With the 2013 NFL draft in the rear-view mirror, it’s a good time to take the temperature of the Detroit Lions and what they could be in 2013. There have been significant changes, but the Lions have gotten more talented while getting much younger on both sides of the ball. As a team, are they on the rise because of the talent they have added, or will the slide they experienced in 2012 continue?
Let’s start with one of the reasons for the slide. The slide was in part due to the lack of talent the Lions added through the draft in 2010 and 2011, along with the injuries that sent multiple players to IR. To complicate matters, the Lions also lost receiver Titus Young for behavior that was detrimental to the team.
The loss of these players caused the Lions to struggle in 2012, but some of these players are returning and that will give the Lions a bigger boost to the roster than one draft normally does. I believe they will get a giant boost from not only the 2013 draft class, but also from cornerbacks Bill Bentley and Chris Greenwood from their 2012 draft class.
There has been significant loss for the Lions with players like Cliff Avril, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Justin Durant, Jeff Backus, Gosder Cherilus and Jason Hanson either retiring or leaving through free agency. There are huge holes that the Lions need to fill, and they addressed many of these in the draft and free agency.
At defensive end, the Lions will play first-round selection Ezekiel Ansah immediately, and while it is hard to project what he could do statistically, it is easy to see where he can make an impact. Ansah is big, and he can definitely set the edge and force running backs back inside where linebackers make tackles. He is also quick and fast enough to beat backs to the corner where they want to turn the ball up the field. It is more than fair to say that the Lions will be more difficult to run on in 2013.
He is also a player who has great instincts and the ability to sniff out where the ball is going. Ansah has rare closing speed and will track down running backs and receivers from behind. As a player with strong recognition skills, he will bat down passes at the line of scrimmage and generally help to get this team off the field on third downs.
This doesn’t take his ability to pressure the passer into consideration. Ansah has the ability to turn speed and quickness into power at the edge of the line. He will pressure the opposing
quarterback into throwing the ball faster than he wants to, and this will help the young secondary. It is conceivable that we will see hints of greatness from Ansah as a rookie playing next to the big, powerful defensive tackles the Lions have inside.
This takes us to the secondary. Much of what the Lions have done in the draft over the past two years is to address the cornerback position. In 2012, the Lions took three cornerbacks, and they took another in the 2013 draft. Let’s take a look at what we could see out of this group of corners in 2013.
It is clear that Chris Houston will start at one cornerback spot with the other likely going to Bill Bentley. It is conceivable that rookie Darius Slay will play in nickel packages, but not as the slot corner. The Lions will make use of Slay’s size and play him against the bigger receivers they will see while moving Bentley to the slot receiver in nickel packages.
The wildcards here are Slay and second-year cornerback Greenwood. If one of them emerges to move Bentley to the nickel position, the Lions will be in good shape in their secondary. However, they are extremely young, and there will be bumps in the road. Make no mistake,
there is talent in their secondary and their success will be determined by how much pressure their defensive line gets on the quarterback, and how quickly these young players can develop.
The offensive line gets almost a total makeover, with only guard Rob Sims and center Dominic Raiola returning. It is clear that the offensive line will be much younger and truly different than it was last year. Riley Reiff is projected to start at left tackle with either Jason Fox or Corey Hilliard starting out on the right side.
The Lions selected Kentucky offensive lineman Larry Warford in the third-round of the 2013 draft. Warford was a steal in the draft and perhaps the player who comes to the Lions as the
biggest value. He will help to stabilize the offensive line because of his size and sheer playing strength. Fox or Hilliard will have the security of knowing that Warford is able to physically handle whoever lines up across from him.
The Lions added depth players to their team in the fourth-round with South Carolina defensive end Devin Taylor. e is a giant of a man, and the wide 9 defense is perfect for a player with
Taylor’s length. He is going to be a depth player that plays a limited number of snaps, but he has the ability to play the run well, and that could get him on the field earlier than most think.
In the fifth-round, the Lions selected punter Sam Martin out of Appalachian State. There isn’t much to say here until the stats are examined. Their punting stats were horrendous last year as the Lions finished last in the NFL in net punting average. Martin has the ability to impact field position via his leg. If he can reduce their exposure to the big punt return, he will significantly improve their special teams, and it will justify his selection.
Another thing to consider is that the Lions are going to struggle to get to the 53-man roster this year. They won’t be able to expose young talent to the practice squad for fear of losing
them. Martin does hold for extra points and field goals and can kick off, and he gives them roster versatility because he can do multiple things.
The Lions got value in seventh-round tight end Michael Williams. He will see the field right away as a player that does what the Lions asked Riley Reiff to do last year. He is an excellent in-line blocker who will help the offensive tackle on either side of the line (think Jason Fox vs. Julius Peppers twice a year), as well as being a sneaky receiver in the red zone.
The Lions filled out their roster with depth players like running back Theo Riddick from Notre Dame, wide receiver Corey Fuller from Virginia Tech and linebacker Brandon Hepburn from
Riddick is a versatile player who can return kicks, and is a strong route runner who is insurance against an injury to Reggie Bush. The Lions lacked big-play ability out of their running backs in 2012 and Riddick gives them a little bit of that as a reserve.
Fuller has been described as raw, but he has excellent size and displays some intriguing skill as a pass catcher and route runner. If anything, he is big and he has great movement skills. The same thing can be said for Hepburn who reportedly ran in the mid 4.5’s in the 40-yard dash at his pro day.
The Lions clearly stumbled in the 2011-12 season to finish to a 4-12 record, but they added more talent to their roster than was realized. When the players from the 2012 class are added to this year’s group of players, it is clear the Lions are getting a strong addition of talent that will add youth, competitiveness and energy to the roster. The Lions will reap the benefit this year from the injury woes that stung them last year.
That might not be enough for the 2013 season because, in all reality, a lot of things will have to go right for the Lions in 2013 if they are to get back to where they were in 2011. The answer will lie in how quickly the Lions can get the young players they have added to their roster developed into the players they hope they can become.
-- College Scout with GM Jr. Scouting, Owner and Managing Editor of New Era Scouting
-- Member of the Pro Football Writers Association of America
-- Follow Scott on twitter: @Bischoff_Scott