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2019 NFL Draft: Breaking down the Detroit Lions’ Day 3 picks

Now that the draft is concluded, let’s take a look at how day 3 shook out for the Lions.

NCAA Football: Iowa at Penn State Matthew O’Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Like we did in the first and second day, I want to run through the Lions Day 3 picks and take a critical look at what I think they bring to the table. Like before, I’ll be posting them along with their RAS, but with some noted exceptions, I’ve seen enough tape on the picks to evaluate them from a tape perspective primarily. I want to look at the picks from a transparent, completely honest point of view, and I expect that my opinion won’t be shared by some of you. So be prepared to hit the comments and let me know what you think.

Pick 117 Austin Bryant, DE Clemson

Oh, so... uh... I had hoped to kick this off on a positive note. Like his teammate, Clelin Ferrell, Bryant is a lengthy pass rusher that made his living without having elite athleticism to lean on.

I know because of where he was taken there will be comparisons to Da’Shawn Hand, but these two couldn’t be further apart as prospects. While Da’Shawn Hand was an uber athletic prospect that simply didn’t live up to his potential in College, Bryant was a productive college player who mostly made his living off of being in the right place on a stacked defensive front. I know that sounds super negative, but being an opportunist isn’t a bad thing. It just isn’t a thing I project as being very useful in the NFL from a long-term perspective. Give me a guy who can create disruption himself over a guy who can take advantage of the disruption created by others.

Needless to say, I’m not a very big fan of the Austin Bryant pick. I expected him to go undrafted or at least go a lot later Day 3 and be a guy the Lions may pick up as a flyer since he fits their general size profile for ends. Seeing him as their first pick on the day was a bit of a shock. Like the rest of us, I’ll be waiting to see what he can do, but my expectations are decidedly low.

Pick 143 Damon Harrison Sr., DT, William Penn

Looking at his athletic profile, you can probably get a little turned off to spending a fifth-round pick on a guy who’s slow and didn’t show a lot of explosiveness. But here’s the thing, nose tackles are always lumped in with defensive tackles as a whole despite only really needing to be very large and very strong. Sure, some of the best nose tackles like Vince Wilfork still have a strong profile athletically, but most fall into the same mold as this Harrison guy.

There’s a lot of positives about the guy the Lions spent the 143rd pick on. Fun fact, his nickname is “Snacks,” and he’s called that for exactly why you think he would be. As I understand it from his tape, he’s an excellent run defender who can make everyone around him better simply by providing a space that’s off limits to rushers and by daring opponents to leave only a single blocker on him. His hand usage and power are incredible, and I think you guys are going to like seeing him play on Sundays.

Pick 146, Amani Oruwariye, CB, Penn State

HAH! So in a happy twist, the next pick was one that I was a lot happier with. Oruwariye was commonly mocked in the early second round, occasionally you’d find him in the first, but he was my top ranked cornerback entering draft weekend. At every pick, I grew frustrated that the Lions did not select him, and I grew increasingly curious as to why he was still on the board. Nabbing a player like Oruwariye in the fifth-freaking-round is amazing, and I can’t overstate how excited I am to see him play.

Normally, we’re looking at fifth-round players as depth pieces who may find themselves in a rotation in their first year if they really perform well, but this is a guy who could potentially start at some point in Year 1. With Rashaan Melvin on a one-year deal, it’s the perfect situation for Oruwariye to develop even if he isn’t seeing the field much as a rookie, and we could be looking at a running mate for Darius Slay for years to come here.

Pick 184 Travis Fulgham, WR, ODU

In hindsight, considering the Lions’ new philosophy regarding the run game, this is a selection we should have seen coming. One of those traits you don’t talk about much with receivers is their ability to block, since it’s such a small part of what makes them special on the field. Yet, with the Lions the last couple years, they have prized players who are able to both catch and block at the receiver position. Kenny Golladay buries people when he’s not catching the football, and it’s an underrated part of Marvin Jones’ game as well. Which brings us back to Travis Fulgham, who enters the roster as possibly the best run blocker in the receiver room.

Receiving wise, he’s similar to Kenny Golladay in that he’s a plus-sized receiver with a strong route tree coming from a smaller school. He’ll need a lot of development to be a real receiving threat, but from a value standpoint this was an excellent selection. He can struggle with drops, which isn’t going to endear him to Lions fans, but I believe it to be technique related, not concentration, so it’s something that can be corrected with proper coaching.

Pick 186 Ty Johnson, RB, Maryland

A somewhat underrated need coming into the 2019 draft for the Lions was running back. Yes, they just drafted Kerryon Johnson and he’s awesome. He’s also struggled with injuries dating back to college and is the only running back on the roster through 2020.

The problem with picking up one in the draft this year was value. After floating the idea that the Lions would take a RB earlier in the draft, I went back to the tape and ground hours and hours of the class trying to find a gem. Based on where they were projected, I found none, and I was happy they decided to go to free agency rather than the draft for RB2.

Long term, it was still a need, and they drafted Maryland’s Ty Johnson right about where he was projected, so the value was there. Johnson is a speedster, as you could guess by his athletic profile, but even if you ignored that it’s evident on tape. Now, some of you are already thinking about if the Lions can move on from Theo Riddick because of such a selection crowding the room, so let me address that right away.

Probably not. Ty Johnson was rarely used as a receiver, and even less often as a blocker. He also peaked in 2016, steadily losing snaps as time went on. Injuries played a part in that as he dealt with lingering issues throughout 2018. In fact, he tweaked his hamstring at his pro day. I think Johnson may be headed more for a practice squad stash than a full-time role, and cracking a lineup with Kerryon Johnson, C.J. Anderson, Theo Riddick, Zach Zenner, and Nick Bawden seems unlikely.

Pick 224 Isaac Nauta, TE, Georgia

I’m not going to get upset about seventh-round picks. These are the guys you pick up late in the draft that you think would be difficult to lure in undrafted free agency. I mention that because Nauta has an undraftable athletic profile and tape that backs it up.

This is a strong tight end class as a whole, and I was eager to find sleepers early on. It’s how I found Kahale Warring, who was a relative unknown before his (predictable, if you watched him) crazy NFL Combine performance, ultimately leading to a third-round selection. It’s how I was able to pick out Washington’s Drew Sample as a guy who was going to get drafted far higher than most predicted, and he went 52nd overall to the Bengals. I love me some tight ends, and Nauta was a guy I was pointed to by several folks as a possible sleeper, but I could never get on board. Athleticism is simply too much of a premium at the position.

Isaac Nauta posted the worst RAS of any of the drafted tight ends and 12th worst in this draft class (out of 60). The biggest issues with his tape was his size (he bulked up to 241 at the Combine), his athletic ability (he would test poorly in every drill but the bench and broad), and his dad-run gait.

In a tight end room that already has T.J. Hockenson and Jesse James, I just don’t see a path to a roster spot for Nauta when going against the remaining room. Michael Roberts has been a disappointment, but even his poor pro tape is superior to what I saw from Nauta. There’s a chance he moves to a fullback role, but with Nick Bawden returning from his injury and having incredible tape at that position prior to being drafted last year I don’t see a road to the roster there, either.

Pick 229 PJ Johnson, DT, Arizona

Whereas Isaac Nauta was the least athletic tight end drafted in 2019, PJ Johnson was the least athletic defensive tackle drafted. Now, I hadn’t watched any of Johnson prior to his drafting, so I wasn’t operating on more than just his poor profile at first. That’s what I’m going to start with. The first thing I thought when I saw his score was okay, poor RAS at DT isn’t a game changer if they’re a nose tackle. Then I saw his bench. Not off to a great start. From an athletic standpoint, this is a bad profile even for a nose tackle.

Then I watched some tape and, well, he wasn’t a nose tackle. The first game I watched was Arizona State and it was rough. A guy that size shouldn’t get blasted off the line with regularity and lose their balance multiple times when engaged. His athletic profile is really bad, but his tape is why he’s a seventh rounder who would have made just as much sense as an undrafted free agent.

I’m going to watch a lot more before I write up a proper analysis, don’t worry, but as rough as the tape was it wasn’t without some positives. He plays both inside on a four-man front and outside when there’s three. Johnson plays very upright, but in the moments when he’s able to get leverage on his blocker, he’s able to use that size to his advantage very well. If he can learn balance and control, that’s a strong foundation to build from and is likely where the comparisons to Damon Harrison stem from.

Given the current roster makeup, I don’t expect Johnson to make the team and is likely headed to the practice squad his first year, where he can put on some better muscle and add more power to a frame that will support it.

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