Originally posted on Fox Sports Detroit  |  Last updated 5/15/12
ALLEN PARK, Mich. - To some, the Detroit Lions' 2012 draft might have been a little disappointing. After all, here's a team that seems to be on the verge of contending for its first-ever Super Bowl, but how much did they really do to improve themselves for this season? Part of that is because they return 21 of their 22 starters from a 10-win playoff team, losing only cornerback Eric Wright in free agency. Part of it is because the Lions were picking low, No. 23 overall in the first round, No. 54 in the second round. And part of it is because general manager Martin Mayhew strongly believes in taking the best player available while resisting, for the most part, the urge to draft a lesser talented player simply to try to fill a position of need quickly. The Lions ended up with eight picks during the seven-round draft, all of whom were around last weekend for the team's three-day, rookie mini-camp, which brings us to the question: Which of these Lions' draftees will make the biggest impact on the field in 2012? Don't be surprised if that guy is fourth-round pick Ronnell Lewis because of his reckless special-teams talents. The first-round choice, naturally, is the most logical answer much of the time. But for that to happen, Riley Reiff, an offensive tackle from Iowa, will have to beat out one of the incumbents. The Lions return their entire offensive line with Jeff Backus at left tackle, Rob Sims at left guard, Dominic Raiola at center, Stephen Peterman at right guard and Gosder Cherilus at right tackle. Backus is coming off surgery last winter for a biceps injury. He's expected to be available for the season, but that remains to be seen. Reiff could seriously push Cherilus for his starting job to perhaps upgrade the right side of the line. Reiff also has experience at guard if he's needed on the interior. At this point, however, it's not clear whether Reiff will be in the starting lineup right away or have to wait for another year or so. The selection of Reiff was understandable in that Backus is nearing the end of his career and the Lions will need someone to protect star quarterback Matthew Stafford's blindside well into the future. But the pick isn't necessarily going to help the team that much for 2012. Maybe it will, maybe it won't. The Lions' second pick, Ryan Broyles, is still rehabilitating a knee that required surgery about six months ago for a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Broyles, who did not participate in the rookie camp because of the injury, will start out no better than the No. 4 receiver behind Calvin Johnson, Nate Burleson and Titus Young. It's not even clear whether Broyles will be available for the season opener, much less the start of training camp. In that case, could the top rookie contributor be one of the three cornerbacks the Lions selected in the final five rounds? Bill Bentley (Louisiana-Lafayette) was the club's third-round choice, but fifth-rounder Chris Greenwood (Albion) and sixth-rounder Jonte Green (New Mexico State) arguably were more impressive during the mini-camp. Realistically, it could be that none of the three are be able to match-up with top NFL receivers this year, but the Lions are seriously weak at cornerback. Maybe one of these rookies, for better or worse, will have to contribute right away. But if they're not ready, which is quite possible, that brings us to Lewis, who was nicknamed "The Hammer" for his vicious hits at Oklahoma. Lewis (6-foot-2, 253 pounds) seems to be the one sure thing for 2012 out of this draft class. There doesn't appear to be much doubt that he can make his presence known and win a job as a wrecking machine on special teams. "Ronnell is very, very strong, he's also got good straight line speed," coach Jim Schwartz said. "I think the thing that he brings to the table that we really haven't had here for a while is special-teams ability. "He's always been a good special-teams player. He gives us a little bit different dimension than we've had on special teams." Lewis, a linebacker in college, created a series of highlight clips with his fearlessness on kickoff coverage. He was given his nickname when he was a freshman by Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops following a couple of his big hits against Stanford in the 2009 Sun Bowl. A year later, he delivered another of his unforgettable hits against Texas A&M. "I came down and busted up a wedge and believe I gave the guy a concussion," Lewis said. "He fell three times before he got to the sideline. It was kind of cool to see, just seeing how hard of hitters athletes at that level is. "I just want to bring that to this level (the NFL)." Despite so much focus in the league on violent hits and concussions, Lewis said he's not going to change what he does so well. "I'm just really going to continue doing what I've been doing," The Hammer said. "I'll learn from it. That's all I can do. I'm not going to let up just because of some rule. I'm going to continue to hit harder." Lewis, who is also expected to be used at defensive end as a pass-rush specialist by the Lions, added of his big hits, especially on special teams, "That's the whole reason I feel like I'm here." And it's why you quite possibly will be hearing his name more than any other Detroit Lions rookie this season.
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