Despite his team’s glaring needs on defense, Detroit Lions general manager Martin Mayhew has stubbornly stuck to the “Best Player Available” mentality when it comes to making selections in the NFL Draft.
At least that’s the way he explained decisions such as taking offensive players — tackle Riley Reiff and receiver Ryan Broyles — with the team’s first two picks in last year’s draft before addressing the defensive concerns in later rounds.
It’s been frustrating for many observers to accept Mayhew’s approach considering there are such obvious positions that must be upgraded significantly to rebuild the defense.
Mayhew insists he will stick with his same philosophy again this year. One change that has been made was the addition of former Denver Broncos general manager Brian Xanders to the Lions’ front office as the senior personnel executive.
But when asked whether he might revise his general draft strategy, Mayhew was adamant.
“No,” he insisted. “No, I won’t.
“You’ve got to have some things that you believe in. Our drafts are what allowed us to go from two wins to six wins to 10 wins.”
One can also argue, however, that those drafts contributed to last season’s slide back to four wins.
“I believe in what we’re doing,” Mayhew continued. “I think you’re hard-pressed to find teams that say ‘We draft for need.’
“We’re trying to find good players for the long haul. 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.”
It’s a good strategy in principle. It was the absolute best way to go for the Lions a few years ago when they had so many holes to fill all over the place.
But when a team is coming off a 10-win playoff season, that mentality has to be altered to some extent to try to fix key weaknesses for a chance to take the next step.
This year, it appears both ways of thinking should be able to merge happily together when Detroit is on the clock at No. 5 overall and perhaps even again early in the second round.
That’s because this draft is loaded with defensive standouts. Opinions will change between now and the first day of the draft on April 25, especially after next month’s Scouting Combine, but defense is expected to dominate the top picks.
NFL.com’s Gil Brandt, a former vice president of player personnel for the Dallas Cowboys, currently projects that defensive players will be taken with 10 of the first 12 selections, and 13 of the first 16. Other early mock drafts are slanted similarly toward the defensive players in the top half of the first round.
In the case of the Lions, you can look at their secondary and conclude that they absolutely must address those problems by taking a cornerback — or even a safety — with the first pick.
That could happen with either Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner or Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro as the target.
However, with such a high pick, the Lions quite possibly will feel the need to take a player at a position of perceived higher value, such as defensive end.
Detroit also has serious needs on the edge because Cliff Avril is an unrestricted free agent and aging Kyle Vanden Bosch’s productivity dropped severely last season. Back-up Lawrence Jackson is also a UFA.
The Lions’ defensive ends combined for only 15 1/2 sacks – 9 1/2 by Avril (tied for 21st in NFL), 3 1/2 by Vanden Bosch (tied for 101st) and 2 1/2 by Jackson (tied for 150th).
The talented group of defensive ends coming out in the draft features Texas A&M’s Damontre Moore, Florida State’s Bjoern Werner, LSU’s Barkevious Mingo and BYU’s Ezekiel Ansah.
The Lions also could consider a playmaking linebacker such as Georgia’s Jarvis Jones with the first pick.
If they somehow do end up going with another offensive player, the top candidates would be tackles Luke Joeckel (Texas A&M) and Eric Fisher (Central Michigan), or guard Chance Warmack (Alabama).
More than likely, though, the Lions should be able to fill a major need on defense with that best-player-available philosophy.
It would follow Mayhew’s blueprint but also should satisfy his critics.