In May, Detroit Lions general manager Martin Mayhew will run the team for his sixth NFL draft. He'll have been involved with the team's personnel decisions, at that point, for 10 seasons.
While Mayhew's first draft as the team's actual general manager took place in 2009, he had been working with the team since the middle of the 2004 season as the Lions' assistant general manager. He did not make final decisions when it came to the draft in those first few years -- Matt Millen was still the general manager then -- he was certainly part of the group that helped influence what happened with the Lions.
In 2010, the Lions once again had a top-five selection and by the end of the first round ended up having two first round picks for the second season in a row. It would also feature the first first-round selection under Mayhew’s watch that wouldn’t work out for Detroit in the long run.
The picks: No. 2; No. 30
The player’s credentials at the time: Suh was arguably the best overall college player in the country in 2009. He won the Lombardi, Nagurski and Bednarik Awards and was named the Associated Press’ College Player of the Year. He was a rare defensive Heisman Trophy finalist. In his career, he had 215 tackles, 57 tackles for loss and 24 sacks. He also had 38 career quarterback hurries and broke up 15 passes. There was little question he would be one of the, if not the first, non-quarterback taken in the draft.
Best had an electrifying college career when he was healthy. He gained 2,668 yards rushing in three seasons and had 29 touchdowns. He also caught 62 career passes for 533 yards according to ESPN Stats & Information. It was his speed and explosiveness, though, that made him an attractive prospect. He is the type of player, had he not had a history of injuries, that might have gone much higher in the first round.
Did the picks make sense at the time: Yes. Suh was the best defensive player in the draft and arguably the best overall player. Detroit did not need a quarterback -- it had drafted Matthew Stafford the season before -- so taking Sam Bradford was not going to happen. Suh was the first defensive player in a while to really make a run at the Heisman Trophy and his ability with the Cornhuskers was devastating. The Lions traded back into the first round to pick up Best, who was the shifty, catch-out-of the-backfield running back then-offensive coordinator Scott Linehan wanted for his offense. The biggest concern with him then -- and it proved to be a major concern -- was his history with injuries, specifically concussions. But from a talent perspective, Best was a smart pick.
Did they end up being good picks: Yes and no. Suh, as expected, developed into one of the top defensive linemen in the NFL and has become the anchor of the Detroit defense since 2010. The biggest issue with him throughout his career has been his fines and then his brief suspension for stomping on Evan Dietrich-Smith in 2011. But there is little doubt Suh became a valuable piece for Detroit and remains so entering the final season of his rookie contract. Best, on the other hand, ended up not working out at all, especially in a trade-up scenario. He couldn't stay healthy and is already out of the NFL because of concussions. He is currently suing the NFL.
Who should the Lions have taken at No. 2: The team made the right call here. Suh was the intelligent selection and the right selection both for what the team was trying to build defensively and also from a best player available standpoint. They would continue to take Suh in this position every single time they drafted.
Who should the Lions have taken at No. 30: One of two things would have made sense here. Either don’t trade up to grab Best and take a running back at your next draft pick. Or, if they were going to trade up, select McCluster instead of Best. While McCluster has also had some injuries since joining the NFL, he's still in the league, which is the first bonus there. Second, he would have been the perfect type of back for Detroit in that scenario -- and would have also gave the team a dynamic returner. Frankly, he would have ended up as the smarter selection and probably could have given the Lions even better production than he gave Kansas City considering the other weapons he would have had with the Lions.
What can Detroit learn from this: Again, a two-pick first round won't teach Detroit much with this draft, but the over-arching lesson from Best is to be wary of taking players with massive injury histories -- particularly an injury history with concussions.