The Detroit Lions didn't get everything they wanted or needed in the 1997 draft but they got enough to send coach Bobby Ross and player personnel guru Ron Hughes home happy.
If all goes as expected, the Lions landed two -- and possibly three -- immediate starters, five players who could make major contributions and a couple of developmental players in the 10-man draft-day haul.
About the only need they didn't directly address was the defensive line. They weren't able to land an incredible hulk to step in at defensive tackle in the two-gap defense Bobby Ross has planned for the Lions this season.
They made a run at it, talking late last week with the Oakland Raiders about a trade up for the No. 2 pick in the draft. However, the Lions weren't willing to part with their second-round draft pick and, as a result, the trade was never consummated. As it turned out, the Lions were content with the way it turned out without the trade.
With their first-round pick -- No. 5 overall -- the Lions drafted cornerback Bryant Westbrook from Texas, filling a need for a strong, physical corner.
With their second-round pick -- No. 35 overall -- they took tackle Juan Roque from Arizona State, filling a need for a right tackle.
They traded their third and fourth picks to move back into the second round and draft cornerback Kevin Abrams from Syracuse, upgrading the speed and athleticism in their defensive secondary for the second time in two rounds.
The second day of the drafted yielded some equally interesting results. Colorado linebacker Matt Russell, the Butkus Award winner, is expected to compete for the middle linebacker job and play an important special teams role. Tight end Pete Chryplewicz from Notre Dame shores up the tight end forces that will be a key to Ross' two-tight end offense and also is expected to help on special teams.
Later-round picks running back Terry Battle of Arizona State, wide receiver Marcus Harris of Wyoming and linebacker Richard Jordan of Missouri Southern are athletic enough to help on special teams and could develop into backup players.
Defensive end Duane Ashman of Virginia and tackle Tony Ramirez from Northern Colorado might not pay immediate dividends, but Hughes feels both have the potential to develop into capable backup players.
"We've been lucky,'' Ross said after the draft. "We missed out on a couple of people, which you're going to do every year. We were right there and were going to choose this guy and the team prior to us jumped ahead, but what we were able to do was get the players we wanted and yet fill the need.''
From a critical point of view, Westbrook appears to be the real deal -- an immediate impact starter in an area of great, great need. Roque is no Orlando Pace or Walter Jones, however, and despite his speed and leaping ability, Abrams is still a 5-8 3/8 cornerback trying to patrol some 6-3 wide receivers. There are no guarantees.
Round 1/5 -- Bryant Westbrook, CB, Texas
After all the jockeying was over and the Lions gave up the idea of moving up to the second pick in the draft, they went right back to Westbrook, the player they really were planning on all along. Not only was he the best player available at the No. 5 spot in the draft, he also filled a crying need in the Lions' defensive secondary. He's big --just under 6-feet tall and 200 pounds -- and he's physical enough to battle it out with the big, physical receivers in the NFC Central Division. Coach Bobby Ross identified two characteristics he especially liked about Westbrook -- his loose hips, which enable him to change direction and get back to top speed in the wink of an eye, and his long arms, which let him get a hand or some fingertips in the way of a pass. He has played both the right and left side of the field but looks like a perfect fit at left cornerback. The Lions expect him to be in the starting lineup Aug. 31 against Atlanta.
Round 2/35 -- Juan Roque, OT, Arizona State
With the loss of right tackle Zefross Moss to the New England Patriots, the Lions were looking at some distressing possibilities on their offensive line. Notably, the lack of experience or superior ability. Although Roque was not nearly as highly rated as Orlando Pace and Walter Jones, he was among their top 23 players. Offensive line coach Jack Henry considers his size ideal -- 6-8, 333 pounds, with a humongous wing span. Playing at right tackle for left-handed quarterback Scott Mitchell, it's important he be able to keep the pass rush off Mitchell's blind side. He won't be given the starting job outright but he'll get first shot at it and Ross expects him to handle it. Some NFL teams were concerned about Roque's slow start in 1997 but he came on strong, although some analysts feel he's still a little stiff and robotic in his technique. At the same time, it's been suggested he could be a productive player similar to Kevin Gogan. It will be interesting to see if he can live up to the Lions' somewhat inflated expectations for him.
Round 2/54 -- Kevin Abrams, CB, Syracuse
So much for the big-cornerback theory the Lions were preaching after the first-round pick. They came out of the draft room raving about Abrams, a 5-8 3/8 cornerback who weighs 174 pounds. So why the quick switch? The way Ross put it, it's Abrams' exceptional leaping ability (421/2-inch vertical leap), his great makeup speed (4.29 seconds in the 40) and his better-than-average strength that makes him a guy the Lions had to go after. They must have liked him plenty because they traded their third- and fourth-round picks (Nos. 65 and 101) to move back into the second round to take him. Ron Hughes, the Lions' vice president of player personnel, said there was complete agreement in the draft room that this was a player they could not afford to let get away. They also feel his coverage ability was among the best of the defensive back prospects. Hughes said he expects Abrams to be on the field a lot -- possibly as a nickel or dime back now, because he can cover -- and eventually in a starting role. Unless he's another Darrell Green (which the Lions aren't claiming), the expectations might be a little high on this guy.
Round 4/130 -- Matt Russell, MLB, Colorado
The Lions struggled at middle linebacker last year. Michael Brooks was a bust, Pepper Johnson just wasn't the same old Pepper who played well for the Giants several years ago, and Stephen Boyd missed about half the season with a pulled abdominal muscle. Boyd is back but the Lions got him some company by drafting Russell, the Butkus Award winner of 1996 as the outstanding college linebacker. Russell has a Chris Spielman approach to the game, but the comparison pretty much ends there. He's not as athletic as the former Lion middle linebacker but he's tough, hard-nosed, a guy who plays aggressively and with a lot of emotion. Sometimes too much. He can stuff the run but isn't as effective when he plays outside the tackles. The Lions figure he can also help on special teams.
Round 5/135 -- Pete Chryplewicz, TE, Notre Dame
At 6-5, 253 pounds, Chryplewicz (pronounced Crip-PLEV-itch) has great size for a tight end and it's a position where the Lions need some shoring up. Starter David Sloan and last year's projected backup are coming off knee surgeries, Pete Metzelaars is a year older (he'll be 37 next month), and two second-year players -- Eric Stocz and Derek Price -- are not the complete blocking/receiving package. Chryplewicz catches the ball nicely, uses his body to fend off defenders and can run over them after the catch. In addition, he blocks well enough to fit in Bobby Ross' new two-tight end power running game, although Ross made a point of saying they have to get him into the weight room for a crash program before the start of training camp. Chryplewicz is a local kid. He grew up in the suburb of Sterling Heights, probably 15 miles or so from the Silverdome and was a Lions' fan.
Round 5/161 -- Duane Ashman, DE, Virginia
Played both DT and DE as a three-year starter in a good college program, but it's a little uncertain where he'll fit in with the Lions. At slightly less than 6-4, he's a bit short for a DE and at 274 pounds, he's a little light for a tackle in Ross' two-gap defensive scheme. But the Lions say he has good quickness and balance, and he plays with good leverage. Even more appealing, they like the way he plays all out on every down. He won't quit a play until the whistle blows. Long-range remains to be seen but Ashman might be able to give the Lions some immediate help as one of the big people on special teams.
Round 6/168 -- Tony Ramirez, OT, Northern Colorado
Ramirez was Hughes' personal sleeper pick of the draft. He was a Division II All-America in 1996, playing on a team with a drop-back passing offense so he has an understanding and a feel for the pro passing game. He's strong and is no stranger to the weight room. Reports indicate he has improved as a pass blocker during his college career but eventually he might be better suited to playing guard. He runs well, has the speed to pull and plays better in close quarters than when he's isolated at tackle. The Lions will see where he's more comfortable -- at LT or RT -- for now and let him develop. A year on the practice squad isn't out of the question.
Round 7/206 -- Terry Battle, RB, Arizona State
Although there is little on which to judge Battle, the Lions might have picked up a diamond in the rough with this seventh-round draft pick. He had a year of eligibility left but thought a strong finish to the 1996 season would project him higher into the draft. When he was still there after the first 205 players had been drafted, the Lions bit. Battle is a sturdily-constructed back (5-11, 197 pounds), who doesn't have great speed but is a strong, slashing runner who knows his way to the end zone. He scored 20 touchdowns for Arizona State -- 18 rushing and two on kickoff returns. He also rushed for 1,043 yards on 160 attempts (a 6.5-yard average), most of them in the final six games after the starting back suffered a season-ending injury. He was dynamite on kickoff returns, with a 99-yarder and 100-yarder, and the scouts feel he can catch the ball also. Will work on the Lions' special teams and get a chance to develop as a backup to Barry Sanders.
Round 7/232 -- Marcus Harris, WR, Wyoming
Talk about production. In the past three seasons at Wyoming, Harris has caught 258 passes and scored 38 touchdowns. His yardage production was 1,431 as a sophomore, 1,423 as a junior and 1,650 as a senior when he was a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award, given annually to the top college receiver. With Brett Perriman not likely to return as an unrestricted free agent and the Lions not interested in re-signing 11-year veteran Aubrey Matthews, Harris has a chance to make the team in a backup role. His size (6-0, 213 pounds) is in his favor. He uses it well against smaller defensive backs. He also has big, soft hands and catches the ball well. Harris doesn't have exceptional speed and sometimes has a hard time getting off the line of scrimmage with short choppy steps, but he's usually strong enough to get free fairly quickly.
Round 7/239 -- Richard Jordan, LB, Missouri Southern
A relatively unknown player. Didn't get a mention by either Joel Buchsbaum of Pro Football Weekly or Mel Kiper of ESPN, but the Lions dug him up and liked the potential they saw in him. Jordan is a former defensive lineman who was moved to middle linebacker his final college season. Size-wise (6-0 3/8 and 253 pounds), he's a much better fit there. He was recognized on several pre-season honor sheets and was a very productive player. Had a career-high 136 tackles, including six tackles for losses, a quarterback sack and three interceptions, in his senior season. The Lions are hoping he can contribute on special teams and they'll work him at both middle linebacker and strongside linebacker to see if he can be developed. As the next-to-last player drafted, the odds are against him.