The Lions did select a defensive tackle but didn’t do so until the fourth round when they moved up to 113 overall, by virtue of sending their 2016 third-round pick to Philadelphia, and selected Gabe Wright out of Auburn.
The Lions decision to wait until the fourth round to pounce on an interior defensive lineman might shed some light on the confidence they have in the combination of Haloti Ngata and Tyrunn Walker as well as the depth provided by second-year pro Caraun Reid.
Regardless of the thought process going into it, Wright steps into a situation where he can immediately challenge for playing time as a rookie. Beyond the 2015 season, Wright can really force himself to a significant role, as an aging Ngata is set to become an unrestricted free agent after the season and Walker also has an expiring contact.
This is exactly what the Lions are expecting.
“If you watched us last year, which I know you did, we are going to rotate a lot of guys,” said defensive coordinator Teryl Austin. “We anticipate he is going to be part of that rotation at defensive tackle as he learns and at some point be a starter in there.”
Let’s dive into the selection a little bit
Why this was the right move for the Lions
First and foremost, it’s a definite position of short-term and long-term need. Wright doesn’t need to be a force as a rookie but if he can’t play well-enough to justify a spot in the defensive line rotation, the Lions could be in trouble.
Fortunately, the Lions had solid evaluations on Wright. They discussed making a move in the third-round to get him – ultimately selecting cornerback Alex Carter instead – and parted ways with a third-round selection next year to acquire him.
The Lions should have an extra third-round selection in the 2016 draft as it’s expected they will receive a compensatory pick for the loss of Suh. The Lions admitted that this made the trade that must easier to swallow.
“That made us more comfortable trading that third-round pick,” said Mayhew.
The Lions made phone calls beginning in the third-round to attempt to make moves to acquire an additional pick, presumably with their eyes always focused on Carter and Wright.
The Lions feel like they got value with Wright, who is an average-sized defensive tackle who flashes upper-body strength coupled with quick hands and feet. Looking at his skillset, he could develop into an interior pass rusher as well as a strong run defender, so he offers immediate depth but a potential starter down the road
One of the most encouraging characteristics from the 2014 Auburn team captain is his work ethic. He has a good motor, doesn’t take plays off and will run down ball carriers. That fits perfectly into the mentality the Lions want on defense.
“That’s kind of part of what we do from a defensive standpoint that’s stressed. Our guys up front run to the ball,” said head coach Jim Caldwell. “We try to encourage that strongly. Kris (Kocurek) and Matt (Raich) do a great job with that.”
Austin called Wright’s motor “outstanding” and said he has “so many traits we like in our defensive linemen”.
Why this wasn’t the right pick
The Lions did appear to get good value in this selection, so the addition of Wright in the fourth-round isn’t much of an issue.
The problems, instead, are the fact that they gave up a third-round pick to do so and that they didn’t address the position earlier.
The Lions passed on players such as Malcom Brown, Carl Davis and Xaiver Cooper, who might be more ready to contribute in year one. They also showed an almost over-willingness to part with a third-round pick to make the selection happen.
Still, it appears Wright checks all the boxes the Lions are looking for.
Third-round selections should never be undervalued. These picks can be a difference-maker for a team with a strong nucleus that is trying to put itself over the top. The Lions sacrificed one here and that is one of the areas that needs to be considered when evaluating this selection.
Still, Wright is a talented player who lost draft stock due to a drop off in production during his senior season, which was deflated because of the team’s depth on the line as well as Wright focusing on multiple roles.
“I trained my whole junior year and that spring thinking I was going to be a defensive tackle. Two weeks before fall camp I was told I would be starting at defensive end,” he said.
It won’t take long before we see how much of an impact Wright can make as a rookie. If he comes in and is able to contribute on 15 or so snaps a game and can challenge for a starting job in the coming years, this pick was great. If not, the team paid a steep price for defensive line depth.