Today, I’ll be doing a comprehensive review of the Lions 2013 draft, including how I see the players fitting into the Lions roster and some overarching trends of the draft class.
Round 1, Pick 5, Ezekiel Ansah DE – BYU
At 6’5″, 271 lbs, he has the power, speed, size, and length you want in a defensive end. He’s explosive and quick and no one doubts his athletic ability. His problem is that he’s raw. He didn’t start playing football in any capacity until 2010. He can certainly be described as “boom or bust” and Mike Mayock of NFL Network was quoted as saying, “In 3 years he’s either all pro or on the street.” How comforting. Still, he seems to have good instincts as far as reading reverses and screens and finding the ball. His technique just needs work.
My first reaction was to hate this pick because of how raw he is. The Lions need help at defensive end immediately with the losses of Kyle Vanden Bosch and Cliff Avril. With the 5th overall pick, you’re not supposed to gamble. However, as I heard more about him and saw the draft come together as a whole, I began to like it more and more. Physically, he’s got everything you could want from a defensive end. His tremendous size and athleticism combo is rare in a prospect. If you were to add tremendous technique, you’d have Jadeveon Clowney (already crowned the 1st overall pick next year) and he’d be long gone by the #5 pick. In addition, the Lions coached him at the Senior Bowl and he dominated that game playing the wide 9 technique employed by the Lions, so they should have an idea of how well he takes coaching. The front office is comfortable that he could offer enough right now to start at DE and will only get better. The addition of Jim Washburn to the Lions’ coaching staff as a 2nd defensive line coach gives them plenty of coaching resources to devote to improving a guy like this. And the only guys in the draft that were demonstrably better than Ansah were Joeckel and Fisher and they were the top 2 picks. A lot of people thought the Lions should go with a cornerback or guard in this spot, but as it turns out, the Lions picked up starters that those spots later in the draft. Sure, it was a disappointment not to get an offensive tackle, seeing as how that was the strength of this draft, but with the #5 overall pick, you shouldn’t be taking the 4th best offensive tackle, and there were probably only 3 tackles in the draft better than Riley Reiff anyway.
As for fit, this pick is ideal. Ansah’s athleticism and the wide 9 are perfect for each other. He’ll be asked to do little else but rush the passer, which will help shorten his learning curve, and the wide alignment will give him space to use his athleticism to wreak havoc. And after it’s all said and done, he can’t possibly be worse than KVB and Avril were this past year. They graded out as a combined -42.8. If they were to be replaced with simply average players, the Lions overall defense would have gone from ranking 26th to 17th in PFF score.
2nd Round, Pick 4, Darius Slay CB – Mississippi State
Darius Slay is the cornerback Martin Mayhew has been looking for. For a corner, he’s got good size, at 6’0″, 192 lbs and great speed (he was timed at 4.36 seconds in his 40 yard dash at the combine). He can play on the outside and match up against the bigger receivers the Lions will face. He’s better in coverage than in run support, which will probably keep him from playing a significant amount in the slot.
Leading up to the draft, I didn’t believe that CB was as big a need as some like Mel Kiper made it out to be. This offseason, the Lions re-signed their #1 cornerback in Chris Houston, which stabilizes that position for a number of years. Additionally, last year’s draft provided the Lions with 3 cornerbacks, two of which showed enough last year to think that they’ll be a part of the Lions plans going forward. The Lions also signed Ron Bartell, a former 2nd round pick, last year. He also provides the size and speed Mayhew is looking for (he was 6’1″, 211 lbs at the 2005 NFL combine and ran a 4.37 forty). That said, I really like this pick. Slay provides a combination of size and speed that the other young guys can’t match. He can step in and immediately compete for the starting spot opposite Houston and probably win the job. And while the Lions had 4 solid guys coming into the draft, NFL offenses are tending towards more 3 and 4 WR sets with size and speed across the board. Depth at cornerback is key both in terms of matchups and injury fill-ins. And none of those guys are really proven aside from Houston, so a guy that can start on the other side was a must. To fill that #2 corner role without having to use your 1st round pick on a guy like Milliner means they got a good value here.
3rd Round, Pick 3, Larry Warford OG – Kentucky
Lary Warford is a big dude. He’s a mauler and a very good in-line blocker. He can both pass protect and run block and has nimble feet. In some of the scouting reports I’ve read, he’s been described as a good athlete, though his ability to move over large distances has been questioned.
Again, I really like this pick for the Lions. Many projected him to go in the 2nd round, so this presents good value. He’ll step in and start day 1 and I feel comfortable that he’ll be very good at protecting Stafford and opening up running lanes between the tackles. My one hesitation is in how he fits into the Lions’ scheme. Not being able to move well could cause him trouble with pulling and in the screen game. However, these concerns are fairly minor and should be something he’ll get better at as he improves his fitness with an NFL strength and conditioning coach. He replaces Stephen Peterman, who was mediocre, at best, last year. He should improve both the pass protection and inside running game immediately and the Lions rarely used Peterman as a pulling guard, so I don’t expect Warford to limit the offense at all. Surefire starter in the 3rd round? I’ll take it.
4th Round, Pick 35, Devin Taylor DE – South Carolina
If you read my Denard Robinson piece, you’ve already heard a little bit about Devin Taylor. He’s 6’7″, 266 lbs, and an incredible athlete with freakishly long arms. His combine numbers rivaled those of Ziggy Ansah. On the flip side, he wasn’t very productive across from the best pass rusher in college football and struggles with technique. His pad level can get high and he struggles to effectively use his length. Still, you can coach technique, and his potential is huge.
I love this pick for the Lions. He falls very much in line with their former 4th round picks in Sammie Lee Hill and Jason Fox. He’s a guy you bring in as depth and develop him over time. And you get a guy with great athleticism with 3 years of starting experience in the SEC in the late 4th round. I think he can step in this year as a rotational DE in a similar capacity to Lawrence Jackson and Willie Young last year and hopefully eventually develop into a starter. This offseason, the Lions lost 3 defensive ends in KVB, Avril, and LoJack, so with Jason Jones and Ansah, Taylor should round out the rotation.
5th Round, Pick 32, Sam Martin P – Appalachian State
People that bash teams for drafting punters are stupid. Here is a list of the Lions’ 5th round draft picks from the last 10 years: Terrence Holt, James Davis, Alex Lewis, Dan Orlovsky, Jonathan Scott, Johnny Baldwin, Kenneth Moore, Jerome Felton, Doug Hogue, Tahir Whitehead, and Chris Greenwood. That list is riddled with guys that were backups, failures, or fringe starters for other teams. Here’s another list: Dave Zastudil, Bryan Anger, Reggie Hodges, Donnie Jones, Dustin Colquitt, Sam Koch, Shane Lechler, Adam Podlesh, Mike Scifres, Kevin Huber, Brad Nortman, Thomas Morstead, Brandon Fields, Pat McAfee, Andy Lee, Matt Bosher, and Zoltan Mesko. These are punters that were drafted that played in all 16 of their respective teams’ games last year. So tell me this, would you rather have a guy that might fill the last spot on your roster and not make an impact on games for at least 2 years, if ever, or would you rather have a guaranteed starter that could be on your teams 20 years from now?
Sam Martin is a punter. He was apparently one of the top 2 punters on the Lions board. He’s got a big leg and can kick off. I don’t know if there’s a whole lot else you can say about punters, or at least nothing that I can speak intelligently about. He’s fairly new to punting, as he played soccer all throughout high school, tried out kicking his senior year and got scholarship offers. He’s done both kicking and punting in college and improved significantly his senior year after beginning to work with a kicking specialist to improve his technique. Because of this, he still has potential to improve. Many of you will question taking this particular guy because he wasn’t #1 or #2 on most people’s lists. But how many of those people actually scouted punters? If we’re talking RBs or QBs or pretty much any other position, the rankings might hold some value, but with punters, I think one guy looks at the big schools and sees who has the good punters and ranks them and then everyone else copies. I trust that the Lions have done their due diligence here more so than I trust a guy who reluctantly made a list of draftable punters. I mean, the guy averaged 45.9 yards per punt last year
Contrary to most, this is my favorite pick that the Lions made. You get an immediate starter at the end of the 5th round at a position where he can step in and his skills should translate directly to the NFL (Either way, you’re just going out there to kick the ball down the field). Additionally, punting was perhaps the Lions biggest weakness last year. It directly cost them 2 games and certainly lost them the field position battle (a way underrated aspect of football) in the majority of the others. It’s easy to see how high picks can be given starting spots right away and make an impact on games as long as you get talented guys that line up with needs, but it takes a little creativity to get a starter at the end of the 5th round.
6th Round, Pick 3, Corey Fuller WR – Virginia Tech
Corey Fuller is 6’2″ tall and weighs 204 lbs. He ran track for 2 years at Kentucky before transferring to VT to play football. Those physical attributes alone make him worth a 6th round pick. He’s tall, fast, makes explosive cuts and has shown the ability to catch the ball. The problem with Fuller is his inexperience. After running track for 2 years and backing up for a year, he only started one year. This shows up with inconsistency in running routes and securing the football. The other issue is that he looks rail thin, even for a wide receiver, and he must prove that he can handle press coverage.
I think this pick is great value for the Lions. The biggest thing the Lions were looking for in a wide receiver this offseason was the ability to force teams to put a safety over the top opposite CJ. It’s the reason they tried to sign Darrius Heyward-Bey. They want a guy with pure straight line speed to keep defenses honest. While Fuller doesn’t have quite the elite pure speed of DHB, he is certainly very fast and can play that role for the Lions. His inexperience will keep him from contributing a whole lot more this year, but if he makes the team, don’t be surprised to see him on the opposite side of CJ at some point running 9 routes.
6th Round, Pick 31, Theo Riddick RB – Notre Dame
Theo Riddick is a 3rd down back type. He’s good at running routes and catching passes, but lacks the athleticism to do a whole lot more. He played some wide receiver, so he can also line up in the slot.
If he makes the team, he’ll be an injury backup to Reggie Bush and can fill an important void in that respect. He won’t be nearly as fast or explosive, but can play a significant role in the passing game. He lacks upside, but his versatility will be intriguing to the Lions. I like that the Lions tend to draft more towards need in the later rounds. It allows you to target a spot on your roster that a guy can possibly slip in to. If you’re drafting a 7th string WR just because he’s the best on the board doesn’t give him a very good chance at making the roster. But if you’re looking for a guy to fill a role, you might as well draft someone that fits the profile and let him battle for that spot in camp. Maybe he’ll win the job or maybe you’ll find an undrafted free agent or veteran guy that fills the role better, but at the very least, you get a better shot at production out of him.
7th Round, Pick 5, Michael Williams TE – Alabama
Michael Williams is a 6’5″, 278 pound tight end with offensive lineman speed (5.16 second 40 yard dash at his pro day). Certainly he won’t be the type to stretch the field, but he can probably be about as productive as Will Heller in the passing game, catching short and intermediate stuff to catch the defense napping. His real value comes from his blocking, where he was one of the best blocking tight ends in the draft. He’s essentially a lean offensive tackle that can catch.
I actually don’t see any way that he doesn’t make the Lions team with a good chance of being active week in and week out. He’ll immediately step in to Will Heller’s 3rd tight end role and also fill the role that Riley Reiff played last year, coming in as a 6th o-lineman on some plays. He’s not an all-around tight end that has grown in popularity in recent years and likely never will be, but he’ll stick on NFL rosters for a while because of what he can do.
7th Round, Pick 39, Brandon Hepburn ILB – Florida A&M
Brandon Hepburn is a small school guy who is a good athlete, but a better student. He carried a full academic load in biochemistry and walked on to the FAMU football team. He put up respectable numbers at the combine and should be a solid developmental guy. He has trouble working between the tackles and finding his way through the garbage at the line, so he’ll need some work before he’s ready to contribute, but his physical tools shouldn’t hold him back.
For one of the last picks in the draft, this seems like pretty good value. He’ll start out on the practice squad or one of the last spots on the roster and develop for a few years similar to Ashlee Palmer has done. It’s hard not to like Hepburn because he’s got high hopes outside of football and seems like a very intelligent guy. This could be the first time in his life he’s focused solely on football, and carrying a full academic load while playing football isn’t easy, so you know he’s not afraid of working hard. And he was literally the only linebacker that smiled in his NFL combine photo, so I like him already. Hopefully, he can make his stamp on special teams and develop into a guy that can contribute. The Lions are a little thin a linebacker, so it’s not hard to imagine that he could fill out the depth there.
Draft Class Trends
It’s easy to see how this draft class fits into the roster and makes an immediate impact. There are 4 day 1 starters in Ansah, Slay, Warford, and Martin. Aside from them, Devin Taylor, Corey Fuller, and Michael Williams should have a rotational role from the start. Theo Riddick and Brandon Hepburn both have a shot to stick with the team and develop in time. The Lions seemed to have a very clear idea to fill their needs coming in to this draft and managed to do it while getting good value throughout the draft.
Ziggy Ansah and Devin Taylor were both among the top combine performers at their position and offer prototypical height and weight. Darius Slay offers both height and speed to cover big, fast receivers on the outside. Larry Warford is a massive guy, and Corey Fuller is a track athlete with great straight line speed. Martin Mayhew has said in his press conferences that one of the Lions’ objectives was to get bigger and faster. Mission accomplished. The change will be especially noticeable at DE, where the top 4 guys on the roster are all huge and athletic. Add in a number of corners that are 6 foot plus with speed and you have yourself a scary defense.
This goes hand in hand with the physical tools. Ansah, Taylor, and Fuller all have prototypical height and speed, but need work on technique. Sam Martin is still relatively new to punting and has room to improve. And for a 7th round pick, Hepburn has all the physical attributes you’d expect from a linebacker. The only things holding him back are mental and technical. The Lions are putting the onus on the coaching staff here. Teach these athletes to play football and you’ll get production. If not, this team could easily sink back into a losing record and the coaching staff will be different a year from now.