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Detroit Lions draft grade: Why we’re giving the fourth round a ‘B+’

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The Lions added a pair of players who may play limited roles at first, but figure much more into future plans

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NCAA Football: Outback Bowl-Northwestern vs Tennessee Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

How about a coverage linebacker?

Here’s what the experts have said about the Detroit Lions’ first fourth-round pick, Jalen Reeves-Maybin:

Standing just 6-foot-0, the size of Jalen Reeves-Maybin is almost always the first thing mentioned by draft profiles. This should not bother Lions fans who remember 5-foot-11 Stephen Tulloch turning in hundreds of tackles for the team in the Jim Schwartz and Jim Caldwell years.

The second thing mentioned about Reeves-Maybin will excite fans who are tired of seeing the second level coverage burned by underneath routes and miss what pre-injury DeAndre Levy used to do against running backs and tight ends. According to the PFF profile linked above: “He is worth a Day 3 selection because of his athletic potential in coverage.” Cincy Jungle’s muertedartenas felt the Tennessee senior was “a low-risk, high-upside cover linebacker.” CBS’ profile includes this unusual and exciting passage: “Reeves-Maybin's athleticism and instincts allow the Volunteers to slide him outside to nickel cornerback, on occasion. His previous experience at safety shows with his comfort with his back to the ball.”

As usual, many of the assorted “Bob Quinn kind of guy” boxes are checked by this prospect. In college, Reeves-Maybin had a prominent leadership role, even after his 2016 season was cut short by a season-ending shoulder injury. According to the CBS profile, as a true freshman he “proved an immediate standout on special teams, registering a team-leading 11 tackles there.” Multiple profiles mention versatility to play either the Mike or the Will, and sometimes describe him as a linebacker-safety hybrid defender similar to how we characterize the way Miles Killebrew or Tavon Wilson are used in the box.

Qualifying the good news about speed and versatility is the aforementioned shoulder injury and technical work to make sure he can deal with being a smaller linebacker at the pro level. Pro Football Focus’ profile expressed concerns with using his hands to stay clean of blockers, and then developing the ability to shed blockers once engaged.

Our Grade: B

Most of the immediate returns on this pick will be special teams and depth, but the long-term potential is very high. Provided the medicals check out, linebackers coach Bill Sheridan has the raw material to work some magic. In this draft, the Detroit Lions have drafted a pair of amazingly quick and dynamic athletes to potentially be the future at Will (Reeves-Maybin) and Mike (Jarrad Davis). The fact we are now talking about coverage talent at linebacker makes this a heck of a feel good pick.

Okay, now how about a blocking tight end?

Here’s what the experts have said about Michael Roberts:

As opposed to the mismatch athletic vertical threat that Eric Ebron is supposed to bring to the offense, Michael Roberts is always described in ways that evoke the image of the traditional in-line tight end. You know the type: blocks like a lineman and boxes out for reliable chain-moving passes in middle-of-the-field traffic. Chris Pflum at Big Blue View billed the Toledo prospect as a “(b)ig framed tight end, has the potential to be a true “two-way” tight end at the next level.” Kevin Knight at Falcoholic emphasized size and power, saying “Roberts is good enough in this area that he could probably make a roster as a blocking TE alone. His physical style of play shows in his blocking and receiving--he's hard to tackle, will fight for the ball in traffic and for yards after the catch.”

Our Grade: B+

Roberts had only one year of really good production in college, so he is relatively raw and will probably need some developmental time before he can compete for major playing time. Luckily, the Lions signed Darren Fells recently to be a veteran backup to Eric Ebron in 2017. That will let the coaching staff pick and choose when and how they want to ease Roberts into the pro game, similar to how the defensive staff worked Miles Killebrew into games situationally over the 2016 season. This pick is encouraging because it establishes part of the plan for the tight end position going forward, in a way that turns run blocking into a strength for a change.