Many teams, including the Detroit Lions, select the best-available prospects instead of drafting based on needs. In some cases that's the correct decision, but Martin Mayhew and the Lions front office took that philosophy too literally in this past draft.
Instead of upgrading their struggling defense, the Lions drafted Oklahoma wide receiver Ryan Broyles. Regardless of his highly noted ACL injury from November, Broyles is a highly talented prospect who could have been drafted in the first round if healthy. However, this was arguably one of the most puzzling selections in the entire draft.
The Detroit Lions came into the draft with the biggest areas of improvement on the defensive side of the ball. The secondary struggled for a good portion of the season, especially after Louis Delmas and Chris Houston injured their knees on Thanksgiving against the Green Bay Packers. It was vital for the Lions to land a high-profile defensive player in the first or second round.
The Lions struck gold when offensive tackle Riley Reiff fell in their lap with the No. 23 pick. After going offense in the first round, logic pointed to upgrading defensively in the second round. Detroit failed to do so when it drafted Broyles.
Detroit passed on quality second-round defenders like defensive end Vinny Curry and linebacker Lavonte David for Broyles. Curry could have immediately improved the Lions' pass rush. With the possibility of Cliff Avril and Kyle Vanden Bosch not returning after 2013, a player like Curry could've been a solution to that issue. David would have been a solid depth player next year, plus a potential starter down the line in the Lions' linebacking corps.
Instead of making a solid splash on defense, the Lions drafted sleepers like defensive backs Dwight Bentley, Chris Greenwood and Jonte Green. These players could possibly pan out and succeed with Detroit. If they don't, it only makes the Broyles selection that much more confusing.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Lions are stacked with one of the best passing attacks in the league. Matthew Stafford emerged as the top young quarterback in the NFL as he exploded with a 5,038-yard season with 41 touchdown and a 10-6 record. Stafford already has a dangerous core of weapons around him with dangerous wide receivers (Calvin Johnson, Nate Burleson, Titus Young) and tight ends (Brandon Pettigrew, Tony Scheffler, Will Heller).
Not only do Stafford's weapons complement him, but he also makes them better. Elite quarterbacks in the NFL like Peyton Manning can take small-name receivers like Blair White and turn them into quality options. Stafford has that capability, especially with an offensive system where he throws the ball more than any other quarterback in the NFL.
Martin Mayhew has done too much spoiling for Stafford during his regime as the Lions' general manager. Giving him another receiver like Broyles is unnecessary when he already has plenty of quality options at his disposal. If the Lions wanted to add another receiver in the draft, they could've waited until deeper in the draft and select a player like Michigan State's B.J. Cunningham. Address the defense in the second round, and adding another receiver later on doesn't harm the team's draft at all.
After re-signing Calvin Johnson to a monster seven-year contract extension, he'll stay the Lions' No. 1 option for a long time. As long as Johnson is in Detroit, and Titus Young continues to get better, the Lions will never draft another receiver that will be higher than a No. 3 option for Stafford.
Recovering from his ACL injury, Broyles won't be any higher than the Lions' No. 4 receiver on the depth chart. Is a No. 4 option worth a second-round pick?
As the Lions took a puzzling step with their Broyles selection, their NFC North rivals all improved over the offseason. Chicago needed help for Jay Cutler, so it traded for Brandon Marshall and drafted Alshon Jeffery. Green Bay needed to improve its defensive line play, so they drafted Nick Perry and Jerel Worthy.
As these teams got better and more dangerous, Detroit might have taken a step backwards.
The Lions' "best available" theory is historically the correct decision in the NFL draft. With that being the case, Detroit should've at least taken the best available defender available. Matthew Stafford has the best wide receiver in the NFL, and a great core of weapons to tinker with. He doesn't need any more help, and there are bigger areas of concern on the roster than wide receiver.
Even if Ryan Broyles does succeed in Detroit, it won't propel the Lions any higher as long as their defense continues to struggle.
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