Grading the Detroit Lions 2014 draft: Four seasons later

DETROIT, MI - SEPTEMBER 21: Travis Swanson #64 of the Detroit Lions congratulates kicker Nate Freese #3 after kicking the extra point during th third quarter of the game against the Green Bay Packers at Ford Field on September 21, 2014 in Detroit, Michigan. The Lions defeated the Packers 19-7. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
DETROIT, MI - SEPTEMBER 21: Travis Swanson #64 of the Detroit Lions congratulates kicker Nate Freese #3 after kicking the extra point during th third quarter of the game against the Green Bay Packers at Ford Field on September 21, 2014 in Detroit, Michigan. The Lions defeated the Packers 19-7. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images) /

The Detroit Lions had a horrific draft class in 2014. The team made the playoffs but couldn’t hold the roster together. Unfortunately, none of these players stepped up in time.

Entering a player’s fifth season in the NFL we know what they are. There is no mystery left, no more potential for development. The player simply is, or is not, an NFL caliber football player. The fifth year is also the season that teams have to decide whether or not they want to use the option year that first round rookie contracts afford them. I decided to take a look at the 2014 Detroit Lions draft class and see how the players have fared. Spoiler alert: it is pretty bad.

Eric Ebron: D+

The Lions first-round pick in 2014 was Eric Ebron. I have no interest in rehashing how the rest of the first round in that draft went. Everyone knows the Lions made a mistake here. It is not that Ebron is a bad player, but he was a top ten pick and the bar has to be set higher than “not bad.” Ebron is also not a particularly good player. Martin Mayhew screwed up. Ebron was not, and likely never will be a difference maker in the NFL. His career drop numbers speak for themselves, as do his reception and touchdown numbers. He was touted as a matchup nightmare. He was more like a nap time daydream. Ebron now plays for the Indianapolis Colts. He lobbied for and received his release from the team this offseason. His time with the Lions will be remembered for immature behavior and inconsistent performance.

Kyle Van Noy: F

The Lions second-round pick was Kyle Van Noy. He came in touted by Martin Mayhew as a “flamethrower off the edge.” Then, the coaching staff never used him on the edge for more than a snap or two. They decided to try an make this hybrid edge defender into an off the ball strong side linebacker. Regardless of the fact that the coaching staff transitioned him from an emerging role to a dying one, 35-45% of snaps in 2017 for most teams, this was a bad pick. Van Noy lacked the required athleticism or instincts to make that transition, something anyone who bothered to watch his college tape could have told the coaching staff, who clearly had not. Van Noy now plays for the New England Patriots. He found his way from the Lions to a Superbowl championship through a trade.

Travis Swanson: D+

The Lions third-round selection was Travis Swanson. After two seasons Swanson looked like an ascending player. Consecutive years with concussion and other injury issues have left his career in doubt. Swanson appeared to be an average starter at one point, but his 2017 season was a disaster even before he began to miss time with injuries. This is another miss from Mayhew’s thus far disastrous draft class. Swanson is currently a New York Jet.

Nevin Lawson: B+

The Lions first fourth-round pick was Nevin Lawson. Lawson was winning the nickel corner role in his first season before he landed on injured reserve after two games. He took the outside corner role in 2015 and has never let it go. He is the opposite of a game changer, with no interceptions for his career. Lawson is a decent player but he has not outplayed his draft slot. He starts for the Lions because the team has not succeeded in bringing in a better option. He signed a two-year contract extension this offseason to remain in Detroit.

Larry Webster: F

The second fourth-round pick of this draft was a complete bust. Larry Webster was not a good college player despite productive numbers. He is the poster boy for the argument against the idea that a team should draft athletes in the late rounds and hope the coaching staff can turn them into something. Webster was a 6’6″ 252 lb man who ran a 4.58 40 yard dash. He jumped 36.5″ vertically. He played his college football at Bloomsburg and dominated that garbage level of competition for his two seasons there. Webster did so without any technique, power, or instincts. He simply ran around a low level of competition. He never played any meaningful role for the Lions. This was a terrible pick. He is out of the league.

Caraun Reid: D+

The Lions fifth-round pick was Caraun Reid. Reid played nose tackle in a 3-4 defense during his college years at Princeton. The Lions ran a defense that did not ask players to play two-gap defense or clog up the middle of the field. This was yet another example of Mayhew giving his coaches something they had no interest in having. It is not that Reid was a bad player, he has consistently found work at the bottom of NFL teams depth charts since he was cut by the Lions in 2016. He is currently a member of the Indianapolis Colts. That Reid has a job going into his fifth season puts him ahead of the many fifth-round picks.

T.J. Jones: C

In the sixth-round, the Lions selected T.J. Jones. Considering his draft position, Jones is definitely a hit. He missed his entire rookie season with nerve damage in his shoulder and took multiple seasons to recover fully. Jones earned the Lions number four wide receiver role last season. He looks likely to fill the spot again. He has also done return duty on kickoffs at times. Jones is one of only two 2014 picks that have kept their spot with the team.

Nate Freese: F

Nate Freese is a name that chills the hearts of Lions fans. After decades of Eddie Murray and Jason Hanson, Lions fans were just used to kicks being made. Freese was awful. He went 3-7 before he found his career over. He missed every field goal he attempted over 40 yards. This seventh-round choice nearly cost the best Lions team of this century a playoff berth.

Next: Trading into the 2019 third round will not be easy

This is the draft in which Martin Mayhew sealed his fate. It was not in the 2014 season that the Lions needed these players to step up, it was in 2015. None of them found their game, and Mayhew found a pink slip. Unfortunately, the best player from this draft class is a day three pick that has been a placeholder at cornerback for three seasons.