The Detroit Lions’ philosophy of taking a “best player available” approach to the NFL Draft has received criticism, especially in the wake of a 4-12 season. Add in Titus Young‘s release just two seasons after being drafted in the second round and it is clear there is a problem.
But is the problem in the best player available philosophy or is it something else?
It is easy to rag on BPA when it doesn’t work. Those examples are obvious and easy to second-guess. But what about the picks that weren’t made that should have been based on best player available? Since draft boards aren’t public information it is often impossible to evaluate the approach on that basis. Unless of course someone on the inside reveals that kind of information, and that is exactly what happened in regards to the Dallas Cowboys and LeSean McCoy. Consider this from a former Cowboys scout via NFL.com:
“If you go back to the 2009 draft, they sat there and they had LeSean McCoy with a first-round grade,” Broaddus said during a radio interview on KRLD-FM 105.3, via The Dallas Morning News. “The problem was, they weren’t willing to take LeSean McCoy. That’s the issue. Don’t window-dress your board. They’re sitting there in the second round and they’ve got LeSean McCoy with a first-round grade on their board. That’s value. They did it (got it right) with Sean Lee, they did it with Bruce Carter. They sat there, they took the guy that was on the board that they were supposed to take.
“Mistakes are made when you jump around on the board. Jerry (Jones has) done it a couple of different times. The Quincy Carter draft, we had Kendrell Bell there, first-round grade, ends up going the second round; goes right behind us to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Ends up being AFC Defensive Rookie of the Year. And then we take Quincy Carter. That was a forced pick right there. You had a guy there you had a better grade on, you probably could have got Quincy Carter later in the draft. That’s where you get in trouble leapfrogging around.”
Running back wasn’t a need for the Cowboys in 2009. Marion Barber III had just signed a long-term deal and the Cowboys had used their 2008 first round pick on Felix Jones then added Tashard Choice in the fourth round. However, needs are just an immediate snapshot in time and highly subject to change as they did with the Cowboys’ running back situation.
Instead of selecting McCoy, which should have been a no-brainer based on their draft board, the Cowboys traded the pick to the Buffalo Bills (who drafted Andy Levitre, more salt in wound) for picks in the third (Robert Brewster) and fourth round (Victor Butler). There is no question the Dallas Cowboys would be a better team today had they stuck with their board and drafted LeSean McCoy.
Don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t mean the Lions have done everything right in the drafts since Martin Mayhew took over. It does mean that the underlying philosophy is more sound than fans give it credit for and that the Lions need to do a better job of evaluating prospects to set up their big board.
The good news is that the Lions are taking steps to correct their deficiencies in the evaluation process with the hiring of Brian Xanders, who has been charged with implementing an in-house scouting system. The better the draft board, the better best player available works.