Tom Lewand says young players must step into bigger roles for the team to have success

Posted Feb 16, 2013

With so many free agents heading into 2013, the Detroit Lions will need young players to develop and step into more prominent roles

The most efficient and effective way to build a franchise in today's NFL is through the draft. And the quickest way to becoming a consistent winner is for those drafted players to make contributions early in their careers.

The Detroit Lions have had contributions from young players like Matthew Stafford, Louis Delmas and Ndamukong Suh from the outset of their careers. Those players helped the Lions go from 0-16 to 10-6 in a matter of three seasons.

This past season saw the team take a step backward with a 4-12 record. If they’re going to get things back on track and stay on track, bigger contributions will have to be made by players from the 2011 and 2012 drafts along with immediate help from this year's crop.

"When you talk about building a team through the draft, those draft choices have to continue to develop as players," Detroit Lions president Tom Lewand told "We’ve seen some of that ... and we certainly need to see more and more as we move forward both with last year’s class, the 2011 class and this year's class. Rookies come in and contribute right away in this league and this year will be no exception."

Mikel Leshoure

Players like Nick Fairley and Mikel Leshoure from the 2011 class need to take a big step now in their third season. Riley Reiff, Ryan Broyles, Bill Bentley, Jonte Green and others from last year’s class have to make the jump from contributors to starters.

"I think there’s some guys that started to play last year and guys that played limited snaps for various reasons who showed that they can be very productive," Lewand said.

"Riley’s a good case in point. We used Riley in that second tight end role – that extra offensive lineman, whatever you want to call it – and he showed some things in there movement-wise and athletically that were very impressive; showed that the game wasn’t too big for him and really made a lot of people in the organization excited about what he can contribute coming up."

Bentley and Broyles were limited by injury last season, but both showed flashes when healthy. They’ll be relied on heavily in 2013.

"You also look at a guy like Jonte Green, who continued to progress as the year went on and got better and better and developed through training camp, developed through the season," Lewand said of the team’s sixth round draft choice in 2012. "When pressed into more duty as the season went on and injuries mounted, (he) responded effectively to those challenges.

"So, do you need those guys to step up? There’s no question about that."

Detroit Lions vice chairman Bill Ford said something to the same effect following the 2011 season.

"If you look at Green Bay, they've drafted very well and they play pretty much all of them. They're not afraid to play them and, as a result, they're one of the youngest teams - if not the youngest team - in the league," Ford told "I think that's, again, a function of today's salary cap. You pay your stars and you play your young people."