Lions GM Mayhew gets ready to gauge Senior Bowl stars
Personnel executives from around the NFL will descend upon Mobile, Alabama this week for the Senior Bowl as the practices during the week provide an optimal opportunity to scout some of the best college players who will enter the draft.
The Lions have taken advantage of the annual all-star game the past two years, drafting three players after Jim Schwartz's staff coached the South team in 2013 and taking four more players in Jim Caldwell's first season last year.
And from the look of the roster, there are plenty of top-tier players who will participate in the game Saturday at Ladd-Peebles Stadium on Saturday. There are some local players, too, who will try to help their stock with a strong week of practice in front of hundreds of scouts.
Lions general manager Martin Mayhew will be in Mobile to take a firsthand look at some of the prospects. Even though the combine will play a role in where players are slotted, the Senior Bowl gives the Lions a chance to interview players of interest.
Last year, the Lions found four picks at the Senior Bowl — second-round linebacker Kyle Van Noy, third-round center Travis Swanson, fourth-round cornerback Nevin Lawson and fifth-round defensive tackle Caraun Reid. Out of the four, Swanson contributed the most and looks like the team's center of the future.
The Lions' Senior Bowl haul from 2013 already has produced good results. First-round pick Ezekiel Ansah is the team's best edge rusher, third-round guard Larry Warford is the top offensive lineman and seventh-round pick Michael Williams spent last season on the practice squad as he made the switch from tight end to offensive tackle.
Here are five players the Lions could focus on this week:
Danny Shelton, DT, Washington: Shelton is one of many highlights on a loaded North roster, and many think he's the top interior defensive player in the draft — ESPN ranks him the No. 8 prospect overall. The 6-foot-1, 339-pound Shelton had 161/2 tackles for loss and nine sacks in his senior season for the Huskies. If Ndamukong Suh leaves, taking a guy like Shelton would help fill the void.
La'el Collins, OT, LSU: T.J. Clemmings from Pittsburgh is the top tackle in Mobile, but Collins could be the star on the South squad and a perfect fit for the Lions. Collins started the past two years at left tackle for the Tigers, but the 6-5, 324-pounder is considered a tweener who can play guard, especially after starting at left guard as a sophomore. Lions left tackle Riley Reiff had that tweener tag, too, and Collins — the No. 35 overall player according to ESPN — could be a long-term option at right tackle or left guard.
Devin Smith, WR, Ohio State: The 2015 receiver class is brimming with talent, and the 6-1 Smith could be a perfect fit for the Lions. Smith, who averaged a ridiculous 28.2 yards per catch in 2014, could step in Day 1 and become the deep threat the Lions hoped Corey Fuller would be last season. ESPN ranks him as the No. 5 wide receiver in the draft and 24th prospect overall, but he'll have to prove this week that he can win on short and intermediate routes, too.
Josh Shaw, DB, USC: Most famous for lying to USC officials about jumping off his balcony and suffering ankle injuries, Shaw played just three games as a senior but impressed at the East-West Shrine Game last week to earn an invitation. He has experience playing both cornerback and safety, as well as good size at 6-1, 195 pounds. ESPN ranks him the No. 13 cornerback.
David Johnson, RB, Northern Iowa: Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah is the top name among running backs in Mobile, but Johnson could be a sneaky pick for a Lions team in need of a long-term solution at running back. He has great size at 6-1, 215 pounds but is agile and can hurt teams out of the backfield. He had 1,625 rushing yards, 536 receiving yards and 20 total touchdowns in 2014 and has a chance this week to prove he can hang with top-tier talent.
Garrett Grayson, QB, Colorado State: As they did last year, the Lions will consider drafting a quarterback late in the draft. The 6-2, 220-pound Grayson is the No. 6 quarterback in the draft, according to ESPN, but he completed 64.3 percent of his passes in 2014 and could be a Day 3 option if the Lions aren't confident in Dan Orlovsky or Kellen Moore.
Here are the local players:
Jeremy Langford, RB, Michigan State: The Westland John Glenn High product had another stellar season for the Spartans with 1,522 rushing yards and 22 touchdowns. ESPN ranks Langford as the No. 8 back in the draft, but he can help himself by proving he can be a receiving threat, too.
Tony Lippett, WR, Michigan State: After a stellar senior season, the Crockett High product proved to be a draft-worthy receiver, but some teams could still look at him as a cornerback, too. The 6-3, 190-pound Lippett had 65 catches for 1,198 yards and 11 touchdowns last season, and his speed will be a hot topic this week.
Kurtis Drummond, S, Michigan State: The 6-1, 200-pound Drummond was the Big Ten's defensive back of the year and brings a wealth of experience. ESPN ranks him the No. 6 safety.
Carl Davis, DT, Iowa: A product of Sterling Heights Stevenson, Davis has ideal size for an interior NFL player at 6-4, 315 pounds. ESPN ranks him the No. 6 defensive tackle.