Last year, the Detroit Lions eschewed need in a big way during the NFL Draft, as their first three picks were at positions that were already filled on the roster.
Eric Ebron, Kyle Van Noy and Travis Swanson likely all fit the profile of the best player available according to Martin Mayhew, who hasn’t been bashful about this drafting strategy during his tenure with the Lions.
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Despite making those picks and seeing spotty production from all three, Mayhew got lucky last year that his decisions didn’t cost the team in a more dramatic way. The Lions played through a chaotic season at cornerback, and also sustained injuries along both the defensive and offensive lines, but managed to survive and thrive.
Still, the best player available strategy has to be tweaked a degree this season, The Lions have some obvious needs and positions where finding depth is a must. Getting too cute in the early rounds and taking the best player while subsequently avoiding need would be a mistake at this stage in the franchise’s game.
Recently, while reading the book You Herd Me by Colin Cowherd, this point was reinforced. As Cowherd says in a chapter, you’d be walking a major tightrope if your significant other asked you to go to the store for eggs, bread and milk and you brought home a rake, a garden hose, olives and licorice and tried to sell their inclusion on the basis of good value alone
Lately, the Lions have been walking such a tightrope themselves with roster development. The pick of Ebron last year was closer to a garden hose or rake than any household staple, considering what Detroit already had on the roster. It was a calculated gamble that hasn’t paid off yet. While Van Noy and Swanson were closer to needs, the argument could have been made for taking other players at both their spots.
As Cowherd proves, two of the better teams in the NFC lately, the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers, have built their rosters with this strategy. Bruce Irvin and Eric Reid were two players many considered reaches when they were selected, but the teams liked them enough to take them to fill positions. Both have been impressive.
To take the next step, the Lions have to pay closer attention to their needs during this draft cycle, and fit the best player avalible mantra into a needs-based solution. In other words, they might not have to bring home bread, milk or eggs specifically, but they should strive to bring home hamburger buns, yogurt and cheese; items from the same general categories.
To take the next step, the Lions have to pay closer attention to their needs during this draft cycle, and fir the best plater available mantra into a need-based solution.
For example, with the potential need for a starting guard, perhaps a starting cornerback or defensive tackle, another wide receiver and depth at all those spots, the Lions should probably make an attempt quite quickly to check off some of those needs and avoid the temptation to draft a running back early. It would make the most sense, and might be the type of thing Detroit’s looking to do.
The Lions have a chance to take the next step this offseason and transform themselves into perennial playoff contenders. They’ll only do that by confidently filling out the needs of their roster in the draft while deferring some of the wants.