INDIANAPOLIS — Day 3 of the NFL Combine is a big day for the Lions. With new head coach Matt Patricia confirming earlier this week that the Detroit is running a hybrid scheme, the defensive front-seven is due for some upgrades.
With defensive ends, linemen and edge rushers running drills on Sunday afternoon, Lucas Oil Stadium is going to look more like a gold mine.
Taven Bryan, DT, Florida
2017 stats:10 games, 37 tackles, 6 TFL, 4 sacks
Career: 30 games, 62 total tackles, 6 TFL, 4 sacks, INT, pass defended, 3 fumble recoveries, forced fumble
Bryan’s a tweener. He has the body of a defensive tackle (6-foot-5, 291 pounds) but the athleticism of a defensive end. That athleticism makes him versatile in a fluid defensive scheme. It’s scary to think what Patricia could do with a talent like Bryan. The former Gator doesn’t doesn’t take plays off and gives 110 percent whistle-to-whistle.
Da’Ron Payne, DT, Alabama
2017 stats: 14 games, 52 total tackles, TFL, sack, INT, 3 passes defended, fumble recovery
Career: 39 games, 102 total tackles, 5 TFL, 3 sacks, INT, 5 passes defended, 2 fumble recoveries, forced fumble, TD
Payne’s big frame (6-foot-2, 311 pounds) is built to clog up the middle. Combine that with his strength (benched 460 pounds in high school) and the former Crimson Tide manimal is primed to be a menace at the next level. His pro comparison is to current Lions defensive lineman A’Shawn Robinson. It would be a good reunion for the two former Alabama big men. Payne’s biggest knock is his first step, so it will be interesting to see if he’s improved it during the drills.
Vita Vea, DT Washington
2017 stats: 13 games, 43 total tackles, 5.5 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 4 passes defended
Career: 38 games, 99 total tackles, 15 TFL, 9.5 sacks, 5 passes defended, 2 forced fumbles
The biggest man at the combine, Vea is too much for offensive linemen to handle at 6-foot-4 and 347 pounds. The former Huskie was one of the most disruptive players in college football last season and always found his way into the backfield. He needs some work on his fundamentals, but they are small fixes that will get worked out with reps. Vea is a perfect fit to big Patricia’s 3-4 nose.
Harold Landry, BC
2017 stats: 8 games, 38 total tackles, 8.5 TFL, 5 sacks, 2 passes defended
Career: 38 games, 158 total tackles, 48 TFL, 25 sacks, INT, 6 passes defended, fumble recovery, 10 forced fumbles
Very confident in his ability, Landry doesn’t believe there is a edge rusher with a better first step than him and he’s right. The four-year starter explodes off the line and has such loose hips that he’s often compared to Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller, who’s the best edge rusher on the planet. Patricia brought on Paul Pasqualoni, who was Landry’s defensive line coach at Boston College for two seasons, as Detroit’s new defensive coordinator. The connection is there and Landry is a great fit for the scheme.
Hercules Mata’afa, Washington State
2017 stats: 11 games, 45 total tackles, 22 TFL, 10.5 sacks, fumble recovery, 2 forced fumbles
Career: 34 games, 121 total tackles, 45.5 TFL, 21 sacks, 2 fumble recoveries, 3 forced fumbles
As an interior lineman, Mata’afa was able to dominate offensive linemen with his speed. With a quick burst off the line and good hands, the four-year starter was able to produce despite being undersize. At his size (6-foot-1, 254 pounds) Mata’afa has to learn how to be an outside player. There is zero chance he’d have success in the trenches at the next level. However, his knowledge as an interior player makes him valuable for Detroit’s rotating defensive schemes. He’ll stand up as an OLB in a 3-4, and would find success with his hand in the dirt as a end in a 4-3, making him a valuable asset for Patricia.
Kemoko Turay, Rutgers
2017 stats: 12 games, 60 total tackles, 6 TFL, 3 sacks, pass defended, 2 fumble recoveries
Career: 12 games, 96 total tackles, 19 TFL, 14.5 sacks, INT, 4 passes defended, 2 fumble recoveries, 1 TD
One of the rawest prospects in the draft, Kemoko doesn’t have a lot of experience under his belt. He attended a high school with no football program his sophomore and junior year, but was good enough to get scholarships. The athleticism is there, similarly to Ezekiel Ansah, but he just needs to develop. He has great instincts and can hold his own in coverage. Another guy that is too good from Patricia to pass on.
Shaquem Griffin, OLB, Central Florida
2017 stats: 13 games, 74 total tackles, 13.5 TFL, 7 sacks, INT, 3 passes defended, 2 fumble recoveries, 2 forced fumbles, TD
Career: 40 games, 195 total tackles, 33.5 TFL, 185 sacks, 3 INTs, 16 passes defended, 5 fumble recoveries, 4 forced fumbles, TD
Griffin is an absolute gamer. He brings a passion and an energy that every coach, player and fan loves to see. He has a giant chip on his shoulder, but hasn’t let anything stop him. The former AAC Defensive Player of the Year has a great balance of strength and speed. He struggles getting off blocks, but his instincts allow him to consistently makes plays. Griffin will still be on the board Day 3 of the NFL Draft and would be an huge addition to the defensive core.
Tremaine Edwards, LB, Virginia Tech
2017 stats: 13 games, 108 total tackles, 14 TFL, 5.5 sacks, 2 passes defended, 3 forced fumbles
Career: 32 games, 213 total tackles, 33 TFL, 10 sacks, INT, 5 passes defended, 3 forced fumbles, TD
At 19-years-old, Edmunds is the best inside linebacker in the draft and has an outrageous amount of upside. When you watch his tape, there isn’t a play the former Hokie can’t make; he’s all over the field. Unlike most prospects on the list, Edmunds instincts aren’t there. He has to learn how to break down and study film at the next level. A menace in the run game, able to get after the quarterback, but a lagging behind on the coverage side of things.
Leighton Vander Esch, ILB, Boise State
2017 stats: 14 games, 141 total tackles, 8.5 TFL, 4 sacks, 3 INTs, 5 passes defended, 4 forced fumbles
Career: 28 games, 188 total tackles, 5 sacks, 4 INTs, 6 passes defended, fumble recovery, 4 forced fumbles
Said to go as high as the first round to as late as the third, nobody knows where Vander Esch will get picked, but there’s no doubt that he can play at an elite level. More well-rounded than Edmunds, the Mountain West Championship Game MVP is good at everything, but isn’t great at anything in particular. Vander Esch has that “one-year starter” knock hanging over his head, which makes teams nervous. With a solid day he’ll solidify himself as a first-round pick.
Lions coaches will be chomping at the bit to watch some of these athletes take the field tomorrow. Outside of running back, the defensive front-seven is the biggest area of need for Detroit. There are plenty of great prospects, not limited to this list, and the Lions could make a splash in any round with this amount of deep talent.