This draft class was more than good, it was great. As in 2013 draft great. Whether you're Team Xanders, Team Mayhew or Team Xanderhew, you can fall in love with this draft. Yes, it is silly and pointless to grade a draft before any player drafted has seen the field for us but going into this season I see 3 quality starters. Going into next year, I see another 2 at least. Many aren't sold yet on the greatness of this class, many have fears on taking another TE in the first or a corner well under 6 feet tall. Let me do all I can to alleviate those concerns.
Rd 1, Pick 10: Eric Ebron, TE
I won't lie, like you, I was shaking my head when Barry read off this name, but I have seen the light. Eric Ebron is a tight end in name only. Many people were calling for a trade up to get Sammy Watkins, some preferred what Mike Evans offered on the outside opposite Calvin, and some (myself included) wanted a trade down and thought Odell Beckham should be the choice. What remains the same in all those is that we wanted a pass catcher and that is exactly what we got. I have seen numerous articles ranking the pass catchers in this draft, none of which had Ebron lower than 3rd. Take Bleacher Report's Matt Miller for example, only Evans and Watkins rank ahead of him. Mayhew and Co. took the best pass catcher available, and I would argue, the biggest impact player on the board at the time, let me explain. Many, including on POD, worried that a receiver would push Golden Tate inside where they argued he would be less effective. That is not an issue anymore as Ebron excels in the slot, leaving Tate to dominate on the outside with Calvin Johnson. But what about Brandon Pettigrew? Doesn't that make this pick pointless? I would argue the complete opposite, it is what makes the pick great. Pettigrew is arguably the best dual threat TE in the league as far blocking and receiving is considered. He is just as likely to block as he is to leak out and run a route. Picture this: Calvin and Tate on the outside, Ebron in the slot where he excels, and Pettigrew on the line. Ebron stretches the seam, Calvin and Tate do what they do on the outside, and Pettigrew leaks out on an intermediate route. No defense can cover all four at once. Factor in Reggie Bush coming out of the backfield and every defense will be scared. And yet, with the exact same set up, we can just hand off to Bush or Bell and suddenly we have 2 TE's as blockers compared to a small, fast receiver we would have in the slot if we took a WR. And inside the 20's, replace Pettigrew with Fauria. Once you take a minute and think about it and the nightmare match ups it creates, you'll realize what a great pick it was and how much sense it makes. Starter #1.
Round 2, Pick 40: Kyle Van Noy, LB
Let's be honest, I don't have to sell you on this pick like I did on Ebron. Everyone can see the brilliance in this pick, rivaling that of even the Larry Warford pick last year. He's a 3 down LB that can do it all and fits perfectly in Teryl Austin's new defense. I thought SAM Linebacker was our biggest hole going into this draft as Ashlee Palmer should never be more than a depth player, and other than possibly Khalil Mack, no player turns that weakness into a strength as well as KVN. Starter #2.
Round 3, Pick 76: Travis Swanson, C
Think Riley Reiff. As a rookie, he would not have been nearly as successful at LT as he was this year, thanks to a year behind Jeff Backus to learn. This is what Swanson will be doing behind Dominic Raiola, with potential to be much better than Raiola ever was. The combination of a Larry Warford level lineman with the one year Riley Reiff tutor strategy should result in a stud C for years to come following Dom's time as a Lion. With that being said, I do take some away from this pick. Marcus Martin has a higher ceiling and was available right ahead of us, with a year to learn, I think he would have been a better fit. Kony Ealy fell to the very end of the second, a first round talent at a Fairly big need (see what I did there?). I would have gladly sent our third and fifth to move up and grab either of them. 2015 Starter #1
Round 4, Pick 133: Nevin Lawson, CB
I did a lot of research and scouting going into this draft, and there were very few players I didn't know going into it. Nevin Lawson was one of them. And after hearing his size, I was even more skeptical. But after looking into what I could find, I really like him and the choice. He has great length and plays bigger than he is. This is also Mayhew putting his money where his mouth his. He said this is the make or break year for the third year corners, especially Bill Bentley. Meet his replacement in the slot. I don't think he will have the job out of camp, but possibly half way through the year and definitely by next year. And if Bentley succeeds, small corners who play like Lawson does have had a lot of success moving to safety, I don't think that has even been mentioned but I see it as a possibility. 2015 Starter #2.
Round 4, Pick 136: Larry Webster, DE
Maybe it was there success last year in grabbing a big, freakishly athletic but raw DE in the fourth last year by the name of Devin Taylor. Maybe it was because Ziggy had only played a few years of football and it hasn't stopped him from being a force to be reckoned with. Regardless of what it was, this was the first pick I didn't like. Not only would he have been available later, but the combination of rawness, only playing football for two years, and the fact he was trying to transition to tight end make me wonder what they saw in him. Washburn will certainly have his hands full to make him a valuable member in the rotation. That said, it did help a need in DE depth helping the grade a little.
Round 5, Pick 158: Caraun Reid, DT
This is what put the draft class over the top. I thought he would be gone by the time we picked in the fourth, let alone the fifth. If it wasn't for playing at Princeton, a small school as far as football is concerned, I believe he would have been taken much, much higher, making this the steal of the draft. He can contribute immediately in the rotation without any pressure to generate big sack numbers like he did at Princeton. His quickness and array of pass rushing moves give him a very high ceiling with potential to replace Nick Fairley next year or at least make the transition smoother. Low End Projection: Very solid rotational player. High End Projection: 2015 Starter.
Round 6, Pick 189: T.J. Jones, WR
This was the second and last pick I wasn't a big fan of. Maybe it is the Wolverine in me making me more critical of anyone from Notre Dame, but I don't see this pick as paying off nearly as much as some other players who were still on the board. Also, with the pick of Ebron, I felt the need for another WR wasn't nearly as important as a safety or developmental quarterback. With that being said, as long as it ensures I never see Durham on the field again, I won't complain too much.
Round 7, Pick 229: Nate Freese, K
After suffering through David Akers last season after being blessed with Jason Hanson for so long, a kicker was a huge need. Nate Freese was a perfect 20 for 20 last year on field goal attempts, including any over 50 yards. That consistency will do an awful lot to ensure we get back to the days of reliable kickers in Detroit. Starter #3.
After last year's draft, the bar was set very high for this year's haul, and Mayhew did not disappoint. There are 3 immediate starters, with another 2, possibly 3, starters in year 2. Paired with the three guaranteed starters from last years class that is more likely to be 5 once Slay and Taylor crack the lineup, the last two drafts have yielded 8-10 starters. That is consistency. This draft was another winner and while it is too early to tell if it matches last year's immediate contribution, the early projections are promising.