It’s no secret what the Detroit Lions are going to do on draft day. They have followed the same approach since general manager Martin Mayhew took control in 2009. The Lions are going to take the best available player.
Who that is come pick 10 on Thursday night is still a wide-open question, but there is no debate that this draft strategy has worked for Detroit.
The last decade, before Mayhew arrived, was full of blunders on draft day. Some of the selections still make Lions fans cringe: from Joey Harrington in 2002 (No. 3 overall), to Charles Rogers in 2003 (No. 2 overall), to Mike Williams in 2005 (No. 10 overall).
The Lions were prone to drafting hyped-up prospects who flopped once they reached the league. Fans were constantly let down by the team’s selections. Detroit was nothing short of draft day laughing stock.
But those days are far removed from the minds of the Lions faithful thanks to a string of quality draft selections in recent years. With the best-player-available mentality, the Lions have come back to relevance in the NFL.
While this approach sometimes ignores holes in the roster, it does something more important. It ensures that the Lions are taking the most talented football player available. Mayhew has told fans time and time again that the organization will not reach to address roster needs.
This strategy netted them defensive anchor Ndamukong Suh in 2010, the consensus best available player in that year’s draft. The next year, the Lions drafted a defensive tackle once again with the selection of Nick Fairley at No. 13 overall.
Don’t look at it as drafting two defensive tackles in a row, view it as taking two players that are immediate starters on the field.
Drafting players capable of starting is invaluable in the draft. It adds inexpensive depth, which frees up funding for roster holes come free agency.
Take a selection like Larry Warford last year (Round 3, 65th overall). Warford became an immediate contributor, and started all 16 games as a rookie last year. The guard will anchor the offensive line for years to come for less than $1 million a season.
Quality “homegrown” players add stability to a roster. Stability often leads to success.
It’s no secret why the Lions are seen as a threat in the eyes of NFL players, coaches and fans. Or how the team ended an 11-year playoff drought two season ago. It all starts on draft day.
This year’s Lions have seven picks in the first 136 selections in this year’s draft. The pressure is on for Mayhew and the new coaching staff led by head coach Jim Caldwell. And it starts with 10th overall pick on Thursday night at 8 p.m.
Mayhew has done his research. He has readied the team for a variety of scenarios, as draft day tends to be very unpredictable. Whether the team trades up or down or stays put depends on the way the draft plays out.
Whatever happens throughout the three-day process, expect the Lions to take best available player when they go on the clock.