What to Expect from the Lions Rookies

Lion’s rookie Riley Reiff at training camp.

The Lions recently have taken skill position players in the draft that have been expected to come in and contribute right away.  Matthew Stafford, Brandon Pettigrew, Calvin Johnson, Jahvid Best and even Titus Young are some examples of this.

Even when not selecting players that are offensive players, the high draft picks they usually had would result in exciting players like Ndamukong Suh and Louis Delmas.

The roster was so decimated from draft picks like Jordan Dizon, Ikaika Illama-Francis, Gerald Alexander, Daniel Bullocks (I think you get the point) that for a few years, EVERYONE they drafted was expected to show up and play right away.

Things are a little different these day’s, with the ability to draft a player and not need him to hit the field right away.  A little time dedicated to coaching and development will help these young players to have a greater impact when they are able to earn their playing time through growth, development, hard work and competition.

Now here is a look at the players the Lions drafted in 2012, what to expect of them this coming season and what to expect going forward from them:

Riley Reiff, T, Iowa:  Reiff was projected as a possible top 10 draft pick.  A big, strong, stereotypical offensive lineman from middle America that has started a lot of games in his college career at both right and left tackle.

Reiff is starting out training camp working with the third team, both sides of the line and at guard.  Expect the Lions to get him on the field a lot this year, whether its because starting left tackle, Jeff Backus, finally misses some time, right tackle,  Gosder Cherilus, continues to be inconsistent and make stupid decisions.

In the best case scenario, Backus is fine, Cherilus works out just fine and Reiff is playing inside at guard, supplanting and upgrading either Steven Peterman or Rob Sims.

The long term goal for Reiff is to take over at left tackle for Backus and stay there for a long time and be the anchor of a strong offensive line and keep Matthew Stafford healthy (and by that I mean to keep him from getting hit, not cook him well balanced meals).

Ryan Broyles, WR, Oklahoma: This was a surprising pick in multiple ways: First, the Lions have 3 solid WRs going into 2012 already, Calvin Johnson, Titus Young and Nate Burleson and adding another receiver felt like a very Matt Million thing to do.

Second, Broyles had his knee destroyed in 2011 and was unable to play the last 6 games for the Sooners and wasn’t healthy enough to work out fully for teams prior to the draft.

Now, this knee injury probably led to Broyles being available for the Lions when they picked him.  Before his knee injury Boryles was looking like a first round pick but by being hurt and unable to work out, he dropped.

Do not expect Broyles to do much early in the season, but as it progresses and he learns the playbook more expect to see him in the slot and running short to intermediate routes, his specialty, and getting a lot of catches in these scenarios to help keep the chains moving.  He is known for crisp and precise route running and exceptional hands.

A player like this is the exact thing the Lions have been unable to draft recently, a player that is too good to pass up but in a position of strength for the team.

Broyles will be expected to be that slot receiver moving forward, running the middle of the field safety routes for Stafford, expect him to put up a lot of catches in his Lions career and being a great option when teams continue to focus all their attention on Megatron.

Dwight “Bill” Bentley, CB, Louisiana-Lafayette: Bentley was the first cornerback the Lions took.  In the third round.  When many fans were hoping and expecting the team to focus on a player in the secondary much earlier in the draft.

But that is the Matt Millen style of drafting, identifying a need then taking the player you have rated highest at that position no matter what else is happening.  That is why this team was so bad for so long.  Things like Rod Marinelli telling Millen he needed a LB, so the Lions took Jordan Dizon, the LB they had rated the highest, in the second round.  The issue was that even they had Dizon rated as 5th round talent, like every other team did and they wasted a pick on a guy they didn’t think was worth it but took him anyway.

Martin Mayhew was in that draft room for that incident and knows that it cannot happen.  So he stuck to his ratings and took Bentley where he felt was appropriate.  Bentley probably dropped this far because he has not been tested against the highest competition, competing at a smaller school with less talented opponents.

However, Bentley has some very good ball skills and is every bit the mold of an NFL corner with his size and speed.  Expect Bentley to start out as the nickle back early in the year but to possibly challenge for the outside spot opposite Chris Houston.

Long term, Bentley has the tools to be an average cover cornerback in this league, do not expect awards and lots or noise about how great he is.  But for now, he looks like he will help this team for the foreseeable future.

Ronnell Lewis, OLB/DE, Oklahoma: The college linebacker will be making a switch to play with his hand on the ground at defensive end in the pros.  He was just activated from the PUP list (Physically Unable to Preform) and will see most of training camp.

The Lions have been stocking up on defensive ends, they like to keep them fresh, subbing in Lawrence Jackson and Willie Young for Cliff Avril and Kyle Vanden bosch.  So more bodies will always help but with Vanden bosch getting up there in years and Avril holding out and possibly walking away after this season, they will need to develop some talent at those positions as a “just in case” scenario.

Lewis would be a bit small to play DE in most NFL schemes, but in the Lions “Wide-9” format it focus more on speed than size and strength.  As long as Gunther Cunningham is around expect more players Lewis’ size to be playing DE for the Lions.

Lewis will be expected to contribute on special teams this season and may see some time at DE for a few plays a game.  If he can learn the system and use his speed to get around bigger offensive tackles, he could be a boost for the Lions in the future, but as a fourth round pick, they will be happy if he can contribute as a back up for a few seasons.

Tahir Whitehead, CB, Temple; Chris Greenwood, CB, Albion: These two fifth round cornerbacks get lumped in as one projection, because it is the same for them, they were drafted so close together and they are very similar players.

Whitehead is about 20 pounds heavier and Greenwood is a bit faster but both should expect some special teams time this year and hope to stay off the practice roster.

Greenwood has more potential, since he played at a division 3 college, most scouts have a hard time explaining what they are seeing because having a bit more talent at that level can make you dominate, but still not that good for the NFL.  This is the point in the draft where you hope to get some back ups that MAY turn into something.

Most hang around for a few years and fade away but some will show that everyone was wrong and become a good NFL player.  If I had to guess at which one would do that I would say Greenwood but still expect these two to barely get on the field during a normal defensive set this year.

Be hopeful they learn and grow as players and can contribute as back ups and nickle defenders in the next few years, if not, they will be cut pretty quickly and another, younger, cheaper person of the same mold will be brought in.

Travis Lewis, OLB, Oklahoma: Rumors of Bob Stoops taking over as scouting director have been exaggerated.  But 3 players from Oklahoma is interesting.  Lewis (the “other” Lewis) was the senior leader of a solid college defense.  The fact that he dropped to the 7th round shows that college leadership and good play don’t really translate to the NFL.

Expect Lewis to be on the practice squad while learning all three linebacker positions and be the 5th or 6th LB on the roster for the next couple of years.  He isn’t big, strong or consistent enough to become a regular contributor but having a guy that can be versatile and play all LB positions and chip in when the starters are hurt is helpful.

Having a guy that can do that and is the leader and hard worker that Lewis is, is very good thing to have in the locker room.



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