First down: The SEC has long been considered the most talented conference in college football, but the Detroit Lions hadn’t been taking advantage of it.
That is, until this year.
The Lions had drafted only three SEC players — cornerback Ramzee Robinson (Alabama) in the seventh round in 2007, quarterback Matthew Stafford (Georgia) with the first pick overall in 2009 and defensive tackle Nick Fairley (Auburn) in the first round in 2011 — in the previous nine years.
Robinson, Mr. Irrelevant after being the last pick in the draft, spent two years with the Lions, mostly on the practice squad. Stafford and Fairley are part of the team’s core group.
This year, of the nine players drafted over seven rounds by the Lions, four are from the powerhouse SEC.
It started on the second day of the draft when Detroit selected Mississippi State cornerback Darius Slay in the second round and Kentucky offensive guard Larry Warford in the third round.
The Lions added two more on the final day of the draft, taking South Carolina defensive end Devin Taylor in the fourth round and Alabama tight end Michael Williams in the seventh round.
“It helped me out a lot as far as being able to adjust to the speed I think the NFL plays with,” Taylor said of his SEC background. “The SEC always has high level of competition. It keeps you working day in and day out, kind of like the NFL.”
Coach Jim Schwartz said it was the players, not the conference, that the Lions were targeting.
“It’s certainly a place that you want to look,” Schwartz said. “A lot of them have been drafted the last couple of years.
“But every player’s on their own. You don’t just draft a guy because of the conference he’s in. You draft a guy because of who he is and how he fits the job you have for him.”
If you have to win now, though, it helps to have young players who have played against the best in college football.
Second down: When the Lions have a team meeting, there won’t be much doubt about who is the smartest person in the room.
Linebacker Brandon Hepburn, selected No. 245 overall, received a biochemistry degree from Florida A&M.
He participated in a study to try to cure cancer during an internship at North Texas.
Hepburn described the project during a conference call — something about “nano particles” — but it basically went way over the head of all the sportswriters.
For now, Hepburn is focused on a football career, but some day in the future, he might continue that pursuit of a cancer cure.
“I hope nobody cures it before me, but even better if they do,” Hepburn said.
Third down: Slay became a father in high school at age 15 and considered having to give up his football dream.
“It was rough for me,” he said. “I thought it was the end of the world. I felt like I had to quit school to take care of my son.
“My mom just helped me out a lot. She kept him while I was in school. My mom told me to go to school and graduate. That’s what I did.”
Slay made the trip to New York last week for the NFL Draft and was hoping to get selected in the first round. His son, Darion, got a little anxious when that wasn’t happening.
“He’s like, ‘Daddy, I’m ready to leave,’” Slay said
The wait was worth it in the end.
“Make sure you carry me around the stage so everybody can see me,” Darion told his dad, who granted the request after the Lions finally called with the 36th pick overall.
Fourth down: The Lions added two players who appeared in the BCS championship game: Williams and Notre Dame running back Theo Riddick.
Williams and the Crimson Tide rolled to a 42-14 victory. He was part of three national champions as a four-year starter.
Riddick knows what’s coming when he sees Williams next week at the Lions’ rookie mini-camp.
“I think he’s going to have a few more jokes than I will,” he said.