The Lions have rebounded from a recent history of failure to field a watchable team over the last several seasons. Heck, they even made the playoffs in 2011. Calvin Johnson is perhaps the most exciting player in the game, and the cupboard of roster talent is certainly not empty. However, a 4-12 2013 meant a coaching change: Jim (Schwartz) is dead, long live Jim (Caldwell)! Being watchable is all well and good, but Detroit fans want to see a Super Bowl contender, or a team good enough to win one with the right breaks, which hasn’t happened in a long time. In this draft, the Lions addressed an assortment of needs– now, as for drafting the best players, I would say they were not as successful, but history cannot be reversed. These are the players we are stuck with, and hey, it isn’t all bad. Right? Let’s all agree to answer yes. And now to Kyle Van Noy and Larry Webster.
ROUND 2, PICK 40
KYLE VAN NOY, ER/LB, BYU
With the 5th overall pick in last year’s draft. the Detroit Lions selected my absolute favorite player in the 2013 class, defensive end Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah. I bring him up because Kyle Van Noy was his teammate at BYU. Because of that, we’ll take a brief look at some plays where they played side by side in 2012, along with how Van Noy played without him in 2013. Kyle Van Noy is a player who throughout the process stood out to me as a “jack of all trades.” At BYU, he played essentially every linebacker position in their 3-4 scheme. We’ll see him lined up outside against the offensive tackle as a pass rusher, behind the defensive tackle in a role that’s closer to what I believe he’ll play with the Lions, and even matched up against slot receivers on many passing downs. As is often the case with a “jack of all trades” player, Kyle Van Noy is good to very good at all of these roles and elite at none.
First, let’s look at a handful of plays from 2012, where Van Noy is playing with Ziggy Ansah. Just to get Lions fans salivating, I’ve selected this play first. Van Noy and Ansah are lined up side by side, and from the snap, it’s a race to the quarterback, as both men are essentially unblocked and nearly kill that poor passer. Good game, NFL. (Well, this was against Hawaii, but let’s hope they can repeat it.) Now on the other side of the field, again next to Ansah, Van Noy is unblocked as the quarterback bootlegs to his right, away from him. It doesn’t matter, as Van Noy has the speed to chase him down, and if the ball stays in the playing field, this is a turnover. Last, we have Ansah at nose tackle with Van Noy standing right behind him, and on a perfectly timed blitz, Van Noy shoots the gap opened by the pulling guard and drops the runner for a six-yard loss.
One skill I love with Kyle Van Noy’s game is how well he sees plays developing and how well he reacts to them. There’s no hesitation in, for instance, this play in the red zone (now in 2013 sans Ansah). He sees the toss left, makes a beeline towards Bishop Sankey, and tackles him for a big time loss of yards on 4th-and-1.
I haven’t yet shown him playing in coverage. He’s used more often around the line of scrimmage, but as I said earlier, he does occasionally split out in the slot or behind defensive linemen and drops into coverage. Here’s a play where Van Noy is in the slot and makes a tackle on the receiver where he squares up and doesn’t get out of position versus a faster opponent. What he doesn’t do there is get his hands on and jam the slot receiver as he’s releasing into his route. Failing to jam receivers is a common problem of his play in the slot; it’s something he should be doing and that shouldn’t be difficult to teach, but he almost never does, at least on the plays I looked at over a number of games. When he drops into coverage, he’s almost always “spying” the quarterback, as he does in the play here. Van Noy is playing the quarterback and, on that specific play, is able to read where the throw is heading and tips it in the air.
Kyle Van Noy’s biggest strength is rushing the passer. You can split him out in the slot or in a zone and he’s not going to play badly, necessarily, but certainly you want to make use of his strengths. Van Noy will bring the kind of pressure from the outside that the Lions simply did not have in the absence of Cliff Avril, albeit as a linebacker rather than a defensive end. Van Noy does need to use his hands more often on his engagements; often he’ll rely on his speed to get around the corner, and when he’s met by an offensive tackle, he doesn’t always make use of his hands to help him out. He did in most of these plays I showed, but if you watch several games, you’ll see this is an area he can improve in. In any case, I like the pick and the reunion with Ziggy Ansah. Looking forward to what he can bring to the table.
ROUND 4, PICK 136
LARRY WEBSTER, ER, BLOOMSBURG
The selection of Larry Webster in the fourth round by the Lions is a bit more puzzling. Mind you, I don’t have much film on him: there are only two games available on Draft Breakdown, both against the same opponent. So perhaps he looks like Lawrence Taylor in other games (I can dream), but against the great Shippensburg University (who? what? where?), he only flashes here and there. If you look at Webster’s combine performance, the pick starts making more sense; he measured in at 6’6″ and 252 lbs., ran a very speedy 4.58 40, with an incredible 36.5″ vertical. Hey, maybe he can play tight end if Eric Ebron doesn’t work out.
Larry Webster is positively primordial in his development. The first tape I looked at was his 2012 game against Shippensburg. It ain’t pretty. On this play, Webster does ‘beat’ the left tackle inside, but he’s standing straight up, allowing the tackle to simply control his momentum and drive him completely out of the play. Now this does force the quarterback to climb the pocket before making a strike downfield, but I don’t think I’d call it a ‘good’ play from Webster. On the very next play, Webster once again is too tall when he meets the tackle, and this time, he’s also slow as molasses off the snap: just look how far away he is from engaging at the 1:26 mark. Yikes. These two traits of being too tall and too slow are common themes of his play in this game. Not only that, the steps he takes in his pass rush are very short and purposeless, as in this play, where he once again engages incorrectly.
The above is a frame from the last play. It’s at the point of contact or engagement. The yellow line represents where his weight is distributed. I don’t have a compass on me to measure it, but it doesn’t take a physicist to understand that this is not how you want to engage a blocker. His left foot isn’t even on the ground. Webster meets the blocker with barely any force. A better tackle could plant him into the dirt here. Pancakes for all. For comparison’s sake, watch the speed and efficiency of Barkevious Mingo’s steps in this play against Clemson. Now, yes, he was the #6 overall pick in the draft last year, but he was considered a raw prospect; this is why I used the word “primordial” to describe Webster.
Fortunately, it gets better. In Webster’s 2013 game against Shippensburg, he’s still making similar mistakes, except now we can see flashes of that athleticism and a better grasp of the game. I’ll focus on the positives here. The first thing of note is that in many plays he’s now standing up before the snap, whereas in the game the prior season he played entirely with his hand down. Did you watch the Mingo play earlier? Well, notice on this play how Webster wastes no motion on an inside move and blows by all the blockers, forcing the quarterback to roll to his right and throw a quick pass. At no point in the 2012 game did he show off this kind of burst or fluid motion. Now at least he’s flashing.
On this play, Webster gets a sack. He’s still playing too tall, but at least he’s shooting his hands into the right tackle’s chest, which allows him to toss the tackle aside and bend around the corner for a sack. Will this work in the NFL? No, but it’s an improvement. Right here is a play that will translate to the pros: Webster again explodes off the snap, and he uses his right hand to swat the left tackle’s left shoulder, which gives him the momentum to bend around the edge, allowing him to “dip” under the tackle and nearly get a sack. And here the exact same move does lead to a sack.
If you watch the entire 2013 game, there are more good plays, and yet, he still has more plays where he’s playing too high or he’s slow off the ball. Larry Webster manages to look sluggish and awkward one play and explosive and talented the next. Seeing as he looked in the 2012 game like a player that had essentially no ability, and in the 2013 game he’s flashing an awful lot of ability, the pick starts to make sense as you picture him showing that athleticism more consistently and developing skills to go with it. I’m not going to ask if he was selected too high relative to other athletic pass rushers, because Larry Webster is the one who is on the team. From what I can gather, he seems a ways from being any kind of impact player, but the Detroit Lions did have some success with a similarly athletic, lanky fourth-round project in Devin Taylor last season. Lions fans will be rooting for the same kind of improvement for Webster.
By picking Kyle Van Noy and Larry Webster, the Detroit Lions added some much needed pass rushing talent on the outside. They already have it in spades at defensive tackle. As for the rest of their 2014 draft class, they picked up a big bodied receiving tight end in Eric Ebron. They got younger and bigger at center with Travis Swanson. In the fifth round, they went searching in the Ivy League for standout defensive tackle Caraun Reid. With their final selections, the Lions tried to add some depth at cornerback and receiver. And of course, Detroit went and drafted a kicker with their seventh-rounder. While I’m not so sure the Lions picked the best players available at each turn, they did address major needs for the team.