By MIKE HOLZMAN, Guest Reporter
The end of April is like Christmas to a Detroit Lions’ fan. The NFL draft always seems to give Lions fans a glimmer of hope after a bad season, hoping that the players taken in the draft will save the franchise. The stakes were as high as they had ever been heading into the 2013 NFL Draft, after the Lions went 4-12, one year after their first playoff appearance of the century.
Day 1: Round 1
The first round is always the most important round because this is the round where you can take a guy and have him start Week 1. This class was headlined by three elite offensive tackle prospects, Luke Joeckel from Texas A&M, Eric Fisher from Central Michigan and Stoney Creek High School, and Lane Johnson of Oklahoma.
After losing both OT starters in Gosder Cherilus in free agency and Jeff Backus through retirement, picking one of these three players would have been a no-brainer. Unfortunately, all three went in the top four, bad news for the Lions who had the fifth overall pick.
It was quite shocking given the Lions pick last year, offensive tackle Riley Reiff, who was the second best offensive tackle in the draft and went number 23.
With Joeckel, Fisher, and Johnson gone, the Lions addressed another need by taking defensive end Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah of Brigham Young University. Ansah, originally from Ghana, didn’t start playing football until 2010. Defensive end was the next biggest need for the Lions as they lost both starters last year in Cliff Avril and Kyle Vanden Bosch.
Ansah seems like a natural at defensive end and very impressive defending against the run, something the Lions really need with a run heavy NFC North. Ansah also gets his hands up when the ball is thrown in his direction, something a lot of defensive lineman need to be taught when coming into the NFL.
Although he is a risk, given the coaches around him, Jim Schwartz and Gunther Cunningham, who have great backgrounds when it comes to coaching defensive lineman, and his linemates in Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, he should have more than enough around him to thrive. Expect Ansah to be a day one starter simply because of how depleted the Lions are at that position.
Day 2: Round 2 and 3
With their second round pick, the Lions addressed their need at secondary with cornerback Darius Slay out of Mississippi State. Slay becomes the highest drafted cornerback the Lions have taken since Terry Fair in the 1998 draft.
Slay is a little above average at 5’11” but possesses great speed. His 40-yard dash was 4.55s, the best among corners in this year’s draft. He could beat out last year’s third round pick, Bill Bentley, to start opposite of Chris Houston in Week 1.
With their third round pick, the Lions addressed their need for an offensive lineman by taking Larry Warford, a guard out of Kentucky. Warford is massive at 6’3” and 332 lbs., and was ranked fourth among guards according to Scouts Inc., but is as athletic and quick enough to be a top guard prospect.
Warford will probably backup former Dallas Cowboys’ starter, 24-year old Billy Nagy, until Dominic Raiola retires.
Day 3: Rounds 4 through 7
Day 3 is usually when teams look to add depth and possibly some late round surprises. The Lions started with five picks on Day 3, but finished with six after trading down in the fifth round. They picked up an extra pick in the sixth round from the Seattle Seahawks. The Lions lost their original fourth round pick last year to trade up for linebacker Tahir Whitehead, a potential starter this season, but did receive a compensatory pick.
The Lions used that pick to address defensive end again with South Carolina’s Devin Taylor. Defensive end became a need again as the Lions lost potential starter Laurence Jackson to the Minnesota Vikings in free agency hours after taking Ansah.
Taylor, along with Ansah, add size and strength to the defensive end position. According to Scouts Inc., Taylor needs to improve on defending the run. Expect Taylor to compete with young gun Willie Young for the other defensive end spot.
The fifth round brought the annual head scratcher that Mayhew is notorious for. The Lions were reportedly looking at Michigan quarterback turned “offensive weapon,” Denard Robinson, but he was picked two spots earlier by the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The Lions traded down to the Ravens spot, which the Seahawks owned, and selected punter Sam Martin from Appalachian State. Controversy surrounded the pick, but the Lions did not have a clear cut punter.
With Titus Young gone, the Lions needed to add depth at wide receiver behind Nate Burleson and last year’s second round pick Ryan Broyles, something Robinson could have done.
They addressed this situation with the third pick in the sixth round, selecting wide receiver Corey Fuller out of Virginia Tech. Fuller originally attended Virginia Tech to be on their track team and became a walk-on with the Hokie football team.
He has good size and speed from being a track star, and pretty good hands, but needs to improve his route running. He could wind up as the second slot receiver for now, but when Burleson retires and Broyles becomes the second wideout, Fuller could compete to be the main slot receiver.
With their second sixth round pick, the Lions took Theo Riddick, a running back out of Notre Dame. He looks like a gadget player who can play running back, slot receiver and kick returner and as he was a playmaker at Notre Dame.
Riddick is short at 5’10,” but is very athletic and fast. He will be competing for the backup spot with last year’s un-drafted local star, Joique Bell.
The seventh round was interesting for the Lions. With their first pick in the seventh round, the Lions took Alabama tight end Michael Williams. He is a very solid blocker at tight end but is not much of a downfield threat.
Lions beat writer Tim Twentyman says that Williams is the best fit for the Lions at tight end and could be a factor next offseason with both starters Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler becoming potential free agents. Williams could also be the fullback for the Lions which Will Heller, who Williams could be replacing, was during his time as a Lion.
Lastly, the Lions took linebacker Brandon Hepburn out of Florida A&M with their final pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. Hepburn has good size and produced well at Florida A&M, but there’s the concern about the level of competition he played against.
He will mainly play on special teams and add depth at both outside and middle linebacker. Hepburn, interestingly enough, has been called by Martin Mayhew as, the smartest player he ever drafted. Hepburn earned a degree in biochemistry and was involved in a program at Florida A&M where they tried to develop nano robots to deliver cancer killing drugs to cancer cells.
In the end, this whole draft class will depend on the success of Ansash and Slay as the Lions had the opportunity to take the Dee Milliner, the top corner in the draft. If Milliner succeeds and Ansah and Slay do not, it could cost Mayhew and Schwartz their jobs.