The Martin Mayhew/Jim Schwartz kingdom has completed it’s fifth draft and, in doing so, may have left an explanation for the past two years.
The creation of the Lions’ draft board appears to come down to one question being asked over and over again: Can he play football well? Positions, psychological profiles, medical histories and rap sheets don’t matter.
I’m not talking about the first rounders. Those guys, especially at the top of the draft, are complete packages. It’s that second pick the Lions make that reveals their tangibles-and-nothing-else strategy.
Mayhew and Schwartz have never opted for the slightly undersized guard who has plenty of room to grow or the good-but-will-never-be-great linebacker. They take the first-round talent with character issues or a history of concussions. This is home run or strike out, boom or bust, if-you’re-not-first-you’re-last at its extreme. Take a look at every second pick (some are late first-rounders, some are second rounders) the duo has made in its tenure:
2013: Darius Slay, second round (36th overall) – torn meniscus, doctors disagree on whether he needs surgery. He has opted to go without it.
2012: Ryan Broyles, second round (54th overall) – tore his ACL nine games into his senior season.
2011: Titus Young, second round (44th overall) – character issues, including being suspended for much of his sophomore season after fighting with a teammate.
2010: Jahvid Best, first round (30th overall) – suffered two concussions in two weeks during his final season at Cal, including this one.
2009: Brandon Pettigrew, first round (20th overall) – character issues, arrested for public intoxication and assaulting a police officer during his junior season.
Now, the Lions are looking for football players, not St. Francis of Assisi, and we’re talking about a league that saw a guy suspected of murder become the Super Bowl MVP one year later. But so far, this method hasn’t proven to be sustainable.
Other than a brief scuffle with Roman Harper that led to him pushing an official to cost the Lions any hope of staying in a game against New Orleans, Pettigrew has been pretty good. He’s still on the team. He’s started 54 games. He’s amassed 2,412 yards and 14 touchdowns. VERDICT: Success.
Best suffered two concussions in his second year and hasn’t played since. He’s still on the team, but hasn’t played in a year and may sit out next year as well. He’s played 22 games in his career, starting 15, rushing for 945 yards and six touchdowns. Running backs drafted after Best in 2010: Toby Gerhardt (47 game, six starts, 1,022 yards, 3 TDs), Ben Tate (26 games, two starts, 1,221 yards, 6 TDs), Montario Hardesty (22 games, five starts, 1 TD). Nothing great, but they’re more likely to improve on their numbers than Best. VERDICT: Mistake.
Young’s character issues never ended, from sucker punching his teammate to lining up in the wrong position on purpose. The Lions cut him this year. His career numbers with the Lions: 26 games, 17 starts, 81 rec, 990 yards, 10 TDs. Receivers drafted near Young in 2011: Torrey Smith (32 games, 30 starts, 99 receptions, 1696 yards, 15 TDs) Greg Little (32 games, 28 starts, 114 receptions, 1356 yards, 6 TDs), Randall Cobb (30 games, 8 starts, 105 receptions, 1329 yards, 9 TDS). VERDICT: Mistake.
Broyles appeared to be on his way to being a productive receiver. Then he tore his ACL in week 13 of last year. Unlucky or injury prone? He has 22 receptions for 310 yards and two touchdowns, in 10 games (three starts). Receivers drafted near Broyles last year: Alshon Jeffery (10 games, 6 starts, 24 receptions, 367 yards, 3 TDs), Rueben Randle (16 games, 1 starts, 19 receptions, 298 yards, 3 TDs) VERDICT: Still undetermined.
Five years later, the Lions haven’t hit the grand slam, haven’t had a guy a who would go in the top 10 in a redraft, and they’re stuck with two guys who probably wouldn’t be drafted at all.
This doesn’t make for a stable franchise, one that will contend every year. Some luck may bring 10-6, but you’ll see it turn into 4-12 in a year.
Then again, after 54 years of one playoff win, why not try to hit one off the light pole every time?