Lions take S Carolina defensive end in 4th round
ALLEN PARK, Mich. (AP) — The Detroit Lions lost both of last season’s starting defensive ends and used the final day of the NFL Draft to fill those holes.
Two days after taking end Ezekiel Ansah, the Lions selected Devin Taylor with their first pick in Saturday’s fourth round. The South Carolina end could join Ansah in bookending a line that lost Cliff Avril and Kyle Vanden Bosch during the offseason.
Both ends are tall — Ansah is 6-5, Taylor is 6-7 — with long wingspans and join 6-5 Jason Jones, who came from Seattle as a free agent.
“One of our goals coming in was to get bigger and more athletic and Devin does that,” Detroit general manager Martin Mayhew said, adding Taylor’s long arms were a plus. That was something we kind of focused on.”
Taylor started the final 40 games of his career and had 39 tackles for loss, including 21 sacks during his career at South Carolina. He also had two interceptions. He was an SEC first-team honoree after his sophomore season lining up alongside fellow end Jadeveon Clowney, whom many considered the best pro prospect to play college football last season.
That didn’t bother Taylor.
“I never really had a problem being the ‘other guy,’” he said. “If anything, it just made me want to work harder.”
Lions coach Jim Schwartz wouldn’t speculate on what side Taylor or Ansah will line up on but added both will have ample chances to play.
“We use a lot of those guys,” he said, referring to his defensive linemen. “It’s not like the O-line or quarterback. We give (defensive linemen) lots of time.”
Whoever plays on the outside will line up next to potentially disruptive combination of tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley.
The long arms on the outside, Schwartz added, should help the ends shed blockers more effectively. The chance of swatting down passes is a plus, along with one other potential benefit.
“We have a good chance to lead the NFL in rebounding,” he quipped.
Mayhew said the final day capped a good couple of days for the franchise, especially when it came to making the Lions a more physically imposing team — that ‘bigger, faster, more athletic’ theme he spoke of earlier in the day.
“We’ve added some guys who helped us do that,” he said. “We’re longer on the defensive line, we’ve got some athletic guys who can run at some positions and we got younger.”
Detroit traded down in the fifth round to get an extra sixth-round pick and selected Appalachian State punter Sam Martin late in the fifth. He’ll get plenty of chances to win the starting job after veteran Nick Harris didn’t return.
He’s the first punter the Lions have drafted since 1984, when they took Mike Saxson in the 11th round.
Mayhew said the team liked Martin’s versatility — he kicked off for the Mountaineers and was a holder on field goal tries — when he worked out for them.
The trade gave the Lions two sixth-round picks and they used the first to take Virginia Tech wide receiver Corey Fuller early in the round. Notre Dame running back Theo Riddick, who also was used as a slot receiver and could double as a kick returner, was taken later in the sixth.
Alabama tight end Michael Williams, described as more a throwback blocking end, was taken early in the seventh round and the Lions used their ninth and final pick to take Florida A&M linebacker Brandon Hepburn late in the round.
Hepburn, who graduated with a degree in biochemistry, was part of a team that worked to eliminate cancer cells from mice using nanotechnology. He’s looking forward to a career in the pharmaceutical field one day, but the urge to live out a dream kept him conditioning for a shot at the NFL.
“I always wanted to be in a position to play in the NFL,” he said.
Detroit took Mississippi State cornerback Darius Slay in the second round and used its third-round selection to take Kentucky Guard Larry Warford.
The only need the Lions didn’t seem to address was on the offensive line. Left tackle Jeff Backus retired during the offseason and right tackle Gosder Cherilis left as a free agent. Detroit had the fifth pick in the first round but missed on the three highest-rated tackles before taking Ansah from Brigham Young.
Mayhew said the team still will look for veterans to add to the offensive line between now and late July when the team opens training camp.
The Lions host the New York Jets on Aug. 9 to open exhibition play and welcome Minnesota on Sept. 8 for both teams’ regular season opener.