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Sunday, September 1, 2013
Looking closer at Martin Mayhew's drafts

By Kevin Seifert

As news of the Detroit Lions' roster moves trickled out Saturday, I saw a plenty of references on Twitter to Martin Mayhew's drafts over the past five years. The Lions' cutdown to 53 included three more of Mayhew's draft picks, leaving 21 of his 38 picks over the span of five drafts still on the roster.

(I was a bit off in the wee hours of Saturday night with some of those figures.)

I tweeted out that number with no context. Many of you asked the fair question: What does that number mean? How does it compare to other teams and general managers?

Martin Mayhew
More than half of the players that Lions GM Martin Mayhew has drafted in the past five years are still on the team's roster.
For the most part, I think it's difficult to find an apples-to-apples comparison because of the varying team-building philosophies in the NFL. Some teams value quantity of draft picks, leading to higher raw numbers. Some general managers start off with better rosters than others, impacting the chances of draft picks making the team. You could make the argument that undrafted rookie signings should fall into the same category. There is also the question of quality: who is starting and who is a backup? We could go on.

So what I decided to do is draw up a comparison between the Lions/Mayhew and the team that most NFL observers consider the most draft-driven in the league. I think we can all agree that under general manager Ted Thompson, the Green Bay Packers have almost exclusively built through the draft -- especially during the most recent five-year period that matches up with Mayhew's tenure with the Lions.

By no means will this look be exhaustive, but let's run through some basics here:
So what do we make of all this? In some cases, frankly, I was surprised to see the numbers as close as they were. No team is more committed to the draft than the Packers, and their roster hit rate in recent years hasn't been much better than the Lions'. The biggest distinction might be in depth: The Packers have 16 backup players that they have drafted, while the Lions have 10.

I would agree that Mayhew's drafts have fallen short in some areas. The Lions haven't had a good success rate in turning mid-to-late-round draft picks into solid backups and special-teams players. In fact, only three players taken below the second round between 2009-11 are still with the team.

It's also true that a few of Mayhew's high-profile risks have blown up, most notably running back Jahvid Best and receiver Titus Young. (Best had a concussion history in college, while Young was considered a character concern by many teams.)

But like many things, you can probably find a combination of figures to support any argument you wish to make. What this exercise helps us realize is that every team has draft failures, no team hits on all of them and there are various mitigating circumstances.

In this era, the responsibility for success of draft picks doesn't fall solely on the general manager. The speed with which these players are often asked to contribute puts a premium on development from coaches, something I think Packers coach Mike McCarthy and his staff deserve credit for. Consider this: 51 of the 53 players on the Packers' current roster have never taken a snap for another NFL team.

The Lions' roster was so bare when Mayhew took over in 2009 that it should have been easier for his draft picks to make the team than it was for, say, the Packers'. I get that argument. In the end, however, it's a lot more difficult than it sounds.