Martin Mayhew is sticking to his board
April, 29, 2011
By Kevin Seifert | ESPN.com
AP Photo/Dave MartinThe Lions bypassed other needs to select wide receiver Titus Young in the second round.I have no problem if the Detroit Lions, three years removed from the worst season in NFL history, continue drafting without regard for position. In the long run, it's the best approach for re-stocking a once-barren roster.
In the short term, however, I'll say this: There better be more on the way.
The Lions' first three draft choices this week -- defensive tackle Nick Fairley, receiver Titus Young and running back Mikel Leshoure -- are all well-regarded players. They also play positions the Lions had already stocked well.
With the bulk of their draft complete, the Lions have not addressed their secondary or linebacker positions -- where six of their eight combined starting roles essentially remain unfilled. They have only two picks remaining Saturday, low spots in the fifth and seventh rounds, and now must turn to free agency or the trade market to fill what continue to be the most glaring needs on their roster.
"We'll maintain a long-term approach," coach Jim Schwartz told Detroit-area reporters. "There's a lot of time between now and when the season begins to worry about our needs. Let's worry right now about talent, let's worry about what works for us. We'll draft to our strengths."
To be sure, I don't think there's any doubt that Fairley, Young and Leshoure will work for the Lions.
We've discussed the luxury the Lions will now have to rotate Fairley with defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Corey Williams. Young was a player the Lions have targeted for some time, according to Schwartz, and he will give the Lions a more explosive option in their three-receiver sets than veteran Bryant Johnson did when paired with Calvin Johnson and Nate Burleson.
And Leshoure no doubt will serve as a nice 227-pound complement to speedster Jahvid Best. General manager Martin Mayhew called the Leshoure pick a "definite need" because "in this business, you have to have two good running backs."
But is a second running back more important than a No. 1 or No. 2 cornerback? Is a third receiver more important than a starting linebacker? Mayhew didn't attempt to make that argument. Instead, he portrayed the draft as a starting point for assembling the 2011 team.
"The draft is not the finish line for us as far as our personnel department," he said. "We have a lot of work to do. ... We have a lot of areas where we can definitely improve and we'll continue to work at those things."
More than anything, these decisions reflect Mayhew's commitment to, in essence, taking what the draft gives. On two occasions he's traded up after targeting a specific player -- Best in 2010 and Leshoure this year. But for the most part, I think we can agree that this is one general manager who follows his board religiously and regardless of the current composition of his roster.
"[Reporters] are obviously looking for corners, for linebackers and that kind of thing," Mayhew said. "We trust our grades on these guys. We think our fans are really going to like these players when they see these players play."
It's possible that Mayhew has more confidence in the linebackers and cornerbacks on his roster than we realize. Friday, he said: "If I thought we didn't have any linebackers or corners, I'd be trying to acquire linebackers and corners." But I can only assume he will address those positions aggressively whenever the lockout ends (permanently) and the free-agent market opens.
"We're going to draft the best players that we can find," he said. "We feel like we've done a good job, especially last year after the draft process. We think we'll do the same thing this year. There will be some opportunities to fill some gaps later on."
Indeed, at one point during the second round, a Lions fan we'll refer to as Chris G. emailed this conspiracy theory: "Clearly they have an under-the-table agreement with Nnamdi Asomugha," the soon-to-be free-agent cornerback currently on the Oakland Raiders' roster. I'm not ready to start that campaign just yet, but to me it's pretty clear the Lions aren't equipped to fill multiple cornerback and linebacker positions in-house unless they want to enter the season with a sorely imbalanced roster.
As long as we're midway through the roster process, I would say the Lions have had a strong draft. We can only assume that more is on the way.