2014 will be a telling year for the 2012 draft class

Posted Jun 26, 2014

Seven members of the 2012 Lions draft class are entering year three of their professional careers. For most of them, 2014 is shaping up to be a defining year.

If a player doesn’t have “it” by their third year in the NFL, it’s likely they’ll never have it.

Now there have certainly been exceptions to this rule over the years. There have been players who have blossomed later on in their career -- Joique Bell is a good example – but most teams have a pretty good idea whether a player fits into their long-term plans after year three.

“Some guys walk in from day one and they’ve got it, you know, and they just step on the field and they’ve got it,” Lions general manager Martin Mayhew said before the draft when answering a question about the cornerback position.

“Some guys take a year, some guys take two years. It doesn’t take more than three years, you know what I mean? It doesn’t. If you don’t have it in three years, you don’t have it, so this is a big year for (Bill Bentley, Chris Greenwood and Jonte Green).

Seven members of the 2012 Lions draft class, including Bentley, Greenwood and Green, are entering year three of their professional careers. For most of them, 2014 is shaping up to be a defining year.

Riley Reiff, T, first round:

Riley ReiffT Riley Reiff (Photo: Detroit Lions)

Reiff played well in his first season as a full-time starter at left tackle. He helped anchor an offensive line that was the most consistent unit for the Lions all of last season.

Quarterback Matthew Stafford was sacked just 3.5 percent of the time he dropped back to pass, second-lowest percentage in the NFL behind Peyton Manning in Denver (2.7 percent), and helped pave the way for the team’s first 1,000-yard rusher since 2004.

Reiff allowed seven sacks in 16 games, according to STATS, LLC, which isn’t a terrible number for a first-year starting left tackle against the likes of Jared Allen, Julius Peppers, Clay Matthews and other elite rushers the Lions face at least twice a year. He seems to be a good fit at left tackle but is versatile enough to give the team options in the future at guard.

He can cement his status as the left tackle of the future, however, with big 2014 season.

Ryan Broyles, WR, second round:

Broyles’ body has simply let him down his first two years in the NFL. He’s suffered a torn ACL and ruptured Achilles tendon the last two seasons, which has limited him to just 16 career games and three starts.

The NCAA’s all-time leader in receptions has shown flashes, like his six-catch, 126-yard performance against Houston as a rookie. Those performances have been too few and far between because of the injuries.

This will be a big training camp for Broyles to show he’s recovered from his most recent setback and still has burst. He has a terrific mind and good hands to play the slot in this scheme, but he’ll have to earn a roster spot and this could be his last chance to prove he has a future in Detroit.

Bill Bentley, CB, third round:

Bentley is an aggressive cornerback who plays much bigger than his 5-foot-10, 176-pound frame might suggest. It’s also led to him having some injury problems early in his career. He played in just four games as a rookie because of shoulder problems and a concussion and missed three games last season because of a knee injury and another concussion.

Bentley’s style of play fits nicely as a slot cornerback, which is where he played last year and it’s the role he’ll have again entering training camp.

He has to limit some of the penalties too as he was called for two defensive pass interference penalties and four holding penalties last year, but he’s a good slot corner with an upward trending future.

Tahir Whitehead, LB, fifth round:

The Lions moved up in the 2012 draft to get Whitehead, giving up a fourth-round pick in the process. Whitehead has been a backup his first two years and is likely to be a backup and core special teams performer once again in 2014.

The Lions have moved Whitehead around from the SAM to the MIKE this offseason in an effort to see which fits his skillset best in Teryl Austin’s new defense. It’s worth a look to see if he could eventually become Steven Tulloch’s replacement in the middle.

In year three, Whitehead needs to take a step forward, earn the fourth linebacker spot, and play a role.

Chris Greenwood, CB, fifth round:

Like Broyles, injuries have held Greenwood back more than anything. Hamstring injuries kept him out of a big portion of training camp as a rookie and he’s dealt with two hernia injuries over the last year and a half that have also limited him.

Greenwood might be the most physically gifted cornerback on the roster at 6-foot-1, 190 pounds with 4.3 speed, but availability is just as important as ability.

He showed promise when given an opportunity to play late last year, but he has to be on the field in training camp and show what he can do in year three, or he could get left behind.

Jonte Green, CB, sixth round:

The third cornerback taken by the Lions in the 2012 draft, Green has actually played the most games among that group. He’s a physical cornerback with good size and speed.

Entering year three, he looks to be fighting for a roster spot behind Darius Slay, Rashean Mathis, Bill Bentley, Cassius Vaughn and Nevin Lawson.

Travis Lewis, LB, seventh round:

Lewis has struggled to find a consistent role on defense.

He played in 12 games last year on special teams and made six tackles. He was suspended the last four games of the year for violating the NFL’s performance enhancing drug policy.

There’s a role for good special teams players in the NFL, just ask John Wendling, and that’s likely the role Lewis will have to play with the Lions if he wants to make the roster out of training camp.

The difference between seeing the field on defense and playing special teams is making plays in practice when they are there to be made.