Detroit Lions: Contributions of Brian Xanders Should Not Be Minimized


Dec 9, 2012; Green Bay, WI, USA; A Detroit Lions helmet sits on the field during warmups prior to the game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. The Packers won 27-20. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

As the NFL moves closer to the annual 2014 draft weekend, the contributions of Detroit Lions Senior Personnel Executive Brian Xanders should not be minimized.

In a recent interview with Mlive, Lions General Manager Martin Mayhew spoke about the role Xanders currently plays in the organization.  In a nutshell, Mayhew spoke of Xanders efforts in a fashion similar to that of an executive secretary.

"“A lot of our information has been compiled a lot more efficiently, and in a lot more efficient presentation,” he said. “All the information on one guy is on one sheet — one page, basically.”"

How many pages did it take previously?  Please don’t tell me the direction of the Lions was haphazardly organized in loose leaf notebooks with sticky notes or overstuffed manila folders.

Is Mayhew insinuating a stream-lined presentation was unattainable before Xanders was offered a desk?  This explanation makes no sense.  Coming in at a cool $839 million net worth, 21st in the league, I find it hard to believe Xanders is the first Lions employee to embrace the digital era.

If so, the Lions appear more like Kodak than an NFL franchise.  Kodak, the former king of photography, was left behind when the digital camera changed the way we take pictures.  They were late to change and subsequently filed for bankruptcy in 2012. Burying your head in the sand is no way to stay on top whether it’s film or football.

Is this why the late rounds for the Detroit Lions have been so abysmal?  Compare the draft choices of both Mayhew and Xanders from 2008 to 2012.  Let’s throw out first round selections because getting a starter in round one is like passing driver’s education – not a big hurdle.  Outside of his first round selections, Mayhew has found only two starters, Louis Delmas and DeAndre Levy, both from the 2009 draft.

Xanders, on the other hand, landed the Broncos seven starters in that same time frame.  WR Eric Decker, OG Zane Beadles is 2010, LB Nate Irving, OT Orlando Franklin and TE Julius Thomas in 2011, DT Malik Jackson and LB Danny Trevathan in 2012 which corrected his biggest snafu of selecting Tim Tebow in 2010.

The NFL draft is a timed examination of every team’s executive brain trust.  Who’s done their homework?  Who’s best prepared?  Ultimately, which franchise is smartest?  From 15 minutes in the first round, to 10 minutes in the second and a mere 300 seconds in every round thereafter, time is of the essence and having quick reference to optimize the decision is invaluable.

It’s no different than an open book exam.  You may think it will be easy because all the information is accessible, but the truth is that if you do not already know the information and have it organized for quick reference, you will inevitably fail.

Mayhew went on to further explain Xanders’ influence on the scouting department:

"“So he’s done a lot of the technology work on the background of how we’re going to do our draft, and allowed the evaluation process to go a little smoother, because we have all the information in one format in one place. So that’s really kind of what his role is.”"

Right, all the information was there, Xanders just “kind of” did some data entry and made it easier to use.  Just like Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg just “kind of” took your friends information and made it easier to connect.

Ridiculous.  Xanders has changed the way the Lions scouting department does business.  It is what a  professor would refer to as disruptive innovation.  An idea or plan that creates an entirely new value network and Mayhew’s spin comes off as nothing more than self-preservation.

Xanders has been successful on every stop in his NFL career.  He was with the Atlanta Falcons from 1994-2007 when the Dirty Birds made their only trip to the Super Bowl.  He rebuilt the Denver Broncos from 2008-2012 and his draft selections were a large part of the AFC Champions of last year.

In the draft process, information is currency and efficiency is the vehicle by which it is invested.  An improvement in both should always yield a higher return. The more you have, the better off you are.  With an efficient system, more information can be processed which should lead to better decision making.   Xanders has given the Lions more money to play with by giving them a better portfolio and the first year has provided immediate returns.

Is it just coincidence that the Lions 2013 draft yielded four players, outside of the first round, slated for significant contributions in 2014?  Larry Warford and Sam Martin are starters with Darius Slay and Devon Taylor set to be major rotation players at the very least.

Perhaps it was luck that the first five Lions picks were a success in Xanders’ first year and perhaps Ndamukong Suh will give Detroit a hometown discount; I wouldn’t bet on either.  History shows Xanders has been effective deep into the draft routinely – a system is in place.

Depending on your perspective, either Xanders is an innovator and should be applauded for his system, or the Lions were behind the curve and Mayhew should be embarrassed it took an outsider to bring them up to speed.  Whichever, the Lions are a better organization with Xanders part of the front office.

Without question, Martin Mayhew still ultimately makes the final draft decisions, but with more concise and relevant information, the decisions become easier and adaptable as the draft will always unfold with surprising selections.

No different than a CEO giving a presentation to thousands, the majority of the work happens further down the food chain and the man in front of the podium is simply regurgitating the work of his subordinates.

Bill Ford Junior has stated publicly that ownership will remain “hands-off” and simply provide support.  If another team tries to poach Brian Xanders again, Junior should make sure he stays in Allen Park – his contributions should not be minimized.