Detroit Lions Big Board: Final Pre-Draft Update
A little over a month ago, I put together a big board for what the Detroit Lions would likely be looking at in the draft, and in what order.
Looking back on it now, it is undeniably flawed. There have been pro days, workouts, interviews and bits of medical news that have changed the nature of the top of the draft.
So it's not enough to simply post a new big board. I am updating the Lions' big board as well as denoting changes from the previous version in each major section. Again, this is the Lions' top 10 choices in the first round, followed by the top five at each position other than QB and DT (the two positions least likely to warrant a pick at the top of the draft).
And there will be a bunch of changes, especially to this next frame.
The big change in this big board over the last one, in addition to the major changes in every single positional ranking (other than cornerback, which has been somewhat static), is that there are now tight end rankings. I had assumed that tight end would be off-limits for the Lions in the early rounds, but now I'm not so sure.
Consider that both a reflection of new information (like free agency), and an admission that I was maybe a bit wrong. But you'll have to watch the draft this weekend to find out just how wrong.
▲ and ▼ denote a prospect's movement up or the down boards since March, respectively.
The Top 10 on the Lions' Big Board
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1. Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan (▲ 1)
More and more draft pundits are coming around to the idea that Fisher might be an even better tackle prospect than Luke Joeckel. Right now, they are considered at about the same level. But Fisher is a more natural pass-protector and is less refined in his technique. That means Fisher fits the Lions' pass-heavy scheme and most likely has a higher ceiling than Joeckel.
2. Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M (▼ 1)
With the departure of Eric Winston, it seems increasingly likely that Joeckel goes to Kansas City first overall. But if Joeckel were available at fifth overall, it would most likely mean Fisher was gone, and it would be hard to argue with the Lions' decision to go with the man widely considered to be the best player in the draft.
3. Ezekiel "Ziggy" Ansah, DE, BYU (▲ 1)
Ansah is perhaps the most intriguing player in the 2013 draft. Like Werner, he is an exceptional athlete from overseas who only picked up football recently. Ansah went from completely oblivious to the game of football to having star quality in just a couple of years. The Lions got a good look at what a fast learner he is at the Senior Bowl, which seems to suggest that he not only has a high ceiling, but an attainable one as well.
4. Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama (▲ 2)
It's no secret that the Lions' secondary is in need of an infusion of talent. Milliner showed up big at the combine, running a 4.37 40. This should solidify his status as a top-10 pick. The only question (and the only reason he isn't higher) is which of the Lions' talented second-year cornerbacks they would give up on if they drafted Milliner: Bill Bentley, the highest-drafted? Chris Greenwood, the most physically talented? Or Jonte Green, the one with the most starting experience? Those are all undesirable situations.
5. Lane Johnson, OL, Oklahoma (▲ 4)
If Joeckel and Fisher are both taken in the first four picks, it's hard to believe that the Lions would take the third-best tackle with the fifth-overall pick in the draft, especially when tackle isn't a glaring, immediate need. Regardless, Johnson's stock has shot into the top 10 after he showed stellar athleticism at the combine, and if the Lions feel compelled to take a tackle, he'll easily be the best available.
6. Dion Jordan, OLB/DE, Oregon (▲ 4)
The Lions visited with Jordan just over a week ago, and he is definitely in play for them in the first round. However, while Jordan is certainly a talented pass-rusher, he seems built too much like a 3-4 OLB for the Lions to get the most out of him. Then again, Cliff Avril was projected as a 3-4 OLB out of college, too. Sometimes projections are wrong.
7. Jonathan Cooper, OG, North Carolina (Previously unranked)
Though it could be another example of draft analysts out-thinking themselves leading up to the draft, Alabama's Chance Warmack is no longer the undisputed top guard in the draft, which is funny considering how many once wanted to anoint him the best player in the draft. Cooper doesn't have the monstrous strength Warmack has (though he does sport the frame to build it), but he's mobile and athletic, making him arguably a better fit in the Lions' scheme, where guards are asked to pull and lock down linebackers regularly.
8. Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama (▼ 3)
Warmack should be at the top of this list in some fans' minds, but it's exceptionally difficult to justify taking a player with as little impact as a guard—even a projected future All-Pro like Warmack—in the top 15, much less the top five. In addition, the exceptionally athletic Jonathan Cooper has jumped Warmack on some boards (including this one), in much the same way Fisher jumped Joeckel.
9. Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia (no change)
This is a bit of a scheme mix-up, which is why Jones is ninth on this board, and not second or third. Jones played as an OLB in a 4-3 scheme at Georgia, but he was primarily used as a pass-rusher. Where would that leave him in Detroit? He is explosive, but is a likely mismatch for the Lions unless defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham starts dreaming up creative ways to use him. Jones also has a scary injury history that revives bad memories of Jahvid Best.
10. Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia (Previously unranked)
The odds of the Lions actually taking a wide receiver in the first round are slight indeed. And if the Lions were to take a receiver, it's unlikely it would be another short, slot-type receiver (the roster is overloaded with those as it is). But Tavon Austin is an athletic do-it-all on offense who could be the next Randall Cobb. It doesn't matter what the roster construction looks like—a team can always find a way to use a player like Cobb.
Out of the top 10
Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State
Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee
Top 5 Running Backs
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1. Johnathan Franklin, UCLA (2nd Round) ▲
The biggest change in this board since March, Franklin has been the subject of a lot of positive buzz that has him now projected to the first or second round. Franklin was impressive at the Senior Bowl and seems to have just enough size and speed to be effective as a three-down back. His acceleration after taking handoffs leaves something to be desired, but he's solid as a receiver. Franklin could be a great player to have as insurance for Reggie Bush, but it's hard to say whether the Lions would be especially interested in drafting a back this high.
2. Giovani Bernard, North Carolina (2nd Round) ▼
Many of Bernard's accomplishments at North Carolina came serving in the capacity of a feature back, but the Lions would be looking at him as more of Jahvid Best-type back. Luckily, Bernard showed ability as both a receiver (eight games with four-plus catches and five receiving touchdowns in 2012) and a pass-blocker at North Carolina (he also returned punts) and is versatile enough to catch or carry the ball whenever necessary. Injury questions about an ACL torn in 2010 drive his grade down.
3. Andre Ellington, Clemson (2nd-3rd Round) ▼
Unlike Bernard, Ellington doesn't project as a potential feature back at the next level. He looks a lot more like a change-of-pace back than a true starter who can carry the load. The Lions aren't looking for a "load-carrying" running back with Mikel Leshoure and Reggie Bush on the roster, so Ellington makes a lot of sense to fill the Lions' need for a reserve speed back, considering how NFL.com compares him to Jahvid Best.
4. Montee Ball, Wisconsin (3rd Round) ▼
Ball doesn't really fit what the Lions are looking for, except in that he has speed. He was rarely used as a receiving target at Wisconsin, but he has been a highly productive back who can break big plays, and he ran a 4.46 40 at his pro day (h/t ESPN). The Lions would be unlikely to take him unless he was a huge value, which he would be in about the third round.
5. Mike Gillislee, Florida (4th Round)
Gillislee had a slow start to his career at Florida, but had a breakout year once he was finally handed the full-time starter's reins. He's neither a burner nor a highly physical back, but he gets the job done. Whatever teams drafts Gillislee will be betting on his upside.
Top 5 Wide Receivers
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1. Tavon Austin, West Virginia (1st Round) ▲
Austin likely wouldn't be much of a downfield threat at 5'8", 174 pounds. He has arguably a similar skill set to that of Ryan Broyles, which may raise questions about where he fits in the Lions' passing game. The versatile, explosive Austin, though, compares favorably to Randall Cobb. The Lions would love to go back in time and select Cobb over Titus Young in the second round of the 2011 draft, but they can't do that, so drafting Austin might be the next best thing.
2. Cordarrelle Patterson, Tennessee (1st-2nd Round) ▼
Patterson would only be a target for the Lions if they were miraculously able to trade down in the first round (or up from the second). He's a reach at fifth overall and he'll be long gone by the second round. Still, the Lions would love to get a player in the fold who draws comparisons to Percy Harvin.
3. Justin Hunter, Tennessee (2nd Round) ▲
It's incredible to think about how many wideouts Tennessee could have at the top of this draft if Da'Rick Rogers wasn't a total headcase. Then again, it was partially Rogers' departure that allowed Patterson and Hunter to thrive in 2012. The Lions have already confirmed their interest in Hunter by having him in for a visit (h/t detroitlions.com), and he does seem like a solid addition to the offense. All the tools are there; he just hasn't put them together yet.
4. Keenan Allen, California (2nd Round) ▼
There are no questions about Allen's build to be an effective wide receiver. The questions are all about whether or not he has the speed required of a first-round pick. He is widely considered as a first-round talent, which is exactly why the Lions would look his way with a pick at the top of the second round.
5. DeAndre Hopkins, Clemson (3rd Round)
Hopkins has just average size for an outside receiver, but has solid leaping ability and straight-line speed that make him dangerous down the field. He was a consistent performer at Clemson, and while he still has some holes in his game (like using his hands to block or beat press coverage), he could be a productive player in exactly the role the Lions would want him for.
Top 5 Tight Ends
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1. Tyler Eifert, Notre Dame (1st-2nd Round)
The odds of the Lions getting a crack at Eifert (or even wanting to this early) are slim, but an impressive college career combined with nothing but good signs in the combine means Eifert is looking at a grade somewhere in the mid-first round. If he falls to the Lions in the second, he's almost a no-brainer.
2. Zach Ertz, Stanford (2nd Round)
In 2012, Ertz was Stanford's leading receiver and led all NCAA tight ends in receiving yards. A well-rounded tight end who run, catch and block, Ertz is a perfect fit for a team that has not gotten quite as much as it has wanted out of its tight ends in recent years. Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler both had disappointing 2012 seasons, and both will be in contract years in 2013. Ertz could complement—or fill in for—either player.
3. Travis Kelce, Cincinnati (2nd-3rd Round)
Kelce is arguably the best all-around tight end in the draft, which is to say he's the best blocking tight end who is also a receiving threat. While not a monstrous athletic talent like a Jimmy Graham or Rob Gronkowski, Kelce was an effective receiver in his final year at Cincinnati (45 receptions for 722 yards) and is a dominating blocker at the point of attack. Kelce could be a devastating red-zone target, especially if paired with Brandon Pettigrew and Calvin Johnson (also 6'5" receiver/blocker combos).
4. Vance McDonald, Rice (3rd-4th Round)
McDonald is one of the less-polished tight ends in this draft, but also one of the most athletically gifted. He may be one of the only tight ends in this draft who looks like a legitimate threat to stretch the field. That said, he wasn't terribly productive in college, and he likely won't be a starter early on in his career. McDonald needs work in both route-running and blocking, but his athleticism gives him an especially high ceiling.
5. Gavin Escobar, San Diego State (3rd-4th Round)
Escobar was a much more valuable prospect before he went to the combine and ran slower than Lane Johnson in the 40-yard dash. There had always been questions about his speed, and he has done nothing but confirm them. He was productive as a receiver, but his lack of speed raises some pretty major questions about his ability to get separation from athletically superior linebackers and safeties.
Top 5 Offensive Tackles
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1. Eric Fisher, Central Michigan (1st Round) ▲
As good as Joeckel was at Texas A&M, Eric Fisher has been matching or beating him at every turn in pre-draft activities. Of course, a solid combine (where each bench-pressed 27 reps) alone does not always amount to a solid prospect—only a solid combine—but a strong Senior Bowl and four-year career at Central Michigan just might. Both players are worthy of top-five consideration, but Fisher is the superior pass-protector despite weaker technique.
2. Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M (1st Round) ▼
Joeckel hasn't really done anything wrong to drop in the draft here. Most likely, he still goes first overall to the Chiefs, so this is irrelevant, but in the highly unlikely event that the Lions have their choice between either of the top two tackles on the board, Joeckel might not even be their first option.
3. Lane Johnson, Oklahoma (1st Round)
Lane Johnson was hands-down the second-most athletic big man at the NFL combine (next to Arkansas-Pine Bluff's Terron Armstead), posting scores among the top of the class in every physical test other than the bench press, and his 28 bench-press reps are one better than Fisher and Joeckel. He ran a faster 40 than Manti Te'o and posted a better broad jump than Tyrann Mathieu.
4. D. J. Fluker, Alabama (1st-2nd Round)
Should the Lions decide they're in the market for a right tackle, Fluker makes sense as an absolutely massive hulk of a human being. His sheer size (6' 5", 339 lbs.) makes him almost impossible to push back from the defensive end position, and he shows impressive footwork for his size. The question is whether the Lions actually are interested in a right tackle, with lots of young talent already on the roster looking to fill that role.
5. Kyle Long, Oregon (2nd-3rd Round)
What the Lions really like out of their offensive linemen is versatility. Long has athleticism and versatility, and could reasonably play four positions on the offensive line if asked. Still, at 6'7", he would likely be entirely too large for an interior position, but that gives him impressive length for a tackle.
Top 5 Interior Linemen
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*Note: Guards and centers have been combined here, due to the number of players with multi-positional ability and the Lions' affinity towards those players.
1. Jonathan Cooper, North Carolina (1st Round) ▲
At one point, Cooper was a prospect to be pitied. A phenomenal guard prospect with excellent mobility and athleticism, it was just too bad he was in the same draft as the superior Chance Warmack. But really, why does Cooper have to be an inferior prospect? He has matched Warmack step-for-step in pre-draft activities, and actually shows greater overall athleticism. Just because he didn't play for a national championship team that runs the ball consistently doesn't mean he won't be a good run-blocker.
2. Chance Warmack, Alabama (1st Round) ▼
Warmack is considered a once-in-a-generation talent, and maybe he is. But there's a "can't miss" prospect in every draft that misses big. I'm not saying Warmack is going to be that guy, but there is a decent chance he sees a DeCastro-like slide into the 20-something range. Assuming they're both great, as it appears they will be, Cooper and Warmack seem like options 1a and 1b, but Cooper seems just a bit more scheme-appropriate for the Lions.
3. Larry Warford, Kentucky (2nd Round) ▲
Warford is gigantic and has a good build for a guard. During a combine in which offensive linemen demonstrated athleticism rare for their size, Warford served as a reminder that 330-pound men are not necessarily supposed to be fast or agile. Still, Warford projects well as a starter at guard, but his wealth of size and lack of athleticism limit his explosiveness off the snap and his ability to be an effective blocker in space, making him a less effective run-blocker than he should be.
4. Barrett Jones, Alabama (3rd-4th Round) ▼
The Lions like versatility on the offensive line? Great! Here's Jones, who can play five offensive line positions. As in, all of them. Drafting Jones would give him a year of tutelage under Dominic Raiola, during which time he could also play at right guard and tackle if necessary. The problem that has him sliding down draft boards is that he has a lingering foot injury, and those tend to be very risky for 300-pound men.
5. Travis Frederick, Wisconsin (3rd-4th Round) ▲
The difference between Barrett Jones and Frederick is minimal. As centers, they're basically Nos. 1a and 1b. The key is that Jones has played basically every position and blocked for some of the best running backs in college football. That versatility, along with experience in making the running game work, puts Jones higher on this list, despite the fact that Frederick is comparable in skill and comes from a program known for producing quality NFL linemen.
Top 5 Defensive Ends
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1. Ezekiel "Ziggy" Ansah, BYU (1st Round) ▲
One of the few players with both the size and ability to play naturally in a 4-3 defense, Ansah could be one of the Lions' top prospects if not for concerns about his experience level. That said, he's so talented and such a quick learner that he might shake those concerns right off. The Lions' coaching staff got an up-close look at him in the Senior Bowl, so they should know exactly how excited they should be about his ceiling.
2. Dion Jordan, Oregon (1st Round) ▲
Jordan is at the top of most draft boards for teams running a 3-4 defense, but his 6'6" frame suggests that he could put on enough size to become a very good pass-rusher in a 4-3. That said, it's a risky thing to draft a guy in the top 10 hoping that changing his body type will make him appropriate for the scheme, even if he is the best overall pass-rusher in the scheme.
3. Cornellius "Tank" Carradine, Florida State (2nd Round) ▲
Carradine was among the most productive pass-rushers in football in his senior year, but he was only a one-year starter, and a torn ACL ended his season prematurely and plummeted his draft stock. That said, encouraging signs about his recovery and his overall ability have shot him back up into first-round consideration. Minus the health concerns, Carradine might be the most complete defensive end prospect in the draft. He just might be a dark-horse top-10 pick.
4. Bjoern Werner, Florida State (2nd Round) ▼
Werner draws comparisons to Chris Long of the St. Louis Rams, but he didn't show the same athleticism at the combine. He's a better fit for the Lions than the plentiful 3-4 rush OLBs available and was once considered a top-five pick, but a lack of athleticism in pre-draft activities has dropped his stock to the point that he may be available in the second round. Of course, if he is, the Lions should take him and it would be an absolute coup.
5. Margus Hunt (2nd Round) ▲
Margus Hunt fits in with this year's trend of international defensive ends with superior athletic ability and very little experience. Like Werner and Ansah, Hunt is a very big, very strong, very raw defensive end with very little chance of making an immediate impact, but physically he shows almost limitless potential.
Top 5 Linebackers
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Note: This will primarily focus on outside linebackers, as Stephen Tulloch eliminates the need for a mike linebacker.
1. Jarvis Jones, Georgia (1st Round)
Think of Jones as this year's Jahvid Best. He may be the most explosive pure athlete in this class, but he carries an injury red flag so big, he's practically draped in it. Still, he has been cleared medically, which should at least quell some of those concerns (h/t NFL.com). He seems like a bit of a mismatch in Detroit's scheme, but his ability to get after the quarterback from the 4-3 OLB position makes him an intriguing possibility for a team that values defensive pressure above all else.
2. Arthur Brown, Kansas State (2nd Round) ▲
Brown lacks ideal size for a linebacker and is facing a lingering shoulder injury that has kept him out of the Senior Bowl and most combine workouts. Still, he draws high grades because he plays a lot bigger than he looks, and could still be a first-round pick. Brown is effective playing in pass coverage and is a sure tackler who wraps up with solid technique. The Lions' defense could use a few more sure-handed tacklers.
3. Khaseem Greene, Rutgers (2nd Round) ▲
Like Brown, Greene is an athletic prospect who makes scouts sigh and lament, "If he were just an inch or two taller, then he'd be a first-rounder." Both Brown and Greene measured at 6'0", 241 pounds at the combine, which makes both just a little too small to be considered top-tier prospects at the linebacker position. Incidentally, it also gives them very similar builds to Ray Lewis. Food for thought.
4. Alec Ogletree, Georgia (2nd Round) ▼
Ogletree possesses all the things the Lions need in a linebacker: outstanding athleticism, a motor that runs hot at all times, good coverage skill and just a couple coachable flaws. Ogletree has the athleticism to stick with anybody in coverage and can run down plays anywhere on the field. He can be overaggressive and overpursue plays at times, but he has so much speed, he covers up and compensates for many of his mistakes.
His draft stock has been sliding just a bit because of some off-the-field maturity issues (he was arrested for a DUI two weeks before the combine). That's a bigger red flag for the Lions now than it would have been in the past.
5. Sean Porter, Texas A&M (3rd Round)
Unlike Brown and Greene, Porter makes most of his plays with his high football IQ, not his raw athleticism. Porter is the type of player who can't cover for mistakes with pure speed or quickness, so he instead simply doesn't make many mistakes. He can play in coverage, and he's a relatively sure tackler, but he may have trouble matching up against elite NFL tight ends.
Top 5 Cornerbacks
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1. Dee Milliner, Alabama (1st Round)
Following a sterling combine performance, Milliner is, if nothing else, potentially worthy of the Lions' attention at fifth overall. That said, adding more young talent at cornerback isn't going to help the young talent they already have develop into their roles. It's generally a bad idea to give up on draft picks before you've had a chance to work them out. Still, Milliner is the only corner even worth discussing in the first round, barring a trade down.
2. Xavier Rhodes, Florida State (1st-2nd Round)
Rhodes may be the most appropriate cornerback in the draft for what the Lions need. Rhodes is a press-man coverage specialist, with the speed to stick with receivers after a strong jam at the line. He has the size that the Lions love in their cornerbacks and the ability to effectively cover big, strong receivers. The Lions need that since they see Brandon Marshall twice a year. Rhodes' big problem is that he is a completely different player (in a bad way) when asked to play zone coverage, he's an inconsistent tackler and he doesn't project as an effective nickel cornerback.
3. Desmond Trufant, Washington (2nd-3rd Round)
Trufant will become the third of his brothers to play professional football, joining Marcus of the Seahawks and Isaiah of the Jets. Trufant seems to have all the physical skills he needs to be an effective starting cornerback, but displays poor technique and makes a lot of mistakes. If he fixes his mental errors, he's has the ability to be an elite cover corner. His sub-4.4 40 at the combine boosts his stock considerably.
4. David Amerson, NC State (2nd-3rd Round)
Amerson is an interesting prospect who looked like a first-round lock in 2011, but spent most of 2012 getting picked on. He has physical skills, and his aggressive nature in coverage resulted in a lot of turnovers at one point. The problem is that he's aggressive all the time, which makes him easy to predict. In 2012, he spent a lot of time getting beat deep on double moves. If he works that wrinkle out of his game, his big-play ability and physicality make him a good investment at either corner or safety.
5. Johnthan Banks, Mississippi State (3rd Round)
You may remember Banks as the guy who infamously claimed he could "cover Megatron" at the NFL combine (first reported by AL.com) after running 4.61 in the 40. He's wrong, but it's hard to fault a cornerback for having that kind of confidence out of college. Banks is another guy with good size, but it's only height. Banks doesn't have good strength or speed, and he's not fast or agile enough to play up on the line. He mostly plays off-man to keep from getting beat deep, which might precipitate a move to safety, where he has some experience.
Top 5 Safeties
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1. Kenny Vaccaro, Texas (1st-2nd Round)
In a way, Vaccaro probably shouldn't even be on the Lions' draft board. Now that the Lions have set their safety rotation with Louis Delmas and Glover Quin, the odds of them reaching for a safety in the first round is approximately zero. Even with a trade down, it's unlikely, and Vaccaro will almost certainly not be available in the second round.
Still, big boards aren't about who the Lions are likely to take, they're about who they'd most like to have. Vaccaro is the undisputed top safety on the board, and he fits what the Lions want in a safety, so he's the top safety on the big board, regardless of the near-zero possibility that they actually draft him.
2. Eric Reid, LSU (2nd Round)
Rangy, athletic, and aggressive, Reid only runs into trouble when he displays too much of his attributes. He can be a bit too aggressive in coverage and relies on his athleticism too much when judging pursuit angles. Of course, he would still be a better cover safety than anyone currently on the Lions' roster, even if they retain Louis Delmas. Reid isn't great in run support, but the Lions have enough run-stuffing safeties. They need players that can knock down the deep pass.
3. Matt Elam, Florida (2nd Round)
Matt Elam might end up being the next iteration of Louis Delmas sans the nagging knee injuries. A flashy, vocal player who loves to line up the big hit, Elam has a reputation for firing himself (and his teammates) up after a big play, and he has a career full of them already. However, his motor is questionable and it remains to be seen whether he (like Delmas) will simply bounce off some of the players he tries to lower the boom on at the NFL level.
4. Jonathan Cyprien, Florida International (2nd Round) ▲
Cyprien is a pure intimidator. He made his name at Florida International as a big hitter and figures to do the same at the NFL level. As a result, he isn't as much of a deep safety as he's a rangy fourth linebacker. He lacks the speed and quickness to be a great coverage guy, though he is adequate when helping over the top. Cyprien will make his money in the run game and by punishing smaller receivers over the middle. Cyprien has enjoyed a late rise up draft boards that has him looking at a potential first-round grade.
5. Phillip Thomas, Fresno State (3rd Round) ▼
A potentially career-ending broken leg in 2011 didn't seem to keep Thomas from making plays in 2012, as he posted a great comeback year at Fresno State. He's not the most physically imposing player, especially playing the run, but he shows solid tackling ability and above-average coverage skills against tight ends.