Detroit Lions' 5 Biggest Scouting Combine Takeaways
The Detroit Lions have returned home from Indianapolis and the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine. General manager Martin Mayhew, head coach Jim Caldwell and the rest of the front office are now holed up in the Allen Park offices, going over everything they learned in Indy.
There is a lot of information for the team to process. Between player interviews, workout numbers, talks with agents and poring over medical exams, the sheer volume of data is massive.
When all is said and done, here are a few overriding gleanings from the combine that the Lions will arrive upon.
Note: Combine results are courtesy of NFL.com.
It's a Great Year to Need Wide Receiver Help
Detroit enters the free agency and draft season with the sobering knowledge that the No. 2 and No. 3 wide receivers for the upcoming season are not yet on the roster.
After Calvin Johnson, the team is bereft of reliable receiving talent. That is going to change between now and Mother's Day, which is the day after the draft ends.
What the Lions learned in Indianapolis is that the draft contains ample receiving talent. They could very well find viable starting options as deep as the fourth round.
From high-end talents like Sammy Watkins to physical wide bodies like Kelvin Benjamin to nifty slot weapons like Robert Herron, there are all sorts of tantalizing options in the first two rounds.
Going deeper, strong combine performances by players like Corey Brown (pictured above) and Jeremy Gallon offer hope for finding immediate contributors in the later rounds of the draft.
OSU WR Corey Brown has the fastest 40 time of the morning so far; 4.37 (u).— Josina Anderson (@JosinaAnderson) February 23, 2014
In addition, the glut of talent in the draft will help drive down the market price for free-agent wideouts. With the newfound cap room from the release of Nate Burleson and Louis Delmas and the unexpected bump in the cap allowance, this presents the unanticipated potential of signing a free agent like Jeremy Maclin, Emmanuel Sanders or Eric Decker at a more affordable price.
It's a great time to have a glaring need at wide receiver.
It's Nice to Not Need a Starting Quarterback
The list of the potential franchise quarterbacks and their widely publicized faults dominated much of the combine discussion.
Blake Bortles passes the eyeball test, and his workout was impressive. But even his coach at Central Florida doesn't believe he's ready to be a franchise quarterback at the next level, as reported by Pro Football Talk.
Teddy Bridgewater refused to throw, and as Mike Freeman reported here at Bleacher Report, some teams are concerned about his small hands.
Johnny Manziel might be the most divisive prospect since Tim Tebow. Respected pundits like Ron Jaworski don't believe he's worth even a third-round pick, as he told Mike Missanelli on 97.5 The Fanatic (h/t PhillyMag.com). The best thing anyone had to say about Manziel comes from Freeman's video above about his large hand size.
These are the consensus top three quarterbacks in the draft. All three almost certainly will be long gone by the time the Lions pick at No. 10 overall.
Feel a little better about having Matthew Stafford locked up for the next few years, Lions fans?
Taking an Offensive Tackle Higher Than Anticipated Might Be Prudent
Even though the Lions appear in pretty good shape at offensive tackle, the outstanding workouts from several players at that position could alter the team's view.
When Taylor Lewan, all 6'7" and 309 pounds of him, ran an official 4.87 in the 40 and rocked everyone with a 1.64 10-yard split, he announced his presence with authority as someone the Lions need to consider in the first round.
The same could be said about Auburn's Greg Robinson, but his unbelievable workout numbers ensured he will be off the board by the 10th pick.
Nevada's Joel Bitonio, pictured above, put himself into the second-round conversation with an impressive display of athleticism. If his goal was to send teams scurrying back to watch more tape, Joe Marino of Buffalo Bills Draft suggests they check out his UCLA game:
Even a later-round guy like Boston College's Matt Patchan, who also broke the vaunted five-second mark in the 40 and looked very lithe in agility drills, has to merit consideration. His medical evaluation will play a role in how much interest the Lions have, however; he missed two full years with injures, as noted by College Football Talk.
With incumbent starters Riley Reiff and LaAdrian Waddle both offering positional versatility, it behooves the Lions not to look past some of the athletically gifted tackles in the draft. The impressive combine performances of guys like Lewan and Bitonio reinforce that potential in Detroit.
The Awakening to the Sleepers
The combine is an excellent chance for small-school players or late-blooming talents to showcase their abilities and gain exposure. It's an opportunity to prove they can play with the big boys.
A few did just that in 2014, and hopefully the Lions woke up and smelled the coffee on a few of these lesser-known players.
- Rice cornerback Phillip Gaines, a lanky 6-footer with big hands, blazed an impressive 4.38 in the 40. He played well in Shrine Game practices—where I personally witnessed him speaking with the Lions—after bagging four interceptions in his final year with the Owls.
- Georgia Southern running back Jerick McKinnon, a converted quarterback with an impressive build (that's him in the picture above), rocketed to a 4.41 in the 40. More impressive were his explosion metrics, as he tied for the fastest 10-yard split at 1.46 and led all running backs with a 40" vertical, 32 reps on the bench press and an 11' broad jump.
- Jeff Janis, the Saginaw Valley State wideout with the impressive build and prolific production at the D-II level, rocked 20 bench-press reps, scorched out a 4.42 in the 40 with a great 1.47 10-yard split and showed his agility with an impressive 6.64 time in the three-cone drill. All of those figures rank in the top five for the position.
- North Dakota State offensive lineman Billy Turner, a FCS-level stud, proved his athleticism was on par, and in many cases superior, to more prominent competitors. After coming off an uneven Senior Bowl week performance, he looked more comfortable in his surroundings this time around.
All of these "sleepers" proved worthy of draft consideration by the Lions after passing—and in many cases acing—their combine tests.
Not All Prospects Are Winners
Not every player is a winner at the combine. Some wind up losing all sorts of buzz and draft stock thanks to poor workouts, medical issues or bad interviews.
While the general public isn't privy to the teams and how they reacted to player interviews, we do see the unimpressive workouts. And since the original intent of the combine was for teams to get uniform medical examinations, those are critically important as well.
One of the biggest losers was Alabama tackle Cyrus Kouandjio. He gets the double whammy of looking stiff and slow in positional drills and failing several teams' medical evaluations:
Another player who did not help himself was LSU wide receiver Jarvis Landry. Eric Edholm of Yahoo noted that Landry "struggled on his 40 time (a pedestrian 4.77) and vertical leap (28 1/2 inches), which seem to back up his college tape of being a smart but limited underneath receiver. That lack of explosion could kick him down to the third day of a draft that is loaded with wide receiver talent."
Another player who was near omnipresent on "combine losers" articles was Arizona running back Ka'Deem Carey. While the Lions are set at the position already, Carey pretty much eliminated himself from later-round discussion with a plodding 4.7 in the 40. Robert Mays of Grantland wrote: "Carey was a very productive back during his time at Arizona, but a 4.7 40 is down in the “deal-breaker” zone for running backs. There isn’t a standard for how fast a back has to be, but there is a standard for how slow he can’t be."
While a bad combine performance shouldn't override intense film study, it's something the Lions will factor into their evaluation process.