MIKE O'HARA

O'Hara: The biggest winner following this Lions' draft is Riley Reiff

Posted Apr 29, 2013

Mike O'Hara looks at what the Lions lost this offseason, the most impressive thing Darius Slay said in his presser Saturday and why he wanted the Lions to draft Denard Robinson

Monday Countdown: The biggest winner in the Lions’ draft is a player already on the roster; what the Lions have lost in the offseason and could never replace in any draft; the most impressive thing Darius Slay said in his press conference Saturday; how Senior Bowl participation impacted the draft; and assorted other thoughts, including why most people, myself included, wanted the Lions to draft Denard Robinson.

We start with the biggest winner:

1. Riley’s world: The player who benefitted most was Riley Reiff, the Lions’ first-round pick in 2012.

Based on what has happened in the offseason, including the draft and gains and losses in free agency, Reiff stands to have a place to call home on the offensive line. That would be left tackle, the position he was drafted to play eventually after Jeff Backus retired.

Backus retired last month after 12 seasons with the Lions, which leaves Reiff ready to step into his spot.

General Manager Martin Mayhew has said often that Reiff has the versatility to play four positions on the offensive line. That would be both tackles and both guards. Only center is out.

In one of his press conferences over the weekend, head coach Jim Schwartz reaffirmed that the plan all along has been for Reiff to play left tackle.

No one will ever know for sure, but if the Lions had drafted Eric Fisher or Luke Joeckel -- the tackles who went 1-2 in the draft -- it would have been for them to play left tackle.

Reiff likely would have gone to right guard, and possibly right tackle. However, Corey Hilliard and Jason Fox are the top candidates to compete for the tackle spot with the way the draft went.

Larry WarfordG Larry Warford (Photo: AP Images)

Larry Warford, a massive guard from Kentucky, was drafted in the third round. He should be the starting right guard.

Reiff got considerable playing time as a rookie, mostly as an extra blocker. He played half of one game at left tackle when Backus went out with a hamstring injury and started on Thanksgiving Day with Backus out.

Mayhew said Sunday that the Lions are still looking to sign another veteran for the offensive line. An experienced tackle would be a good addition, for depth if nothing else.

However that shakes out, Reiff should be the left tackle, the position he was drafted to play eventually. The 2013 season qualifies as eventually.

2. The biggest loser: As the roster stands, the Lions have lost 591 pounds of veteran leadership off the defensive line. That would be cause for celebration on a reality TV show, but in the world of leadership on a defensive line, it’s cause for concern.

The Lions got strong leadership in different ways the last three seasons from defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch (278 pounds) and tackle Corey Williams (313). Vanden Bosch was released in March, and Williams is a free agent who has not been re-signed ... yet. The door hasn’t been closed on his return.

The front four sets the tempo for any defense, and that’s especially true of the Lions. Vanden Bosch and Williams had played for two teams before coming to the Lions in 2010, and they arrived with experience and respect from their peers.

Every level of the defense has a leader. Among the linebackers, it’s Stephen Tulloch. Safety Louis Delmas rules the secondary.

There is no ready-made person to step into that role on the front four. It certainly won’t come from one of the rookies, Ziggy Ansah or Devin Taylor. They have to fit into an NFL team, not lead it.

Ndamukong Suh is the star of the unit and a good example to follow because of his work ethic. However, being a leader requires a certain personality type, and Suh hasn’t shown he fits that role. And that shouldn’t be a knock on Suh.

Barry Sanders was a great example to follow for his work ethic and preparation, but his personality didn’t make him an up-front leader.

“I think that needs to be organic,” Schwartz said. “It needs to grow itself. You can’t force that. You can’t appoint somebody. You can’t put a hat on somebody and say he’s the new leader. Those guys were leaders because of who they were, not because anybody put a ‘C’ on their chest or did anything else.

“It’s nothing that a coach says or anybody else. You can’t appoint captains. They have to develop on their own.”

3. The guard: It is wise not to go overboard on any draft and predict that a player is a perfect fit for a position. I say that from experience.

I once wrote a story for The Detroit News about a high Lions draft pick, who I won’t identify, and the headline based on my brilliant projection said he had “right tackle written all over him.”

It turned out that he had bust written all over him.

But Larry Warford fits the model for what the Lions were looking for in a right guard. Warford is 6-3, 332 pounds, and there is no pretense of him being a finesse player or a nimble athlete. His 40-yard time was 5.56 seconds. His vertical jump was more of a lunge -- 22.5 inches. His standing broad jump was eight feet.

What he is is a guard who plays a power game, and there’s no reason to make him anything that he isn’t.

A pre-draft position analysis in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel had these quotes from scouts on Warford:

“He’s a road-grader. Great big massive guy. He blocked the big guy from Georgia (John Jenkins) to death.  A three-technique (defensive tackle) is not going to knock him back.”

“He did not test well, but he can anchor the pocket. Little bit sloppy as a run-blocker. Played on a real bad team. He’s a potential starter early.”

And there was a question about his athleticism, or lack of it.

“His feet are so slow. That bugs me.”

The comment I like -- and Matthew Stafford should, too is “anchor the pocket.”

Nothing affects a quarterback’s motion more than pressure in his face.

4. Growing up: The Lions’ second-round pick, cornerback Darius Slay, learned that he was going to be a father when he was a 15-year-old high school student in Georgia. Slay has raised his son, Darion, with the help of his mother, and had him in New York for the draft.

Darius SlayCB Darius Slay and five-year-old son, Darion. (Photo: AP Images)

At his press conference Saturday, Slay said he learned from the experience.

“I developed as a man at a young age,” Slay said. “So what it was, I grew up early. Basically, I knew I put myself in position to not make mistakes again.”

5. Senior Bowl graduates: A lot of top prospects avoid all-star games, under the theory that they have more to lose than to gain. That was not the case this year. Ten first-round picks played in the Senior Bowl, including Fisher and Ansah, drafted fifth overall by the Lions.

People follow trends. It’s logical that more players in the future will use the Senior Bowl as a springboard to the NFL – at least until the trend reverses.

6. Denard Robinson: I wonder how many people, myself included, wanted the Lions to draft Robinson so we could watch his development to satisfy our curiosity.

The Jaguars drafted Robinson with the second pick in the fifth round. The Lions had the fourth pick and traded it to Seattle.

Robinson played quarterback at Michigan for three years and was listed as a wide receiver in most pre-draft charts. The Jaguars say they plan to use him at running and on returns, with the possibility of wildcat quarterback.

The Jaguars don’t expect quick development from Robinson, but they think he’ll bring energy..

“Not only does he have juice on the field, he has juice in the building,” Jags GM David Caldwell was quoted as saying on the team’s website. “You’ll love the guy.”

7. Name tag: One writer gave Robinson the best position designation of any player in the draft – WR/KR/RB/QB/Shoelaces scofflaw.

8. Bump and run:

  • I was as surprised as most people that the Lions drafted a punter, especially in the fifth round when they took Sam Martin of Appalachian State.
  • Only two punters were drafted, which is standard for most draft years. Jeff Locke of UCLA, rated the top punter by most analysts, went to the Vikings in the fifth round, 10 picks ahead of Martin.
  • I wondered about the future of defensive end Ronnell Lewis after his vacant rookie season. He was a fourth-round draft pick and played only one play on defense. The recent arrest did not help his status. Neither did having two defensive ends drafted, Ansah and Devin Taylor, a fourth-round pick from South Carolina.
  • In the NFC North, I thought the Lions and Vikings helped themselves the most in the offseason with the draft and free agency combined. The Lions, coming off a 4-12 record, needed more help than the Vikings, who made the playoffs as a wild card at 10-6.
  • In the draft, the Vikings got three good players at the top – defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, cornerback Xavier Rhodes and receiver Cordarelle Patterson. Previously, they’d signed receiver Greg Jennings after trading Percy Harvin to Seattle.
  • Before the draft, the Lions added a threat to the offense by signing Reggie Bush and settled the secondary by signing safety Glover Quin and re-signing two starters, cornerback Chris Houston and safety Louis Delmas.
  • There was a weak class of running backs, which makes me wonder how much the Packers helped themselves by getting Eddie Lacy in the second round and Johnathan Franklin in the fourth. Packers GM Ted Thompson doesn’t make many mistakes, though, and as long as the Packers have Aaron Rodgers, they're a team to beat in the North.
  • The Bears helped themselves in free agency more than they did in the draft. First-round pick Kyle Long is talented but a development project at guard or tackle on the offensive line.
  • It’s not too early to make this prediction: defensive end Jadeveon Clowney of South Carolina will be the first player drafted – ahead of Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel if he goes pro early.
  • Subject to change.