2011 NFL Draft Results: The Lions Are on the Way To Being Kings of the Jungle
The 2011 NFL draft was unique in that it is the first one in the era of free agency not to have free agency to predate it. Therefore, the strategy of picking players did not have the already signed veterans to aid in whom the teams would pick over this recent weekend.
The Detroit Lions for once were seen as a team of interest based more or less on what occurred last season. The already signed Kyle Vanden Bosch and the drafting No. 2 overall of Ndamukong Suh ushered in not just a 6-10 season but also one of the best seasons a rookie has ever had playing defense in the NFL.
This offseason head coach Jim Schwartz could not park outside a player's house prior to the start of free agency. Instead due to the lockout, the Lions could only look to the draft as they decided on how to improve the team from 6-10 last season.
The early-on favorite for the Lions in the first round seemed to be Prince Amukamara, the cornerback from the same university that produced Suh. The Husker teammates would have been a great sight to see with Suh beating up quarterbacks, and Amukamara shutting down the opposing team's best receivers.
However, the 2011 draft truly lived up to the aura of unpredictability as an unexpected amount of quarterbacks were picked prior to the Lions first-round pick of No. 13 to lead the Lions to change their draft strategy for both the first round and the rest of the rounds to follow. This strategy received a NFL.com fan vote of an A, an A- from Todd McShay and a B from Mel Kiper.
It is safe to say now that the team is more improved in this adjusted strategy than they were if they had gone in whom they might have picked or at least whom I thought they were going to pick.
Now it is up to everyone directly involved to get this lockout over so the Lions can add the other pieces to the team to go beyond 6-10.
These free agents might already be on the Lions radar due possibly in part to Suh's alleged recruitment trip to the Pro Bowl as he sat out the game due to shoulder surgery. He, as the top rookie in the league, telling the players that Detroit is now the place to show their talents is a change from two seasons ago, the Lions went 0-16.
The Monday night game on October 10th against the Bears will also help this players decide that Detroit is an ideal destination. But until then, the lockout remains. Also until the lockout remains, the future of the Lions season rests with five rookies. Not all will probably start for the Lions, but all will wear the Honolulu Blue.
Nick Fairley: 1st Round, No. 13 (13)
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Nick Fairley dropping to No. 13 was like an early Christmas present to the Lions brass in their war room at the draft. Prince Amukumara was the early on favorite to meet NFL commissioner Roger Goddell to hoist the No. 1 Lions jersey. However, the presence of one of the best defensive players from last season on the best team in college football was too good to pass up.
One of two players from the Auburn Tigers National Championship team to be drafted in the first round, Fairley was seen along with Cam Newton as one of the favorites to go #1 overall. However Newton held up the Panthers jersey first and started an unexpected wave of quarterbacks drafted in the 1st round.
Fairley joining the Lions makes the fans in Detroit salivate with the reality of a defensive line of No. 98 Fairley and No. 90 Suh at the tackle spots and No. 93 Kyle Vanden Bosch and No. 92 Cliff Avril at the end positions. Or there could be some maneuvering of Suh could easily park at an end spot, then bring No. 99 Corey Jackson or No. 91 Sammie Hill at one of the tackle positions.
The strategy seems strange to easily have three tackles on a 4-3 but all these players wear jerseys with a number in the 90s, and Fairley wears the same style of facemask that Suh uses. Therefore, it is much tougher for the offensive linemen to pick up who is who in the seconds before the ball is snapped. To further the strategy, the Lions D-line should do some last-second stunting to further unnerve the opposing O-lines.
Therefore, if the rumored problems of Fairley's work ethic can be resolved, the Lions will have one of the best defensive lines in football. These problems will be dealt with.
Last season's biggest play by Vanden Bosch was taking Suh under his wing to inform him when to show up to workout from Day 1. Without that involvement, Suh would not have been as dominate. Vanden Bosch has probably contacted Fairley to let him know the same schedule, and once the lockout will end, everyone can report to the Allen Park practice facility.
Titus Young: 2nd Round No. 12 (44)
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Titus Young was also a surprise for the Lions. Not so much because of a drop like Fairley, but because he is a wide receiver. The era of Matt Millen drafting wide receivers will never leave the memories of the media and the Lions fans in Detroit.
Therefore at first, the sight of Titus Young joining the Lions created some nervousness. However, to research the kind of player Young was during his time on the blue turf at Boise State, his talent creates more salivating for the fanbase. Last season, he averaged 17.1 yards on 71 catches for 1,215 yards and scored nine touchdowns receiving and one touchdown on the ground.
He is not a big receiver like Calvin Johnson, aka Megatron, as he is 5'11" 174lbs., but he is lightning fast. He is in the same mold of a DeSean Jackson as a small receiver who has a combo of great speed and small stature making him difficult to cover.
Young's size and speed also makes him a weapon on special teams. Now, does it mean that Stefan Logan is out of a job? It's hard to say. However, Logan could do the kick returns while Young does the punt returns.
The Lions do want Young to have a career catching passes along with Megatron and Nate Burleson. He brings the speed that Megatron has but in a smaller frame which might force the opposing defense to move their better corners to watch him leaving Megatron and Burleson with better chances.
The other reality of drafting Young is that Bryant Johnson and Derrick Williams are probably on their way out of Detroit. Neither were great contributors last season for the Lions. Johnson dropped a lot of passes, and Williams was supposed to be the return specialist, but Logan had to be brought for that role instead.
Mikel Leshoure: 2nd Round No. 25 (57)
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Mikel Leshoure is seen as a gamble. Not just that he is the along with Fairley were drafted by the Lions a year after players in their same positions were also picked high in the draft. Plus for the Lions to even get him, they had pull off some trades of their other draft picks.
To the Seahawks, they gave up their third-round, fourth-round picks and dropped three spots in the fifth round and four spots in the seventh round. This does mean the Lions really wanted Leshoure to compliment Jahvid Best just like Fairley will join Suh on the D-line.
Leshoure is a 6'0", 227lb workhorse running back. He put up 330 yards against Northwestern in the Wrigley Field game last November and average six yards a carry for 1,697 for the season. He is more versatile than Jerome Felton who is more of a blocking fullback anyway. Therefore, the Lions offense has also been spiked in a good way. He provides not only a great one-two punch if both Best and him are lined up on the same plays or will insure Best will not have do a great deal of the plays.
Considering the struggle with turf toe that Best had last season, Leshoure will be a great asset for the Lions. Running backs are better used when not overused. Felton will still be needed to plow the field for either Best or Leshoure.
Whether or not Leshoure can be compared to Illinois alum and Steelers running back Rashad Mendenhall is still to be seen. He has the size, but will he be as productive as Mendenhall has been for the Steelers?
To have two young running backs with the caliber of Jahvid Best and Mikel Leshoure along with the drafting this year of Titus Young, the Lions offense will also get a lot of hype along with the Lions defensive line this upcoming season. This hype is already present before the lockout ends, and the free-agency period begins.
Doug Hogue: 5th Round #26 (157)
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Doug Hogue started his career as a running back for the Syracuse Orange before taking on the role of linebacker in his junior season. Remarkably, he was able to get 26.5 tackles for loss in 25 career games. A great skill set that makes him someone Schwartz and defensive coordinator Gunter Cunningham can continue to craft into a great player for the Lions.
He is not necessarily seen as the new linebacker that fills their needs for the Lions, as he is only 6'2", 226. He will be on special teams a great deal. This is a good place for Logue to make the team and probably means Zach Follet will be taken off special teams where he was hurt last season. If Follet is seen as a starting linebacker for the Lions, then he doesn't need to be on special teams. Jason Pierre-Paul and Follet don't need to meet up on kickoffs anymore.
Being a former running back gives Hogue an added advantage. He has the knowledge of a running back's instincts to better pursue them or other offensive players. However, if Hogue gets to play on defensive plays will probably only during the preseason for now.
But having a running backs instincts should aid him trying to tackle the other teams kick returners as well as blocking for the Lions kick returner. He will probably also be on field goals/extra points, making sure no one rushes past on the ends to block the kicks.
Johnny Culbreath: 7th Round No. 6 (209)
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Johnny Culbreath is an off-the-radar pick. So much so that the former Bulldog from South Carolina State has been listed either weighing 280 or 337 lbs for his 6'5" frame.
He brings a role that just like Hogue will have his start for Detroit on special teams. He will get his legs in shape blocking for returns and lining up for field goal and extra point attempts.
Whether or not he gets into offensive plays will probably be mainly during the preseason. Considering the dispute on what his correct weight is, regardless, he will have to bulk up to be an immovable barrier to the quarterback. However, until the lockout ends, he won't be able to show up to the Allen Park facility to work out and meet with the coaching staff to get him ready for the pros.
The free-agency period whenever it ends will be where the Lions will look for their next offensive lineman. A veteran will not have to have as much of a learning curve that someone like Culbreath will have. Also it doesn't put a lot of pressure on Culbreath to make a great leap so that instead he can shadow the rest of the offensive line to see where he possibly might fit in.