Building Coverage: Drafting Linebackers in First Three Rounds
With the draft mere weeks away, Bob Quinn has his work cut out for him to field a full roster. Detroit finished 2016 with a surprising playoff bid, largely due to the play of their franchise quarterback. At the end of the year, questions lingered on both sides of the ball. And while free agency addressed some major issues, the Lions hardly look like a playoff caliber club in 2017. Quinn undoubtedly improved his team over the past month, but how will he tackle the draft?
Ironically, tackling may be the first clue. According to Pro Football Focus, the Lions missed 124 tackles in 2016, good for 25th in the league. Okay, they missed some tackles, but what about sacks? Detroit notched all of 26 sacks last year, tied for second last in the league. As a whole, their front seven performed poorly, one of the worst units of 2016. The defensive line received some attention in free agency. However, the linebackers were largely neglected, save for the additions of Paul Worrilow and recently signed Nick Bellore. There’s room for improvement. Tahir Whitehead, the only returning starter from 2016, was the lowest-graded starting linebacker in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus.
Whether it’s Day 1 or 2 of the draft, the Lions must address their linebacker situation. Here’s a list of the ideal target in each of the top three rounds.
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Round 1: Haason Reddick, Temple
A player that has been flying up draft boards, Reddick followed his unreal production at Temple with an impressive combine. The former Owl put up the fastest 40 time (4.52 s), highest vertical (36.5 in), and furthest broad jump (133 in) of the linebackers in this class. His overwhelming athleticism ultimately secured his first round status.
Reddick finished his senior year with 22.5 tackles for loss, demonstrating his ability to penetrate behind the line of scrimmage. Quick and explosive, he could be the playmaker DeAndre Levy once was. His size might push him into the Will linebacker role, even though he played defensive end in college. Despite concerns of his inexperience at the position, Reddick provides defensive coordinator Teryl Austin with a flexible defender in the front seven.
Round 2: Raekwon McMillan, Ohio State
Reddick presents the safest option in the first round, and past him, things get dicey. McMillan may have been overshadowed by great defenders in Columbus, but the linebacker deserves some credit. He led the Buckeyes in tackles in 2015 and was a finalist for the Butkus award (best linebacker in college) that same year. McMillan’s size (6’2″, 240 lbs) and instincts make him a perfect Sam linebacker for the Lions.
Round 3: Kendell Beckwith, LSU
If not for recovering from a torn ACL, Beckwith might be further up many teams’ boards. Aside from health concerns, the LSU product would provide a big physical presence for the Motor City. He’s another prospect ideal for the Sam linebacker position.
Either Reddick, McMillan, or Beckwith would be great additions for a depleted linebacker group. The release of DeAndre Levy, departure of Josh Bynes, and questionable play of Tahir Whitehead create quite the conundrum for Detroit. Hopefully Bob Quinn prioritizes the middle of the defense early in this coming draft.