Kyle Van Noy has been officially added to the victims of the Detroit Lions’ second-round draft curse.
The Lions traded up five spots last spring to get Van Noy, a playmaking linebacker from Brigham Young, with the 40th pick overall.
But like other second-round picks by the Lions before him, Van Noy has already suffered a major setback following Thursday’s abdominal surgery, which is expected to keep him out several weeks, if not much longer.
As Van Noy recently told reporters, "I’ve never been injured until I got here."
Welcome to the curse club, Kyle.
Darius Slay, a second-round pick by the Lions in 2013, is healthy now, but he was hampered by a knee injury during a disappointing, inconsistent rookie year in which he was expected to step in and immediately improve the secondary.
In 2012, the Lions took receiver Ryan Broyles despite a knee injury that ended his college career early. Broyles went on to suffer two more season-ending injuries in his first two years in Detroit.
This apparent jinx did twice the damage in 2011, when Lions general manager Martin Mayhew used second-round selections on receiver Titus Young and running Mikel Leshoure. Young encountered emotional problems during his time in Detroit and was released in the middle of his second season. Leshoure ruptured an Achilles’ tendon early in his first training camp and hasn’t been the same player since his return. He’s fighting just to keep a roster spot these days.
Even safety Louis Delmas, a second-rounder in 2009, was constantly burdened by knee problems during his five years with the Lions before getting released this past offseason.
The Lions confirmed Van Noy’s surgery for a core-muscle injury but gave no timetable for a possible return.
It’s an unpredictable injury by nature as two Detroit Tigers players, Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera, have learned since undergoing similar surgeries.
Van Noy hadn’t been promoted to the first-team defense yet, but that move seemed inevitable at some point. He was being counted on for his versatility and athleticism, including a knack for harassing the quarterback on blitzes, in the Lions’ new attacking defensive scheme.
So what happens now?
"You have to have that next-man-in mentality," answered linebacker Tahir Whitehead.
That’s the NFL. Injuries are a dime a dozen. It’s all about depth and how teams fill the inevitable holes created when a key player goes down.
In the Lions’ case, it appears they could have an emerging talent ready to help make up for the loss of Van Noy.
Whitehead, entering his third year in the league, has never played a defensive snap in a regular-season game.
He was strictly a special-teams player in his first two seasons, making 11 combined tackles and forcing one fumble in 2012, and nine more tackles and forcing another fumble in 2013. He was considered the Lions’ top special-teams player last year.
It wasn’t until last week, when Whitehead got elevated ahead of returning starter Ashlee Palmer, that the impact he had been making during training camp became totally clear.
Whitehead, a fifth-round pick in 2012 out of Temple, immediately responded with a standout performance. He was flying all over the field while making 10 tackles, including three sacks and one tackle for loss, in the all-important third preseason game against Jacksonville.
"He did get it through performance," coach Jim Caldwell said of Whitehead’s promotion to replace Palmer. "He worked at it. The guy has football instincts. He has speed, power and bulk that is pretty unique.
"He’s been playing well the entire preseason. He’s always been a factor in terms of special teams. He’s expanded his improvement. I think you’re going to continue to see him get better."
Whitehead’s development in the NFL is similar to the track he took in college. He started out at Temple as an undersized player who had to earn his playing time on special teams before breaking out as a starter at linebacker in his junior year.
Known for having one of the most chiseled bodies in the Lions’ locker room, Whitehead added nearly 10 pounds during the offseason. He’s now listed at 6-foot-2, 242 pounds.
The added weight has been extremely beneficial in playing the strong-side linebacker spot where he’s up near the line of scrimmage and taking on tight ends.
"I’m in Year 3 now and everything’s starting to slow down now for me," Whitehead said of his development. "I’m able to understand what the offense is doing and how the offense is trying to attack our defense. I have a better grasp on the game."
Whitehead compares his focus at the moment to a horse with "blinders on." That’s what worked to get him to this point and he doesn’t plan to change.
As Whitehead put it, "The grind don’t stop."
The NFL confirmed Friday that Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh won’t be fined for a hit on the quarterback that drew a personal-foul penalty in last week’s preseason game against Jacksonville.