2013 NFL Draft: Detroit Lions spotlight
The Lions boast exciting individual talent but have glaring holes on their roster. They could be in prime position to address them, especially given what the team learned about the 2013 prospects by coaching at the Senior Bowl. Here are five players whom Detroit should consider to return to the playoff chase.
Give Lions general manager Martin Mayhew credit. He has helped bring some of the elite talent in all of the NFL to Detroit.
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Of course, when a team consistently "earns" one of the first few picks of the draft, the pickings are usually pretty good. And, unfortunately for the Lions, the individual talent of quarterback Matthew Stafford, wide receiver Calvin Johnson and defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley hasn't translated into wins.
The insertion of running back Reggie Bush into this offense could provide the horsepower to offset a defense that ranked 27th in the NFL a season ago in scoring (allowing 27.3 points per game) and hasn't yet replaced defensive end Cliff Avril, who led the team in sacks each of the past two years.
For Detroit's skill-position talent to have a chance at success, however, Mayhew and coach Jim Schwartz will have to address an offensive line that will feature at least three new starters.
Longtime left tackle Jeff Backus elected to retire, and the Lions watched right tackle Gosder Cherilus sign a big contract to move to Indianapolis. The club also released veteran guard Stephen Peterman, who had started every game the past three years for the club at right guard.
Detroit is counting on last year's first-round pick, Riley Reiff, to fill in somewhere. He played well in his one start at left tackle a season ago (against Houston), but some believe he projects better inside at guard due to less than ideal arm length.
"On the one hand, it's great he can play so many positions," Mayhew said of Reiff. "On the other hand, it's really causing a problem because he probably wants to know where he plays more than anybody else so he can start preparing himself mentally for that.
"I guess we'll have to wait and see. I can see him at left tackle, but we'll have to wait and see how things go."
With highly-rated prospects at each of their key needs likely to be still on the board at No. 5 overall, Detroit is in position to simply select the best available prospect. They also would appear to be one of the more logical candidates to trade down due to the number of glaring holes on their roster, the unique talent available at these positions and the fact that the Lions have a more intimate knowledge of this year's draft class after coaching the South team at the Senior Bowl.
Detroit Lions' 2013 draft picks: 5, 36, 65, 132, 137, 171, 211, 245
Primary needs: DE, OL, DT, CB, WR
General manager: Martin Mayhew, fifth season
Five draft picks that clicked:
--DT Ndamukong Suh, 2nd overall, 2010
--QB Matthew Stafford, 1st overall, 2009
--LB DeAndre Levy, 76th overall, 2009
--DE Cliff Avril, 92nd overall, 2008
--WR Calvin Johnson, 2nd overall, 2007
Five players who should be on the Detroit Lions' draft radar:
Player, school (overall rating, position rating)
DE Ezekiel "Ziggy" Ansah, BYU (10, 3)
A native of Ghana who orginally signed with BYU on a track scholarship, Ansah started just one season and therefore is certainly unpolished. He possesses extraordinary talent, however, which the Lions might realize better than most after coaching him in Mobile. Ansah, 6-foot-5, 271 pounds, does not possess the burst off the snap that helped 6-3, 260-pound Avril rack up 29 sacks over the past three years. Instead, he uses a combination of power, lateral agility and long strides to quickly close on the ball-carrier. If he's asked to be the star immediately, he could struggle. However, if surrounded by talent (like Suh and Fairley), Ansah could quickly ascend toward superstardom, just as the player whom scouts compare him to -- Jason Pierre-Paul of the New York Giants.
OL Justin Pugh, Syracuse (43, 3)
The Lions showed the willingness to "gamble" on Reiff's short arms a year ago, and they might be just as willing to catch a falling star in 2013 if other teams are similarly wary of Pugh, a three-year standout at left tackle for the Orange. While possessing good overall size at 6-5, 307 pounds, Pugh's 32-inch arms could push him inside to guard for some clubs. So why might the Lions draft two similar players in consecutive years? The combination of Reiff and Pugh would give the Lions two movable "chess pieces" up front, each with the versatility and talent to start at the four exterior positions.
WR Markus Wheaton, Oregon State (60, 8)
Two years ago, the Lions gambled on the straight-line speed from Titus Young as a way to keep defenses from doubling Calvin Johnson. Whereas Young's inability to commit himself fully to football led to his dismissal in Detroit (and subsequently in St. Louis), Wheaton has the work ethic that scouts are looking for while possessing a similar brand of playmaking ability. Wide receiver is a concern in Detroit with veterans Nate Burleson and Ryan Broyles each coming off surgery.
DT Montori Hughes, Tennessee-Martin (137, 12)
The Lions are set at defensive tackle with starters Suh and Fairley, but their depth is strained with the loss of Sammie Hill to the Titans and veteran Corey Williams no guarantee to return, either. Hughes signed with the University of Tennessee out of high school but failed to qualify academically. He played well against lower-level competition and showed the ability to step up his play against the elite talent in the country at the Senior Bowl. He has the combination of impressive athleticism and size (6-4, 329 pounds) to certainly warrant developing.
CB Steve Williams, California (190, 23)
The Lions' secondary was much maligned a year ago but didn't play as poorly as some suggest. The re-signing of their two best pass defenders, cornerback Chris Houston and safety Louis Delmas, as well as the addition of free agent Glover Quin makes this less of a concern in 2013 -- though any team asked to face Green Bay and Chicago's passing attacks twice each year will want to consistently add talent in the secondary. Williams was overshadowed a bit at Cal but is a feisty defender with natural coverage skills.
For more NFL draft news and analysis, follow Rob Rang on Twitter at @RobRang.
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