While the Detroit Lions have added several solid players via the draft since Martin Mayhew became general manager, they haven't had a ton of success in getting immediate contributions from picks in the mid-to-late rounds. Whether the players just weren't ready, suffered injuries, played at a position with plenty of depth or simply weren't talented enough to see the field, it's been commonplace to not expect anything immediate out of the Lions' picks on the final day of the draft.
Going back to 2009, just look at some of the players the Lions have drafted in the final four rounds. Lydon Murtha, Dan Gronkowski, Jason Fox, Willie Young, Tim Toone, Johnny Culbreath, Ronnell Lewis and Chris Greenwood gave the Lions little or nothing in their rookie seasons. The Lions have had solid contributions in year one from the likes of Sammie Hill, Zack Follett and Jonte Green, but there seems to be far more misses than solid picks.
Part of this simply stems from the hit-or-miss nature of the final rounds, but the 2013 NFL Draft class has a different feel to it. Perhaps this won't end up being the case, but my initial reaction to the Lions' list of picks when the draft came to a close was that it was heavy on players who should be able to contribute on a regular basis this year. In the first three rounds, for example, the Lions drafted players who will enter training camp as favorites to start at their respective positions -- Ezekiel Ansah at defensive end, Darius Slay at cornerback and Larry Warford at right guard.
On the final day of the draft, the Lions selected six players, and all of them could potentially see the field this upcoming season. Only punter Sam Martin is projected to be a starter, but the other picks all have a specific role that they can fill. Devin Taylor, for example, should be a rotational player at defensive end, and he already seems more ready to play than Ronnell Lewis, who was a fourth-round pick last year. Staying on defense, linebacker Brandon Hepburn could contribute on special teams in his rookie season much like Tahir Whitehead and Travis Lewis did a year ago.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Lions filled a need for depth players at three positions. Wide receiver Corey Fuller has the potential to help the Lions on special teams, and he could potentially work his way into the rotation at wide receiver across from Calvin Johnson. Theo Riddick could also work his way into the rotation at wide receiver in the slot, but he is more likely to see playing time spelling Reggie Bush at running back and returning kicks. Finally, Michael Williams should be an immediate contributor at tight end in the Will Heller role of blocking specialist.
The Lions seemed to take a more needs-based approach this year in the final few rounds rather than simply going with the best player available method. Given that the Lions need to get a lot better this season for Mayhew and the coaching staff to ensure they are still around next year, I suppose this makes sense. The Lions don't have the convenience of waiting for their later picks to develop into contributors. They need them to make an impact of some sort this year.
Perhaps this is just the post-draft Kool-Aid talking, but given the make-up of this draft class, it does seem like most or all of these rookies should be active on a regular basis in 2013. I see four day one starters in Ansah, Slay, Warford and Martin, four day one rotational players in Taylor, Fuller, Riddick and Williams and someone who should be able to help on special teams in his rookie season in Hepburn. Compared to Mayhew's past drafts, this seems like a massive improvement, but I suppose only time will tell if this is truly the case.