We all love the NFL Draft and we can't wait for the free agency period to begin in full so we can see how Detroit will upgrade their current roster. Unfortunately with the way things are progressing, this summer could be a little light on free agent signings and the roster may not change as much as some of us may hope.
Here is a list of the top five players who are already on Detroit's roster. This may change however depending on the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, as some of the players may or may not become unrestricted free agents.
Now on to the first sleeper.
Dave Rayner - Kicker
I am quickly becoming part of a silent majority that believes that Jason Hanson has seen his last days as the main kicker for the Detroit Lions. Dave Rayner came in in the middle of the season after Hanson's season ending surgery and performed more than adequately as his replacement.
Rayner came in and made 13 of 16 field goals and all 16 of his extra point attempts. He showed good power with his leg and also some of those nerves a kicker must have with big kicks against Tampa Bay and Minnesota. I believe Rayner has a great chance to be the kicker for the Detroit Lions in 2011 and beyond.
Willie Young - Defensive End
At number four I have Willie Young. I admit I had high hopes for Willie after the last preseason, but he seemed to just fade into the background once the rotation was set and the regular season began. Let's be honest though, Young was just a rookie last year and I believe good things are to come for this young man.
He has a motor that doesn't quit when he gets on that field. If he can learn to play with some discipline and technique he could see increased playing time in the pass rush rotation this year. Especially if one of the starters goes down again. He may be the epitome of seventh-round steal.
Randy Phillips - Safety
Here comes the first of two straight undrafted free agents. Randy Phillips came to Detroit after a long courting period. He ended up playing safety for most of training camp, and showed some definite flashes of brilliance. After seeing early playing time in the season, he fell into more of a shadow role. Lingering health issues also took their toll as well.
If he can stay healthy I see him being an integral part of the safety rotation. He has decent cover skills and is not afraid to hit. He needs to accelerate his learning curve a little bit more if he wants to really contend for a starters position, but I can see him gaining more meaningful minutes in 2011.
Aaron Berry - Cornerback
At number two on my list is another undrafted free agent, Aaron Berry. I was really excited when Detroit signed him as an undrafted free agent after the draft last year. After seeing him play multiple times in college, I knew he had the speed and ball skills to play in the NFL. Once he won the starting nickle job out of training camp, I'll bet that Martin Mayhew was feeling pretty good about this signing.
Can he stay healthy? That is my main question about Aaron Berry. Shoulder injuries are never easy to come back from, and that goes double for a defensive back. If Berry can stay on the field, not only will he compete for that nickel position, but for a starting corner position as well.
Bobby Carpenter - Outside Linebacker
Bobby Carpenter is the player already on the Detroit Lions roster who will have the biggest affect on the 2011 season. I say this because I whole-heartedly believe that Bobby Carpenter will be the opening day starter at one of the two outside linebacker positions that are now vacant.
I also think Schwartz and Mayhew believe the same thing, and that is why you will not see them draft an OLB in the 2011 NFL Draft.
After arriving past the midway point of the season, Carpenter acclimated to his new surroundings quickly. He learned the defense and you could see he was way more comfortable being back in a 4-3 setting than he was playing the 3-4 at his last few stops. He has already stated how he would love to stay in Detroit and I think his improved play will continue.
Bobby Carpenter will be a starting outside linebacker on opening day in 2011. Book it.