Detroit Lions draft target: Defensive lineman Breeland Speaks

STARKVILLE, MS - NOVEMBER 23: Keytaon Thompson
STARKVILLE, MS - NOVEMBER 23: Keytaon Thompson /

The Detroit Lions have set up a situation where they can be patient with their draft picks. That might allow them to look at some players that may take a year or two to develop. They may be able to select a player for their raw abilities rather than their polished technique or immediate impact.

Breeland Speaks is an interesting prospect. His measurables do not jump off the screen as exceptional. He is 6’3″ with 33-3/4″ arms and weighs 285 lbs. In a draft class full of underweight edge players, however, Speaks has a down lineman’s size. He posted a 40 time of 4.87 seconds, a 3 cone of 7.63 seconds, and a 20-yard shuttle of 4.65 seconds. How much you like any of that depends on what you see Speaks doing as a pro.

In 2016 Speaks played primarily defensive tackle at Ole Miss. He was a bit undersized on the inside and had difficulty holding up against the run. Generally, he was able to keep offensive linemen from getting a square shot at him. When he was not able to do so he got pushed around a little bit. Just as often though he stepped past the guard completely untouched and broke up an offensive play before it started.

In 2017 Speaks had a different role. He played on the edge significantly more in 2017. They also played him at strongside linebacker a lot. This allowed them to vary the direction and timing of Speaks’ path to the quarterback and ball carrier. He rarely played inside.

Speaks found his groove as a strong side linebacker who rarely drops back into a significant coverage role. He just doesn’t have the top speed to be a factor in coverage. His first step, whether from a two-point stance five yards off the ball or a three-point stance off the edge, is great. Speaks 10 yard split in the 40-yard dash was within .02 seconds of top-tier prospects like Bradley Chubb and Marcus Davenport. By 20 yards he has fallen off their pace, and because of that, his future in the NFL is likely as a hand in the dirt defensive end only. He also provided my favorite moment of the 2017 college football season.

That serves to be as good a transition as any to the perceived downside of Breeland Speaks. Goofy smile and wave aside, that game ended with him in the locker room. Speaks had an escort off the field of play. He gave a queen wave to a crowd as he left. He had just punched a Missippi State player in the head twice before he received his ejection. Ole Miss was up ten points against the heavily favored in-state rival with three minutes to go in the fourth quarter. Speaks had an incredible game but it ended with a shocking show of immaturity when the team needed its premier pass rusher the most.

In a better defensive end class, I think Speaks would likely be an early day three prospect. This year the dearth of true hand in the dirt defensive end prospects at the top of the draft could push him as high as the second round. For a team looking to find someone that can get to the quarterback from a number of different spots on the field, Speaks’ value could be high.

Next: Detroit Lions draft prospect Kentavius Street

The Lions are likely just that sort of team and Speaks has worked out with them privately. He was the Lions third-round selection in Mel Kiper’s most recent three-round mock draft. We will have to wait to find out whether Kiper is accurate or not until April 27, 2018.