For the second-consecutive year, General Manager Martin Mayhew and Head Coach Jim Schwartz have drafted by the philosophy of taking the best player available instead of focusing on specific needs.
“I think you’re going to have more success taking the best player,” said Mayhew.
“I think over a period of time, if you take the best player every time, you’re going to have more successful drafts than if you are trying to fill holes and reaching for needs and things like that. That will always be the case as long as I’m here.”
The Lions walked away with six players from this year’s draft: defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, running back Jahvid Best, cornerback Amari Spievey, tackle Jason Fox, defensive end Willie Young and wide receiver Tim Toone.
“We had a lot of team needs and we still do,” said Schwartz, “but if you try to fill every single need, maybe you end up watering down some. We kept taking value.”
This was particularly true in the later rounds, such as with Young.
The Lions had him rated higher than the current round dictated and, though they didn’t foresee taking a defensive end in this draft, decided to pull the trigger.
“He was there and it made sense at that point,” said Schwartz. “He was sort of too good a player at that point to pass up. He brings some really good pass rush to the table.”
The Lions didn’t enter this draft thinking they were going to solve the team’s problems. In fact, Schwartz believes having that perspective of trying to fill all needs at once would take away from drafting players that will hopefully be in Detroit long-term.
But both Mayhew and Schwartz have a good feeling walking away from this draft, particularly when looking back at the players picked up a year ago.
“We still have a long way to go,” said Schwartz. “If you look at some of the talent that we’ve put in place over the last two years, going to Matt Stafford,
“We can even go to some of the other draft picks that played roles last year that have a chance to do a little bit more for us going into this year’s free agent class, going to this year’s draft. I think you’re seeing significant gains.”
Additionally, the top players the Lions took this year will impact their respective sides of the ball in a big way.
As a defensive tackle, Suh will strengthen the defensive line by attracting double teams and freeing up other players. If the line is more efficient, that will help Detroit’s back seven.
“Ndamukong Suh, he’s a good player and he makes other players around him better,” said Mayhew. “So he’s going to make our defense better. Just his presence alone will make that defense a much better unit I think.”
On the offensive side, Best has the potential to be a significant threat out of the backfield, which should open up players like
“He has a very unique running style,” said Mayhew. “His speed is a great factor for him and it helps him to be a very productive player. But his skill set, his vision, his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield – all those things come into play and he was the right back for us.”
Another element of this year’s draft is how the Lions leveraged picks to acquire other players who already had NFL experience.
“There were a lot more trades this year in trying to get some of those players,” said Schwartz. “We had the ammunition to do it and we did and we got players that are still young that have experience in the league that fit what we want.”
The entire drafting and free agency process has continued the building process Mayhew and Schwartz began. The past two years have helped the Lions begin developing an identity that has been sought after in Detroit.
“I think you can start to see weapons that we can employ, particularly offensively,” said Schwartz. “I think we’re a lot further along now, particularly with Matt (Stafford) being in his second year and being able to get some playmakers the ball gives you a lot better feeling for that.
“That’s one of the things we’ll work hard on in OTAs and in training camp. Having weapons isn’t enough; we’ve got to go do it on the field. That will be our job in training camp, to develop that personality and trying to find the best way to use the guys that we have.”