Detroit Lions Players Climbing the Depth Chart

Brandon Alisoglu@@BrandonAlisogluCorrespondent IJune 12, 2014

Detroit Lions Players Climbing the Depth Chart

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    Jose Juarez/Associated Press

    Too often, the Detroit Lions were one or two plays away from victory in 2013. They had a fourth-quarter lead or tie in 15 games but couldn't get it done.

    And, more often than not, the culprit was the team's structure as a top-heavy franchise without the right type of players capable of filling in the gaps.

    The Lions have a starting lineup that can keep pace with anyone. However, when one guy went down, got tired or was schemed out of the picture last season, the Lions didn't have anyone who could step into the void and secure those season-sustaining wins.

    Do the Lions have those guys on the roster now? It's too early to make any declarations, but the following five guys are rocketing up the depth chart and providing serious hope.

Running Back Theo Riddick

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    Bill Wippert/Associated Press

    Detroit's offense had already created a healthy buzz this offseason. The additions of wide receiver Golden Tate and tight end Eric Ebron elevated a unit that was explosive but inconsistent last season into the conversation for the most potent point-producing offense in the league.

    However, as we said in the first slide, Detroit hasn't been losing many games because of its starting lineup. And that's why Theo Riddick has been such a nice find.

    Reggie Bush and Joique Bell both spent some time battling injuries last year. Bush missed two games, and Bell is still recovering from knee tendinitis that plagued him last season.

    Throughout the offseason OTAs and minicamps, Riddick has looked like a capable third option behind Bell and Bush. If he can pick up the slack when either is hurt, he will earn more snaps when the roster is at full strength, meaning the top duo will increase its odds of staying healthy throughout the season.

Running Back Mikel Leshoure

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    Rick Osentoski/Associated Press

    Sadly, Mikel Leshoure's "ascension" can actually be counted. There isn't much fanfare when a former second-rounder with a nine-touchdown season moves to the fourth spot, but it's still a jump up the depth chart.

    Leshoure's career has been a roller coaster so far. He missed his entire rookie season with a torn Achilles and came back in 2012 with 215 carries and the aforementioned scores. 

    However, the evidence lying just below the glamour layer of rushing scores indicated that he hadn't really arrived. His 3.7-yard average and 16-yard long illustrated that Leshoure was more of a fantasy vulture than a potential franchise back.

    With three carries last season and a poor attitude to go along with it, Leshoure bottomed out, but there are signs of a rebirth. He has a renewed vigor for Joe Lombardi's new offense in which he hopes to carve out a nice role.

    There haven't been many reports of him looking particularly impressive, so we'll have to take his word for it. However, he's still moving up the depth cart because he's actually on it, and there's almost zero chance he has less of an impact than in 2013.

Defensive Tackle Caraun Reid

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Caraun Reid wasn't a name thrown around by many, if any, prior to the draft. The defensive tackle from Princeton was an unknown, and fans weren't sure how to react to his selection.

    Then we all started digging into his game tape. And there are very few who didn't come away pretty impressed with the fifth-rounder.

    Reid demonstrated the ability to use his thick, muscular frame to hold up against the run and keep linebackers free to flow to the ball. More importantly, he has also showed a penetrating style that is similar to current starters Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley.

    Apparently, he's translating those skills to Detroit's OTAs and minicamps, considering the team already released the recently signed Vaughn Martin.

    Josh Alper, in the linked article from Pro Football Talk, mentions that the Lions could target Derek Landri if they are looking to acquire another veteran defensive lineman. The fact that Detroit isn't taking the bait might be more indicative of its view that Reid and his ability can win the fourth spot in the defensive tackle rotation.

Defensive End Devin Taylor

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    Rick Osentoski/Associated Press

    The offseason defection of Willie Young left one of the defensive end starting positions up for grabs. The consensus was that Jason Jones would return from his Week 3 knee injury and take over his rightful spot.

    Now, he'll need to hold off second-year defensive end Devin Taylor.

    Taylor acquitted himself well as a rookie. In his limited 308 snaps, he racked up two sacks and 15 hurries. He didn't look completely comfortable, but he was still able to find a way to contribute.

    Now, with another year of tutelage from Jim Washburn and Kris Kocurek, Taylor seems to be putting it together. The staff has been drilling him hard on his hand usage, per's Tim Twentyman, which will allow him to use his towering stature (6'7") to his advantage.

    An interesting concept to keep your eye on with Taylor is his ability to stand up or put his hand in the dirt. Obviously, if his hands are already in front of him, then he can start a little farther away from the offensive line, meaning he would be in a better position to use his length.

Cornerback Darius Slay

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    Rick Osentoski/Associated Press

    OTAs, minicamps, combines and pro days are always full of bluster and overstatement. We, the football-sponging public, demand so much information that we're often oversaturated with conjecture and extrapolation because someone was able to do an extra bench rep.

    It's with that attitude that I approached the Darius Slay news. For those who haven't been following along, apparently, he's killing it, per's Kyle Meinke.

    Yet, when you start digging into why Slay is improving, it all makes enough sense that the optimism might be warranted.

    First, Slay was adjusting to a new scheme that he didn't see in college. Mississippi State spent the bulk of it's time playing man, meaning Slay didn't have a very good feel for how to use his "zone eyes," as Rod Woodson put it to's Meinke.

    Adding to that invaluable experience is new defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, who is bringing a new aggressive scheme to Detroit. Slay will get to play significantly more man-press coverage, which will free him up to capitalize on his talents.

    And those talents are immense. This is still the same kid who ran a 4.36 40-yard dash at the combine, per, and put enough physicality in his college film to earn a second-round pick.

    But lastly, there's the chill-out factor—the get-out-of-your-own-way instinct of the game that rookies have to let go off before they can excel. There's a reason that the rookies who often fare the best are those who play more instinctual positions.