Detroit Lions Rookies Forecast

By Charlie Campbell – @draftcampbell
June 14, 2013

Solid Starter

Darius Slay, CB, Mississippi State – Round 2
The Lions have had a lot of problems at cornerback for years. The team was able to retain its one solid cornerback, Chris Houston, this sesaon, but still had a big hole on the other side from him. Detroit is hoping it filled that void by selecting Slay in the second round of the draft.

Slay was overshadowed by Johnthan Banks at Mississippi State. However, Slay was drafted ahead of Banks because Slay could have more man-coverage ability for the NFL. Banks is bigger, but Slay is faster and more athletic. Banks had a rough final half of his senior year, while Slay stood out with his coverage skills. Slay recorded five interceptions, 40 tackles and six passes broken up last season. He had 24 tackles, an interception and four passes defensed in 2011. Slay has good ball skills to go around with a well-rounded skill set.

The 6-foot, 192-pounder is extremely fast and is very agile. He has the ability to play man or zone coverage and is a nice scheme fit for Detroit. Slay could solve the Lions’ secondary problem and give the team two cornerbacks it can trust. Slay could eventually be better than Houston, and I think Slay will become a quality starter for Detroit.

Most Likely To Bust

Ezekiel Ansah, DE, BYU – Round 1
The Lions made a risky top-five selection with Ansah. There is no doubt that he is a physical specimen who has an incredible combination of size and speed. However, Ansah is extremely green and will need a lot of development in the NFL. He was a 1-year wonder in 2012 and was nowhere near the draft radars of NFL scouts at this point last year.

Ansah had a grand total of 10 tackles over his junior and sophomore years. The senior broke out with 62 tackles, 13 tackles for a loss, 4.5 sacks, nine passes broken up, a forced fumble and an interception in 2012. He put more pressure on the quarterback than his sack total indicates, too. BYU also played Ansah out of position a fair amount at defensive tackle. The 6-foot-5, 274-pounder was tough at the point of attack and is dripping with athletic ability, but is very raw.

Ansah was coached by Detroit’s staff at the Senior Bowl and started the week slowly. He got better than the day before with each practice. Ansah then dominated the Senior Bowl game at the end of the week. That could be indicative of his path in the NFL.

In the NFL, being big and fast isn’t enough by itself to beat decent left tackles. Rushers have to have a repertoire of moves and good technique. Ansah needs development in those areas along with learning to use his hands in coordination with his feet. It will be up to defensive line coach Jim Washburn to groom Ansah into a polished defender. I think it is definitely possible that the Lions see it through and turn Ansah into a good defensive end, but considering they have a ways to go, there is definitely some bust potential with Ansah. He clearly is a pick based on potential and not on production. Those kind of selections always carry a big amount of risk.

Potential Boom Pick

Larry Warford, G, Kentucky – Round 3
I wrote repeatedly in the lead up to the 2013 NFL Draft that Warford was my favorite value pick for the second day of the draft. In my opinion, Warford fell to the third round because the majority of teams that needed offensive line help addressed the need in the first round via a rare crop of highly rated blockers. Only one offensive lineman was taken in Round 2 (Raiders- Menelik Watson) after a ton were selected in the first round. Warford was the Rams backup plan at pick No. 31 if Alec Ogletree was off the board. Warford seemed to fall through the cracks, but sources told me multiple teams had a first-round grade on him.

Kentucky was terrible in 2012, but Warford was excellent. He opened up holes in the ground game and performed well in pass protection. Warford is a better athlete and quicker than one would think. He battled well against Florida and defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd. Warford played even better against Missouri defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, shutting down Richardson’s pass rush. Warford showed off nice quickness and agility to take away Richardson’s speed rush.

Warford looked phenomenal at the Senior Bowl. He was one of the few offensive linemen who could block Georgia defensive tackle John Jenkins. Warford won his one-on-one reps and did extremely well in the team scrimmage.

The 6-foot-3, 332-pounder is a road-grader in the ground game at right guard. He is very physical with defensive linemen and blocks with a mean streak. As a pass blocker, Warford is quicker and more agile than one would think. He was always solid in pass protection while blasting open holes for running backs during his time at Kentucky.

The Lions badly needed to upgrade their guards and I think Warford will be a steal. He will bring to their line an attitude and physical style of play that it has sorely missed. After some developmental time, I think Warford will be a good pass-protector for Matthew Stafford and improve Detroit’s ability to run the ball. He also will make a big difference for the Lions’ capacity to convert short-yardage situations.

I think there is a good chance that Warford turns into an excellent guard in the NFL and causes a lot of teams to regret not drafting him.

Future Depth Player

Devin Taylor, DE, South Carolina – Round 4
I knew the Lions loved Taylor and had them taking the South Carolina product in my final mock draft. Detroit lost three defensive ends in free agency, so it made sense for the team to draft a couple. The Lions hope that Ansah turns into an elite edge-rusher and hope that Taylor can be a complement on the other side. The 6-foot-7, 266-pound Taylor looks like he will be a nice fit as a left defensive end to battle right tackles.

Taylor’s best season came in 2010 when he recorded 7.5 sacks with 46 tackles. The sophomore also broke up eight passes with an interception returned for a touchdown. He had 42 tackles with six sacks in 2011. He went against single blocks all season because of Melvin Ingram and Jadeveon Clowney having big years.

Taylor picked up 45 tackles, 8.5 tackles for a loss, six passes batted and three sacks last season. The senior was very frustrating to watch because he clearly has the skill set to produce more. He can cause disruption, but struggles to finish plays. Clowney commanded constant double-teams as he dominated the SEC, yet Taylor didn’t take advantage of always getting a one-on-one with a right tackle.

I think Taylor will be a good run-defender and tough at the point of attack, but considering he struggled to get to the quarterback in college, I don’t see that changing in the NFL. Taylor has a nice skill set, so I could be wrong, but he looks, in my opinion, like a future situational defensive end who is mostly a backup and plays in run situations.

I don’t think Taylor is going to be a good enough pass-rusher to become a three-down player as a professional. The NFL is a passing-driven league, so defensive ends who can’t put pressure on the signal-caller are unlikely to get a lot of playing time. However, Taylor could be a quality backup and platoon player.

2013 NFL Draft Individual Grades:

5. Ezekiel Ansah, DE, BYU: B+ Grade
Finally, a good pick! I’m tired of bashing these teams. Well, OK, maybe not. But this selection makes so much sense. The Lions had a close look at Ezekiel Ansah at the Senior Bowl where he dominated the competition during the actual game. He’s a great fit in Detroit’s wide-nine formation, and will replace the departed Cliff Avril. He’ll be instrumental in Detroit’s pursuit of Green Bay in the NFC North.

Follow @walterfootball for updates.

36. Darius Slay, CB, Mississippi State: B- Grade
Darius Slay was projected to go in the first half of the second round, so the range of this pick makes sense. Cornerback was also a need, though not as great of a need as people think. Having said that, what Detroit plans on doing at left tackle is beyond me. Matthew Stafford probably won’t make it through the 2013 season.

65. Larry Warford, G, Kentucky: A Grade
This is an awesome pick. Larry Warford should have been chosen near the top of the second round. He is monstrous mauler who figures to be a huge upgrade on the interior of Detroit’s offensive line.

132. Devin Taylor, DE, South Carolina: B Grade
The Lions had to find two defensive ends in this draft because they lost both Cliff Avril and Kyle Vanden Bosch. Devin Taylor is a good fit in the wide-nine formation, and this is the right range for him.

165. Sam Martin, P, Appalachian State: C- Grade
Unlike the Vikings, Detroit actually needed a punter. But this is still a bad pick. Again, it’s like selecting a kicker in the 10th or 11th round of a fantasy league. It’s lazy. Solid punters can be found as undrafted free agents.

171. Corey Fuller, WR, Virginia Tech: B- Grade
I’m surprised the Lions waited this long for a receiver. I feel like there were better options than Corey Fuller, but this is still a fine pick. It’s just disappointing that Detroit couldn’t secure a solid No. 2 option across from Calvin Johnson.

199. Theo Riddick, RB, Notre Dame: B Grade
Reggie Bush isn’t exactly the most reliable player in the league, so it’s good that the Lions added some depth at running back. At the very worst, Riddick will add some punch in the return game.

211. Michael Williams, TE, Alabama: A- Grade
This is a solid pick. I thought Michael Williams would go earlier than this. Detroit got a good look at him at the Senior Bowl. The team needed some tight end depth.

245. Brandon Perburn, ILB, Florida A&M: B Grade
The Lions needed linebacker help, so this makes sense in terms of both need and draft range.

2013 NFL Draft Team Grade: B . Follow Walter @walterfootball for updates.

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