ALLEN PARK Laken Tomlinson was 11 when he moved to the United States from Jamaica — a soccer player whose body would eventually fit better in another sport.
“Got a little too big to play soccer,” he said. “My uncle, at the time, he recommended that I play American football. That’s how I got into the game. Just over the years, my knowledge of the game has just been increasing.”
The Detroit Lions drafted Tomlinson in the first round Thursday night, a thrilling moment for a player whose future both on and off the field appears bright. The 6-foot-4, 330-pound guard from Duke says he wants to go to medical school, but not until his football career is over.
Tomlinson is the first player out of Duke to go in the first round since Cleveland took linebacker Mike Junkin with the fifth overall pick in 1987.
“It’s going to mean a lot for the program,” Tomlinson said. “I’m sure my ex-teammates back over there, that are still at Duke University, are stoked about everything.”
Detroit traded down in the first round before picking Tomlinson. The Lions sent the No. 23 pick to the Broncos. Denver traded the No. 28 pick to the Lions, along with fifth-rounders both this year and next year and offensive lineman Manny Ramirez.
The Lions actually drafted Ramirez in the fourth round in 2007, and he spent his first three seasons with Detroit before being cut in 2010. He played for the Broncos from 2011-14, and he was a regular starter for the past three seasons.
“We do have two quality guys that we picked up here this evening,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. “They should give us some help on the interior of our line. They are very versatile guys and guys with some thickness and girth. They are also guys that are very smart.”
The Lions are reshuffling their offensive line after Matthew Stafford was sacked a career-high 45 times last season. Detroit has moved on from longtime center Dominic Raiola, and guard Rob Sims’ future is uncertain.
The Lions came into the draft with needs on both lines and at running back. They were already picking later than usual in the first round after last season’s playoff appearance, and they were able to acquire a couple picks and a player by moving down a bit further.
Detroit came into the draft with only six scheduled picks this year.
“We look at our board, we see the players that we have available. We have guys that we like that are available — how many spots can we go back?” general manager Martin Mayhew said. “The opportunity to get Manny was pretty important for us. We had a couple different — we actually had three opportunities to move back. That was the one that we chose, but I think Manny was a pretty key part of that.”
This ended up being the latest opening pick for the Lions since 1993, when they did not have a first rounder.
Tomlinson was a first-team All-American as a senior this past season. He also received the 2014 Orange Bowl-FWAA Courage Award.
His goal is to become a neurosurgeon someday, and his interest in that part of the medical profession gives him an interesting perspective on concussion concerns in the NFL.
“Obviously, with concussions and concussion research, there’s a lot going on right now,” Tomlinson said. “Having the knowledge I have right now, I’m still in love with the game.”