The 2013 NFL Draft has come and gone, and the Lions came away with eight new players. While filling holes at some positions, others were left alone. Where exactly does this draft leave the Lions depth chart?
The Lions brass seems content to let the coaches continue to develop Kellen Moore as a third quarterback behind Matthew Stafford and Shaun Hill. Quarterback talent dropped in this draft, leaving intriguing prospects such as Tyler Bray (Tennessee) and Matt Scott (Arizona) as undrafted free agents. This may indicate confidence in Moore, or simply may indicate a greater perceived need at different positions in the draft.
The free agent signing of Reggie Bush to complement the likes of Mikel Leshoure and Joique Bell did not leave much space for another running back, but the Lions went ahead and picked up Notre Dame’s Theo Riddick in the sixth round. Initially it appears as though he may spend some time in the Stefan Logan type role as he has experience returning kicks for the Irish. He also spent some time playing slot receiver while at Notre Dame.
The wide receiver position holds a bit of uncertainty for Detroit, despite the return of Calvin Johnson. Both Nate Burleson and Ryan Broyles return from leg injuries, and it is uncertain at this point how much they will be ready to contribute come the regular season. They also return Mike Thomas and Kassim Osgood, though Osgood will serve primarily on special teams. Detroit added Corey Fuller out of Virginia Tech in the sixth round. The Lions view the former track star as an outside complement to Megatron, though he has a long way to go. He does, however, have the size (6’2”, 196) and speed (4.43 seconds in the 40) to compete in training camp.
The Lions added Alabama tight end Michael Williams in the seventh round, and he figures to play third on the depth chart behind Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler. He’s a block-first tight end and will likely play H-back in Detroit. As of now, he is no threat to replace either Pettigrew or Scheffler in passing situations.
Many fans (including myself) hoped to see an offensive tackle drop the Lions’ first round pick. After missing out on the top three, the Lions did not take a tackle with any of their picks and seem content to let Riley Reiff, Corey Hilliard, and Jason Fox battle it out for the two tackle spots. They did find a great pickup in Larry Warford in the third round and he should battle with Bill Nagy for the right guard spot throughout camp. Rob Sims will hold down the left guard spot, while it looks like Dominic Raiola will be around for another season as the starting center.
As if the defensive end position were not enough of a concern, former Lion Lawrence Jackson signed with the Minnesota Vikings and second-year player Ronnell Lewis was arrested back home in Oklahoma. The Lions have been strong in support of free agent pickup Jason Jones, and many felt Willie Young was primed for a big season last year. Martin Mayhew selected BYU’s Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah with the fifth pick of the draft in hopes that the Ghana native can turn some of his athleticism into production in Jim Schwartz’s wide-9 defense. With their fourth round compensatory pick, Detroit added former South Carolina Gamecock Devin Taylor to the mix. Right now I give the slight edge to Ansah and Jones for the starting positions, but Willie Young should push for significant playing time with two years in the system. Ronnell Lewis and rookie Devin Taylor should find themselves battling for the other second string position.
Though Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley remain, the defensive tackle position does not have the same depth we have seen the last few years. Sammie Lee Hill is now a Tennessee Titan and Corey Williams is currently a free agent. Jason Jones spent some time in Seattle playing tackle, while free agent signee CJ Mosley started 13 games for Jacksonville a year ago. Both figure to push for time in the rotation. Practice squad players Jimmy Saddler-Mcqueen and Ogemdi Nwagbuo are outside contender for the fourth defensive tackle spot.
The outside linebacker position has bodies, but not necessarily experienced ones. Tahir Whitehead and Travis Lewis showed some promise last year as rookies, but it looks as though Ashlee Palmer and DeAndre Levy are the favorites to start heading in to camp. They did select Brandon Hepburn out of Florida A&M in the seventh round, but he will have a tough time making it out of camp on the active roster. Stephen Tulloch will be the starting middle linebacker, with perhaps a guy like Carmen Messina pushing for time with the special teams.
The defensive backfield saw a big boost with the addition of Darius Slay via the draft and Glover Quin via free agency. Resigning Louis Delmas was huge, and if (and it’s a big if) he can stay healthy, these three along with Chris Houston could form a very solid defensive backfield. Bill Bentley showed promise last year and I think he is best suited to play in the nickel. Second year guys Jonte Green and Chris Greenwood also have the potential to push for playing time. Amari Spievey returns as a backup safety along with Don Carey, Ricardo Silva, and John Wendling. All four are formidable backups with special teams potential.
Newly signed David Akers and Havard “Kickalicious” Rugland will compete for starting kicking duties, though I personally see Akers winning this position battle pretty easily. Newly acquired fifth round pick Sam Martin should be the day one starter at punter and could win the battle for kickoff duties. Expect Theo Riddick, Joique Bell, and perhaps even Ryan Broyles to compete for return duties.