The weather is cold and football is drawing to a close. That can only mean one thing: the 2013 Senior Bowl commences again this Saturday. This year, the Detroit Lions will be getting the closest look at all the combatants. Jim Schwartz and his staff will be coaching the south team, giving them a great opportunity to get a primer on the top upper class talent prior to April.
Who should the Lions be watching closest this week? Here's five Detroit-centered answers to that question, including one player who crashed the party in Mobile this week who's appearance might shock you.
1. Shawn Williams, S, Georgia. One of the top safety prospects available, Williams, along with his teammate Bacari Rambo, were the heartbeat of Georgia's defense over the past four seasons. What makes Williams particularly desirable is his stout tackling. He's been excellent in run support, and the Lions need plenty of fresh, healthy bodies at the safety position to pitch in. Their group has struggled with tackling and run supporting fundamentals over the past three seasons, making Williams an interesting player to watch.
2. Tyrann Mathieu, CB, LSU. Contain your palpable outrage, Lions' fans. The "honey badger" might not even be on Detroit's draft board given his recent, highly-publicized maturity issues, but with Martin Mayhew and Jim Schwartz's propensity to look at all options, you have to imagine they'll be examining Mathieu's every move closely in Mobile. Once a surefire top 10 pick, he fell out of favor with teams due to problems with the law and with focus. Since exiting jail, he claims to be a changed man, more in tune with what's important in life. He won't practice or play at the Senior Bowl, but he did show up to convince teams of his talent. That was an important move. Just because he's not playing doesn't mean the Lions should ignore his presence. With Detroit's deep need in the secondary and return game, they should keep a close eye on him all week long.
3. Craig Roh, DE, Michigan. Quietly one of the better stand up edge rushers in the Big Ten, Roh could be just what the doctor ordered for Detroit's possible needs at defensive end. Best yet, he likely wouldn't cost a high draft choice, giving Detroit a replacement for Kyle Vanden Bosch to develop at relatively no cost. Every season Roh improved, coming on particularly strong his junior and senior years with back to back four sack seasons. That's encouraging. Also of note are BYU defensive end Ezekiel Ansah, and Texas' Alex Okafor, who Schwartz and company will be coaching for the South. Both might command much higher picks, but due to some outstanding skill, each should be monitored nonetheless.
4. Stepfan Taylor, RB, Stanford. A player who could become the best runner of this particular class, Taylor's style should be closely likened to Boise State's Doug Martin last season. He's got excellent vision and great moves in the second level. What he lacks in speed he makes up for with his ability to break tackles. Taylor also has a nose for the end zone, racking up 13 touchdowns last year and over 1,500 yards rushing on only 322 attempts. That's efficiency. With the Lions' deep need at running back, Taylor should be on the menu this week. He's not as flashy as a few other options ala Mike Gillislee of Florida and Robert Ellington of Clemson, but Detroit must still take Taylor very seriously.
5. Ryan Swope, WR, Texas A&M. I can hear more catcalls from across the internet. The Lions don't really need to target another wide receiver, given all their extensive problems on defense. While that statement might be partially true, Mayhew also said this offseason he wouldn't back away from finding more weapons for Matthew Stafford. If he's looking for a solid possession receiver with some big play ability, there might be nobody better to target than Swope, who was Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel's favorite security blanket in 2012. Swope also elevated his game against the best opposition, grabbing 111 yards receiving against Alabama with one touchdown and 104 with a score in the Cotton Bowl against Oklahoma. Maybe the Lions will like what they see, and be willing to grab Swope in the hopes he could become great in Detroit's high flying attack. Either way, don't be surprised if another wide receiver is on the docket this offseason.
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