What can the Detroit Lions learn from this year's Super Bowl teams?

Posted Jan 31, 2013

One thing the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers have in common is strong drafts. Lead writer Tim Twentyman takes a look at later-round picks for this year's Super Bowl teams and how that compares with the Detroit Lions

NaVarro Bowman

The most efficient way to build a good roster in today's NFL is through the draft.

Teams that rely too heavily on free agency either overpay for their achievement or are inconsistent from year-to-year.

The good teams - the ones that stay good for a long time - get their stars early in the draft, add depth in the mid-to-later rounds and occasionally hit a home run with a late pick.

The San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens are great examples of that philosophy. They'll be playing in the Super Bowl on Sunday with a majority of players they drafted and developed. They filled in the gaps in free agency, but the core of their young talent was home grown.

When it comes to the draft, rounds three through seven are how teams build their depth, but what's been impressive about the way the 49ers have been built – and to an extend the Ravens -  is that they've hit multiple home runs in the later rounds.

San Francisco running back Frank Gore was selected in the third round in 2005 and linebacker NaVorro Bowman was selected in the third in 2010. Safety Dashon Goldston in the fourth round in 2007. All three players were Pro Bowlers this year.

Ravens Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda was taken in the third round in 2007.

The Detroit Lions haven't found a Pro Bowler in the later rounds since GM Martin Mayhew and head coach Jim Schwartz took over, but they have found both starters and key contributors.

Linebacker DeAndre Levy was a third-round pick in 2009 and has made 40 starts in both the middle and outside linebacker spots.

Defensive tackle Sammie Hill was taken in the fourth round of the same draft and has made 18 starts and is a key contributor along the Lions' defensive line.

DeAndre LevyWillie Young was a seventh-round selection in 2010, and though he didn't take the giant leap forward this year some were hoping, he continues to be a contributor at defensive end and could play a much larger role in 2013.

It's yet to be determined the impact last year's crop of picks in the third (Bill Bentley), fourth (Ronnell Lewis), fifth (Chris Greenwood and Tahir Whitehead), sixth (Jonte Green) and seventh (Travis Lewis) rounds will have, but both Bentley and Green combined for eight starts last season.

Unfortunately, the Lions are stilling feeling the effects of the old rookie system that still has them paying the price for taking quarterback Matthew Stafford No. 1 overall in 2009 ($21 million cap total for 2013) and Ndamukong Suh No. 2 overall in 2010 ($17 million), but it's a double-edged sword because those same players are also the building blocks and have turned out to be very good picks.

Of the 22 starters Week 1 vs. the Rams, the Lions drafted 12 of those and three of them – Cliff Avril, Levy and Bentley – were third-round picks.

"We're trying to find good players for the long haul,” Mayhew said after the season. “It's not just about getting ready for the first game of the season. I think that's short-sighted.

"The draft is supposed to build your team for the future, in my opinion, to get your team ready for every season to come. I think you've got to take the best players that you can find."

The 49ers and Ravens have done an excellent job with same philosophy

Of the 53 players on the Ravens' Super Bowl roster, 29 of them were acquired through the NFL draft.

The Ravens got seven of them via the first round, six in the second, three each in the third and fourth, five in the fifth, three in the sixth and two in the seventh.

The 49ers also have 29 draft picks on the roster, 10 from the first round, two from the second, four in the third, three in the fourth, two in the fifth and four each in the sixth and seven rounds.

Both the 49ers and Ravens were built through the draft and complimented those building blocks with free agents.

Mayhew and Schwartz have the same viewpoint and the team recently bolstered its scouting and personnel department with the hire of former Broncos general manager Brian Xanders to do just that.

The Lions have built their core through the top of the draft. They need to continue to do that, but hopefully hit a couple home runs - like the Ravens and 49ers have done - on days two and three.