The Lions returned to the playoffs for the first time in this millennium under the direction of head coach Jim Schwartz and general manager Martin Mayhew. No longer stuck in the top five, the Lions couldn't count on adding a Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson, or Ndamukong Suh-level talent to keep the team in the postseason this year. What can we discern about Mayhew's philosophy from his actions in the draft this year?
The Lions addressed a need by biding their time and taking the best player available
Detroit had a player that few expected to be there fall to them in the first round for the second straight year. Unlike 2011, this time the player actually addressed a big need for the team. Offensive tackle Riley Reiff can push Gosder Cherilus at right tackle and eventually be groomed to replace long-term left tackle Jeff Backus.
Lions fans have been asking for an upgrade at left tackle for a while to no avail. There's no indication that the Lions were set on taking a tackle early, so fans should be thankful that teams focused on defense in the middle of the first round and let the number two rated offensive tackle fall into the 20s.
Mayhew seems to believe the viability of the passing game is the key to victory
It would be easy to chalk up the Ryan Broyles pick to a "best player available" philosophy, but seeing as Broyles doesn't possess rare tools and he was just six months removed from an ACL tear, it's hard to imagine him being the top player available on anyone's board in the late second round. No, the more likely possibility is that the Lions see Matthew Stafford and the passing game as their "trump card" that must be maintained at all costs.
After breaking the bank on Calvin Johnson and spending a second-round pick on Titus Young last year, the Lions had already invested heavily at the wide receiver position. They must consider the ability to put three dangerous wideouts on the field at the same time very important to their success. Broyles is tailor-made for Nate Burleson's slot receiver role, and once he's two years removed from the ACL tear in 2013, he'll be ready to take it over.
Mayhew noticed that the top four free agent cornerbacks all came from small schools
Brent Grimes (franchise tag), Cortland Finnegan (signed by St. Louis), Brandon Carr (signed by Dallas), and Lardarius Webb (signed by Baltimore) all attended small schools and none went earlier than the third round in the NFL draft.
Is it any coincidence that the Lions addressed what many would characterize as their biggest need in the third, fifth and sixth round, with corners from Louisiana-Lafayette, Albion and New Mexico State. Bill Bentley, their third-round pick, has had a great spring and could push Aaron Berry (one of too many Lions to get arrested this offseason) to start. Mayhew's strategy could pay off right away.