5 Late-Round Prospects That Would Be a Perfect Match for the Detroit Lions
When people talk about the draft and all of the fanfare that surrounds it, they mostly mean the first round.
The first round is when the commissioner announces all of the picks, the crowd is huge and raucous, and the NFL Network will no doubt bring Leon Sandcastle back around for some sort of something.
The second and third rounds on Friday night will also be exciting, as there will still be plenty of impact players to be had.
But Rounds 4 through 7 on Saturday will be a grind. The pick time is extended, and it becomes hours upon hours of teams picking players with little to no name recognition.
Still, the late rounds are where football executives make their money. Most fans could reasonably find a decent first-round pick with a bit of research, but that's just one round. It's those Day 3 picks on Saturday where front offices are tasked with finding talented players in a sea of future insurance salesmen.
I'm no NFL front office guru, but there are some late-round prospects who could fit in Detroit. The Lions likely have their own ideas for the late rounds, but they're not talking. So Instead, you're stuck with my picks for the next couple of weeks. Enjoy.
Hugh Thornton, G, Illinois
In the four years that Martin Mayhew has been the Lions' GM, not once has the team taken a guard in the draft.
The Lions traded for one in Rob Sims, who has been extremely solid for them, and they quietly signed one in Bill Nagy, but they really haven't invested in the position. With Stephen Peterman now off of the team due to a mix of high salary and low performance, it may be time for the Lions to finally put some effort into the position.
While it generally isn't a sound investment to throw an early-round pick into an interior offensive lineman, most of today's most talented guards are taken in the middle rounds anyway. Thornton could be available somewhere between the late fourth round and the sixth round and would likely compete to start right away.
Thornton isn't known as the kind of road-grading blocker that many Lions fans crave, but he does well enough: he blocked for Mikel Leshoure during his record-breaking 2010 season.
Kenny Stills, WR, Oklahoma
Kenny Stills really only excels at one thing as a receiver: going down the field and locating the football.
He flashed sub-4.4 speed at the combine, and while he doesn't really show that speed on the field, he does show a knack for getting separation and hauling in passes.
That, along with a 38" vertical, makes Stills an intriguing prospect to give the Lions the one skill component that their offense is missing: a vertical threat to counter Calvin Johnson.
There are some issues with Stills that make him a late-rounder, though. He lacks elite size (6'0") for the receiver position and was arrested for DUI as a sophomore, which might give the team bad flashbacks of Titus Young.
That said, there are no reports of Stills being a bad guy in the locker room, and his indiscretions seem limited to a single night of ill-advised underage drinking. More to the point, the Lions would look for Stills closer to the fourth round than the second.
Devin Taylor, DE, South Carolina
The Lions decided that they could afford to lose some talent on the defensive line (or rather, they couldn't afford to keep it).
As such, Cliff Avril and Sammie Hill have new teams, and consequently, the Lions have a serious need at an area that they find extremely important.
Generally, the Lions have stocked their defensive line with talented players at the top and projects to develop further down the line. Hill was one of those, along with Willie Young.
Devin Taylor falls somewhere in the middle. He has athleticism and could fit well in the Lions' wide-nine scheme, where his exceptional straight-line speed would be maximized and his below-average flexibility covered up.
But would he be productive immediately? Maybe not. At the very least, he would have a thing or two to learn, but he would give the Lions a high-upside player to stash away and maybe use in a situational role.
Akeem Spence, DT, Illinois
Akeem Spence is at DT what Devin Taylor is at DE: a project for Lions defensive line coach Kris Kocurek.
At present, he is a dominating run defender who finished third in tackles at Illinois in 2012 (extremely difficult for a lineman). He doesn't really push the pocket on run plays, but he has some room to grow up in that area.
Ultimately, Spence has everything that the Lions want in a mid- to late-round lineman: a big body, room to improve and value as a rotational player. The Lions could easily find a place for him as a situational DT on running downs and coach him up just like they did with Sammie Hill.
Spence is the first of a few DTs that the Lions will likely keep their eyes on late in the draft. His stock has been rising, so he might not be available to the Lions in the fourth round, but they could also find value later in the draft in Jordan Hill of Penn State and Kwame Geathers of Georgia.
Defensive tackle is a position that doesn't need starting talent, but it does need depth. Spence could start as the latter and grow into the former, if the Lions can get to him.
Dion Sims, TE, Michigan State
What do Tony Gonzalez, Antonio Gates, Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham have in common?
They're all All-Pro NFL tight ends, of course.
Throw Dion Sims into that mix, and what do they all have in common?
They're all former basketball players who decided to play tight end in football.
The trend has been to take tight ends who have basketball backgrounds, and Sims played a short while for Tom Izzo at Michigan State before deciding to devote himself to football. So he has that.
Sims has visited with the Lions (h/t The Detroit News), so there's no question that there is interest. Taking a tight end in the mid-to-late rounds makes a lot of sense for the Lions, who currently have zero tight ends under contract for the 2014 season.
Sims certainly appears to be a player in the mold of Brandon Pettigrew: good athlete, decent as both a blocker and a pass-catcher with maybe slightly softer hands. He isn't especially fleet of foot, so he won't stretch the field as a receiver, but he can catch and rumble.
The Lions currently need a third tight end, potentially a good blocking one who can play H-back, as well as insurance for the potential loss of Pettigrew or Tony Scheffler. Sims could fill both needs, though with his lack of speed, his ceiling is probably low.
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