Detroit Lions: Analyzing the Role of Each Player in the Lions' 2011 Draft Class

Dean HoldenAnalyst IMay 3, 2011

Detroit Lions: Analyzing the Role of Each Player in the Lions' 2011 Draft Class

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    Now that the 2011 NFL Draft (also known in Detroit as "Christmas in April") has concluded, it's time to look forward to the start of the season.

    Okay, this year is a little different. It's actually time to look forward to the end of the lockout, then free agency, then the start of the season.

    But I digress.

    Fresh off of months upon months of speculation, hilariously incorrect mock drafts, and knee-jerk reactionary draft grades (par for the course), it is time for we analysts to move on to the next projection to get wrong: The role and effectiveness of those newly-drafted players.

    Actually, though, the Lions have made this one relatively easy. Every player drafted last weekend has a clear purpose and are filling an obvious hole on the team.

    Don't believe me? Read on.

Nick Fairley

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    I think we all know that Nick Fairley's job in Detroit is to dominate offensive linemen, wreak havoc in the backfield, and get after the quarterback.

    But the coaches in Detroit are thinking of him a bit differently.

    For them, he's the final piece in a rotation that will prevent Ndamukong Suh from having to play 90 percent of the team's defensive snaps this season.

    And that may be the most important thing. With Suh/Fairley as starters and Corey Williams/Sammie Hill (both of whom could start on most NFL squads) playing significant reserve minutes, each of the players on that line should remain fresh and have considerably less wear on them as the season rolls on.

    Suh is a great player and in great condition. But even he shouldn't be playing the highest percentage of snaps at his position in the NFL.

    Now that the Lions aren't doing everything they can to keep from using Andre Fluellen, Suh won't have to wear himself down so much. And that's not only good for next year, but for years to come.

Titus Young

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    If by chance, you still have an issue with Titus Young as Detroit's third (or second) receiver, I suggest you read John Niyo's piece on the Detroit News about him.

    It was after reading it that I realized Titus Young might have a couple of roles to fill in Detroit.

    One, obviously, is to stretch the field, be a dangerous downfield threat, and maybe catch some passes in the slot.

    I don't know if the Lions will use his return skills much, as I said once before, with Stefan Logan on the roster. But that's okay, it will free him up to focus on his receiving skills.

    Rather than receiving, I expect his other role to be that of vocal leader and fan favorite.

    In his interview with local media (again, read Niyo's piece here for the rest),Young responds to being referred to as a "poor man's DeSean Jackson."

    "I've never been another man's nothing," he said, laughing. "I've always known that I've been Titus Young from day one. My mother named me Titus Demetrius Young. She didn't name me nothing else. I know who I am and I know people compare you to people. But God made me to be me. He made me to be Titus Demetrius Young. You can compare me all you want to, but I'm no man's poor man."

    Like the kid yet?

    Now, nobody is going to take their walking orders for a rookie, so it might take a while for him to grow into the role of locker room leader. But this sounds like a guy who can rev up a locker room if he gets going.

    Calvin Johnson leads by example, but he's a notoriously quiet guy. Nate Burleson will talk a little more, but you never hear of him pumping up his team on the sidelines.

    Young? He has the personality, the skills, and the words. If he's not one of the most beloved players in Detroit within two years, it will be because of injury.

Mikel Leshoure

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    Do you remember what Maurice Morris did in the latter half of the 2010 season?

    Run between the tackles, get 4-5 yards on first down, bust a 20-yarder here and there?

    Leshoure's job is to do that, but harder, better, faster and stronger (yeah, I said it).

    What his job isn't is to take carries away from Jahvid Best. In fact, quite the opposite. With an effective power complement to Best in the Lions'  backfield, defenses will once again begin to fear a rushing attack that can get eight yards up the middle on first down.

    Once they adjust to that, Best will kill them with speed to the outside (as well as the occasional draw up the middle). It's a perfect two-headed rushing attack, akin to DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart in Carolina, or Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush in New Orleans.

    With Leshoure's arrival, Morris once again finds himself a spot on the bench, and that's unfortunate for him. He is in no way a breakout player, so it's understandable that he's being replaced by a younger guy with more raw talent. But he has done everything the team has asked of him, and it's too bad his efforts won't be better rewarded.

    Morris will be a valuable reserve player, but with the thunder/lightning tandem of Leshoure/Best, I don't think he'll see too much field.

Doug Hogue

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    Doug Hogue was drafted in the fifth round, despite playing only two years in the linebacker position, ever.

    Because of that, his primary role in 2011 will be to learn how to play linebacker.

    Hogue will most likely play some special teams in 2011, and maybe get some sporadic action at linebacker. But what the Lions are looking for out of him this year is not production, but development.

    Hogue has fantastic athleticism, and he is rangy at the linebacker position. But played his freshman year at Syracuse as a running back. Naturally, his defensive instincts, awareness and tackling all need a lot of work.

    Jim Schwartz, a former linebacker and linebackers coach himself, will help with this greatly. Matt Burke, Schwartz's` linebackers coach since they were together at Tennessee, will help even more.

    Hogue has a lot of promise as an outside linebacker of the future, but barring an unusually rapid development during training camp, don't expect too much of it from him this year.

Johnny Culbreath

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    Johnny Culbreath is the ideal Lions late-round pick.

    Big. Strong. Raw. Coachable.

    He is the offensive line equivalent of Sammie Hill in 2009. He's a big guy from a small school who could be great with some coaching.

    Given his size, he could play either tackle or guard, but isn't likely to do either in 2011.

    See, while his draft status is similar to Hill's, his progression into the lineup is more likely to mirror that of Jason Fox.

    Fox spent almost all of 2011 inactive for games. His job was to hit the weight room, bulk up, and learn how to block at the NFL level.

    Culbreath will be much the same. His size and strength are there, but his technique is far, far off.

    Whether he makes the active roster or ends up on the practice squad will show a good early indication of how that progression is going.

    Hopefully he doesn't hit the practice squad, because as Lydon Murtha taught us, sometimes they don't come back.