Back in 2013, the Detroit Lions' draft class made a pretty immediate impact. Ziggy Ansah, Larry Warford and Sam Martin were starters throughout the season, and pretty good ones at that. Also, the Lions got varying contributions from Darius Slay, Devin Taylor and Theo Riddick.
Last year was a completely different story, as the Lions' 2014 draft class really didn't do a whole lot. Actually, the biggest impact any draft pick made might have been Nate Freese kicking so poorly that the Lions had to scramble to find a new kicker less than a month into the season. Travis Swanson did step up and start five games, but as a whole, it was a disappointing start for the draft class.
What should the Lions expect out of their 2015 draft class this upcoming season? Let's take a look:
Round 1 - Pick No. 28 (28) - OG Laken Tomlinson (Duke)
Although the recently acquired Manny Ramirez could theoretically start at left guard, I expect Tomlinson to be a Day 1 starter at that spot. Perhaps the Lions will take things slowly during training camp like they did with Larry Warford and give a veteran like Ramirez the No. 1 reps initially, but Tomlinson should be the starting left guard when the regular season opens.
Projected role: Starting LG
Round 2 - Pick No. 22 (54) - RB Ameer Abdullah (Nebraska)
With the Lions releasing Reggie Bush earlier in the offseason, a spot in the rotation at running back opened up. Joique Bell is expected to be the starter going forward, and Theo Riddick should still have a role of some sort, but there is definitely an opportunity for Abdullah to get a lot of playing time early on in his career. It remains to be seen if that playing time will basically make him a second starter at running back, but he should get a healthy number of touches each game and see his role grow as the season progresses.
Projected role: Key rotational player at RB, potential starter by the end of the season
Round 3 - Pick No. 16 (80) - CB Alex Carter (Stanford)
Unlike the first two picks, Carter may not see the field at all outside of special teams early in his career. Actually, considering it takes cornerbacks a year or so to really develop in the NFL, that may be a good thing. It could be worthwhile to throw him into the fire here or there just so he gets some experience, but with Darius Slay and Rashean Mathis starting and Carter unlikely to play in the nickel, he is set to be a backup this year. Injuries could obviously change that, but 2015 should be a year of learning behind Slay and Mathis and a year of contributing on special teams for Carter.
Projected role: Top backup at outside CB, contributor on special teams
Round 4 - Pick No. 14 (113) - DT Gabe Wright (Auburn)
The top four defensive tackles from the end of last season -- Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley, C.J. Mosley and Andre Fluellen -- are all gone. The Lions did bring in Haloti Ngata and Tyrunn Walker, who will likely start at defensive tackle, but there's definitely an opportunity for extended playing time for Wright in his rookie season. In fact, Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin has already outlined his expected role for Wright:
Austin said Lions want Wright to play 25-30 plays a game as a rotational guy.— Josh Katzenstein (@jkatzenstein) May 2, 2015
So there you go. Wright should be an important member of the defensive tackle rotation as a rookie and the first player off the bench if either starter goes down with an injury.
Projected role: Key rotational player at DT
Round 5 - Pick No. 32 (168) - FB Michael Burton (Rutgers)
With Jed Collins not being brought back and signing with the Dallas Cowboys, the starting fullback job is up for grabs. Emil Igwenagu was projected to take that job before the draft, but it's a safe bet that Burton will ultimately be the Lions' starting fullback when the season opens, and he should contribute quite a bit on special teams as well.
Projected role: Starting FB, contributor on special teams
Round 6 - Pick No. 24 (200) - CB Quandre Diggs (Texas)
Unlike Carter, Diggs figures to be primarily a nickelback, and that could actually open up the door to him seeing regular playing time as a rookie. The Lions also have Bill Bentley, Nevin Lawson and Josh Wilson, but considering Bentley and Lawson are coming off season-ending injuries and Wilson was just recently signed, I think the door is open for Diggs to at least compete for playing time. And even if he doesn't end up taking the starting nickelback job, he will be a backup at the position and contribute on special teams.
Projected role: Backup at nickel CB, contributor on special teams
Round 7 - Pick No. 23 (240) - OT Corey Robinson (South Carolina)
The starting right tackle job is currently up in the air with LaAdrian Waddle coming off offseason surgery. However, Cornelius Lucas is expected to start there if Waddle isn't ready to go. This leaves Robinson battling Michael Williams for the final backup spot at tackle. If he beats out Williams, he will make the team, and if he doesn't, he will likely find a spot on the practice squad.
Projected role: Backup at OT or practice-squad player
The Lions are projected to have two Day 1 starters (Tomlinson and Burton), two key rotational players with the potential to start down the road (Abdullah and Wright), two backups at cornerback (Carter and Diggs) and a backup at offensive tackle who may or may not make the team this year (Robinson). In other words, that's four players who should see regular playing time as rookies and another two who could be called into action depending on the health of the Lions' cornerbacks. Obviously these projections could greatly change depending on how quickly these rookies progress and if they are able to stay healthy, but it does seem like this draft class should be more like 2013 than 2014 in terms of being able to make an immediate impact.