The draft wrapped up on Saturday, and when it was all set and done, the Lions had made nine picks across the the three days. Some picks made fans and analysts question the value the Lions received on these picks. Here we will look at the positives of the draft class to try and see what Bob Quinn and Matt Patricia were thinking.
1st Round: TJ Hockenson, Iowa, TE
TJ Hockenson is one of the rare prospects with a high floor and a high ceiling. At Iowa, he showed he was a willing run blocker and effectively blocked defensive ends and linebackers in the Big Ten. At only 21 years old, he should continue to fill out his frame making him an even more effective run blocker.
In the passing game, he runs a developed route tree with quickness out of his breaks to create separation. In his entire career, he only dropped two passes and was able to use his size and body control to make contested catches. While a lot of attention went to his teammate Noah Fant’s athleticism, Hockenson is a great athlete in his own right with great quickness and explosiveness. In year one, Hockenson will open up holes for the Lions running game and provide a safety blanket for Matthew Stafford with the potential to become a mismatch nightmare for defenses.
2nd Round: Jahlani Tavai, Hawaii, LB
This pick left a lot of fans confused to who the Lions just drafted over bigger names such as CB Greedy Williams. After doing research, many were disappointed as most analysts predicted him to be available much later in the draft; however, according to Daniel Jeremiah, the Patriots were also interested in Tavai. Since he is one of the few linebackers the Lions viewed as a fit for their scheme, I would much rather the Lions take him a round early than trying to wait and have him picked before they are on the clock again.
Tavai is big (6’2 250 lbs) with long arms and lined up at stand up linebacker and on the edge for the Hawaii defense. He was a three year starter with over 100 tackles in two seasons. He should fill the Dont’a Hightower role on the defense as a linebacker who lines up all over the defense. Tavai should be instant starter who will form a versatile linebacking core with Jarrad Davis and Devon Kennard.
3rd Round: Will Harris, Boston College, SS
The Lions traded up to draft Will Harris in the third round out of Boston College. Harris tested extremely well at the combine with a 4.41 forty and great results in every test. He played as a single high safety, in the box, and as a nickel corner for Boston College. He is best in the box where he can fly around the ball and hit people.
Three safety looks are a staple of Matt Patricia’s defense and Harris will likely fill in as the third behind Quandre Diggs and Tracy Walker. Now, the Lions have three safeties who all could play over the top, in the slot, or in the box which will make the Lions defense more versatile and harder to game plan against.
4th Round: Austin Bryant, Clemson, DE
The Lions drafted Austin Bryant, the forgotten man of the Clemson defensive line, in the fourth round. He has good size for a defensive end and sets the edge against the run well. He lined up mostly at defensive end but did occasionally bump down to three tech to rush the passer.
While he doesn’t have a great variety of moves, he is able to use his length well to keep blockers off him and get to the passer. Bryant should be a good depth piece who should be in the rotation at defensive end while he continues to develop his pass rushing moves.
5th Round: Amani Oruwariye, Penn State, CB
Many analysts expected Oruwariye to go somewhere in day two and a possible selection for the Lions due to his length and physicality. His size and physicallity at the line of scrimmage making him an ideal press corner.
He is also a play maker as he had three interceptions and 11 pass breakups his senior year. He needs to refine his footwork, but with the signing of Rashaan Melvin, he won’t be forced to play right away. Oruwariye has all the tools to be a top tier starter with some refinement making him a steal in the fifth round.
6th Round: Travis Fulgham, Old Dominion, WR
Travis Fulgham is another big body receiver in the mold of Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones. He has great ball skills to pair with his size which allows him to make adjustments on passes and to catch contested passes.
While his route running needs work, he does a good job of finding soft spots in zones and making him self available to the quarterback. Fulgham will provide depth behind Jones and Golladay before he eventually becomes a full time starter.
6th Round: Ty Johnson, Maryland, RB
Ty Johnson was an effective runner for the Terrapins with over a 7.0-yard per carry average in three of his four years. He brings a different dimension to the Lions backfield with legit 4.3 speed.
He returned kicks in college as well and returned two for touchdowns in his career. The Lions backfield is surprisingly deep, so for him to make the roster, he must continue to provide value on special teams. Besides as a returner, he could be used on jet sweeps and other gadget plays where he will have space to use his speed and make big plays.
7th Round: Isaac Nauta, Georgia, TE
Last year, the Lions had arguably the worst tight end group in the league. Hockenson, Jesse James, and Nauta should be able to completely revamp the tight end position for the Lions. While Nauta did not test well, his ran routes well enough to get open in the SEC.
Like Hockenson, he is a willing blocker who was able to open up holes for the talented Georgia running backs. Nauta will compete for the third tight end role where his ability to block and ability to get open will be valuable.
7th Round: PJ Johnson, Arizona, DT
PJ Johnson is a large human being weighing in a 323-pounds. He is an ideal run stuffing defensive tackle in the Lions scheme. He can eat up double teams allowing the linebackers to fly around a make plays.
The Lions already have great run stuffers in A’Shawn Robinson and Damon Harrison but don’t have a lot of depth behind them. Also, both Robinson and Harrison will be free agents in the next two years, and it is unsure if the Lions will resign either of them. PJ Johnson will be a good depth piece and will provide insurance if either of the starting defensive tackles leaving in free agency.
Undrafted Free Agents
Undrafted free agents can be a great addition to any team, and there were a few that stood out for the Lions. OG Beau Benzschawel out of Wisconsin is someone I wanted the Lions to draft on Day Three and chose the Lions over 20 other teams. He should be able to compete for the starting spot at RG vacated by TJ Lang. Malik Carney out of UNC is an edge rusher who also has experience playing stand up linebacker. He compete for a roster spot as a situational rusher and sub package player. Clemson linebacker Tre Lamar is another big MIKE backer. He can stuff the run but doesn’t have the athleticism to be a cover linebacker. If he can become just average in zone coverage, he can carve out a role on first and second down.