Tuesday, June 07, 2011

2011 Draft: Detroit Lions

Should be a quick one today, with only five players taken by the Lions.

Starting in round one with Nick Fairley, defensive tackle, Auburn. And of course the big question surrounding Fairley, some might even say plaguing him, has been whether Fairley is a one hit wonder or not. Having put on a great performance in 2010, will that carry over to the NFL or did he just luck out for that one year?

I'm pretty convinced by Fairley to be honest. Pick a game, almost any game from last year, and what you'll see is Nick Fairley causing havoc against some of the best teams in the country. He is a real danger man in the middle. To shut him up teams often had to resort to using two and sometimes three people to block him.

Blocking Fairley one on one was a risk. You might get away with it for a few snaps, but eventually you had to know that he was going to beat your guard or your center in a single block and make it deep into the backfield. And boy, did he ever spend some time in peoples backfields.

Ok, that sounded wrong.

Anyway, Fairley has a lot of strength. His initial move off the snap is incredibly fast and powerful. He uses his hands ok, but he'll need a bit of work in that regard at the next level. It tends to not matter so much though because his burst off the line is critical. If he can catch a guard on the shoulder as opposed to head on, then he often has the raw strength and speed to work his way into the backfield regardless of what the guard has to say about the matter.

Once in the backfield his speed over short distances often prevails, getting in the quarterbacks face or wrapping up the running back before he has a chance to really get going. If Fairley does have one major fault it's that his short range speed seems to drain the "desire" tank quite quickly. If the play spills to the edge, Fairley often is one of the last in pursuit.

But despite that minor setback, his raw talent makes him incredibly attractive as a prospect for the Lions. Teamed up in the middle with Ndamukong Suh, with Kyle Vanden Bosch on one side and Cliff Avril on the other, that Lions D-line just became a really tough proposition for their opponents this year. The thinking is likely along the lines that pressure generated up front will make it a little easier on the secondary this year.

If Fairley can help what was already a well developing D-line to start getting to the quarterback on a more regular basis (and quicker) it will force quarterbacks to hurry and get the ball out of their hands early, hopefully throwing off their accuracy a little. With any luck (for Lions fans at least) that'll provide their pass defense with a chance to actually make some plays.

Next up, the first of two second round picks was Titus Young, wide receiver, Boise State. Now originally I was a bit of a Titus Young fan. But lately that opinion is starting to slide. It's not the fact that he comes across as a cocky little bastard, although he does. That in itself is not always a bad thing (only when cockiness becomes complacency).

Rather the issue is one related to hands, route technique and work rate. I'll pick up the last one first (with me?) because it's something that really bugs me. You can tell when Boise is about to run a play where Young is not the number one or two guy, because he literally jogs off the line. I'm not even joking, or exaggerating. In fact, "jogging" might be giving Young too much credit. Perhaps slowly trundling off the line might do it more justice.

That really annoys me. You have to make the defense think on every play that you are a danger to them. You have to make the corner, the nearest linebacker and the safety to your side all think that at any second you might make a break and speed on by them. Otherwise you're just making their decision making cycle so much easier.

That safety who might otherwise have come all the way across to the sideline to cover you can now turn and take an angle across the field to go and chase down that running play which is headed in the opposite direction. What might have been a touchdown now becomes a 40 yard gain. That can make all the difference in a tight game in the NFL.

Related to the effort problem is his blocking, both on run plays and screen plays. Simply put, Young doesn't block. He kind of shields. It's more like watching a defender in basketball as opposed to a committed NFL blocker. There was even a screen play where he let a defender run right by him, while he just stared at the guy. What he didn't realise was that the ball carrier was dancing around behind him and having beaten one man was then promptly tackled from behind by the guy that Young was supposed to block.

Now, route technique. Or as I like to call it, lack of route technique. He doesn't have much awareness of the defender and the leverage the defender is using against him (inside vs. outside etc). His adjustments to the coverage are sloppy at best and he has a really nasty tendency to false step at the start of his route. He has speed, but he doesn't make the most of it with his breaks, which are often slow and highly telegraphed.

Have you guessed yet which group I coached last?

Finally we have hands. Previously I'd seen a lot of good in Young. There are certainly some great catches on tape, including one handers. But having taken a more extensive and laborious look there are some worrying points to pick up. There are quite a lot of drops. Quite a lot. His use of the hands is generally ok when the ball is coming over his head except that he sometimes has the reverse problem to Braylon Edwards, in that Edwards has a tendency to hold his hands too close to his face, while Young tends to hold them too far away from his body.

When catching flatter passes, ones that come at him more at head height and that he's looking straight at, he has a tendency to open his hands too much. Typically you want the tips of your thumbs and the tips of your fingers to be almost touching, but Young prefers the approach of keeping his hands wide and trying to time the catch perfectly. There is a good reason why not many people do this, namely that it's bloody difficult to pull off on a consistent basis.

Honestly speaking, I don't know what I saw in Young first time round. Yes, he does sometimes have those highlight reel catches. Yes, he does sometimes display great agility with the ball in his hands. But personally I think I'd rather have Austin Pettis from Boise, which is saying something (though Pettis is growing on me the more I watch Boise).

Next up up in round two was Mikel Leshoure, running back, Illinois. I was a little surprised by this, given that Detroit traded up last year to get their hands on Jahvid Best, but I guess two backs are better than one so there we go.

And Leshoure is a good back. He's sometimes is a little indecisive in short yardage, probably as a function of wanting to look for the big play, but other than that he usually has a good feel and vision for holes around the line. He has quick feet and is pretty strong for a back. Normally when Leshoure meets a defender he drops his shoulder and gives as good as gets, driving his feet all the way through for extra yards, which is such an under rated skill.

In the passing game he has pretty good hands and his route running is about average. He blocks well when called upon. In fact, Leshoure is one of the few backs (including the NFL) who can block "properly", that is to say that he stands up and uses technique to defeat his man, instead of constantly trying to dive at the guys feet and cut him.

Overall Leshoure is one of the better backs in the draft this year. Will he be another Chris Johnson? No. He's not really what you would call home run hitter, mainly because he lacks a bit of speed in the open field. But his quality throughout every phase of his game is very useful and you can see him being a solid contributor for many years on this Lions team. He should compliment the speed and explosiveness of Best well, being more of a head on, tough style runner who can give you consistent yards and occasionally big plays.

Next the Lions had to wait until the fifth round, where they took Doug Hogue, Linebacker, from Syracuse. Otherwise known as "Doug ho-God do I have to watch anymore of this?"

He has flashes of speed which sometimes find him in the backfield making the tackle, but you really have to work hard to notice when Hogue actually makes a difference to a game. He just doesn't do a lot. Occasionally he fills in the running game, but overall he's a spectator not a play maker. Might have a future as a weak linebacker in the Lions 4-3, but don't count on it. Could be gone by the end of camp.

After Hogue, Lions fans had to wait with unbearable anticipation until the seventh round to see who their team would take next, and it was..... Johnny Culbreath, offensive tackle, South Carolina state. The question you're probably asking is; who? And the answer is; I have no idea! Seriously. I haven't seen so much as a second on Culbreath and so I can't say a thing I'm afraid.

In conclusion then, the Lions draft was... ok. I remember it being better, largely because I remember Young being better than what I've seen recently. I think everyone is hoping that he'll be the perfect partner to Calvin Johnson, but I'm really not sure. I just think he'll lack the consistency to really take that kind of role. Add on the Hogue and Culbreath picks and it doesn't pan out all that well.

But then Nick Fairley and Mikel Leshoure offer hope. Fairley might just have been the player with the most legitimate claim to have been the number one overall pick, so I think the Lions got a great deal at 13th overall. Leshoure will add a measure of stability to that offense and may even be able to help better at keeping Matthew Stafford upright this year.

So positives and negatives. I think if the Lions are going to make a splash this year though, it'll be their veterans who'll have to dig deep and make it happen. Suh needs to have another good year. And Stafford needs to stay healthy for more than about 3 games.

Next year I can see an O-line blitz coming for the Lions.

No comments: