If the Lions are practicing what they preach, they were fortunate on day 2 of the 2015 NFL draft as they walked away with additions to their offensive and defensive backfield – two areas of need heading into the draft.
Let’s dissect the two picks.
The Lions Point of View
The Lions invested the draft’s 54th pick in Abdullah and figure to look at the speedy back as a replacement to Reggie Bush.
The five-foot-eight, 205-pound back is leaving Nebraska as a senior, racking up 1,611 yards and 19 touchdowns on 264 carries during his last campaign.
Abdullah’s production was enticing to the Lions but not as much as his skillset and character. After meeting him at the Senior Bowl, the Lions knew they would be thrilled to add him to their roster.
“‘This is a guy that has some really special qualities’,” said head coach Jim Caldwell, referring to a note he jotted down after meeting Abdullah. “(He is) a young man that has a lot of talent. That’s without question. He has character. You can see he exudes character and everything that he’s done he’s improved every single year that he’s been out playing football.”
To select Carter, the Lions had to move up eight slots in the third round, parting ways with a fifth-round pick to swap selections with the Minnesota Vikings. They took carter off the board with the 80th pick.
Carter left Stanford as a junior and is only 20 years old. The Lions loved Carter’s size, physicality and athleticism. He will need to have other aspects of his game developed but the team did their homework and like what they saw.
Lions GM Martin Mayhew knows Carter’s father, who was a first-round selection for the Washington Redskins, which may have aided the pre-draft evaluations.
“His size, his athleticism,” said Mayhew. “We know he is a really sharp guy. He fits our defense well. Our coaching staff evaluated him and they liked him a lot. All those factors played into it.”
Why These Were the Right Picks
In Abdullah, the Lions acquire a productive running back that not only has the physical tools to be an explosive home-run threat but one that has also demonstrated the necessary vision and recognition to take advantage of creases in the defense.
Mayhew called Abdullah “an exciting guy in space” and that he can “can take it the distance”. These qualities, which helped Abdullah score 22 touchdowns as a senior (3 receiving), represent the ideal skillset to replace the departed Reggie Bush.
Abdullah will instantly insert himself into the Lions mix at running back, providing the desired complement to Joique Bell’s power style but he also can be an immediate contributor on special teams. He scored 2 return-game touchdowns as Nebraska while averaging 24.8 yards on 61 kick returns and 10.2 yards on 31 punt returns.
Abduallah figures to enter camp as the favorite to take over the return-game duties.
In Carter, the Lions are getting a bit more of a project – but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Barring injury, the Lions opening-day starters appear to be in place within the secondary. Carter isn’t going to surpass Rashean Mathis for the outside job opposite Darius Slay and likely won’t leap frog Bill Bentley for nickel work. Instead, he’ll have a chance to use his ability to fight through traffic and blocks while making tackles to make an immediate impact on special teams while the coaching staff develops him to take on a bigger role in 2016. The Lions won't immediately try him out at safety.
“He will come in and be tried out at different positions and on special teams and on defense,” said Mayhew. “We will see how he does. He certainly has the ability and he is a sharp guy. He will learn very fast. I think Teyrl (Austin) will talk about where he is going to utilize guys whether they’re in the nickel or outside.”
Adding a 20-year-old with the physical tools, bloodlines and intelligence to make big leaps a year ahead of when you need him is a pretty sound strategy.
Why these were the wrong moves
In both cases, the Lions failed to address the interior of the defensive line or the tackle position – perhaps the team’s biggest needs.
Sure, Abdullah brings production, talent and character but he also was plagued with fumbling problems in college and was heavily utilized throughout his collegiate career, further adding to some concerns about his long-term durability.
The Lions upgraded their backfield but perhaps could have made due with Bell and Theo Riddick while adding a late-round scat back.
With Carter, the Lions not only passed up on addressing some more immediate needs but sacrificed a fifth-round pick to do so.
Carter doesn’t figure to contribute much in 2015 and would need to make big strides in his man-coverage and recognition skills to be able to consistently play on defense. It is worth noting that the coaching staff did love him, but what happens if Austin moves on to a head coaching job next year?
Ultimately, like all draft picks, the only thing that matters is that the players develop into contributors.
In both cases, the Lions added players in key areas while obtaining schematic fits. It’s always dangerous to judge selections in the days after they are made but – at least initially – these appear to be solid additions that could be key contributors over the next few years.