Lions Roar With Solid Draft Class
By Allen Jones
Detroit Lions fans have much to be excited about.
Head Coach Jim Schwartz and his War Room team made selections that addressed losses, added depth, improved special teams and enhanced the overall athleticism of the team during the 2013 NFL Draft. I'm giving Detroit’s draft a solid ‘B’ just for addressing some major needs. Here’s an overview.
1st Round, 5th Pick Overall - Ezekiel Ansah, Defensive End, BYU
This is a ‘potential-over-production’ pick, but it’s tough not to get excited about a 6-foot-5, 271-pound athletic phenom with arguably the highest upside of any player chosen. He is in the embryotic stages of his football career, hailing from BYU by way of Ghana with intentions to play collegiate basketball.
He played one year of meaningful competitive football in college, but aficionados do acknowledge his unbridled potential. He draws comparisons to Jason Pierre-Paul and is an instant upgrade, immediately filling the voids left by the departure of defensive ends Cliff Avril and Kyle Vanden Bosch.
2nd Round, 36th Pick Overall - Darius Slay, Cornerback, Mississippi State
After passing on Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner in the first round, Detroit brass chose another supreme athlete, Darius Slay, who ran the fastest 40-yard dash time at the NFL Combine, clocking in at 4.39 seconds.
At 6-foot and 192 pounds, he’s very physical and is a press-man coverage specialist. Coupled with the resigning of Louis Delmas and Chris Houston, as well as the continued development of last year's third-round pick Bill Bentley, the Lions boast a fast, capable and formidable secondary.
3rd Round, 65th Pick Overall - Larry Warford, Offensive Guard, Kentucky
Anytime you can add depth to the offensive line, it’s a plus. Warford is a bulldozer. He is an aggressive run blocker with a propensity for combo blocking and finishing on linebackers once he attaches. At 6-foot-3 and 332 pounds, he is not the fleetest of foot.
Although playing in space is not his strength, he has shown no signs that he can’t be effective. This is a quality pick that will assist in unlocking the full talents of Free Agent signee, running back Reggie Bush.
4th Round, 132nd Pick Overall - Devin Taylor, Defensive End, South Carolina
Taylor is another athletic specimen. At 6-foot-7, 266 lbs, a 36-inch wingspan, he ran the 40 in 4.72 seconds.
Playing opposite potential No. 1 overall pick in next year's draft Jadaveon Clowney for the Gamecocks, he was often overshadowed. His physical gifts cannot be denied.
His downside is that he doesn’t possess an array of moves and often relies too heavily on those abilities to make plays, which may not suffice against consistently against the talent of the NFL. He brings Buffalo Bills defensive end Mario Williams to mind. Taylor is an awesome forth-round pick.
5th Round, 165th Pick Overall - Sam Martin, Punter, Appalachian State
The conventional wisdom is that draft picks should not be spent on punters or kickers unless they are elite. While Martin is not quite Shane Lechler, he has an above average leg and hangs his hat on his ability to pin teams inside the 20-yard line. He also assumed kickoff duties during his career with the Mountaineers, an additional talent he brings with him to Detroit.
This has been a desperate need for Detroit for the past few seasons. The Lions were among the bottom three teams in punt average last year using the ineffective duo of Ben Graham and Nick Harris. Martin is an instant upgrade.
6th Round, 171st Pick Overall - Corey Fuller, Wide Receiver, Virginia Tech
At this point in the draft, fans were understandably getting nervous about the executives addressing needs at the productive but depleted wide receiver corps. Under-the-radar Hokie Corey Fuller was likely the best value pick of the Lions’ draft.
Standing 6-foot-2 and weighing 204 pounds, he wowed Lions scouts at the combine with his 4.43 40. A former track star in college, his football film shows that he moves in a fluid fashion and is an elite “jumpball receiver”, who catches the ball at its highest point. He can outrun defenders with is deceptive speed. He also has the size to win most matchups physically.
This is a solid pick in the sixth-round. Fuller will be a contributor for years to come.
6th Round, 199th Pick Overall - Theo Riddick, Running Back, Notre Dame
Riddick brings a plethora of talents to the table. For the National Championship runner-up Notre Dame, he played wide receiver, running back and was an outstanding kick returner. He has awesome hands and is more quick and crafty than fast.
Riddick also fills an immediately need as he is slated to replace kick returner Stefon Logan, who was lost to Free Agency during the offseason.
7th Round, 211th Pick Overall - Michael Williams, Tight End, Alabama
After drafting Warford in the third-round, this pick solidified my belief that the Lions are recommitting to the running game. Williams didn’t catch many passes for the Crimson Tide. The primary responsibility of the 6-foot-5, 278-pound man-child was to set the edge for Alabama running back Eddie Lacy.
Teamed with pass catching tight ends Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler, Williams gives the Lions a unit that can collectively catalyze the offense for the passing and running game. This group also bolsters the goal line offense.
The fact that he is a productive spawn of Nick Saban’s Tuscaloosa football factory is a testament to his pedigree and intangible characteristics.
7th Round, 245th Pick Overall - Brandon Hepburn, Linebacker, Florida A&M
Depth is a concern at linebacker and the Lions addressed it with the final pick in their draft. He has good speed and a chance to contribute on special teams early in his career. The jury is still out on him.
Although Hepburn is a relative unknown, based on the Lions’ choices in the previous rounds, the scouting team has given us no reason to doubt them.
The Lions achieved the goal of improving their team through the draft. Their picks were consistent in the themes of athleticism and physicality in a division that is among the toughest in the NFL.