This is how it goes for University of Iowa offensive tackles who leave for the NFL draft after their junior seasons:
Be a consensus upper first-round projection in mock drafts, don’t get taken until the 23rd pick, and go to an NFC Central team that’s in pretty good shape. Oh, and have a few wise guys say your arms are too short to be an effective NFL tackle.
So it was for Bryan Bulaga in 2010 when he went to the Green Bay Packers, and so it is for Riley Reiff in going to the Detroit Lions Thursday night. The “short arms” thing that was said about Bulaga two years ago hasn’t been heard much about him ever since for some strange reason.
Bulaga was in a lot of draftniks’ Top 10 — even top 6 — for much of the time leading up to the draft, and was a popular mock draft choice at No. 14 to Seattle on the day before the draft. But he lasted, and lasted. Then Green Bay grabbed him. And he had a Super Bowl ring a little more than nine months later.
If the Lions win the Super Bowl this coming season, well, that would certainly be something. But they aren’t the Detroit Lions we’ve known and laughed at for decades. Reiff goes to a team with a terrific quarterback in Matthew Stafford, and a world-class wide receiver in Calvin Johnson, and a lot of other parts that work.
I scoured the Web and found 28 mock drafts by people of repute, or who work for publications of repute. Only three had Reiff going to Detroit at No. 23. Let’s give them a shout-out: Don Banks of SportsIllustrated.com, Dane Brugler of CBSSports.com, and Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times.
Far more folks had Reiff going either 10th to Buffalo or 13th to Arizona. No shout-outs for them. ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr., said Reiff would go 13th. No shout-out for Mel.
It’s hard to enough to come to terms with the fact I just gave and denied shout-outs, period.
Look, there’s no foolproof way to know if the Lions got a steal or a slug in Reiff. My money would be on Reiff being a success, but hey, the guy’s a first-round draft pick. Of course he should be expected to prosper.
But Mike Mayock of NFL Network, who knows a little — make that a whole, whole, whole, whole lot — more than I do when it comes to this stuff, immediately blurted “That’s a good pick,” when the Lions announced they had taken Reiff.
Mayock, unlike ESPN’s Jon Gruden, doesn’t like every single draft pick.
“Tell you right now,” Mayock said. “(Starting Lions tackle) Jeff Backus is 35 years old (34, actually), coming off elbow surgery. They need help on the offensive line. (Reiff) can play left or right tackle. I think he should start on the right side. But let’s remember their quarterback Matthew Stafford has had some injury history. You’ve got to protect the franchise.”
Kiper, when he got time to squeeze in a few words around Gruden, offered this about Reiff:
“I like the fact he’s played left tackle, right tackle and guard. I like the fact he’s started 34 consecutive games. Durable, well-coached, good football player.”
This was my first draft with NFL Network, by the way. I only flipped over to ESPN once in a while to see how many seconds it would take Chris Berman to say something absurd.
It certainly seems like there were content Lions fans after the selection. An unofficial Detroit Lions blog called “Pride of Detroit” polled its readers to ask if they approved the choice of Reiff. As of 10:15 p.m., Thursday, 92 percent of the 848 people who had voted said “Yes.”
Backus is the Lions’ left tackle. The incumbent right tackle is 27-year-old Gosder Cherilus, a 2008 first-rounder and the last offensive lineman Detroit had taken in Round 1. The other starting offensive linemen (thanks to the Detroit Free Press for this easily found info) are 33-year-old center Dominic Raiola, 30-year-old guard Stephen Peterman and 28-year-old guard Rob Sims.
So Reiff won’t be with a bunch of fellow kids. That’s a good thing for him.
“We have five quality starters, but it is good to have a young guy in the pipeline,” said Lions General Manager Martin Mayhew.
“It’s not very often that the second offensive lineman goes 23rd overall,” Detroit Coach Jim Schwartz said.
This is how things have changed with the Lions. Instead of wasting their first pick on a wide receiver every year (with the exception of the gifted Johnson), they now draft what they feel is the best player available.
Oh by the way, Reiff was the first Big Ten player taken in the draft. Eight players from the SEC, five from the Big 12, three from the Big East, two from the Pac-12, and one each from the ACC, Mountain West, Conference USA and Notre Dame were picked before Reiff broke the Big Ten’s drought.
This marked the first time Iowa has had a first-rounder in three straight drafts (Bulaga, Adrian Clayborn, Reiff). — Mike Hlas
REIFF LINKS AND THINGS
– Where was Reiff when he got the news that he had been drafted? In a barn, of course.
He hung out in his family’s barn in Parkston, S.D. (population 1,508).
“I didn’t really care to watch the TV,” he said.
After getting the call from Detroit, Reiff did a conference call with Detroit media. He said “Words can’t describe how happy I am right now. I’m super excited to be a Lion.”
Reiff then headed to Boogs and Co., a Parkston restaurant/bar where 100 or more locals had gathered to watch the draft on TV. He told people there that he was leaving Sioux Falls for Detroit on a 6:30 a.m. flight on Friday.
– Detroit Free Press columnist Drew Sharp says the Lions’ selection of Reiff “reflects the team’s unwavering commitment to help its most valuable asset — quarterback Matthew Stafford — shine as brightly as possible.”
Sharp added this: “Who knows if he’s going to be any good? Iowa was home to one of the biggest offensive line busts in draft history when one-time second overall pick Robert Gallery went from couldn’t miss to couldn’t play very quickly.”
– Reiff will wear No. 71 with the Lions. That’s the same number legendary Detroit defensive tackle Alex Karras had. Karras played at Iowa, too.
– For the audio of Reiff’s conference call with media Thursday night, click here.
Compiled by Mike Hlas