It’s the hallway point of the season and the Lions are 5-3 heading into the bye week.
The week off comes at a good time for the rookies. It allows them to catch their breath, assess their first eight-game performance and get ready for the stretch run.
The NFL is a whole difference beast than college football. The season is longer and rookies have to prepare themselves for the grind of that last month of the season.
Here’s a look at how the Lions rookies performed the first eight games:
DE Ziggy Ansah (first round, BYU): The bye week comes at a good time for Ansah, after he suffered an ankle injury last week vs. Dallas. The injury isn’t considered to be serious, but the time off is still good for him. Ansah has hit a bit of a wall after recording 2.5 sacks in his first three games. The No. 5 overall pick has just a half sack over the last five games with seven tackles and a forced fumble. Ansah has 19 tackles, three sacks and two forced fumbles through eight games. Ansah could end up with a fine rookie season if the sacks and fumbles at least double in the second half.
CB Darius Slay (second round, Mississippi State): It’s been an interesting start to Slay’s NFL career. He began the season as a starter, was then benched and has had to play a big role the last two weeks because of other benching’s and injuries. Slay is still learning how to be a technically sound cornerback. When that part of his game catches up with his physical ability, he’ll be a pretty good player. The Lions are hoping that happens in the second half of the season.
G Larry Warford (Photo: G.Smith/Detroit Lions)
G Larry Warford (third round, Kentucky): Warford has been one of the best surprises from not only the Lions rookie class but the entire NFL class as a whole. He’s stepped right into the right guard spot for the Lions and has been a serious upgrade from what they had in that spot so far in Jim Schwartz's tenure. He’s a road grader in the run game and has been very good in pass protection, as well. He’s been part of the reason the Lions have only allowed 10 sacks in eight games. It seems the Lions have found their right guard for the next 10 years.
DE Devin Taylor (fourth round, South Carolina): Taylor has really stepped up his game over the last month since Jason Jones was lost for the season in Washington. He’s got a sack, fumble and eight tackles over the last month. He’s also had a number of other key pressures. It was Taylor who forced the critical holding penalty on Cowboys tackle Tyron Smith that helped the Lions win that game last week. He’s big, physical and is just beginning to learn how to use those long arms and leverage to his advantage. He’s going to be even better in the second half.
P Sam Martin (fifth round, Appalachian State): The Lions needed to improve at the position and they did what fans have been clamoring for the Lions to do for years -- draft for need. Martin ranks fourth in the NFL in punting average (48.5) and net average (43.5). He’s also registered 26 touchbacks when the team had just 30 all of last year. He has had some rookie moments, though. He dropped a snap on a field goal Week 1 and his 28-yard punt at the end of the Cincinnati game contributed to the loss. Those were learning moments and the Lions are confident he’s moved past them.
WR Corey Fuller (sixth round, Virginia Tech): The Lions knew the speedy receiver was raw when they spent a late draft pick on him and that showed in training camp. He isn't quite ready to help just yet. He was part of the final cuts after training camp and has spent the first half of the season on the practice squad.
RB Theo Riddick (sixth round, Notre Dame): He’s been a better special team’s contributor than even the Lions probably thought he’d be. He plays on all four teams and brings great energy in everything he does. On offense, he’s caught two passes for 15 yards. He missed a couple games with a concussion and the Lions felt his absence on special teams when he was gone.
TE Michael Williams (seventh round, Alabama): Williams broke his hand in the preseason and was put on injured reserve for the season.
LB Brandon Hepburn (seventh round, Florida A&M): Like Fuller, the Lions knew Hepburn was going to be a bit of a project, but liked his size and smarts. He’s also spent the first half of the season on the team's practice squad.
TE Joseph Fauria (undrafted, UCLA): Five of Fauria’s eight catches this season have gone for touchdowns. He had three touchdowns in a win vs. Cleveland Week 6, but has cooled off since. Over the last two games, the big 6-foot-7 target has just one catch for 15 yards. He was also a blocking liability vs. Dallas. Fauria is a great red zone target for the Lions moving forward, but has to continue to develop the rest of his game.
T LaAdrian Waddle (undrafted, Texas Tech): Did Lions fans get a glimpse of the future right side of the Lions offensive line vs. Dallas when Warford and Waddle made the start at guard and tackle, respectively? Waddle, who’s filled in because of injuries the last two games, has played so well that he’s made a case for more playing time moving forward. Waddle earned the championship belt for the Lions best offensive lineman vs. Dallas after playing 79 snaps and allowing just one pressure.