Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Draft Review ...

With the 23rd pick in the NFL Draft, the Detroit Lions selected ...

Riley Reiff, the 23 year old, 6'6", 313 pound, notoriously short-armed offensive lineman from Parkston, South Dakota, a city with fewer people than Chipotle at lunch.  Reiff played three seasons at Iowa, and a total of 29 games at left tackle, as well as seven games at left guard and one game at right tackle.  During his freshmen season, Reiff played left guard, next to stud junior Bryan Bulaga at left tackle. Bulaga was also selected with the 23rd overall pick, back in 2010 by the Packers. Bulaga's departure opened the door for Reiff to become one of college football's best OTs.

The similarities between Bulaga and Reiff don't end with their Hawkeye roots. In fact, they are basically the same person. It's scary.

They are within one eighth of an inch in height and one pound in weight. Both are from small farm towns in the midwest. Both chose Iowa instead of Nebraska and Wisconsin. Both played defensive end in high school. Both played left guard as freshmen at Iowa. Both started every game at left tackle as sophomores, and were named to the All Big Ten Second Team. As juniors, both became elite NFL prospects and were named All Big Ten First Team.

Then, of course, both were drafted 23rd overall to NFC North teams. Both have first and last names that begin with the same letter. Both have a parent named Jo or Joe. They even look the same. Big burly farm boys with short hair and menacing smiles.  Look at their Combine results:

40 yard dash:
Bulaga - 5.26;  Reiff - 5.23

Broad jump:
Bulaga - 8 ft 2 in.;   Reiff - 8 ft 2 in.

Hand size:
Bulaga - 9 1/4 in.;   Reiff -  10 1/8 in.

Arm Length:
Bulaga - 33 1/4 in.;   Reiff - 33 1/4 in.

Bench Press:
Bulaga - 26 reps;  Reiff - 23 reps

Bulaga - 27 1/2 in;  Reiff - 26 1/2 in.

While Reiff is just a tad faster and Bulaga is just a smidgen stronger, they are essentially the same physical specimen. Same size, same arms.

That's what so interesting.  Following the NFL Combine, a bunch of so-and-sos like Kiper and McShay announced that Riley Reiff had "short arms."  I heard him compared to an alligator and a t-rex in separate reports.  They said his arms are too short to reach out and block against speed rushers.

But it's an asinine argument when you look at comparable left tackles. Reiff's arms are longer than the two best left tackles in the world, Joe Thomas and Jake Long.  Reiff's arms are the exact same as Bulaga.  Their only one inch shorter than Matt Kalil, and one-eighth of an inch shorter than Jeff Backus. I bought in to the "short arm" hype when it was ubiquitous on sports radio, but now, having seen the measurables, it's as idiotic as a Leyland Lineup.

Continuing the comparison, both Reiff and Bulaga were drafted by teams with aging left tackles who had been with their teams for 11 seasons (Chad Clifton for Green Bay, and of course Backus). Both were chosen as the eventual long-term replacement at LT, but expected to play elsewhere on the O-line in the first years.

Bulaga got his start at right tackle 5 games into the 2010 season, when Ryan Tauscher blew out his knee. Bulaga started the rest of the season at RT, was a First Team All Rookie, and won the Super Bowl. Last year, he started 12 games at RT, missing 4 games due to a knee injury of his own; if he stayed healthy, he would have likely been a Pro Bowler in the NFC.

So, in projecting Reiff's value as a Lion, it's a reasonable idea to look at Bryan Bulaga's first two seasons with the Packers, and those years have been very solid. Not amazing, but definitely not a bust.

I think it's very safe to say that Reiff will be starting for the Lions within 5 weeks, likely at right tackle to replace former first round pick Gosder Cherilus.  The guards (Peterman and Sims) are solid; not fantastic, but better than Gosder.  Then, as Backus either retires or takes a move inside to guard, the Lions will prepare to slide Reiff over the left tackle in the 2013 season.  Similarly, Green Bay is in the process of not re-signing Clifton so that Bulaga can take over at LT this season.  Clifton still remains unsigned and hopes Green Bay will keep him, but it's a long shot.

Will Reiff be the next Joe Thomas, Jake Long, or even the next D'Brickashaw Ferguson?  Probably not.  His ceiling is limited.  But fortunately for Detroit, he's very unlikely to be a bust.  He'll probably have a very Backus-like career, to be honest.  Longevity, solidness, nothing special, but not the worst LT in the league.  Backus takes a lot of flack, but if Detroit dropped him today at least 15 teams would scramble to add him.  That's where I see Reiff's career with Detroit heading.  And thus, I think it will end up being a great pick.

Of course, Detroit had the opportunity to land a potential Pro Bowl guard in DeCastro, or a potential stud MLB in Hightower. But I liked the Reiff pick; it showed patience, and it showed commitment to building a smart team that can maintain success.  It was perhaps the shrewdest pick Schwartz and Co. have made yet.

As for the second round, I am among the many scoffers.

Ryan Broyles, receiver from Oklahoma, was not the best player available at pick 54.  In fact, there were 4 players drafted in the next 5 picks who could have been first rounders. Konz, the best center in the draft. Curry, a dependable pass rusher. David, a stud outside linebacker. (That would have been my pick). And Mike Adams, an OT that many people thought Detroit would have taken in the first round.

I'm sure that if Schwartz had the foresight to know that Adams would be available at pick 54, Detroit would have passed on Reiff and taken Hightower at 23. But oh well. Reiff was a smart pick. But Broyles, Detroit's #4 receiver now, is coming off ACL surgery, and will probably be on the PUP list for the first 6 weeks of the regular season.

Broyles is your prototypical slot receiver, at 5'10", 188 lbs. (basically a whisker bigger than Wes Welker). He's shifty, quick, and has great hands. He had exceptional seasons with the Sooners in 2009 and 2010, catching over 200 passes in those years. In fact, he broke the college football record for career receptions early in 2011.  But let's be honest: that record could only go to a player who played 4 seasons, which eliminates 90% of the elite receivers. And also, that record could almost exclusively go to a slot receiver on a spread-offense team like Oklahoma.  So it's not as stunning as it sounds.  Still impressive though.

If the Lions got Broyles in the 3rd round, I would be okay with it.  He can replace the aging Burleson in 2013 and allow Titus to play flanker opposite Megatron. With Pettigrew locked down for a long-deal, that's a great quartet of weapons for Stafford for years to come, and that's how the elite offenses build - with multiple weapons.

BUT, when you look at who Detroit passed on, including an outside linebacker in LaVonte David from Nebraska who could start immediately and be an improvement over Levy or Durant, the Broyles pick becomes iffy. Vinny Curry from Marshall also projects to be an immediate starter for Philly, who happily scooped him up at 59.  And then there's Peter Konz, who could have gone as early as 20, who went one pick after Broyles to Atlanta.  I know taking two O-linemen in a row would have been boring, but you could lock down the future LT and C of your team for a decade and know that both players are reliable.  That's better than a luxury receiver coming off ACL surgery, in my humble opinion.

However, to argue against myself, I'll say that Detroit's #1 priority as a team for the foreseeable future is to keep Megatron happy.  That was the goal two years ago, and last year, and just because we extended his Mega-deal, the priority doesn't change.  Keep Megatron happy, keep him in Detroit, and the playoff appearances will keep happening.  And if Megatron wanted a young slot receiver, then I have no qualms with Schwartz acquiescing.

Just saying  - Detroit could have probably gotten Broyles in the 3rd round. Or a similar receiver.

In the 3rd round, Detroit got a small-school CB named Dwight Bentley, who according to the scouting report is undersized, not fast, a poor tackler, and he struggles in man-to-man coverage. So I honestly don't see him making the team, except that we are so poor in the secondary we don't have a choice.  Bentley might be a candidate for worst player on the team and our newest scapegoat.  In my opinion, terrible pick.  It was almost like saying "Fans want a CB, let's just take one, who cares if he's good."

From everything I've heard, the CB we landed in the 5th round - Chris Greenwood - is a superior player to Bentley.  Between those two guys, maybe we can find a decent starter.  But I doubt it.

In the 4th and 5th rounds, Detroit got a couple of outside linebackers, Ronnell Lewis from Oklahoma, and Tahir Whitehead from Temple.  Lewis impresses me on Youtube, especially knowing that he went to OU.  He is a steal according to many draft experts, and was considered a 2nd round prospect.  Not sure why he fell to pick 125, but based on Detroit's history, he's probably a pothead or something. Whitehead probably projects as a special teams player if he makes the roster. Drafting linebackers from small schools never seems to work out.

Detroit got another Oklahoma linebacker in the 7th round, and then signed the undrafted QB Kellen Moore from Boise State to replace Stanton as the 3rd string quarterback. I love that move.  Take a proven winner and a good character guy who won't threaten Stafford or Hill.

I like Detroit's commitment to taking linebackers and CBs late in the draft. Would have liked to see them add a power running back late in case LeShoure never fully recovers.  Would have liked to see better picks in the 2nd and 3rd rounds.  But overall, I like Reiff, like the Oklahoma linebacker Lewis, and don't completely hate Broyles.

Can't wait for the preseason.

Go Lions.

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