Detroit Lions general manager Martin Mayhew will try to plug some holes on his club’s roster during the three-day NFL draft that begins Thursday.
Cornerback, offensive line and running back stand out as positions of need, if not immediately then in the near future.
Whether Mayhew can address all three of those spots remains to be seen. The Lions’ first-round pick is No. 23 overall. They also have picks in the second round (No. 54 overall), third round (No. 85), fourth round (No. 117), fifth round (No. 158) and seventh round (No. 219 and No. 230).
Thursday’s first round starts at 8 p.m. The second and third rounds are Friday (starting at 7 p.m.) and the final four rounds Saturday (starting at noon).
In the third of a three-part series addressing the Lions’ positions of need, here is a breakdown on the running-back situation:
WHY THE NEED?
It’s certainly not because Mayhew has ignored the position, that’s for sure.
He’s just had some bad luck.
The Lions used two high draft choices the last two years to try to fix the problem. They took Jahvid Best in the first round with the 30th pick overall in 2010 and selected Mikel Leshoure in the second round last year with the 57th pick.
In both cases, Mayhew made a deal to move up in the draft to make sure he could secure those players.
It seemingly gave the Lions two solid options in the backfield. Best immediately showed game-breaking ability. Leshoure also looked capable of contributing right away.
But injuries ruined those plans last year. Leshoure ruptured an Achilles’ tendon early in training camp and missed the entire season. Best, meanwhile, suffered from concussions and played in only six games.
The question now is how much can the Lions count on either Leshoure or Best for the 2012 season. The nature of Leshoure’s injury is that he might not be full strength until the second half of the season, if not until 2013. He also could face an early-season suspension from the league following two arrests for marijuana possession.
Best participated in the team’s recent conditioning program, but there’s no telling when or whether he will be cleared for full contact. He’s also more at risk for future concussions because of his past problems.
The Lions finished 29th out of 32 NFL teams in rushing last year (95.2 yards per game). Despite missing the last 10 games, Best still led the team with 390 yards. Kevin Smith, who has had an injury-plagued career, finished with 356 yards and Maurice Morris had 316.
A Super Bowl-contending club simply can’t rely on so many unknowns at running back, which makes drafting another back seem logical, if not necessary.
Mayhew sounded like someone who wouldn’t hesitate to pull the trigger early in the draft, especially considering the uncertainty that exists at the position for the club.
“The running-back position has been kind of de-valued lately,” Mayhew said. “People don’t really view the running back as a key position the way they used to.
“I think it’s a critical position. Careers are shorter, obviously, but I think it’s a really important position on your football team. I don’t share that sentiment that running backs aren’t important and you can just grab one whenever, and the guy can play.
“For every second-round pick or undrafted free agent that makes it, there’s 10 of those guys that don’t make it.”
Nevertheless, it’s doubtful the Lions would use the No. 23 pick on a running back. Mayhew is a big believer in value (best player available) as opposed to reaching to fill needs, especially with a first-round pick.
The only running back that is clearly worth a No. 1 pick is Alabama’s Trent Richardson, and he’s expected to be selected in the top five, long before the Lions are on the clock.
SECOND- OR THIRD-ROUND HOPEFULS
The Lions could face this dilemma: While some of the top running backs after Richardson might not be a good value pick at No. 23 overall, they might not be on the board at 54.
Could Mayhew trade up in the second round again to get one?
Here are some of the possible Day 2 candidates:
*Oregon’s LaMichael James: James could give the Lions that home-run threat that they missed when Best went down.
*Boise State’s Doug Martin: He’s only 5-foot-9, but he’s strong (220 pounds) and tough.
*Miami (Fla.)’s Lamar Miller: Rushed for 1,272 yards last season as a third-year sophomore, then left college with two years of eligibility remaining.
*Washington’s Chris Polk: Injured early in his career, but rushed for more than 1,000 yards each of the last three years.
*Virginia Tech’s David Wilson: Talented runner, but ball security is considered a real issue.
Former NFL coach Brian Billick, now an analyst for FOX Sports, identified Texas A&M’s Cyrus Gray as someone the Lions could target. Billick described Gray as an “excellent inside pounder to go with Best.” Gray missed the final two games last season because of a shoulder injury.
Edwin Baker wasn’t as good of a player in 2011 as he was in 2010 for Michigan State, but he still opted to leave school early. Part of his problem last season was fumbling. If he regains his form from 2010, when he rushed for 1,201 yards and 13 touchdowns, Baker could turn into a decent Day 3 addition.