In May, Detroit Lions general manager Martin Mayhew will run the team for his sixth NFL draft. He'll have been involved with the team's personnel decisions, at that point, for 10 seasons.
While Mayhew's first draft as the team's actual general manager took place in 2009, he had been working with the team since the middle of the 2004 season as the Lions' assistant general manager. He did not make final decisions when it came to the draft in those first few years -- Matt Millen was still the general manager then -- but he was certainly part of the group that helped influence what happened with the Lions.
Last season, with his team back in the top 5 of the draft, Mayhew took his biggest risk to date as the team's general manager. Knowing his team needed to win now after the Lions skidded back into the top 10 of the draft after a playoff appearance in 2011, he went after a player who didn't have much football experience. It also ended up working out pretty well. 2013
The pick: No. 5 The player selected: Ezekiel Ansah, DE, BYU
The player’s credentials at the time: Ansah didn’t have mindblowing numbers coming out of BYU, having played in 31 career games and making 72 career tackles. He also only had 4.5 sacks in his career and really had only one season where he played a lot -- his senior year in 2012. He was drafted more on potential since he had just started playing football his sophomore year of college in 2010 after being part of the track team in 2009 and trying to play basketball for the Cougars.
Who else was available at pick No. 5: Barkevious Mingo, DE, LSU; Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama; Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama; D.J. Hayden, CB, Houston.
Did the pick make sense at the time: Kind of. The Lions needed help on the defensive line and on defense in general. But there were a lot of questions surrounding Ansah, mostly from an experience standpoint. He has not played football for all that long and his ability to slide in right away as an immediate starter and top 5 pick was a question.
Did he end up being a good pick: Absolutely. Ansah played better than almost anyone could have expected during his first season. He led all rookies in sacks with eight and when he was healthy was a key player on the Detroit defensive line. Considering that he is still learning the game, he worked out exceedingly well for the Lions and the team has big hopes for him entering his second year.
Who should the Lions have taken at No. 5: After seeing what Ansah did as a rookie, the team would almost definitely make this pick again. While Eric Reid and Kyle Long had Pro Bowl seasons as rookies, Ansah has the potential to be better than both of them. He ended up being the wisest pick at this spot, especially since Milliner struggled as a rookie and the team found Larry Warford as the guard of the future in the third round.
What can Detroit learn from this: This started off what has been Mayhew’s best draft as the Lions general manager (or assistant general manager). He took a risk and it worked out, so what he did here is bought some currency for whatever the Lions choose to do in May’s draft.2012
The pick: No. 23 The player selected: Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa
The player’s credentials at the time: Reiff was rated as the No. 18 player on the ESPN.com board and as the No. 2 offensive tackle behind USC’s Matt Kalil. While there was some concern he could be a dominant left tackle, there was little doubt he could play right tackle in the NFL fairly quickly. His Scouts.com profile lauded his durability and described him as “above average” in pass protection, run blocking, awareness and toughness.
Who else was available at pick No. 23: Dont'a Hightower, LB, Alabama; Nick Perry, LB, USC; Harrison Smith, S, Notre Dame; Doug Martin, RB, Boise State.
Did the pick make sense at the time: Yes. Detroit knew Jeff Backus was getting up in years and much like they might do with Dominic Raiola this season, needed to find someone to groom as his replacement. The team had also not selected an offensive lineman in the first round since 2008, when they picked Gosder Cherilus from Boston College.
Did he end up being a good pick: Yes. Reiff was part of one of the top offensive lines in football last season. According to Pro Football Focus, he allowed seven sacks, eight quarterback hits and 34 quarterback hurries in his first season as the team’s left tackle and a full-time starter. Those numbers were in the middle of the pack for tackles, according to PFF.
Who should the Lions have taken at No. 23: One could argue for Martin or Smith considering the issues the Lions ended up having at running back and safety during the 2012 season, but Reiff has worked out nicely for Detroit thus far. He started every game at left tackle last season and looks like he could be the team’s future blocking Matthew Stafford's blind side.
What can Detroit learn from this: If you have needs or potential needs down the road, fill them if you can to allow apprenticeship. Not too much to criticize or learn from here. It might be too soon to see if the Reiff pick really pans out or not for the Lions.2011
The pick: No. 13 The player selected: Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn
The player's credentials at the time: Fairley won the 2010 Lombardi Award and set Auburn records for sacks (11.5) and tackles for loss (24). He was the Associated Press' SEC defensive player of the year and named a first-team All-American by multiple outlets. In two seasons with the Tigers, he had 88 tackles, 27.5 tackles for loss, 13 sacks and three fumble recoveries.
Who else was available at pick No. 13: Robert Quinn, DE, North Carolina; Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue; Corey Liuget, DT, Illinois; Cameron Jordan, DE, California; Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska.
Did the pick make sense at the time: The Lions selecting Fairley a year after taking Ndamukong Suh in the first round ended up being somewhat of a surprise, but the logic behind the move for the Lions was trying to build one of the more dominant defensive fronts in the NFL. Fairley was and still is a freakish athlete who -- when he plays to his potential -- could be better than Suh. He won the Lombardi Award, so he was clearly a talented individual.
Did he end up being a good pick: Debatable. When Fairley has been motivated, he has been one of the better defenders the Lions have had. Combined with Suh, they form the dominant pair in the middle the team had hoped for. But Fairley can also disappear for games and has not looked worthy of the first round pick during these absences. That the team is trying to use not picking up his fifth-year option as an incentive speaks to how much the team feels like he needs to be motivated. He has 84 career tackles in 38 games, including 12.5 sacks.
Who should the Lions have taken at No. 13: Although Fairley has not been a bad player for the Lions, they probably should have gone a different direction in retrospect. Considering the team's issues in the secondary, Amukamara might have been the better pick in the first round, especially as he blossomed with 85 tackles last season. The smartest pick, though, would have been to stay on the defensive line and take Quinn from North Carolina. He has turned into one of the best defensive ends in football with 19 sacks last season and 34.5 in his career. Even if the Lions wanted to steer away from Quinn because of what happened with Mike Williams, who also sat out his final season before the 2005 draft, the team would have been better off taking Kerrigan from Purdue. He has 24.5 sacks in his first three years and has made 184 tackles. He's also played in every game of his career.
What can Detroit learn from this: This was somewhat of a gamble pick and while it has yet to pan out as the potential game-changing pick it was trying to be, it was a decent chance for the Lions to take. Yes, the team could have gotten a more productive, consistent player, but if Fairley can finally discover his motivation and reach that potential, he becomes a better pick than any other player the team could have taken.2010
The picks: No. 2; No. 30 The player selected: No. 2 -- Ndamukong Suh, DT, Nebraska; No. 30 -- Jahvid Best, RB, California
The player’s credentials at the time: Suh was arguably the best overall college player in the country in 2009. He won the Lombardi, Nagurski and Bednarik Awards and was named the Associated Press’ College Player of the Year. He was a rare defensive Heisman Trophy finalist. In his career, he had 215 tackles, 57 tackles for loss and 24 sacks. He also had 38 career quarterback hurries and broke up 15 passes. There was little question he would be one of the, if not the first, non-quarterback taken in the draft.
Best had an electrifying college career when he was healthy. He gained 2,668 yards rushing in three seasons and had 29 touchdowns. He also caught 62 career passes for 533 yards according to ESPN Stats & Information. It was his speed and explosiveness, though, that made him an attractive prospect. He is the type of player, had he not had a history of injuries, that might have gone much higher in the first round.
Who else was available at pick No. 2: Gerald McCoy, DT, Oklahoma; Eric Berry, S, Tennessee; Joe Haden, CB, Florida; C.J. Spiller, RB, Clemson; Dez Bryant, WR, Oklahoma State.
Who else was available at No. 30: Chris Cook, CB, Virginia; Dexter McCluster, RB, Ole Miss; T.J. Ward, S, Oregon; Rob Gronkowski, TE, Arizona.
Did the picks make sense at the time: Yes. Suh was the best defensive player in the draft and arguably the best overall player. Detroit did not need a quarterback -- it had drafted Matthew Stafford the season before -- so taking Sam Bradford was not going to happen. Suh was the first defensive player in a while to really make a run at the Heisman Trophy and his ability with the Cornhuskers was devastating. The Lions traded back into the first round to pick up Best, who was the shifty, catch-out-of the-backfield running back then-offensive coordinator Scott Linehan wanted for his offense. The biggest concern with him then -- and it proved to be a major concern -- was his history with injuries, specifically concussions. But from a talent perspective, Best was a smart pick.
Did they end up being good picks: Yes and no. Suh, as expected, developed into one of the top defensive linemen in the NFL and has become the anchor of the Detroit defense since 2010. The biggest issue with him throughout his career has been his fines and then his brief suspension for stomping on Evan Dietrich-Smith in 2011. But there is little doubt Suh became a valuable piece for Detroit and remains so entering the final season of his rookie contract. Best, on the other hand, ended up not working out at all, especially in a trade-up scenario. He couldn't stay healthy and is already out of the NFL because of concussions. He is currently suing the NFL.
Who should the Lions have taken at No. 2: The team made the right call here. Suh was the intelligent selection and the right selection both for what the team was trying to build defensively and also from a best player available standpoint. They would continue to take Suh in this position every single time they drafted.
Who should the Lions have taken at No. 30: One of two things would have made sense here. Either don’t trade up to grab Best and take a running back at your next draft pick. Or, if they were going to trade up, select McCluster instead of Best. While McCluster has also had some injuries since joining the NFL, he's still in the league, which is the first bonus there. Second, he would have been the perfect type of back for Detroit in that scenario -- and would have also gave the team a dynamic returner. Frankly, he would have ended up as the smarter selection and probably could have given the Lions even better production than he gave Kansas City considering the other weapons he would have had with the Lions.
What can Detroit learn from this: Again, a two-pick first round won't teach Detroit much with this draft, but the over-arching lesson from Best is to be wary of taking players with massive injury histories -- particularly an injury history with concussions.2009
The picks: No. 1; No. 20 (acquired in trading Roy Williams) The player selected: No. 1 -- Matthew Stafford, QB, Georgia; No. 20 -- Brandon Pettigrew, TE, Oklahoma State.
The player’s credentials at the time: Stafford was widely considered the best quarterback prospect in the 2009 draft after throwing for 3,459 yards, 25 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 2008 for Georgia. He possessed -- and still does -- an exceptionally strong arm and could make every throw. He was also healthy throughout his career, not missing a game because of injury. He was by far the best option for Detroit. Pettigrew was a four-year starter at tight end for Oklahoma State. His senior stats weren’t massive -- 42 receptions for 472 yards and no touchdowns -- but part of that came from playing in an offense with star receiver Dez Bryant and running back Kendall Hunter. But Pettigrew was the dual-purpose tight end the team sought.
Who else was available at pick No. 1: Mark Sanchez, QB, USC; Aaron Curry, LB, Wake Forest; B.J. Raji, DT, Boston College; Tyson Jackson, DE, LSU.
Who else was available at No. 20: Alex Mack, C, California; Percy Harvin, WR, Florida; Michael Oher, OT, Ole Miss; Clay Matthews, LB, USC; Hakeem Nicks, WR, North Carolina.
Did the picks make sense at the time: Yes. The Lions needed to draft a quarterback, and Schwartz kind of made it known he wanted a quarterback early. Stafford was, by far, the best quarterback in his class and one of the few quarterbacks from his year to become an NFL starter along with Sanchez, Josh Freeman and the undrafted Brian Hoyer. Pettigrew was a little bit more of a questionable pick, but the team needed a multi-purpose tight end and Pettigrew was the best option at his position in the draft. Overall, both picks were logical.
Did they end up being good picks: Yes. Stafford has turned into the Lions quarterback of the future and is among the upper half of quarterbacks in the NFL despite having some consistency issues. Detroit is banking on him being more consistent, and gave him a massive extension a year ago. He has already set some franchise records. Pettigrew just re-signed with Detroit this offseason, and though he has had some issues catching the ball, he has caught 284 passes for 2,828 yards and 16 touchdowns in his career. He’s been a comfort for Stafford as they have played together their entire careers.
Who should the Lions have taken at No. 1: Stafford. It was a weak draft with B.J. Raji probably the best pick overall in the first round. But the Lions couldn’t take a defensive tackle at No. 1 with all of the issues they had entering 2009. They needed a quarterback and made the right choice between the top three available. If Stafford straightens out some of his issues, he could end up being the Lions quarterback for the next 10 years still.
Who should the Lions have taken at No. 20: Maybe Clay Matthews, but Pettigrew ended up being a strong pick for them. He might have had his frustrating points, but he has been a consistent tight end for Detroit and became a critical part of the Lions' offense in 2011 and 2012 before a drop-off in production last season because he was needed to block more. Both he and Stafford are now on their second contracts with the club.
What can Detroit learn from this: Because of the team’s massive issues everywhere and having two picks in the first round, this was an anomaly of a draft for Detroit. Not much can be read into anything the Lions did, other than they tried to set up their offense for the future.Here are links to the articles from which Mayhew wasn't the GM but had influence
- Gosder Cherilus, OT, Boston College (17th)2007
- Calvin Johnson, WR, Georgia Tech (3rd)2006
- Ernie Sims, LB, Florida State (10th)2005
- Mike Williams, WR, USC (10th)