(ALLEN PARK) - The consensus of most draft experts is that the Detroit Lions
did a bang up job in the last weekend's NFL draft. In fact, Colin Lindsay,
publisher of the Great Blue North Draft report rated the Lions as having had the
third best draft of the 32 NFL teams.
Not bad, but can these guys actually play? Who's going to make the team and who's going to be a long shot?
Let's take a look by position.
Wide Receiver: Charles Rogers is not only a lock to make the team he's
already been penciled in as the starting "Z" receiver, the featured role in the
West Coast Offense. David Kircus, the Lions 6th round pick also appears to have
a roster spot as the 5th receiver but the waters get murkier for 7th round
selection Travis Anglin.
Detroit already has on the roster holdovers Az-Zahir Hakim, recovering from a hip injury, Bill Schroeder, Scotty Anderson and Eddie Drummond. While Drummond is safe as the Lions returner and Schroeder figures to get another chance at the split end ("X") position, Anderson is clearly on the spot.
PICK: Rogers starts, Kircus backups, Anglin sneaks through to the practice squad.
Running Back: Detroit's only selection was fourth rounder Artrose Pinner of Kentucky. Pinner is currently rehabbing from a broken leg and some torn tendons suffered in the Senior Bowl game. Lions president Matt Millen has determined he's going to slow Pinner's rehab to make sure he's ready in the fall. Detroit has two-time 1,000 back James Stewart returning as the starter, newly signed Shawn Bryson, last year's 7th round choice Luke Staley, NFL Europe stars Rafael Cooper AND Autry Denson, Avon Cobourne and Pinner.
PICK: Pinner will make the roster, but could start the season on the PUP list.
Fullback: Cory Schlesinger isn't going anywhere so that makes this a two horse race between third-year man Stephen Trejo and rookie Brandon Drumm. While Trejo plays well in special teams, he has been a disappointment in that he hasn't played well in his limited time on the field. Contrast that with the fact Drumm was recommended to the staff by fullbacks coach Tom Rathman. It doesn't look good for Trejo.
PICK: Drumm supplants Trejo as backup fullback.
Offensive Line: Lions 7th round pick Ben Johnson was a surprise to be around so late. A powerful drive blocker, the Lions hope he can make the jump to becoming a complete player. The competition will be stiff with starting tackles Stockar McDougle and Jeff Backus returning along with backups Matt Joyce and Victor Rogers. Johnson will have to beat out one of the latter two players to make the squad and show that he can be an effective special teamer.
Pick: Long shot to make the team
Quarterback: Joey Harrington is the unquestioned starter and team leader. Mike McMahon is a solid backup with journeyman Ty Detmer in reserve. The presence of undrafted free agent Curt Anes is curious. Anes can't make this team, but he has enough skill and accuracy throwing the ball that he has raised some eyebrows. Detroit snuck him through without drafting him and would love to sneak him onto the practice squad and a season of NFL Europe before deciding what to do about McMahon.
Pick: Anes to practice squad
Defensive Line: There is no question Cory Redding will make the team. Detroit has underachiever the past two seasons on a unit most expected to be their strong suit. Redding and second-year man Anthony Herron will be given every opportunity to get into the playing group at end. They will fight leading sack man Kalimba Edwards (6.5) Jared DeVries, James Hall and Johnathan Taylor. Robert Porcher and Edwards are assured of spots, the rest are up for grabs.
PICK: Redding makes the team and backs up Robert Porcher at right end.
Linebacker: Here's a unit that in a complete turnover. Gone are Chris Claiborne and Clint Kriewaldt, mainstays of a unit that disappointed last season. Rookies (Rodney) Boss Bailey and 5th round pick James Davis will have a tough row to hoe if they are going to get into the playing group. It appeared as if Detroit was set with newly signed Earl Holmes (30) in the middle, Wali Rainer (26) at strong side and holdover Barrett Green (25) at the weak side.
But now Detroit has penciled in Bailey as the strong side starter, moving Rainer to backup middle linebacker. Complicating matters are the presence of veteran special teamers Donte' Curry (24) and Jeff Gooch (28). Also present are longtime backup Richard Jordan (28) and practice squad linebackers Ken Philpot (23) and Josh Thornhill (23). They join Chaz Murphy (26), Brian Williams (30) and Jody Littleton (28). Let's call this one "Survivor-Allen Park."
Pick: Bailey starts at strong side linebacker, the versatile Davis sticks with "Dirt" Jordan, Philpot, Thornhill, Littleton, Murphy and maybe Williams fighting for the remaining roster spot.
Cornerback: If second-year pros Andre Goodman and Chris Cash can make the leap to being successful contributors, not just bodies on the field, Detroit's secondary has a real shot at improvement. The acquisition of Dre' Bly gives Detroit a shut down type guy on the left side. The right side remains wide open. Rookie Danny "Blue" Adams will attempt to break into the rotation, but three of the spots are filled. If Detroit elects to keep five corners Adams will face competition from an unexpected source, rookie Chris Kern of Mount Union, Ohio. Kern is big, fast and has some ability. As an undrafted free agent the odds are long, but I wouldn't count the feisty Kern out. In the final analysis is may turn out to be two 5' 9" corners, Adams vs. Jimmy Wyrick for the final spot.
Pick: Adams is beaten out and released.
Safety: Here's the one position I feel Detroit really missed the boat on. They were fortunate to find Terrence Holt, a true free safety (rated the fourth best safety overall in the draft) in the 5th round. Holt, (brother of St. Louis Rams' receiver Torrey) has to make the team because the three safeties in Detroit's playing group are all past 30 years old. Detroit would really like to see sixth-year man Lamar Campbell make a jump and claim a starting job, but maybe he just isn't starting material. Holt is in on his special teams ability alone (13 blocked kicks in his college career), and will likely claw his way into the playing group. An aside to Matt Millen: Sammy Knight is still unsigned.
Pick: Makes the team and will get into the playing group by mid-season
Look for a feisty group of players at this weekend's minicamp. Why? Because eleven new young guys are looking to take jobs away from eleven guys who want to keep their paychecks. Now, it gets interesting.