Who says you can’t come home? I think the owner of the Philadelphia Soul said that. Anyhow, I’m on the last leg of my road trip today. After spending the early part of the week in Miami eating the finest cuban sandwiches in all the land, it was time to come back to reality.
Miami and Ypsilanti are two majorly different worlds. But I grew up near Ypsilanti. One hour away to be exact. So I went out of my way to do the things that I loved about growing up on the east side of the state.
It all started with a trip to my favorite market: Randazzo’s. I got the banana chips my mom always got me every time we made a trip. I then traveled over to Buscemis to get the pizza I got at almost every birthday party. I had dinner at Kavans in Warren and polished it all off with ice cream from The Dairy Maid. I love this side of the state.
After a three hour IKEA trip with the wife, we finally made it back to Ypsilanti. In the parking lot of Ryearson Stadium is where I met Alex Alvardo, formerly of Hustle Belt—and an Eastern alumnus to boot. After I tried to get him to help me build this new book shelf from IKEA, he informed that he only met up with me to answer the questions about Pat O’Connor, the Lions last selection of the 2017 NFL Draft.
POD: What are your thoughts on O’Connor’s time in Ypsilanti?
AA: “Eastern Michigan was notoriously known for its really depressing defenses for a number of years. When O'Connor was a junior in 2014 and tearing things up, it was weird how comfortable I felt saying that he was an NFL-caliber prospect without feeling like a homer.
But I thought that way with good reason. He was always getting to the quarterback or whomever in the backfield. He's one of those competitors that just bears down and reminds me of the defensive players my dad would tell me about from his day. “
POD: What are his strengths?
AA: “O'Connor is certainly the annoying defender in the backfield, whether he's going for the quarterback or the running back. In 2014 and 2016, he had a total 28.5 tackles for loss (he missed the 2015 season with a shoulder injury).
His finesse at the snap is how he gets from Point A to Point B. I thought him going from a 4-3 playbook his first three years playing to a 3-4 as a redshirt-senior would've hurt his chances, but it only proved how strong and quick he was at the line.”
POD: What are his weaknesses?
AA: “O'Connor is listed on EMU's website at 6-foot-4, 270 pounds, but I'm sure he's gained weight since then. He doesn't have to be 330 pounds to be effective, but I'm scared that this is something that could hold him back from at least some playing time.
There's a list of things that I could say he's good at, but there's not really a list of things that he's exceptional or great at. He's strong, but perhaps not strong enough. He's quick, but quick and agile, but not elite. “
POD: Does O'Connor have a chance that make the 53 man roster in 2017? Or is he a developmental player that will take time?
AA: “I think his best chance to make a 53-man, whether it's in Detroit or elsewhere, is on special teams. Of course, that's not exactly how one can have a career in the NFL. As a defensive end, I think he's closer to being a rotational piece than I cautiously give him credit for.
O'Connor isn't the first EMU defensive player to make it to the NFL: Andy Mulumba, Jason Jones and Ron Rice all have or had careers in the league. For him to stay in the league will take some time to bulk up. Right now his speed won't play up to the NFL, but that's something that can only be fixed with in-game reps. “
To be totally honest, I don’t get the pick. I mean, I get the reason to go for a pass rusher, but I cannot understand why Quinn waited till the seventh round to get one. And why was it O’Connor for that matter. I could be wrong, but I don’t think many teams had O’Connor on their radar. It seems to me that the Lions could have potentially scored O’Connor as an UDFA.
Having said that, I like what I’ve seen from the highlight reel.
But even when you watch this, you have to question O’Connor’s speed getting around the edge. He’s gotta get faster to compete with NFL tackles. The other part of the equation is O’Connor never really saw much high-level competition outside of Western Michigan and Missouri.
O’Connor is likely to have an uphill battle to make the Lions 53-man roster in 2017, regardless of whether the team needs a pass rusher or not. I honestly hope I’m wrong. But I believe O’Connor is project that’s heading towards the practice squad, and at the end of the day, there’s nothing wrong with that.
What do you think Lions fans? Can O’Connor make it in the NFL? Be sure to leave your comments below.