Looking Ahead: 2011 College Prospects to Watch for the Lions

By posting 3 wins (so far) in 2010, the Lions have already bested their record from 2009. Although they have shown improvement on both sides of the ball and are a much better team then they were a year ago, that improvement has yet to translate into a huge increase in wins. This means, unfortunately, that the Lions will be picking early in the draft yet again.

This is nothing new to Lions fans, as they have watched their team get Top 10 picks through most of the past decade. For the most part, these picks have been disastrous, ranging from tragic (Charles Rogers) to embarrassing (Joey Harrington) to just plain bad (Mike Williams – though maybe Seattle will show the fault with big Mike really was just coaching!). In fact, not one first round pick remains on the team from the 2002-2006 drafts (Joey Harrington, Charles Rogers, Roy Williams, Mike Williams, and Ernie Sims).

The more recent years, however, have shown signs of hope. The last four drafts have netted two elite players in Calvin Johnson and Ndamukong Suh; a potential franchise quarterback in Matthew Stafford (obligatory caveat: if he can stay healthy); and an above average offensive tackle in Gosder Cherilus. If nothing else, the front office has started connecting on early picks, and if the Lions are ever going to climb out of the league’s basement, they will have to keep making the most of early draft picks.

With that in mind, here is a preview of some of the top players coming out of college this year who may end up wearing Honolulu Blue in 2011. Be sure to keep your eye on them in this year’s college bowl games!

Player Pos. College Ht. Wgt.

Patrick Peterson CB LSU 6’1 211

Prototype size and speed and elite talent make Peterson the most coveted defensive back in college football today. He is the first cornerback since Charles Woodson to win the Bednarik Award for college defensive player of the year. He is a shutdown corner who also plays the run well. The only knock on Peterson is that, unless the Lions get a Top 5 pick, he will likely be long gone before the Lions even have a chance at him.

Da’Quan Bowers DE Clemson 6’4 280

Although the Lions defensive line has become a strength this year, if Bowers were still on the board when the Lions pick came up they would have to give him a long, hard look. A #1 prospect coming out of high school, the quick and powerful Bowers lived up to expectations at Clemson, where the junior won the 2010 Nagurski award for college defensive players. Strong against the run and a terror for passers, Bowers could make the Lions defensive line the best in the league.

Gabe Carimi OT Wisconsin 6’8 320

A product of the Wisconsin football program known for producing top offensive linemen, Carimi has started at left tackle for the Badgers for the past two years. A solid run blocker due to his massive size and strength, there is some concern whether he is athletic enough to handle speed rushers in the passing game at the pro level.

Anthony Castonzo OT Boston College 6’7 295

The Yin to Carimi’s Yang, what Castonzo lacks in size and strength he makes up for in skill and athleticism. Finishing his junior year, Castonzo has been a starter for BC from day one. He has the quickness to take on a speed rusher and get to the second level in run blocking. However, unless he spends a lot of time with the strength trainer, he may be a liability in short-yardage situations.

Akeem Ayers OLB UCLA 6’4 255

If the Lions look to replace Julian Peterson next year, Ayers would be a slightly bigger and faster model. A redshirt junior, Ayers has become the undisputed leader on the Bruins defense, and projects to a strongside linebacker in a 4-3 scheme. Assuming he declares for the draft, Ayers’s size and speed would be a good fit on the Lions defense. The only knock on him is that his tackling needs to improve (so again, he would be a good fit on the Lions D! Zing!).

Prince Amukamara CB Nebraska 6’1 205

A big, physical cornerback, Amukamara can make an impact in both pass and run defense. He has good instincts and quick feet, but does not possess elite speed. Of course, that’s what they said about Charles Woodson, and he worked out okay. Besides, how great would it be to have TWO former Cornhuskers with difficult-to-pronounce names?

Andrew Luck QB Stanford 6-4 235

What would a draft article be without a little quarterback controversy? This one is probably a moot point since Luck (assuming the redshirt sophomore declares for the draft) could very well be the number one pick. However, should the young man be sitting on the board when the Lions have their first pick, it may cause some uncomfortable moments in the war room. Luck has prototypical size, arm and pocket presence for a top NFL quarterback.

Although Matthew Stafford has shown great promise when he has played, the fact is he has not played very much. Seeing what Sam Bradford has done in St. Louis this year could have the Lions front office hoping to get “Lucky.” Ouch, what an awful pun.

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