Setting Career Expectations for Each Member of Detroit Lions' 2013 Draft Class
Pictured here is an NFL legend.
Barry Sanders was such an incredible player and likeable figure, that he won the Madden cover vote over Adrian Peterson, and still brings rousing cheers at the NFL draft in New York.
This is what NFL success looks like. This is the pinnacle of where a player's career can take him: recognized and loved, even decades after retirement.
But even the career of Sanders started as just a name read off a card, just as the NFL journeys of nine other Detroit Lions began last weekend.
Will any of them reach the level of immortality that Sanders has? Maybe just a couple of All-Pro teams? A Pro Bowl? Will they even start, or make the roster?
We don't know, but with the draft results less than a week old, we certainly can project.
And so we shall.
With his combination of physical ability and intelligence, Ansah's ceiling is unlimited.
The problem is that his floor is also seemingly unlimited.
The ultimate boom-or-bust pick, Ansah's future was best described by NFL Network's Mike Mayock, who said Ansah would be an "All-Pro, or he's on the streets" in three years (h/t Mlive.com).
He draws comparisons to Jason Pierre-Paul, a native of Haiti who also came to the NFL with very little organized football experience. Pierre-Paul was also considered overdrafted by the Giants in 2010, and has since grown into a premier defensive end.
The Lions are hoping that Ansah follows a similar career path, and he can.
With his freakish physical skills, Ansah can unquestionably become one of the best pass-rushers in the league.
One thing that often gets passed up about Ansah is his ability to disrupt passing lanes. As a senior at Brigham Young, Ansah knocked down nine passes, the same amount as J.J. Watt in his junior year. Ansah's 4.5 sacks is the same as Watt's 4.5 sacks as a sophomore, his first year as a starter at defensive end.
So in terms of his experience, Ansah compares to Jason Pierre-Paul.
Statistically, he is similar to J.J. Watt. If he ends up playing similar to either of those players, this is a slam dunk of a pick, and Ansah can enjoy a rise to superstardom.
He has two premier defensive line coaches to help him get there, and a scheme that fits his incredible speed and strength combination perfectly.
Everything is in place, Ansah just has to show up and put in the work.
When a team drafts a cornerback in the first 40 picks of the draft, they expect him to be a shutdown corner.
Does that mean he will be? Impossible to say.
Cornerbacks, in particular, are notoriously difficult to project even after a year of experience, much less days after being drafted.
Still, this is a big investment in the corner position, bigger than any the Lions have made since taking Terry Fair 20th overall in 1998 (h/t ESPN).
When a team makes a big investment, they expect a big return.
In the short term, it is highly likely that Slay doesn't see much time on the field. The Lions have potentially starting-caliber cornerbacks left over from the 2012 draft in Bill Bentley and Chris Greenwood.
Experience is one of the most important attributes for a corner, and so a player with a year of experience will have a huge advantage over a rookie.
In addition, Slay is dealing with a meniscus tear that, while minor, may become a factor down the road. It is likely that the Lions will want to bring Slay along slowly, making sure he builds up strength in his knee before throwing him into the fire.
There is a possibility that the Lions try him and his sub-4.4 speed as a return man.
However, Slay's long-term potential at cornerback is huge. He has elite-caliber measurables and SEC experience. Eventually, the Lions would like Slay to become the top corner on the roster, bumping incumbent Chris Houston to a true No. 2 corner role.
Currently, the Lions run a scheme in which there is no No. 1 cornerback.
They have a corner that covers the left side of the field (Houston, the LCB) and the right side (the un-injured flavor of the day at RCB). They don't follow receivers around, they just cover whoever lines up in that position.
Ultimately, the Lions would like for Slay to become a true No. 1 corner, so that he can cover the likes of Brandon Marshall, Greg Jennings, and Jordy Nelson man-to-man, shadowing them around the field.
That's Darrelle Revis' role, and while Slay may not become the same island Revis is, the Lions will eventually want him to fill a similar role.
Larry Warford has one job in Detroit: Move people.
A monstrous 330-pound mauler, Warford simply envelopes people at the point of attack, and they go where he wants them to go.
The Lions grabbed a guard right at the top of the range that All-Pro guards go, and in waiting until the third round, they got the third-best guard in the draft (by pre-draft rankings).
That's good value for a guy that would have been an understandable pick at the same point in the second round.
The only things that are concerning about Warford is that he might be a little bit too big.
He's huge, and so he'll have to work to keep his weight in check. In addition, there is some concern about his ability to pull and get out in front on toss plays (a specialty of Reggie Bush). Warford was surprisingly fleet of foot at the Senior Bowl, but that was the Senior Bowl, not the NFL.
Still, Warford is a solid pick who should start immediately with very little competition.
He should be, in very short time, the Lions' go-to guy in short-yardage situations. Every offensive line has a player who they tell running backs to just get behind when grinding for yardage.
Warford will be that guy.
A high third-round draft position for Warford puts him among the highest-drafted guards in the league, and he has the physical tools to be an All-Pro. Of course, guards are among the most ignored positions in the league, so whether Warford actually gets recognized for his hard work will most likely depend on team performance.
But if the Lions have a much easier time running the ball up the middle this year, you might have a good idea of who to credit.
Devin Taylor is an interesting pick. He's less physically gifted than Ansah, yet was more productive in college.
Oddly enough, Taylor's production declined, rather than increased in his four years at South Carolina. That might have something to do with losing out on sacks to sophomore phenom Jadeveon Clowney.
Still, Taylor has the measurables the Lions want, particularly his 36" arms, and he should be capable of growing into a productive (though perhaps not a star) defensive end in time.
For now, Taylor will bring depth to a DE rotation that previously had none, and he will develop in a limited, rotational role, similar to what Willie Young or Lawrence Jackson held in the last year or two.
What that means for Young himself remains to be seen.
Ultimately, the Lions are probably looking at an eventual starting role for Taylor under the best circumstances, though it might take him a little longer than Ansah to get there. He may not flash superstar potential, but he can be a solid starter for many years with his skill set.
Incidentally, the only picture available in the archive of Sam Martin is of him getting a punt blocked against Virginia Tech.
Hopefully, this isn't indicative of the man's future.
The decision to draft a punter in the fifth round is a controversial one, given the plethora of other needs and the fact that Martin wasn't even considered the top punter available.
To be fair, punter was a major need for the Lions, and it's not a bad idea to get one that can sky punts and flip field position, especially given the Lions' penchant for giving up return touchdowns. Martin is also capable of kicking off and drilling field goals of 50+ yards.
Still, Martin's future is as a punter, not a placekicker.
There's one thing for sure: Martin is going to be the Lions' starting punter for several years, at least. There is no better option right now, and just as a move of organizational legitimacy, the Lions have to retain Martin on the roster, or else they've completely wasted a fifth-round pick.
So, the bad news is this is a punter. The good news is that he actually solidifies a position of need for years to come.
When it comes to kicking, there's no difference between the college and pro game, really.
Punters have to kick the football in both settings, so there's no question about how their skills translate. They either can kick, or they can't.
Martin can, so he should be a long-term starter.
A sixth-round pick, Corey Fuller isn't going to be the immediate answer to the Lions' questions at No. 2 receiver.
Fuller has much to learn about route-running,and how to get a clean release off the line. He's easily jammed and doesn't accelerate very quickly.
In short, he's a project.
But the Lions were very careful to draft a project with top-end speed. They wanted a receiver who poses a threat over the top, and they got one. Don't look for Fuller to catch more than about 10 passes this season, with the play of Calvin Johnson, Nate Burleson, Ryan Broyles, and even Mike Thomas likely keeping Fuller off the field.
Give it a year or two of seasoning, let Fuller build up the strength to beat more physical corners, and he could start alongside Calvin Johnson, eventually.
Fuller is very fast and agile, and while he lacks burst off the line of scrimmage, he moves exceptionally well once he gets up to speed.
Fuller will likely never be a No. 1 receiver, especially on a team with Calvin Johnson, but he can eventually give the Lions the complementary downfield threat they've craved, if the Lions can just give him some time to develop.
Dangerous as a rusher and a receiver, Theo Riddick could very well be a "poor man's Reggie Bush."
Why, you ask, would the Lions need a player like that when they have the genuine article?
In seven seasons in the NFL, Bush has played in 16 games only twice: His rookie season, and his most recent season.
When the Lions lost Jahvid Best, their offense lost a valuable dimension that nobody on the roster could replace. You can't replace speed with toughness.
If the Lions lose Reggie Bush to injury, they can't afford to lose that dimension of their offense.
So instead, they have it in a slightly less-explosive package.
Theo Riddick should be like another Aaron Brown-type, only Riddick might actually care enough to dust off his playbook once in a while.
Ultimately, Riddick looks like a do-it-all utility back (NFL.com compares him to Bernard Scott, if that gives you any indication), with experience as a rusher, receiver, and return man. The Lions could use him in any one of those positions.
Look for him to do a little bit of everything, but mostly as a replacement for injury or fatigue.
Also, Riddick's ball security is an issue, so don't look for him to come into any late-game situations until he clears that up.
This one is easier than most. Michael Williams, simply put, is expected to be Will Heller.
Williams is a great in-line blocker, who should play some H-back, and possibly team up with Brandon Pettigrew on power-running situations.
He won't catch many passes, just like Heller, because he's not very fast or agile.
Williams' value is in his power. He has decent hands, so he could be a decent pressure release as a short-yardage target (especially since he's the type of target defenses tend to forget about), but all he'll do after catching the ball is rumble a couple of yards before a defender takes out his legs.
Still, Williams and Larry Warford show a renewed commitment by the Lions to not only the running game, but run blocking. Both players have a solid reputation for clearing running lanes, and Williams is particularly important for a team that likes to run around the edges.
Williams should have no trouble making the roster with Heller gone, and it wouldn't be strange to see him used in a similar "third tackle" kind of role as Riley Reiff was in last year.
Unlike Reiff, Williams might actually get tossed a pass once in a while (and refs won't have to repeatedly announce that he's reporting in as an eligible receiver).
Brandon Hepburn is a fiercely intelligent human being who also happens to be reasonably good at football.
Let's be real here. Hepburn is the 245th overall pick in this draft. The battle is uphill for him.
Hepburn could certainly make the roster, but his value in the near future is most likely as a special teamer.
His primary competition won't be Stephen Tulloch for a starting spot, it'll be Carmen Messina for a roster spot.
With a good mix of young and veteran talent at the linebacker position, it'll be exceptionally difficult for Hepburn to make an impact, and it's possible, if not likely, that his career begins on the practice squad.
That said, Hepburn is a decent run defender, and it's not out of the question that he develops into a solid two-down linebacker.
He just has a long way to go, and likely a lot of practice squad hours, to get there.
Still, it's hard not to root for a biochemist who researched an effective way to kill cancer cells during an internship.