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At Home Scouting 101: Know Your Team

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As many of you that follow the site know, I am an avid follower of the NFL Draft.  When I first started following the draft as a kid, I just watched the draft religiously and then read up on all the players the Lions drafted after the fact.  Over the last 15-20 years the draft has gained so much popularity that there are far more resources for draftniks like me to use.  We’re now in the thick of draft season now that the Senior Bowl and Combine are completed and Pro Days have started.  There are several steps that the “At Home Scout” should follow and the first is know your team.

When I do my draft preparations I conduct them as if I am the Lions’ General Manager and I am drafting for the team.  The first step in that process is undertsanding the team’s needs and what type of players fit the coaching staff requirements.

Coach Schwartz  and Martin Mayhew approach the draft with a best player available at a position that makes sense.  If Cam Newton is the highest rated player on their board and he’s sitting there at 13 the Lions obviously wouldn’t draft him because that would make no sense with Stafford on board already.

Coach Schwartz has firmly believed in acquiring talented hard working players and building his scheme around them.  Many teams have specific schemes that limit the types of players they consider, which forces them to bypass talented players because they don’t fit a scheme.

Coach Schwartz does have a base scheme and there will always be some players that don’t fit, but it’s not as drastic as some other coaches.  The Lions have a handful of needs this offseason, some of which will be filled by free agents (if and when that occurs,) so here are the areas of need and the preferred type of players that fit those needs:

Running Back: The Lions are moving forward with Jahvid Best, Maurice Morris, Aaron Brown and Jerome Felton after not extending a tender to Kevin Smith.  Best is a big play runner with excellent receiving ability and Aaron Brown fits that mold as well.  Maurice Morris is a slashing in between the tackles runner that excels in pass protection but isn’t a huge receiving threat.  Jerome Felton is a change of pace big back in between the 20s, but struggles in short yardage because he’s not a true power back.  The Lions would probably like to add another back in the Maurice Morris mold who is a between the tackles runner, but not just a change of pace guy.  Mo Mo is 31 and the Lions probably don’t want to have to rely on Felton to fill the void if Maurice gets hurt.

Receiver: The Lions are set with CJ and Burleson as the starters and the two outside guys in two wide receiver formations.  When the Lions go to three or four wides they prefer to move Burleson and sometimes even Calvin into the slot.  Therefore, the Lions want their back up receivers to be able to line up wide and play in the slot because Scott Linehan likes the position flexibility to create mismatches by lining guys up all over.  The Lions are looking for at least two receivers and one of them will need to be a speed guy.  They want somebody to be able to stretch the field vertically so defenses can’t roll coverage towards CJ.  The Lions would like the fourth receiver to be able to work in the slot with Burleson and it’s be a bonus if he could kick out wide as well.

Offensive Line: The Lions front office has drafted developmental offensive lineman in each of their two drafts and that is expected to become an annual tradition.  Good teams have excellent depth on the offensive and defensive lines and the Lions have solid starters, but they lack strong backups and replacements for the aging Jeff Backus and Dominic Raiola.  The Lions are built around Matthew Stafford and the passing game first, and a misdirection style running game second. 

The Lions put a premium on pass blocking and athleticism over brute strength and dominating run blocking on the offensive line.  That’s why the Lions are higher on Dominic Raiola than some, because he is athletic and a better pass protector than run blocker, plus his athleticism lets the Lions use him in the screen passing game as well.  Don’t confuse the Lions’ style with a Mike Shanahan zone blocking style, the Lions look for bigger and stronger guys than Shanahan does.  A guy like Tyron Smith fits the Lions better than a guy like Gabe Carimi at tackle and a Mike Pouncey fits better than a DeMarcus Love.

Defensive Line: Since the Lions tendered Andre Fluellen and are very likely to resign Turk McBride I don’t believe they will actively pursue a defensive lineman in the draft.  However, this is a deep draft for defensive lineman and with KVB banged up and closer to the end of his career than the beginning there could be good value and the Lions won’t pass up a talented player at a premier position. 

The Lions line their defensive ends up in the 9 technique which has the ends lined up outside of the offensive tackles’ outside shoulders.  This allows the players to get upfield quickly and bring pass pressure off the edge quickly, this also helps funnel the running game back into the middle of the field and the into the linebackers.  Defensive ends need to have great agility, flexibility and either good size or excellent ability to play with leverage to fit this style.  The ends are lined up wide, so they have to have the leverage or size to set the edge against the rush and they need the agility and flexibility to pass rush at such a strong angle without easily being ridden past the quarterback.

The Lions prefer defensive tackles that can penetrate and disrupt the middle of the line as well as be able to hold the point of attack because the ends are funneling the running game back towards the middle.  The only player they have on the roster that doesn’t fit that mold is Andre Fluellen who is a great penetrator but struggles to hold the point of attack.  That’s why they use him at tackle on third downs and at end on more obvious run downs.

Linebackers: The Lions’ defense is built around the linebackers attacking ball carriers in the run game and playing zone coverage in pass defense to allow them to make plays on the ball.  The Lions are primarily looking for two outside linebackers, but DeAndre Levy is good enough on the outside to move back out there if the Lions need him to.  The Lions look for two types of players at linebacker.  The Lions prefer an athletic sideline to sideline guy who can also stack and shed blocks at middle linebacker.  Most teams that play a style of defense like the Lions prefer a stout run stuffer at MLB, but the Lions want a more athletic guy there so he can pursue and not be a liability in coverage.  Think a Ray Lewis type rather than a Chris Spielman.

The Lions don’t really use Weak side (Will) and Strong side (Sam) linebackers either.  Strong side linebackers are typically bigger and line up across from the tight end.  Most teams run to the side the tight end is on, so the Sam linebacker is primarily a run defender.  The Weak side backer is usually in coverage against a running back or is used as a blitzer so they tend to be smaller and more athletic.  The Lions prefer two hybrid type outside linebackers that can play the run and the pass which gives them more versatility in coverage and blitzes and helps avoid coverage mismatches.  That’s why DeAndre Levy was so successful on the outside, because he has the size of a Sam and the athleticism of a Will.

Cornerbacks: The Lions play a lot of zone coverages and want their corners to be able to tackle in the open field and against the run.  Those are similar requirements typically found in a Tampa 2 cornerback.  Unlike a Tampa 2 corner, the Lions need corners that can play man to man and have good speed because they blitz more often and don’t have constant safety help over the top like in a Tampa 2.  The Lions also put a premium on ball skills at the corner position.  Alphonso Smith is small and doesn’t have elite speed but he can locate the ball in the air and has solid instincts.  Chris Houston lacks those same ball skills, but has the size and elite speed.  The Lions are looking for a blend of the two of their skill sets which would give them a true number one cover corner.

Safeties: A lot of teams have Free and Strong safeties who are similar to the Will and Sam linebackers.  The FS is primarily a coverage guy and the SS plays closer to the line against the run and covers tight ends and backs instead of receivers.  The Lions prefer the same style in their safeties that they do in their linebackers, two hybrid safeties.  Louis Delmas tackles like a strong safety but has the coverage and ball skills of a free safety.  Amari Spievey is a converted cornerback with the speed of a free safety and the tackling of a strong safety.  The Lions prefer these types of players for the same reasons as the linebackers.  They have more versatility in coverage and defending the run while avoiding easy mismatches in the secondary.

Football Character:The Lions place a high value on character when considering players.  They want hard workers who eat, sleep and breath football and make great teammates.  Guys like Kyle Vanden Bosch and Matthew Stafford that exude leadership and charisma will always get a little higher consideration than guys that lack those intangibles.


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One Response to “At Home Scouting 101: Know Your Team”

  1. […] you’ve gotten to know your team, the next course in the At Home Scouting Curriculumis gathering your materials.  There are two […]

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