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Martin Mayhew explains some of the Detroit Lions draft approach

5/6/2015
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2015 NFL draft: Lions' draft bolsters running attack

Lions reporter Michael Rothstein grades the Lions' draft.

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- No matter what happens with the Detroit Lions' draft picks from last year and this year, the praise or blame for their successes or failures will go to general manager Martin Mayhew.

He’s come to understand that as he’s led the Lions through seven drafts, including some good ones (2013) and some not-so-good ones (2011). Through each of those drafts, he has tried to learn something to help for the future.

“We try to improve the process every year,” Mayhew said. “So every draft has been a little bit different. We try to make it a little bit better, our preparation a little bit better, our information better, so we’re constantly evolving as a personnel department.”

One of the immediate differences in the 2015 draft was the familiarity everyone on the coaching staff, in the scouting department and in the front office has with each other. Last year, with Jim Caldwell and his coordinators only a few months into their jobs with the Lions, it was still somewhat of a feeling-out process.

This year, Mayhew had a better feel for what his coaches want, what fits Teryl Austin’s defensive scheme or Joe Lombardi’s offensive plans, and the types of players the coaches like. In terms of actual players, Mayhew consistently says he takes the “best player available,” although the Lions clearly focused on the offensive and defensive lines along with solidifying the run game in the 2015 draft.

Mayhew also made Detroit’s position coaches part of the drafting process to make sure the players the Lions were selecting fit with what the coaches were looking for. To help this, the Lions had staff meetings before the NFL combine in February to allow position coaches -- many of whom would be conducting combine interviews -- to have a better feel for potential prospects than if they were meeting them semi-blind at the combine.

It allowed Detroit’s staff to have a better grasp on more players both heading into the combine and after as they continued their evaluations. This could lead to a more informed yay or nay from an assistant coach on draft day.

It is part of the relationship-building Mayhew is trying to foster between the coaches he hires and the players his team employs. It showed in Detroit’s giant character hunt in this year’s draft.

“They’re going to be locked in a room with those guys for eight, nine, 10 hours a day,” Mayhew said. “They have to work with those guys every single day, so I want them to have guys that they want to have.

“I tell those guys before the draft, ‘Hey, I’m not going to draft a guy you don’t want to coach.’ So if we get on the board, we have names on the board and I ask, ‘Do you want to coach this guy?’ And coaches have said no, and we draft somebody else.”

Drafting is almost always going to be a collaborative effort -- or it should be -- but there’s a little bit of how Detroit went through its draft process in 2015, leading to seven picks: two offensive linemen, two defensive backs, a defensive tackle, a running back and a fifth-round fullback.