Mock drafters rely heavily on team needs when assigning a particular player to a particular team. The strategy generally makes sense but it doesn’t always play out that way because no one really knows the ins and outs of an organization’s thinking on draft day.
Prince Amukamara was a popular name in mock drafts for the Lions leading up to last year’s draft. Most mocks that had someone other than Amukamara going to the Lions had one of a number of offensive lineman as the pick. They were all wrong.
A lot of that had to do with the way the draft played out. More quarterbacks went early than most people predicted and Nick Fairley dropped as a result. Still, a need-based approach to the draft would discount Fairley as the potential pick. The Lions conduct business the exact opposite. Talent is always a need and Fairley represented significant value when considering his talent level at the position the Lions were picking. The same can be said for their second round picks when conventional thinking said they would be looking for a linebacker.
At this point no one should get caught off guard by a similar situation playing out in the 2012 draft. Jim Schwartz had the following to say during his NFL Combine press conference today:
"We’re not going to be in the quarterback business, particularly early in the draft, but that’s a good thing. But just about every other position (is in play). Where we got from 0-16 to a playoff berth has been sort of keeping an open mind and evaluating everybody and taking them all as they come.We drafted Leshoure last year, a lot of people (were) inquisitively looking like, ‘Really? Running back? You have so many other needs.’ As long as there’s talent and we have a plan for a player, we can fit players in at any position."
I hesitate to call it a straight “best player available” approach because it diminishes the work the Lions do in pinpointing specific players that combine pick value and a skill set the team desires. The Lions are looking to make a random collection of talent but rather a collection of talent that is acquired for a specific purpose. This value based approach allows the team to avoid reaching for a specific player or position while still ensuring they get a guy that can help the team sooner as opposed to later.
Fans may have clamored for players other than what the team ended up with in specific spots in the past but the relatively short tenure of this post-Millen regime has proven themselves trustworthy. The 2012 draft is another chance to build on that trust.