The Detroit Lions went into the 2011 NFL Draft with a few needs to address. Even after not addressing their most pressing needs, the Lions were still considered to have one of the best drafts of any team in the NFL. After failing to trade up to take CB Patrick Peterson, the top cornerback in the draft, the Lions stayed in their #13 spot and had an unexpected player fall to them.
Just as the Lions did last year, they selected one of the most dominant defensive players in this year’s draft. The interesting parts about the selection was that: 1) CB Prince Amukamara, the 2nd best cornerback in the draft and a player the Lions were rumored to have great interest in, was available with the 13th pick and 2) defensive line and especially defensive tackle was a position that many would have considered to be a strong point for Detroit in 2010. Despite both of those points, Detroit selected DT Nick Fairley out of Auburn with the 13th pick. Fairley was the most disruptive interior defensive lineman this year and, at one point, was thought to possibly be the #1 overall pick in the draft. He finished the 2010 season with 60 total tackles, 24 tackle for loss, 11 ½ sacks, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, and an interception. Those numbers allowed Fairley to win a few post-season awards: 1st-team All-American, the SEC Defensive Player of the Year, and the Lombardi Award (the most outstanding lineman). Fairley has a quick burst at the snap that allows him to get leverage over the offensive lineman across from him. His quickness off the snap is where his effectiveness is. He then uses his athleticism to wreak havoc in the backfield and close on the football. One of the knocks on Fairley is that he slacks off at times and doesn’t give the same dominant effort every play. The other knock on him is that his production only came this past season having playing JUCO ball and as a backup the past two seasons. Pairing him with DT Ndamukong Suh (last year’s Defensive Rookie of the Year, the 2nd overall pick in 2010, and an All-Pro) and DE Kyle Vanden Bosch should be enough to prevent him from taking plays off. Plus having the luxury of being able to sub in DTs Corey Williams and Sammie Lee Hill is an advantage as well. The Lions hope that with all the attention rightfully on Suh, that Fairley and the defensive ends will have an easier time getting to the quarterback.
So after making Detroit’s defensive line even scarier with their 1st Round pick, it was again expected that the Lions would look to fill one of their top two needs (cornerback and linebacker) with their 2nd Round pick. Detroit again surprised everyone when they selected WR Titus Young of Boise St. with the 44th pick. Young earned 1st-Team All-WAC honors last season after catching 71 passes for 1,215 yards (a 17.1-yards-per-catch average) and 9 touchdowns. He brings value as a quality #3 wideout behind WRs Calvin Johnson and Nate Burleson. Detroit needed a wide receiver that would be able to stretch the field and that’s one thing Young brings. He has the ability to beat you with speed and get down the field or gain yards after the catch on short routes. Young also has good concentration while the ball is in the air and excellent hand/eye coordination. Young also brings the versatility of being able to be used in the return game. Detroit is excited to bring in Young with the talent and potential that comes with him. The Lions have been searching for a quality #3 that can get down the field and create more room for Burleson and TE Brandon Pettigrew underneath.
Just as the Lions did a year ago, they traded back into a round to select a running back. Last year they traded back into the 1st Round to select RB Jahvid Best out of Cal. Best proved to be an explosive player but being a little undersized, he had trouble staying healthy. This year, Detroit traded back into the 2nd Round to select RB Mikel Leshoure out of Illinois with the 57th pick. Detroit was looking to bring in a big back to take some of the pressure and hits off of Best, and they did just that by drafting Leshoure- almost 6’0”, 230-pounds. Leshoure was widely known as the main guy you needed to stop when playing Illinois, but he still managed to earn 1st-Team All-Big Ten honors after leading the conference with 1,697 yards rushing (a 6.0- yards-per-carry average) and 17 touchdowns. Leshoure is a very instinctive runner and shows very good vision and feet. He also has tremendous ball security and shows good speed for a back of his size. The Lions are excited to be able to bring this back in and use him as a more of the thunder aspect to go with the lightning of Best.
Not having another pick till the 5th Round, Detroit finally addressed one of their top needs when they selected LB Doug Hogue out of Syracuse with the 157th pick. Hogue is still a little raw as a linebacker, having been converted from running back after his sophomore season. Hogue used his tremendous athleticism to make the switch and finished with 72 tackles, 16 tackles for loss, 9 ½ sacks, an interception, two forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery as a junior. This past season, he earn 1st-Team All-Big East honors after making 95 tackles, 10 ½ tackles for loss, three sacks, two interceptions, and a forced fumble. Hogue has become a very good form tackler in his two seasons at the linebacker position and was very active and often around the ball. He was also one of the most athletic linebackers at the Combine. He is still raw and needs more seasoning before he would potentially crack the starting lineup, however he could be very valuable as a backup and special team player until that happens.
With their 7th Round pick, The Lions selected OT Johnny Culbreath out of South Carolina St. Culbreath will have a bit of a jump going from Division I-AA to the NFL, but the Lions believe he can make the transition. Culbreath originally committed to play at Florida St. but was a four-year starter for SCSU when he was unable to attend FSU due to his academics. He earned multiple awards including the MEAC Conference Offensive Lineman of the Year in 2009. Since he wasn’t invited to test at the Combine, Detroit brought him to their facilities to test him and came away very impressed. Being a former wrestler, Culbreath adds good balance and flexibility to his already good athleticism and size (6’5”, 323-pounds) for the position. While he will need some seasoning and coaching, the Lions hope that they can groom him as they have been with OT Jason Fox, their 2010 4th Round pick out of Miami (FL). Mel Kiper even commented that Culbreath should be a good developmental player and also mentioned about the success OT J'Marcus Webb had for the Chicago Bears last year as a 7th Round pick out of West Texas A&M.
While the Lions still have some holes they need to fill (especially at cornerback and linebacker), they still have free agency (which is usually before the draft) to fill those needs. (All of that will get sorted out when the lockout ends and the new rules on free agency are established.) The Lions did a great job of grabbing the best player on their board instead of reaching for a player to fill a need. The Lions did end up addressing a few question marks however and got great talent while doing so. All in all, it was a very successful draft for the Lions…for the second year in a row!