MIKE O'HARA

O'HARA: The Lions' 2013 draft class set the standard

Posted Feb 19, 2014

Mike O'Hara looks back at last year’s rookies, and what positions and players the Lions could be looking at to fill needs in comparable rounds in the NFL Draft

The Lions’ 2013 draft class set a standard that will be hard to match by this year’s rookies.

General Manager Martin Mayhew’s bold declaration at the start of the combine that the Lions’ young players would have to contribute immediately was fulfilled from the first-round pick Ziggy Ansah to undrafted free agents Joseph Fauria and LaAdrian Waddle.

Larry WarfordG Larry Warford (Photo: Gavin Smith)

Of the Lions’ nine draft picks, Ansah and guard Larry Warford were season-long starters, cornerback Darius Slay and defensive end Devin Taylor were were part-time starters, and Sam Martin upgraded a glaring weakness as a punter and kickoff specialist. Also, Theo Riddick showed promise as a reserve running back and a special-teams performer.

Fauria’s play at tight end and the way Waddle performed at right tackle on the offensive line significantly upgraded the value of the draft class and was a testament to the Lions’ scouts and how the draft board was developed.

As the combine begins this week, here is a look back at last year’s rookies, and what positions and players the Lions could be looking at to fill needs in comparable rounds when the draft begins on May 8:

Round 1

2013: DE Ziggy Ansah, Brigham Young, fifth overall: An opening-day starter who was better prepared for the NFL than expected by many experts, who questioned his last of football experience. Ansah started 14 games and was a play-maker, with eight sacks.

Looking at 2014: With the 10th pick overall, the Lions should be looking to fill primary needs at wide receiver and the defensive backfield. WR Sammy Watkins of Clemson would have to drop to be around at 10. That would leave open the option of taking a lower-rated receiver – Mike Evans of Texas A&M or Marqise Walker of Lee of Southern Cal – or a defensive back.

At cornerback, that could be Darqueze Dennard of Michigan State or Justin Gilbert of Oklahoma State.

But don’t sleep on a linebacker -- C.J. Mosley of Alabama  in the middle or Khalil Mack of Buffalo and Anthony Barr of UCLA. Outside.

Round 2

2013: CB Darius Slay, Miss. St.: The jump to the NFL was too big for him, and knee injuries held himi back. Slay started four games without an interception. His rookie season was for development. He has to show more this year.

Looking at 2014: What the Lions’ don’t get in the first round can be addressed here, if there’s depth at receiver or in the secondary. Three choices: cornerback Marcus Roberson of Florida, safety Calvin Pryor of Louisville (probably long gone) and huge receiver Kelvin Benjamin of Florida State.

Round 3

2013: The Lions targeted a guard in this round to take Stephen Peterman’s place and got one of the best in Larry Warford of Kentucky. He was the starter at right guard from the first practice of rookie camp.

Looking at 2014: A lot depends on what happens in free-agency – whether they re-sign Brandon Pettigrew (I would) or bring in someone else -- but this could be a place to look for a tight end, a safety or an athletic linebacker.

Since Ernie Sims in 2006, DeAndre Levy is the only linebacker drafted by the Lions (third round, 2009) who has been a starter.

Based on depth and need in 2014, a tight end has priority over a linebacker.

Round 4

2013: In something of a surprise, the Lions took another defensive end – Devin Taylor of South Carolina and a teammate of Jadeveon Clowney. Taylor has a bright future. He had 2.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and a pass breakup. His size – 6-8, 267 – makes him a real asset.

Looking at 2014: The Lions should have two picks in this round, their own and a compensatory pick from a net loss in free-agency last year.

The Lions have been aggressive in the trade market. Compensatory picks can’t be traded, but they can use their own in a package of picks to move or to move down to get an extra pick.

With no pick in the fifth round going into the draft, the odds are good that there’ll be some action with the Lions’ own fourth-round pick.

Round 5

2013: Taking Martin of Appalachian State was questioned by many – until they saw him punt.

Looking at 2014: Without a trade, the Lions will be spectators. This pick was traded to Jacksonville in 2012 in a deal that sent wide receiver Mike Thomas to the Lions.

Rounds 6 & 7

From here down, these are strictly depth and projection picks. Realistically, the chances are just as good to hit on an undrafted free agent as there are a sixth- or seventh-round pick, as was the case last year when Fauria and Waddle became starters after not being drafted.

2013 sixth: Wide receiver Corey Fuller spent the year on the practice squad. Riddick showed flashes of being a backup.

2013 seventh: Tight end Michael Williams spent the season injured reserve with a broken hand. Linebacker Brandon Hepburn was on the practice squad.

Looking at 2014: Look for some quality that stands out. Last year, Fuller had a track background and limited football experience but didn’t show much. Riddick had been a return man and receiver at Notre Dame. Williams played on two national champions at Alabama. Hepburn was a prospect.

Speed, size, and position flexibility can catch a team’s eye in these rounds.

Cornerback Jonte Green was a sixth-round pick in 2012 who has made the roster the last two years.

Defensive end Willie Young was a seventh-round pick in 2010 and a starter last year.

The goal is to find similar players – at any position.