Detroit Lions Rookies Forecast

By Charlie Campbell – @draftcampbell

Solid Starter

Travis Swanson, C, Arkansas – Round 3
Dominic Raiola has been a mainstay in Detroit’s starting lineup since he was a second-round pick in the 2001 NFL Draft out of Nebraska. Raiola turns 36 next season, so the Lions had to start planning for the future and get a long-term center to work with Matthew Stafford. The 2014 NFL Draft wasn’t very deep at center, so Detroit was fortunate it was able to land Swanson in the third round.

The 6-foot-5, 312-pound Swanson started all of his collegiate career at Arkansas. He is a tough run-blocker who improved his pass protection over time. Swanson showed a nice combination of size, strength and athletic ability. He played well against good competition, and while some opponents alleged he played dirty, having that kind of attitude is good for an offensive line.

As a rookie, Swanson can learn behind Raiola while providing good depth at guard and center. The Lions can incorporate Swanson into the starting lineup in 2015, and he quickly should become a good starter for Detroit.

Most Likely To Bust

Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina – Round 1
I think Ebron is a great talent, and I had him ranked eighth overall on my final 2014 NFL Draft big board. There are a few reasons though why he’s my pick for a potential bust. The biggest issue is fit. The Lions badly needed a No. 2 receiver to work with Calvin Johnson, but taking a second tight end when they just signed Brandon Pettigrew to a lucrative extension seems like an odd way to do it.

In his years with the Colts, Jim Caldwell didn’t run a heavy two-tight end offense with Peyton Manning under center. Caldwell did more two-tight end sets in Baltimore, but to get value out of a top-10 pick on a tight end, he had better be a huge portion of Detroit’s offense.

There were teams that questioned Ebron’s maturity leading up to the 2014 NFL Draft, and that could be an issue in Detroit. Perhaps the new coaching staff will institute a stronger locker room, but the team’s leadership didn’t impress while dealing with Titus Young, or Nick Fairley to this point. Ndamukong Suh was also allowed to be a prima donna and live by a different set of rules. Ebron could get frustrated if his snap count and opportunities lag behind Pettigrew’s.

How many targets is Ebron really going to get? Johnson gets the vast majority – as he should. Detroit has also overpaid to sign Golden Tate and re-sign Pettigrew. Plus, carries and passes to Reggie Bush have to be factored in. If tight end was an option with the 10th pick, I don’t understand why the Lions spent so much on Pettigrew. The team’s secondary remains a massive weakness, and the organization’s first-round pick could have nabbed a good safety or cornerback. Since Martin Mayhew took over as general manager, Detroit has drafted two tight ends in the top-20 picks and zero defensive backs in the first round. It’s no wonder the Lions haven’t been able to get past Green Bay and Aaron Rodgers.

Potential Boom Pick

Kyle Van Noy, OLB, BYU – Round 2
I think Van Noy was a great pick by Detroit in a variety of ways. First of all, the Lions want to play some 3-4 sets and needed a pass-rushing outside linebacker to run that scheme. Van Noy fits perfectly in such a role. Detroit’s base defense is still a 4-3 and could use a linebacker upgrade, so Van Noy fits there as a Sam (strongside) linebacker.

Additionally, Van Noy was a great defender on the other side from Ziggy Ansah in 2012, and reuniting the pair should help each one to pan out in the NFL. In fact, Van Noy helped Ansah learn how to put his pads on and taught him a lot of the game at BYU.

Van Noy was one of the best defensive players in the nation in 2012. He had 13 sacks to headline a blistering stat line of 53 tackles, 22 tackles for a loss, six forced fumbles, two interceptions and five passes batted. Van Noy scored two touchdowns (pick-six, fumble recovery) in BYU’s bowl game to end that season. With Ansah playing for the Lions in 2013, offenses addressed Van Noy with plays going away from him and trying to limit his impact. He recorded 68 tackles with 17.5 tackles for a loss, four sacks, seven passes batted and two interceptions.

If Van Noy had entered the 2013 NFL Draft, he could have easily been a first-round pick, so the Lions got a good value with him in the second round. Van Noy could develop into a play-maker and a leader on the Detroit defense. It wouldn’t be surprising if Van Noy becomes a source of big plays and is a steal pick for the Lions.

Future Depth Player

Larry Webster, DE, Bloomsburg
For months, I had the Lions locked in to taking Webster in the fourth round. It made a lot of sense as Detroit needed to fortify its depth at defensive end. Webster was a prolific pass-rusher for Bloomsburg. He had 13.5 and 12.5 sacks the past two seasons with three forced fumbles and an interception. Webster totaled 88 tackles in that time. The 6-foot-6, 252-pounder has good length and showed some serious speed with a 40-yard dash of 4.58 seconds at the NFL Scouting Combine.

While Webster may not develop into a starter, he has the frame to add weight and be an end in a 4-3 defense. Webster could be a situational pass-rusher and quality depth player in Detroit.

Walt’s 2014 NFL Draft Grades:

10. Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina: C+ Grade
I can’t say I’m crazy about this pick. There’s a reason tight ends have fallen in recent years, and Eric Ebron is viewed as a slightly overrated prospect. I don’t hate this selection though because Matthew Stafford needs more weapons, and Ebron is definitely an upgrade over the disappointing Brandon Pettigrew.

40. Kyle Van Noy, DE/OLB: B Grade
This pick makes a lot of sense. It may seem odd because the Lions have run a traditional 4-3, but they’ll have a hybrid stop unit under Jim Caldwell. With that in mind, Detroit had to find a pass-rushing linebacker, and Kyle Van Noy is arguably the top player available who fits that profile. This is about the area where I expected Van Noy to go.

76. Travis Swanson, C, Arkansas: B Grade
This is a pretty decent pick. Travis Swanson fits the range as a mid third-round selection. He also fills a need because the Lions had to find a long-term answer at the center position. I think I had Swanson mocked to the Lions at this spot at one point, so it obviously makes a lot of sense to me.

133. Nevin Lawson, CB, Utah State: B Grade
This pick makes sense. The Lions have cornerback issues, though they weren’t going to take one as early as No. 10 because they like the young players at the position. They had to take one at some point though, and Nevin Lawson fits this range.

136. Larry Webster, DE, Bloomsburg: C Grade
I had the Lions picking Larry Webster – at No. 189. This is a reach, but Webster fills a need. Detroit lost Willie Young to Chicago via free agency, so it needed to find a defensive end.

158. Caraun Reid, DT, Princeton: B+ Grade
Caraun Reid could have gone in the third round, and no one would have complained very much. The Lions are getting very good value, and it’s not a surprise that they’re taking a defensive tackle. They said they wanted to pick someone who could perhaps push the lethargic Nick Fairley.

189. T.J. Jones, WR, Notre Dame: B Grade
The Lions were expected to pick a receiver earlier. They took a tight end in the first round, but a wideout had to be acquired. T.J. Jones fits the range, so this is a fine pick.

229. Nate Freese, K, Boston College: B+ Grade
Now, here’s a team that needed a kicker. The Lions were hurt by David Akers’ struggles last year, as they screwed up big time by not keeping Kickalicious. Nate Freese was the No. 1 kicker on some boards.

2014 NFL Draft Team Grade: B- . Follow Walter @walterfootball for updates.

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