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Detroit Lions draft grade: Why we’re giving the Jarrad Davis pick an ‘A’

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Bob Quinn addressed the Lions’ dire situation at linebacker with authority in the first round of the 2017 draft

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Florida Gators v Missouri Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

Biggest roster question mark

The experience of the Detroit Lions at linebacker last season made it clear the position group was in serious need of improvement. General manager Bob Quinn began a major overhaul of the unit in free agency. Here are the players who ended the season on the active roster:

  • DeAndre Levy - Released in March 2017, no longer on the team.
  • Josh Bynes - Unrestricted Free Agent, no longer on the team.
  • Tahir Whitehead - Signed through 2018.
  • Thurston Armbrister - Signed through 2017.
  • Antwione Williams - On rookie deal through 2019.

Our own Jeremy Reisman made the case that a big splash move the team could have made was to break the bank to sign Dont’a Hightower away from the New England Patriots. Instead, the Lions used free agency to rebuild the right side of the offensive line, and added players who appear to be better suited to depth or special teams roles:

In the week leading up to the first round, linebacker remained the most important position on the roster to address in the draft. How widely recognized was this need? The morning of the draft, linebacker Jarrad Davis from Florida was considered a near-consensus pick by the experts for Detroit. Pride Of Detroit’s Alex Reno was among them, selecting Davis for the team with the 21st pick in his final mock.

Perfect match of talent, need, and coaching capabilities

What the experts said about Davis:

The overall picture of Davis is an athletic and complete linebacker. Agreeing with the linked expert assessments, our friends at Big Blue View considered him a player with “3-down upside, able to play the run, drop into coverage, and rush the passer.” Like 2016 fifth-round pick Antwione Williams, Jarrad Davis was a passionate leader of his defense in the college ranks.

Pride Of Detroit’s Alex Reno ranked Davis as his 31st overall rated prospect, and thought “Davis absolutely killed it during his pro day and moves into first-round consideration. His aggressive demeanor on the field gets the best of him at times, but he’s easily one of the best three-down linebackers in the draft.” Behind the Steel Curtain’s review of Davis agreed, saying he was “among the best sideline-to-sideline defenders in the country over the past two seasons,” and “has the skills to be an immediate contributor and the potential to be a very good long-term starter.”

Alex’s note about a tendency to be too aggressive at times, either over-pursuing plays or getting caught out of position to make sound tackles, was mentioned by numerous outlets and ought to be taken seriously. For example, from the above CBSsports.com profile:

Davis can make the "wow" play but too often he is reckless when attempting to tackle ball-carriers in space, failing to break down sufficiently to deliver the sure hit and tackle.

Not optimal, but this is a correctable flaw that can be coached up. Lions fans should feel confident that the staff will be able to provide the necessary instruction because we have seen this with another ferocious hitter in Miles Killebrew. Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin’s staff was able to emphasize tackling form with Killebrew. Our Kent Lee Platte noticed marked improvement in the young safety’s technique in important game situations last season. This is a good sign that Detroit’s defensive staff is capable of directing Jarrad Davis’ energy and explosiveness to its full potential through proper fundamentals.

Our Grade: A

This pick satisfies all the requirements of an outstanding selection. Bob Quinn drafted one of the best players available in the entire draft class at a position of extreme need for the team. The defense gains a tremendous athlete with experience leading a defense at the highest level of college competition. While there are some technique issues to work out, they are of a type the Lions’ coaches have proven they can deal with. It is not yet known whether Davis would play inside (and move Tahir Whitehead back outside) or slide into DeAndre Levy’s spot outside, but expect him to be a day one starter who does not come off the field in nickel sub packages.