are just going to have to deal with it. If you're like me, then you're excited for the offseason, and you're excited to see some free agency acquisitions as well as the NFL Draft. If you're like our fearless leader, Jeremy Reisman, then you'd probably rather slip into an eight month coma. It's going to be a busy five months or so compiling NFL Draft profiles, rankings, mock drafts and a big board, so bear with me.
It's always tough to project collegiate prospects into NFL schemes and it's even more tedious when a team like the Detroit Lions are undergoing some management and coaching changes. It's possible that Jim Caldwell won't be sticking around following the end of this season. It's not like this team isn't talented, so as a Lions fan, you'd hope that if the Lions brass were to can Caldwell, there wouldn't be a complete rebuild. Still, we have no idea what's in store for this team. But that's not going to stop me from doing my job, so let's not waste any more time. IT'S DRAFT SEASON.
The Lions have several needs, none bigger than in the trenches on both sides of the ball. To start things off, I decided to focus on the defensive line. First up, Florida DL Jonathan Bullard.
DL Jonathan Bullard (Florida)
6-foot-3, 283 pounds
Bullard is a stud D-line prospect, though not quite a household name yet. That should change fairly soon. Bullard is a bit short to line up in the 7 or 9-technique (6-foot-3, 283 pounds), and he's slimmer than you'd like for him to play inside, but to me his best position in the NFL will be a one-gap shooting DT in the 3-technique.
Unreal first step
Bullard did most of his damage with the Gators in the 3-tech beating opposing guards with his elite first step and unparalleled quickness.
The Rebels' right guard is no match for Bullard, who manages to time the snap perfectly. The center tries his best to shove Bullard and re-route him away from the QB, but to no avail. It's an easy disruption for Bullard, who forces the incompletion.
Bullard also has a knack for disrupting the LOS and making plays in the backfield for a loss. Take the first play of the Vanderbilt game for example.
This is just mean. Why on Earth would you ever even consider giving a tight end the sole responsibility for blocking Bullard? He never stood a chance, and Bullard capitalizes off of it by nearly tackling the RB for a safety.
Pulling a guard and asking your center to chip and/or slow down Bullard is the last thing you want to do. He's going to blow that play up for a loss every single time.
Bullard's 18 tackles for a loss was good for third-most in the SEC this year. Expect to see more of that on Sundays.
While Bullard has some desirable and unteachable traits you love to see in a D-lineman, he's still far from a polished product. Despite possessing an elite first step, he doesn't win enough battles to put him in the same category of an "Aaron Donald-like" prospect. That's because he constantly relies on bull-rushing and seldom uses any other pass-rushing technique.
Bullard has gator-like arms (pun intended) and struggles to come up with many pass deflections, though not for a lack of trying. My final concern with Bullard is his tendency of standing too upright and leaving his chest exposed. I'd like to see him utilize that quick first step and lower his pad level off the ball to win the leverage battle with greater consistency. Bullard isn't quite there yet, but he has the tools to become a Pro Bowl D-lineman down the road.
How He Fits
Three of the Lions' four starting D-linemen are set to hit free agency this year, with Ezekiel Ansah hitting the market a year later. Whoever steps in as the new general manager will have their work cut out for themselves. It remains to be seen what the market for Haloti Ngata will look like, but re-signing Jason Jones and Tyrunn Walker should presumably come cheap.
Bullard's versatility makes it easy for me to project him into the NFL because he can play in any scheme at almost any position across the D-line. This is why I believe he's a lock to be selected in the first round. I love him as a 1-gap shooting DT in the 3-tech, but he also exhibits the ability to control the point of attack and two-gap as a 3-4 DE.
CBS Sports currently has Bullard ranked as their 26th player overall, but don't be surprised if his stock continues to rise. He would be a perfect fit at DT for the Lions and could also move outside and play the "closed-end" role in place of Jason Jones, barring any defensive schematic changes.
Grade: 1st round
Games watched: 2014 vs. Missouri, 2014 vs. Alabama, 2015 vs. Vanderbilt, 2015 vs. Ole Miss, 2015 vs. New Mexico State, 2015 vs. Tennessee