Martin Mayhew has been around the Detroit Lions long enough to have seen some good and bad days. Without a doubt though, his high point was the 2013 draft. Top to bottom, the Lions got good value out of a draft that at first glance raised some eyebrows.
2013 was Mayhew’s fifth as the Lions general manager. He had served as assistant general manager to Matt Millen before that, so when Mayhew was hired to replace his former boss in 2009, it was greeted with much speculation. Having consistently high picks in the draft makes the first round quite often a no brainer, but, as we saw with Millen, that’s not always the reality. Mayhew swung for the fences last year with defensive end Ziggy Ansah being his first round selection, the fifth overall pick. Ansah was considered the sleeper pick of the draft, and led all rookies with eight quarterback sacks. Ziggy has a shoulder problem he’s dealing with this offseason, but he’ll be ready come preseason and should only continue to improve.
Mayhew’s risk paid off in Ansah, but where the draft really became impressive was with the other eight picks he had to work with. Round two brought cornerback Darius Slay, who initially started and struggled terribly. He was replaced in the starting lineup by veteran Rashean Mathis, but by season’s end, either through injury or performance, Slay had made his way back into the rotation and showed signs that he may be able to take it up a level. Cornerbacks generally struggle during their first two seasons so there is much hope that Slay will become a solid player in the Lions defensive backfield for years to come.
The third pick may have been the steal of the Lions draft. Right guard Larry Warford played every snap for the Lions and helped solidify an offensive line that had been a problem for the Lions for years. In addition to Warford, the Lions snagged undrafted free agent rookie tackle LaAdrian Waddle who due to injuries to Corey Hilliard and Jason Fox, ended up being the starting right tackle by week eight. Waddle may have gotten the job out of necessity, but kept it because he was successful at it. Warford was seen by many as a possible pro-bowler and if he and Waddle stay on track, the Lions got off cheap here and could have found a right side combination to help hold the line together going forward.
Sam Martin was the Lions fifth pick, a very unusual place for a punter to be chosen. It’s rare for a kicker or punter to be taken at all, usually coming in as undrafted free agents, but Mayhew saw something in Martin, and it turned out he was right. There were some mistakes made by Martin, as there is with any rookie, but as a punter, he turned out to be more of a weapon than the Lions could have imagined. Martin punted 72 times with an average of 47.2 yards per punt and 22 of those landed inside the 20 yard line. As good as the Lions dreamed of and a great pick by Mayhew.
The other choices from the draft were defensive end Devin Taylor, tight end Michael Williams, wide receiver Corey Fuller, running back Theo Riddick and inside linebacker Brian Hepburn. Williams missed the season with a broken hand, Taylor served as a backup providing depth, Fuller was and is still seen as a project and Riddick saw limited playing time behind Joique Bell and Reggie Bush, but showed flashes and surpassed problem child Mikel Leshoure on the depth chart.
All in all, getting three full time starters in Ansah, Warford and Martin out of one draft and also adding the potential of Slay and grabbing Waddle as an undrafted free agent, it’s a tough rookie class to top. If Mayhew comes close to this, it raises the expectations of the Detroit Lions into the realm of division winner, which is where they believe they are headed. While they developed into starters, the choices of Ansah, Warford and Martin didn’t really excite draft gurus when the Lions chose them, Mayhew turned out to know what he was doing. Hopefully that’s the case with this year as well.