The last calendar year has been quite exciting for the Detroit Lions. A new head coach with a drastically different philosophy, a focus on the run game, and now a draft class that backs up those first two points.
It has also been an exciting year for RAS, the Relative Athletic Scores metric developed to compare player athleticism. Our ever-expanding database has seen the metric used by far more media outlets, has been published several times, and is becoming the draft tool it was intended to be. With the 2018 NFL Draft in the books, it’s time for us to look at our new Detroit Lions and take a peek at what their athletic traits might tell us about their prospects.
Round 1: Frank Ragnow, OC
Starting us off with a bang, Frank Ragnow posted one of the best RAS for a center in more than three decades. There’s some good news and bad news there. On the one hand, elite athleticism cannot be understated, and the team has completely overhauled their line athletically in a very short amount of time. On the other hand, center is the position that has the least correlation to success in the NFL when looking at measurable athleticism. One thing is for certain, though, don’t confuse Ragnow and Travis Swanson just because they’re both big and went to the same school. Swanson’s 3.97 RAS isn’t in the same universe as Ragnow.
Versatility at guard
In what I hoped would be a small, extra bit of content (spoilers, it won’t be small), I decided to see what other positions the Lions draft picks may play and how they fit there athletically. Ragnow also posted a fantastic all-time RAS at guard, which has a much higher correlation to success than center does. His score is comparable to Kyle Long (also 9.84 RAS), with Long posting better agility numbers while Ragnow jumped better.
Round 2: Kerryon Johnson, RB
Brett Whitefield from Pro Football Focus and myself both predicted that Kerryon Johnson would be wearing Honolulu Blue in 2018 on a recent PODcast, but neither of us expected it to be in the second round. The Lions traded up after learning that Johnson was being targeted by the Redskins, putting the best scheme fit in the entire draft in his proper place.
Athletically, Johnson posted some of the best explosion scores in the draft which is evident any time you turn on the tape. With excellent vision and patience, Johnson is able to burst through nearly any hole and unlike the other backs on the Lions roster possesses the speed to do some damage once he’s through.
3rd Round: Tracy Walker, FS
After the initial confusion from the Lions fan base died down, with few having heard of Walker as a prospect, this was ultimately a pretty popular pick among scouts and draftniks. Like Johnson, there was concern about his value where he was selected, but the Lions moved to select him before he was taken by another team that was very likely to have taken him shortly after. From an athletic standpoint, Walker fits very cleanly as a possible successor to Glover Quin as a deep field roamer, but it is his versatility as a player that likely made him as coveted as he was in the third round.
Versatility at Strong Safety
Barring a pretty epic shift in philosophy or a severe injury to Quin, it’s unlikely that any more than one player will take snaps at free safety in 2018. Walker will most likely be rotating in with Tavon Wilson and Miles Killebrew at strong safety, where Walker’s big-hitting ability can be utilized as well as his fantastic range.
Versatility at Cornerback
Tracy Walker won’t be playing outside corner any time soon, but he could be playing in the nickel. What Walker brings that the other safeties lack is the speed and instincts to cover slot receivers, and while it’s not the best use of his talents, it is something he’s capable of doing in packages.
Round 4: Da’Shawn Hand, DT/DE
Da’Shawn Hand was one of the first players the Lions interviewed that really gave us a hint of what the defensive front might look like in 2018. He told interviewers that the Lions were asking him to play end in heavy sets, something the team hasn’t done with a player like him in over a decade.
I love Hand’s athletic profile, but while he has the traits to be an excellent interior pass rusher, the concerns are the same with him as it was with his linemates Da’Ron Payne and A’Shawn Robinson. I don’t expect much in terms of penetration, but setting the edge at 5-technique and two-gapping at 3 are going to be his jam.
Versatility at Edge
You’re not going to see a player like Hand rushing off the edge in wide-9 sets, but he’ll be playing outside on a lot of run downs and will be one of the primary defenders next to a stand up edge rusher. Few got past him when he was setting the edge at Alabama and the hope is his size and strength continue that here.
Round 5: Tyrell Crosby, OG
UPDATE: Crosby’s vertical was missing and has been updated.
Crosby didn’t wow with his athletic profile at guard, but there’s a deeper story there. His bench was pretty terrible, but with more than 35-inch arms that should have been expected. More concerning to teams is going to be his lack of quickness and short area agility. Though his shuttle and 10-yard split are not far from average, those two measurements are the best indicators of success for offensive lineman, so it’s the worst area to be lacking. Along with concussions and other concerns, it’s a big part of why he fell to where he did.
Versatility at Tackle
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Tyrell Crosby has never actually played guard and didn’t allow a sack at tackle in college. Some would point to his height as a reason he couldn’t play tackle in the pros, but his excellent arm length would more than mitigate any length disadvantage. Though Crosby can play tackle in theory, it’s not his poor athletic profile at tackle but his tape that ultimately tells of why he may be better suited as a guard long-term.
Round 7: Nick Bawden, FB
Remember when fullbacks were (never really) obsolete and the Lions weren’t going to utilize one (though they did all season)? Remember when “Jim Bob Cooter doesn’t want a fullback”? As it turns out, nobody knows anything. Athletically, Bawden has good size and speed, which he’s going to need to open holes for the explosive Kerryon Johnson. Not much to say about a fullback’s athleticism unless they’re the playmaking type, but Bawden is very much in the business of opening holes rather than catching or rushing.