As I said in my article about the 2013 Draft third day steals, the mark of a general manager is his ability to get value outside of the first round. In this regard, day two may be even more important than the final day of the draft, since a team needs to find starters in it. This has been the real weakness of the Martin Mayhew era, as guys like Titus Young, Amari Spievey, DeAndre Levy and Mikel Leshoure have not been impressive in honolulu blue.
However, in my humble opinion, these players I am about to list would help change that trend. All have starting potential, and a few could even be plug 'n' play guys for the next decade. I have chosen the five positions of greatest need for the Lions this draft; defensive end, interior offensive line, cornerback, wide receiver and safety. Offensive tackles have been omitted because there are not many good value players late in the draft in 2013 and I believe the Lions will take one in the first round. For each position, there is one second round and one third round prospect highlighted.
Round 2: Alex Okafor (Texas)
I know that Detroit Lions fans would love to see Cornelius Carradine here, but unless he blows at his Pro Day he is almost certain to be taken sometime late in the first round by a defensive end needy team. However, there is a deep class of defensive ends in this draft, and in the second round, talents like Alex Okafor should still be available.
Okafor is a good athlete with the ability to be an early starter in the NFL. While he did not time out well at his Pro Day, he has a knack for beating offensive tackles, which was put on display at the Senior Bowl where he was the only player to give Eric Fisher consistent trouble. He has decent burst off the line and a good array of pass rush moves, but it is his bull rush and strength that lets him get blockers off balance and out of the way.
Okafor is also solid in the run game. While not a star, he has the instincts to be in the right place and the ability to shed blocks. However, he is much better suited to an upfield rush defense than one that expects guys to read and react at the line. This is exactly what the Lions are after and Okafor fits the wide nine to a T. Despite not being a stud, he should be a solid defensive end who can record 8-10 sacks in a season if he has teammates that draw attention.
Round 3: Cornelius Washington (Georgia)
Washington is much, much more of a risk than Okafor, but if he develops well, he could be an absolute monster coming off the edge. He has long arms and a good frame, and at 265 pounds could still get bigger and stronger. He also blew up at the Scouting Combine showing his speed and power with a 4.55 40-yard dash, 36 repetitions on the bench press and a 39" vertical.
Those tools are first-round grade, but he did not perform much on the field in college. Part of this was due to the talent surrounding him at Georgia, but he also lacks the polish and instincts to be a consistent playmaker against top talent. In many ways, he can been seen as a less-polished Dion Jordan. He has a similar ceiling, it just may take him longer to get there.
Despite these flaws, the Lions need to get better at defensive end, and Washington has the perfect blend of athleticism, length and power to dominate in a wide nine scheme from the right side. He can run around and over offensive tackles, and if he develops a good inside counter move he will be impossible to consistently keep quiet. If the Lions cannot get a defensive end in the early rounds then he will become a major target.
Round 2: Larry Warford (Kentucky)
It would not be a huge surprise to me if Warford was taken late in the first round, but enough people are thinking he will fall to make him an early day two prospect. However, the only real knock on his game is his lack of scheme versatility, but on a man/power team (like the Lions) Warford is not much worse a prospect than Jonathan Cooper.
Larry Warford is the definition of a bad body player, and this may scare some teams away from him. At 6'3" and 331 pounds he looks like the tubby kid from gym class, but underneath all this is a pure athlete. He has long arms and very quick feet, which allows him to mirror defensive tackles with ease. It is no surprise that he was able to shut down Sheldon Richardson when they met in the SEC this season, and it bodes well for his ability to deal with three-techniques in the NFL.
Warford is also a beast in the run game, and is only second to Chance Warmack in his ability to maul the man opposite him. As well as his strength, he is also quick enough to block at the second level, although there is no doubt that it is not his forte.
In conclusion, Warford would be a huge steal for the Lions. He would be able to step in and replace Stephen Peterman at right guard, and in a man/power scheme he has no real downside to his game. If the Lions miss out on Carradine in the second round, Warford would be a very satisfying plan B.
Round 3: Travis Frederick (Wisconsin)
Frederick is a big man like Warford, although unlike the Kentucky graduate, he does not have quickness that belies his girth. However, in the third round Frederick has the versatility and skill to develop into an NFL starter, and a potentially very good one.
Travis Frederick was one of the least athletic guys at the NFL Scouting Combine, and it shows up just the same on tape. He is not good at getting to and blocking at the second level, and he can be slipped at the line of scrimmage by fast defensive linemen and blitzers. However, he is a very big center and it shows when it comes to his blocking. While not quick, he is a very technically sound pass and run blocker with great power and leverage and he has no trouble dealing with big nose tackles. Also, while he has not spent a lot of time at center, he did a good job last season calling basic alignments at the line and his shotgun snaps are excellent.
In all, he would be a good addition to the Lions offensive line. He can play both guard and center and could probably start in his first NFL season for the Lions at right guard before shifting inside to center when Dominic Raiola retires. He will never be an elite center due to his lack of quickness, but in Detroit's man/power scheme he is strong and technically sound enough to be a good player. And in the third round, that is all that can be reasonably expected.
Round 2: Jamar Taylor (Boise State)
Jamar Taylor has everything required to be a first round cornerback—except ideal height. Once the second round rolls around he will suddenly become a great steal for any team, especially one like Detroit in need of more cornerbacks.
Taylor has been a very solid player for Boise State his whole career, but he started turning heads in Mobile with a great Senior Bowl. Then, at the Scouting Combine, he timed well in the measurable drills and was even better on the field, showing truly elite fluidity of movement and explosive burst second to none in this draft. His 40-yard dash time of 4.39 seconds confirmed the recovery speed that he showed on tape, and his 35" vertical leap will allay some concerns about his 5'11" height and shortish arms.
However, the reason to draft Taylor is not because of his measurables, but because of his coverage skills. He is a proven performer in man, zone and press coverage, and has the technique to continue this in the NFL. He is also decent against the run, and can blitz off the edge effectively. In short, he has the complete package for an NFL corner.
The one question that has been raised in regards to him is his lack of length. With big wide receivers like Brandon Marshall and Julio Jones becoming a dime a dozen, short cornerbacks will struggle to stop quarterbacks passing up top to them. However, many shorter cornerbacks like Darrelle Revis and Joe Haden have been able to play blanket coverage at 5'11", and there is no reason why Jamar Taylor cannot either.
Round 3: Dwayne Gratz (Conneticut)
This year's draft is deep in cornerback talent and that means that viable early starters like Dwayne Gratz could be available for Detroit in the third round. Despite coming from more of a basketball school, Gratz has been impressive whenever he steps on the field, and has the skill set to be in the Lions press-heavy coverage schemes.
Gratz is in fact a very similar type of cornerback to Taylor. He is not quite as fluid and explosive as Taylor but has a thicker and longer build. He is very fluid for a thick cornerback and has enough burst to close on plays and stay close to his receiver through breaks. His technique in press coverage is pretty solid, but he needs work to maximise his physical abilities in zone and man coverage with tighter footwork.
Gratz is not really an instant impact player. He projects as more of an outside cornerback than a slot guy, and his footwork will need to improve a bit before he is a starting quality player there. However, for a third round pick he has the upside to be a good starter in the NFL for quite a few years. In the third round, I like him a lot.
Round 2: Justin Hunter (Tennessee)
This is by far the riskiest player I am putting in this list, and there is good reason why. Hunter has never produced at a level that fits his insane athleticism, and he has real issues consistently catching passes and running accurate, deceptive routes. Hunter is also very inconsistent and if he gets shut down early in games he can disappear entirely.
However, Hunter also has the most upside of any wide receiver in this draft—possibly since Calvin Johnson. Many draftniks have likened him to Randy Moss, and this is absolutely true. He has the same deep speed, height, leaping ability and knack for getting open downfield and winning contested jump balls. He is also a dangerous runner after the catch who uses his speed and burst to leave defenders in his wake.
For the Lions in the second round, it would be a very bold pick for Martin Mayhew to make. The Lions have already invested a lot of high draft picks in wide receivers over the last few years, and Hunter is by no means a sure thing. If he fails, the Lions franchise would certainly be set back by another missed high pick. However, if he pans out he would form an uncoverable wide receiver duo with Megatron, as long as he can get his head back into the game. If Detroit trusts its coaching staff, it could be a game-changing pick.
Round 3: Da'Rick Rogers (Tennessee Tech)
Da'Rick Rogers was a former teammate of Justin Hunter's and was supposed to form one half of a lethal receiver combination with him in 2012. However, a number of clashes with coaches and poor off-field decisions led to him being dropped by the school before the season started. Ultimately, he landed in Tennessee Tech, where, according to reports, he cleaned up his off-field behaviour and dominated the lower level of competition.
Rogers is a different type of receiver to Hunter, as he has a much more physical frame that suits going over the middle. He plays a lot like Anquan Boldin or Michael Irvin, as he uses his size and strength to wall off defenders and make contested catches in the middle of the field. He also has safe hands that let him snag most balls thrown his way. While not a burner, he can win jump balls downfield with his size and leaping ability, but he will make his paycheck over the middle on intermediate crossing routes, since this is where he can best use his halfback-like running skills, physicality and courage to create major yards after the catch.
While Rogers is a discipline case, and the Lions have had quite a bad record with them recently, he has by all accounts become a model citizen since leaving Tennessee, and his skill set would fit perfectly with the personnel that Detroit already has at wide receiver. He can pick up tough yards on third downs and break big gains off shorter throws. If the Lions do not take a wide receiver in the second round and are not comfortable with their present depth at the position, Rogers would seem to be a wise choice.
Round 2: Jonathan Cyprien (Florida International)
The Detroit Lions may seem set at safety at the moment, but in a draft with a lot of good depth at the position and one starter (Louis Delmas) with a history of injuries, the Lions are at the very least looking at the options in case a great player falls to them. One of those potential steals is Jonathan Cyprien, the safety from a small school in Florida with a big time game.
Cyprien was outstanding at the Senior Bowl and his ability to cover tight ends in man coverage, zone up on the deep zones and come up against the run makes him a truly "modern" safety. He has elite size and range for a free safety, with the ability to get to all areas of the field in cover one, and also the burst and quickness to break on routes around his zone. He also reads passing plays very quickly, which means he is never far out of position.
Cyprien's length, speed and quickness also shows itself in his ability to man up against slot receivers and tight ends. While he is not in the same league as the top man coverage safeties in this draft due to some technical problems, his measurables are all there, and against most players he will be able to hold his own. Of course, Cyprien, a strong safety by official designation, is also very strong against the run. He has the speed to get to the sideline before the running back, he can shed blocks and he is a powerful and secure tackler.
In all, Cyprien has the potential to be a Troy Polamalu-type wild-card safety for a team, and would effectively replace Louis Delmas if he developed to his potential. I agree that it would be a luxury for the Lions to take a safety so early in the draft, but Cyprien is a legitimate mid to late first-round talent.
Round 3: DJ Swearinger (South Carolina)
Swearinger is probably a more likely pick-up for the Lions, as it is more acceptable to use a third round pick on a talent that is undervalued but lacks a starting position on the team.
DJ lacks the size of Cyprien, but other than that they play the game a very similar way. Swearinger is a physical player and is one of the most powerful hitters in the draft. While he can be prone to missed tackles at times due to this, more often than not he remembers to wrap up first.
Swearinger is also very capable in coverage. He has spent time at cornerback (both slot and outside) and both safety positions at South Carolina, and it shows in his man coverage ability. While his 5'10" frame will lead to some struggles against tall tight ends, Swearinger has the quickness and technique to lock down slot receivers man-to-man. He is also very good in zone coverage, where despite his slow timed speed, he can cover a lot of field due to his great reads on the ball. Unlike many of the defensive backs this year, he is also a real ball hawk who will make his fair share of interceptions if quarterbacks challenge him.
In conclusion, Swearinger is a real favourite of mine, who reminds me a bit of Louis Delmas, but without the glass body. He would be a very good addition in the third round.