O'HARA: Early rookie forecasts

Posted Sep 4, 2014

Although the final grade on the 2014 rookie class won’t come out until after the 2016 season, some projections and standards to meet already can be put in play.

The rule of thumb that it takes three years to evaluate a team’s draft class means the Lions’ rookies are barely at the first step in proving if they were worth being taken in the rounds where they were drafted.

Although the final grade on the 2014 rookie class won’t come out until after the 2016 season – at the earliest – some projections and standards to meet already can be put in play.

One valid projection is that starting Monday night, all rookies in the NFL will experience a level of play they’ve never seen before – either in college, NFL training camp or preseason games. That happens every year for every rookie.

And the standard for rookies was set by players taken by their teams at the same position and in the same round in previous years.

Coach Jim Caldwell spoke earlier this week about rookies adjusting to the speed of the game in Monday night’s regular-season opener against the Giants.

“There are a lot of things, but the obvious things everybody always talks about, and they will probably even tell you themselves, is how quickly things happen,” Caldwell said. “How fast they happen --the speed at which it occurs -- is going to be something they will have to contend with on a weekly basis.”

Caldwell’s concern isn’t about history or comparisons, but about how they perform starting Monday.

However, a look back at former draft picks serves as a standard to be matched by the 2014 draft class.  The cutoff date for comparisons is that the former Lions had to be active after the 1990 season.

Here are the matchups, by round:

1. Tight end Eric Ebron vs. Brandon Pettigrew, 2009-present:

Eric EbronTR Eric Ebron (Photo: Gavin Smith)

Their complementary styles are an asset to the offense. Pettigrew is a stout in-line blocker whose biggest seasons as a short-range receiver were 71 catches in 2010 and 83 in 2011. Ebron’s receiving skills allow him to run some routes as a wide receiver.

Rookie forecast: Ebron has the potential to be one of the league’s better receiving tight ends, with adequate blocking ability. He should be an immediate contributor for big-play potential, if not for high volume.

2. Linebacker Kyle Van Noy vs. Chris Spielman, a Lion 1988-95:

Spielman was one of the most popular Lions of his generation. Fans still wear his No. 54 jersey to games. He was a four-time Pro Bowler, first team All-Pro once, and led the team in tackles all eight seasons while playing inside linebacker in the 3-4 scheme.

Van Noy begins his career on injured reserve.

Rookie forecast: Van Noy plays outside in the 4-3 and will be hard-pressed to match Spielman’s career. The only Lion linebacker to come close is DeAndre Levy.

3. Center Travis Swanson vs. Mike Compton, 1993-2000 and Larry Warford, 2013-present:

Compton played guard and center and did not become a starter until 1995 at guard and 1999 at center. He was a steady, smart player. Warford is a guard and is included because Swanson got playing time at center and guard in the preseason.

Warford already is a Pro Bowl caliber player. All he needs for validation of that is the votes.

Rookie forecast: As he serves his apprenticeship behind Dominic Raiola, Swanson easily could develop to become Compton’s equal.

4. Cornerback Nevin Lawson vs. Ray Crockett, a Lion 1989-93.

At 5-9 and 192 pounds, Lawson is similar to Crockett in physical stature and will have to work his way up through the rotation, as Crockett did to play 14 NFL seasons. Crockett was a full-time starter in his last three seasons in Detroit before signing with Denver as a free agent in 1994 and playing on two Super Bowl championship teams.

Rookie forecast: Predicting how defensive backs develop is difficult. Lawson has the temperament. This is a learning season.

4. Defensive end Larry Webster vs. Devin Taylor, 2013-present, Ronnell Lewis, 2011-12,

There is a shallow pool of candidates to serve as comparisons for Webster. Lewis was rated as both an outside linebacker and defensive end and was a seismic flop at both. Taylor is a tall, lean pass-rusher – similar to Webster in style and build -- who has earned a spot in the rotation.

Rookie forecast: Webster was one of the most athletic defensive ends in this year’s draft. His rookie season will be spent developing that talent.

5. Defensive tackle Caraun Reid vs. Lawrence Pete, 1989-93.

Defensive linemen drafted in the fifth round by the Lions have been few and far between, and most career backups. Pete played nose tackle in the 3-4, primarily as a backup to Pro Bowler Jerry Ball.

Rookie forecast: Reid starts this season as the No. 4 tackle behind Ndamukong SuhNick Fairley and C.J. Mosley.

6. Wide receiver TJ Jones vs. Corey Fuller, 2013-present.

Their career paths hardly could be more similar, but not for the same reasons. Fuller spent his rookie season on the practice squad after showing little in camp or the preseason. He improved dramatically this year to win a roster spot.

Jones missed all of camp while recovering from offseason shoulder surgery.

Rookie forecast: Depth at receiver makes it problematic if Jones will make the active roster this year.

7. Nate Freese vs. Eddie Murray, 1980-91.

There are some striking similarities in addition to both being seventh-round draft picks.

Both won the job in training camp. Freese cemented his position by making a 55-yard field goal in Game 2 at Oakland. He made two more from 53 yards in the final preseason game.

Murray’s long-range success won the job in 1980. He made his first regular-season attempt from 55 yards on opening day.

Murray kicked through the 2000 season after leaving Detroit. Jason Hanson, his successor, held the job from 1992-2012. That’s a 21-year span of kicking for both.

Rookie forecast: With that 21-year time frame established, we’ll rate Freese in 2034.