6 Late-Round Sleepers Who Would Be Perfect for the Detroit Lions
First-round picks get all the attention, but winning teams consistently find contributors in every phase of the NFL draft. The Detroit Lions did well last year, finding three starters after the fourth round, and can add to that foundation with a solid 2014 class.
Things are pretty fluid right now in terms of draft position. The draft-hype train is just getting moving. There are drill performances to overanalyze and false-interest stories to be leaked yet. We really don't have a clue as to when many players will go.
But as of right now, most of these guys look like they'll be available in the later rounds. Click through to find out which hidden gems the Lions might unearth on Day 3.
And, as always, let me know your targets for the Lions in the comments below.
Coastal Carolina Running Back Lorenzo Taliaferro
It's unlikely, but if the new coaching regime and general manager Martin Mayhew decide that Joique Bell isn't worth whatever multiyear deal he attempts to strike, the Lions will be in the market for another back to pair with Reggie Bush.
Preferably, he would complement Bush as a big, grind-it-out type who could keep the chains moving and pick up the tough first downs while also catching a few passes to keep defenses honest.
That guy could be Coastal Carolina running back Lorenzo Taliaferro, who fellow B/R writer Scott Carasik compares to Alfred Morris. And after watching some tape and digging into the young man, Carasik isn't off his rocker. At least, not for this reason.
Taliaferro stands somewhere between 6'0" and 6'1" depending on the source you use, but he certainly weighs all of 231 pounds. He used his large frame and smooth running style to rack up 1,487 yards rushing, which amounts to the CCU single-season record.
The young man is an exciting prospect who could fill the role Mikel Leshoure seemed destined for just a couple of years ago. Even if the Lions hold onto Bell (they should and probably will), a late-round pick on the strong back would still be a smart investment.
Oregon Offensive Weapon De'Anthony Thomas
Don't get your draft spreadsheets in a bunch. I know the Lions have Jeremy Ross to return kicks and bring an explosive element to the offense as a fourth or fifth receiver.
But competition within the roster is a necessity for a consistently good team, and De'Anthony Thomas is the perfect "rival" to Ross.
Thomas has a long history of catching passes, with 113 receptions in three years at Oregon. Just throw on any highlight tape to get a feel for what he can do after the catch, but his 7.8 yards per rush is even better proof of his burst and vision.
Adding another player who can make teams pay for focusing on Calvin Johnson is the key to this offseason offensively. Thomas doesn't remove the need for a downfield, big-frame threat, but he would add an interesting facet that teams will have to account for.
Virginia Tech Defensive End James Gayle
New defensive coordinator Teryl Austin wants to run an attacking defense that doesn't rely on one particular scheme to generate pressure. Thus, versatile guys who can bring the heat from every angle will be high on the priority list come May.
Virginia Tech defensive end James Gayle should be sitting near the top of said list by Saturday.
At 6'3" and 255 pounds, he doesn't have quite the right frame for either an outside linebacker or a defensive end. But as he continues to add some weight, he'll have a lean, Ziggy-like feel to him.
Gayle's solid initial burst and 4.58 speed will give him immediate value as a situational pass-rusher and special teams player. It'll be up to veteran defensive line coach Kris Kocurek to uphold his reputation for developing attacking linemen.
Rice Kicker Chris Boswell
Maybe Mayhew knew what he was doing by taking a punter in the fifth round last year. It wasn't exciting, but Sam Martin proved his worth with an outstanding debut season.
With that small victory in his back pocket, Mayhew should look into Chris Boswell late to address the gaping hole at kicker.
The Rice product is widely regarded as the best kicking prospect in this draft. He's displayed an NFL-ready leg with field goals of 56 and 57 yards. He would immediately stretch the scoring zone for an already-potent offense.
Arizona Cornerback Shaquille Richardson
Plenty of hot air will be dispersed over where the Lions should draft a cornerback. And no, it's not a question of if.
Detroit's weakness for the past 57 years and counting has been the secondary. While previous drafts have added to the pool of players, the talent level and production hasn't been high enough for the Lions to rest on their laurels.
At 6'1" and 188 pounds, Shaquille Richardson can offer great value in the late rounds. His raw abilities will give Detroit a sorely needed physical presence along the back line of the defense. Plus, his size will help in press coverage and battles for jump balls.
North Carolina Safety Tre Boston
Don't think the Lions should limit themselves to a just one rookie defensive back. The new regime has no loyalty to the old crew headlined by Louis Delmas and Chris Houston.
In fact, Delmas is only carrying a half-million dollars worth of dead money. The Lions could cut him loose, drop the additional $6 million from his cap hit and look for someone to fill his spot.
Mayhew would be smart to give North Carolina safety Tre Boston a long glance. He began his career in Chapel Hill as a cornerback because of his speed and comes in with the experience of playing all over the secondary.
There are questions regarding his physicality. However, his coverage skills and athletic ability to cover large distances quickly warrant a late-round flier.