The period between the NFL Draft and the regular season is generally a slow time for football news. Even before considering the current climate, this period of time was among the least exciting as a football fan as so little of import happens on a daily basis. It’s during this time that we like to review the roster, project the upcoming team, or further evaluate the team’s offseason acquisitions.
Today we’re going to take a look at the Lions’ recent draft picks and find similar athletic comparisons for them, looking solely at the best possible outcomes and looking ahead to ways the player may be utilized on the field. We’ll be using the Relative Athletic Score (RAS) database for this comparison, but we’re actually looking far more granularly at each player’s individual metrics, a more linear look at their overall athletic profile.
Note: RAS is calculated up to a player’s draft year, so some scores may vary even if the two players tested exactly the same.
Athletically compares favorably to: Nnamdi Asomugha
The chief motivation for evaluating all of the Lions picks in this way was this strange narrative about Jeff Okudah’s speed. Yes, the average 40-yard dash for top-five corners is under 4.4, and that stat can make Okudah’s 4.48 seem bad, but an average of four players is pretty worthless statistically speaking.
4.48 is perfectly fine speed for a corner. I could sit here and name off all of the Pro Bowl level cornerbacks that ran slower than that, but there are 22 of them since 2000 so I won’t bother. If you think Okudah is slow, then go watch some tape of Nnamdi Asomugha with the Raiders and find where that type of speed caused issues with his type of play. The only difference athletically is that Okudah is more explosive.
Athletically compares favorably to: DeAngelo Williams
Swift has a thickly built, compact frame that allows him to take advantage of his plus explosion and agility (untested) to give him enough open field area to get up to a solid top speed. His athletic profile is pretty straightforward and matches perfectly with what you see on tape. For many reasons, I wish we were able to have the pro day circuit since I have little doubt Swift would have killed the agility drills. Maybe not to the extent his otherwise spot on athletic comp DeAngelo Williams did—posting an insane 6.57 cone time at his pro day in 2006—but I think Swift would have done well.
It’s pretty easy to project in the NFL, too, as Swift’s style of play relies on him creating space by being explosive and quick. The big question is how he holds up to contact and if the scheme can get him the open space he needs to be successful.
Athletically compares favorably to: Kelechi Osemele
I’m not going to lie, this was a bit of a tough one. Athletic profiles like Jackson’s only really have success when they’re attached to a much bigger body. Guys like Mike Iupati and Louis Vasquez measured in a similar range, but both had more than 25 pounds on Jonah Jackson.
One player that wins in a similar way athletically (but again is much larger) is former Baltimore Ravens guard Kelechi Osemele. It’s about power and explosion at the line of scrimmage. It’s not someone who matches up well with the quicker interior lineman if they win at the snap, but if someone like Jackson gets that initial punch it can put the defender at a disadvantage that buys the QB time.
Athletically compares favorably to: Michael Strahan
Due to a broken leg, we didn’t get much of an athletic profile on Julian Okwara. What we did get is a bench press that was really good, but it’s even better when you look at the fact that Okwara has really long arms. You don’t get that very often, the two are usually inversely proportional. I fact, I only found four instances of a defensive end with arms that long who put up a bench that good. Interestingly, two of the four had at least one season with 10.0+ sacks in a season. One of them was Hall of Famer Michael Strahan, but the other? Former Detroit Lion Willie Young. Both of those players also bore a similar athletic profile to what I would have expected Okwara to have, average or below-average speed and agility, but excellent explosion.
Athletically compares favorably to: Jahri Evans
Finding an athletic comp like Stenberg’s wasn’t supposed to be easy, but it didn’t take much time at all, and we even ended up with a player drafted in a similar range. Stenberg is a little bit taller than Evans was, while Evans was slightly more explosive (better splits). But it’s otherwise pretty spot on.
Does that mean they’re the same player? Of course not, but having similar tools to start with can’t be a bad thing if the style is similar. But are these two the same style of player? It’s been a while, but scouting reports of the time read fairly similar. While Evans played tackle, he struggled with speed rushers (similar to Stenberg) and thrived when he was able to use his power to drive defenders back (also similar to Stenberg). I wouldn’t call it a clean style comparison, but it’s close enough in conjunction with similar athletic makeup to give a glimmer of promise.
Athletically compares favorably to: Jarvis Landry
When looking for athletic profiles that are similar, I focused on players with similar size and athletic profiles completely, test by test. Barring an exact favorable comp, I work backwards, removing favorable or unfavorable metrics until something fits. We’re trying to find someone who is similarly good, rather than similarly bad. For Cephus, it was tough because nobody as explosive as he tested was anywhere near as slow, and nobody as slow as he tested (even using his pro day times) was a similar size and found NFL success outside of special teams (which isn’t a strength for Cephus anyway).
So I went with Jarvis Landry, not just because it wasn’t really fair to have nobody but because there are some stylistic similarities. People love to use Anquan Boldin, but that’s the comp for every slow wide receiver, and it really doesn’t fit with Cephus. He doesn’t play the same and doesn’t win the same as Boldin.
He’s not the same as Landry, either, but the similarities are that both are guys who can win inside, by creating separation early rather than beating anyone with speed. They just do so in different ways—Cephus by being explosive and Landry by being quick. Probably the least clear-cut comp, but size, speed, and style is a decent start.
Athletically compares favorably to: Darren Sproles
This was another one that wasn’t very clean because players the size of Jason Huntley rarely find any success in the NFL. So without a straight one-for-one, I found someone with a similar size, draft range, and play style.
Darren Sproles was a very similar size to Huntley and they each boasted and excellent blend of strength and speed. Where they differ is in explosiveness and agility, where they posted essentially flipped results (Sproles great agility, poorer explosion, while Huntley had the reverse). They use different tricks to get themselves space, but once they’ve gotten there, they win in very similar ways and their athletic testing largely bears that out.
With the possibility of seeing more snaps earlier in his career despite a lower draft position, we might see if Huntley can live up to that level of talent much earlier than Sproles did.
Athletically compares favorably to: A’Shawn Robinson
Similar to Huntley, it’s difficult to find a clean athletic comparison for John Penisini because at 318 pounds, he’s somehow extremely small for his position. There simply aren’t any successful nose tackles who started at that size. He tested very similarly to Damon Harrison Sr. in the couple areas he tested, but as the size was so far off it didn’t make a fair comparison.
There have been a few poorer-testing 3-techniques, though, and one of the most readily available was former Lions second-round pick A’Shawn Robinson. Penisini is projected more into a nose tackle role if he puts on some weight but so was Robinson during the 2016 draft run up. Robinson was considered a much better prospect at the time than Penisini is, but concerns about if he could provide any value as a pass rusher crept in prior to the draft and he slipped to the Lions. To Penisini’s credit, most folks understand how he wins and what he can do on a field, so the concerns about his measurables are pretty much all about weight.
Athletically compares favorably to: No data to compare
Sorry, can’t make something out of nothing. For what it’s worth, the Lions are likely going to use Cornell in a similar role to Da’Shawn Hand, and he looks similarly athletic on tape. So maybe that’s the comp, if we’re really stretching.