The Detroit Lions head into the 2013 NFL draft holding the fifth overall pick. With holes on both the offense and defense, General Manager Martin Mayhew has more work to do this offseason. With free agency in the rear view mirror, the Lions look to answer many questions in April’s draft.
First Round: 5th Overall Pick, Ezekiel Ansah, DE, BYU
Hometown hero Eric Fisher of Central Michigan University has become the favorite to land with the Lions at No. 5 following Jeff Backus’ rather abrupt retirement. Yes, the Lions do have uncertainty along their offensive line. No, they should not make a knee-jerk decision.
The Lions front office allowed defensive end Cliff Avril to walk, signing with the Seattle Seahawks, and reportedly feel comfortable with Jason Jones replacing him at left defensive end. However, Jones is at his best playing defensive tackle. According to Pro Football Focus, Jones did not play a snap at defensive end in 2012 (Subscription Required). In 2011, posting 360 pass rush snaps at defensive end, Jones posted a measly 4.6 pass rush productivity. Unless the Lions switch defensive personnel, Jones seems unfit to play defensive end for the Lions current scheme.
The wide-9 is based off pressure from the edge, were speed rushers make there money. Ezekiel Ansah has the athletic ability and potential to become a dynamic speed-rusher for the Lions. He’s long, shows very good quickness and the strength to shed blockers that he displayed at the Senior Bowl.
The only knock on Ansah is inexperience, playing only three years of college football. However, the Lions new co-defensive line coach, Jim Washburn, has a history of working with athletically-gifted defensive ends. He did it with Jevon Kearse, Trent Cole, Jason Babin and former Lion Kyle Vanden Bosch among others. With an experienced defensive line coach, Ansah would be in a great position to succeed in Detroit.
Second Round: 36th Overall Pick, DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Clemson
Call me crazy, but the Lions seem poised to draft a wide receiver high in April’s draft. No, I’m not basing this off their recent rampage of wide receiver visits. The Lions have made a concerted effort to put talent around quarterback Matthew Stafford, culminating with their acquisition of Reggie Bush. Mayhew may sense he’s one player away from the NFL’s top offense.
With injuries to Nate Burleson and Ryan Broyles, the Lions desperately need a big wide receiver opposite Calvin Johnson, someone younger and faster who can draw attention from defenses. DeAndre Hopkins has the size and speed to be a deep threat who can open up the Lions offense while preventing defenses from focusing too much on Bush or overloading Johnson in coverage.
Hopkins weighed in at 6’1, 214 lbs. at the combine. His film shows polished route running and savvy intelligence to become a short, inter-mediate, and deep receiving threat. He has great twitch at the top of his routes, allowing him to gain separation with his cuts. He shows plucking hands, never allowing the ball into his chest.
With recent reports of Hopkins running a 4.41 40-yard dash at his pro day, he may not be available in the second round. However, with his size, there’s no denying Hopkins would be a great compliment to Calvin Johnson.
Third Round: 65th Overall Pick, Travis Frederick, C/OG, Wisconsin
The Wisconsin Badgers have become an NFL pipeline for offensive linemen, sending 14 of them to the draft since 2000, the most by any school during that span. Frederick will undoubtedly be the latest Badger to test those waters. With recent reports of offensive guard Brandon Moore coming in to Detroit for a visit, this pick still deems great value.
Frederick presents versatility that the Lions like, playing both guard and center for the Badgers. He struggles in pass protection allowing his weight to move forward rather than sinking his hips, like most badger offensive lineman do early. His feet need work, but Frederick presents them with a massive lineman they can groom into Dominic Raiola’s replacement.
With the combination of size, versatility and need, the Lions would be wise to make this selection.
Fourth Round: 132nd Overall Pick, Chris Faulk, OT, LSU
I know, I know, the Detroit Lions taking back-to-back offensive lineman? Chris Faulk presents the Lions with an excellent low-risk, high-reward pick here at the bottom of the fourth round.
If not for a torn ACL, Faulk could be a potential first-round pick. He is a very skilled blocker who is a sufficient athlete with the body you look for in a bookend tackle. His hips are fluid, adding great punch when pushed up-field. His game is far from a finished product, which makes him somewhat of a boom or bust prospect. With the uncertainty at tackle for the Lions, this pick allows them to develop from within while adding a very talented tackle to the roster.
Faulk’s downside is run blocking, showing the inability to get to the next level with poor footwork, but in Detroit’s offense that can be groomed over time.
Fifth Round: 137th Overall Pick, Michael Buchanan, DE, Illinois
After selecting Ansah in the first round, the Lions look to add depth and youth at the bottom of the depth chart. In 2011, opposite 2012 first round draft pick Whitney Mercilus, Buchanan finished fourth in the conference with 7.5 sacks. After his impressive junior campaign, where he often looked better than Mercilus, Buchanan was projected by many as a player who could work himself into the top half of the first round with a good senior season.
Over the summer, Buchanan was in an altercation that broke his jaw, leaving it wired shut for a week. With his all-liquid diet, Buchanan lost close to twenty-pounds before the season started. His production dropped off, garnering only 4.5 sacks in his senior season.
While Buchanan didn’t look like the same player that terrorized the Big Ten in 2011, he showed flashes of being an excellent pass rusher, with the athleticism and strength to get around the edge.
With very little depth, the Lions would be smart to grab Buchanan.
Sixth Round: 171st Overall Pick, Jelani Jenkins, OLB, Florida-
The Lions re-signed starting outside linebacker DeAndre Levy and special teams ace Ashlee Palmer before free agency began. With every growing day, Justin Durant looks to be done in Detroit. If that’s the case, the Lions will likely look to the draft for added depth at outside linebacker, allowing Palmer, Tahir Whitehead and Travis Lewis to battle for the opposite spot.
Jenkins is undersized and susceptible to being swallowed at the line of scrimmage. His aggressive, downhill style of play allows him to play sideline-to-sideline as a WLB. His 4.67 40-yard dash at Florida’s pro day shows his athleticism that you see on tape.
If the Lions choose to add another young outside linebacker, Jenkins would certainly contribute immediately on special teams for the Lions.
Seventh Round: 211th Overall Pick, Jake Stoneburner, TE, Ohio State
The Lions and free agent tight end Will Heller have yet to come to a deal. This leads me to believe the Lions will likely be in the market for a tight end at the draft, whether that be through the draft or an undrafted prospect.
If the Lions choose to take a late round tight end, Stoneburner may bring the best value. After recording only 53 catches for 714 yards and 13 touchdowns in his Buckeye career, Stoneburner set out to prove himself at the NFL combine. He did just that.
Ohio State’s Stoneburner was third among tight ends in the 40-yard dash at 4.6 seconds. He was fifth in vertical leap (34.5 inches), tied for fourth in the broad jump (116 inches) and sixth in the three-cone drill. He placed ninth in bench at 18 reps.
Stoneburner split-out and played H-back at Ohio State, showing his versatility and hands his senior year. With Tony Scheffler becoming a free agent after the season, the Lions may look to groom a young, athletic tight end for the future.
Seventh Round: 245th Overall Pick, Brad Wing, P, LSU-
Usually, I wouldn’t be for the Lions spending a draft pick on a kicking specialist. However, if the front office wants to fix their punting situation, Wing could very well be the solution.
Replacing last years duo of punters, Nick Harris and Ben Graham, is a must. Harris appeared in 13 games, averaging 41.5 yards per punt, which was the league’s second-worst average. Graham was ranked last at 41.3 yards.
The Lions signed former UCF punter Blake Clingan earlier this off-season, but he hasn’t played since his senior year in 2010.
In 2012, Wing had 59 punts for 2,643 yards for an average of 44.8 yards per punt and pinned 21 inside the 20 yard-line.
Wing could solve a decade long problem for the Lions in the seventh round.
Note: The Lions were awarded an additional 4th and 7th round compensatory pick for losing Drew Stanton and Eric Wright via free agency.