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Improved pass rush vital to Teez Tabor’s fit in Detroit

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The highly polarizing second-round pick is going to need some help up front to have the impact the Lions are expecting.

NCAA Football:  Florida at Louisiana State Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

It’d be possible to make an argument for either Kenny Golladay or Teez Tabor as the most polarizing draft pick by the Lions in 2017. Here at Pride Of Detroit, it has very much been the team’s second-round selection of Teez Tabor, at least among our staff. Nationally, Tabor is used as the prime reason to grade the draft class as a whole negatively, with many considering the pick a massive reach. The draft holiday was an exciting one for Lions fans, but National I’m-Warming-To-This-Pick day was a lot tougher this year than it was after the 2016 draft. As the biggest critic on staff of the Teez Tabor, I had to find a way to like the pick. If I couldn’t do that, I had to come up with reasons to pretend to like the pick, even if it were just a shrug. Failing that, I had to go over what I think the team’s reasoning was for the selection and justify and guess how it could impact 2017.

I failed at all of those things, and unable to warm to the pick myself, I had to fall back to the old standby in such situations. Look in the mirror, shrug, and remind myself that I’m wrong sometimes. Let’s hope the Lions prove me wrong this time and Tabor is a strong starting option in the secondary for years to come. This article isn’t really about me, though, it’s about Tabor. We’ve already taken a look at what Tabor can bring to the Lions defense, and if you were on the fence or knew nothing about Tabor it was probably more than enough to sell you on the pick. If you’re still on the fence, or if you’re like me and firmly planted on the side that he was picked a couple rounds too early, there’s still reason to accept the pick as beneficial for the long term roster health of the Lions. Even aside from the normal “Well, he’s a Lion now” resignation.

Quick Hit List

Just to get it out of the way, I’m going to list the reasons I didn’t like this pick. Many of these are reasons that resonate with the national views of Tabor as a prospect, and I won’t spend too long dwelling on them since that’s not the point, but I wanted to mention them so we can see the mountain fans that are critical of the pick are traversing.

  1. Tied for slowest combine 40 of any 1st or 2nd round CB since 1999 (Only 3 in that time).
  2. Tied for 7th worst combine vertical of any drafted CB since 1999.
  3. Some of the worst tackling you’ll find in a DB.
  4. Few positive projections historically.
  5. Selection runs counter to GM comments about getting faster on defense.
  6. Myriad of character concerns including drugs and fighting with teammates.
  7. At least one recent ‘serious’ injury.

Obviously several of those issues are related to the athletic limitations many saw on tape and later seemingly confirmed at the combine and reinforced by his pro day. Still, there is just enough margin of error with projections that we can find some positives with the other traits he brings.

Maybe it’s the hamstring?

Hamstring injuries suck as they tend to be lingering, nagging things that can feel like they’re gone only to reemerge at the worst possible times. They certainly affect athletic testing, which is why most prospects who are dealing with hamstring injuries wisely decide against athletic testing in the first place. Teez Tabor reportedly blamed his poor combine and worse pro day on a hamstring injury. As someone who researches athletic measurements year round, there’s a reason to be skeptical whenever players blame poor testing on hamstring injuries, however.

Hamstring injuries are the top excuse when a player doesn’t measure well at the combine. Poor performances are very often followed by the player or their agent playing the hamstring card. In most instances they have a superior pro day and the hamstring is never mentioned again. In the case of Tabor, he posted worse times at his pro day (4.72) than his combine and again claimed it was a hamstring. What gives some hope, in an odd way, is that Tabor suffered a very real hamstring injury during his private workout with the Lions. Injuries are never a good thing, but in this case it hints that his previous claims of being hampered by a hamstring injury may actually hold some validity. If it were truly a hamstring injury that prevented Tabor from measuring even average for a corner, the concerns about upside may be eased somewhat.

Scheme similarities

The Lions run a ton of off coverage, Tabor played a ton of off coverage in college. It’s an easy line to draw despite Teryl Austin’s scheme being quite different from the team he once coached at Florida. Tabor played even further off at UF than Austin plays his guys in the NFL, too. Still, that Tabor is used to playing off with the play in front of him plays to where he wins: anticipation and ball skills. Many of the concerns about Tabor playing off coverage so much, however, was that he had to since he lacked the speed to play much closer to the line or in other more routine coverages. If his athletic limitations are overblown, it shouldn’t be as long of a learning period as it would be for many other players transitioning from college to pro.

Elite anticipation

One area corners often struggle in moving from college to the pros is anticipating where and when the ball will be thrown, as well as reading where and when the receiver is going to make his breaks on routes. While most in college get by with their athleticism, making up for poor reads by just being faster and more explosive than the receivers they’re playing against, Tabor made his living by getting to where the ball was going as it arrived. It sounds awesome, and it is, but the big reason this wasn’t mentioned as often about Tabor during the draft process was because without the speed and explosion to take advantage of that awareness it won’t mean much, especially in such an off scheme. It essentially limits you to a zone primary scheme—Teryl Austin has favored man over zone—as a player, and your team needs a strong pass rush for that to be successful.

Top tier ball skills

You can often tell the difference between someone who is critical of a corner and who is just hating on the player with the ball skills argument. It’s something that is pretty easily proven out with nearly any game tape and it’s something Tabor has in spades. Taking advantage of his ball anticipation, Tabor is able to snatch the football out of the air before it arrives or knock it away if a catch isn’t likely. Likewise, he has a knack for knocking the ball out when receivers get it in their hands. If Tabor gives up plays due to his lack of speed, he’s likely to make a few with his combo of ball skills and anticipation. This goes back, once again, to pass rush; you need a strong pass rush to force the types of routes that would allow a player like Tabor to have his best chance to succeed.

A small problem

The problem, if you haven’t guessed so far, is that the Lions pass rush was pretty awful in 2016 and the team did next to nothing to improve in that area.

If it all works out

Let’s say the Lions focus on their pass rush more in 2018. Or, even better, some magic happens and the pass rush takes a significantly large step forward in 2017. The chance that Tabor is an elite athlete is infinitesimally small—only 3 corners since 1999 measured below average for their combine but elite for their pro day—as are the chances he’ll succeed with 4.62 or worse speed—only 2 of nearly 140 corners who ran a 4.62 or worse found NFL success and both of them measured much better at their pro day.

Let’s say, for sake of argument, that the relative athleticism and speed concerns are not legit, or maybe they are and his other positive traits are enough to make up for them. With an improved pass rush and a corner with that level of ball skills and field awareness playing across from a top tier cover corner like Darius Slay could help the team continue to play ball control football, but add the element of actual takeaways. The Lions were one of the worst in the NFL at forcing turnovers, and the addition of someone who might actually force them could completely transform the defense as we know it. A lot of other factors have to come into play for that to occur, but if it were easy we’d be talking about our seventh consecutive Super Bowl victory already.