The Detroit Lions enter the bye week with a 1-3 record. If not for a touchdown with 10 seconds left in their opening game, they would be winless. While fingers can be pointed at poor play and game planning, they are not the main culprit.
Much of the hope entering this season is due to the success of last season. A 10-6 record earned the team a playoff berth for the first time in over a decade. Many felt that the team would build on that success this year, but that has not been the case.
In truth, some of last year’s success was pure luck. The Lions came back from two touchdown deficits on four occasions. While that is great, it does show some cracks in the system. Since their 5-0 start last season, the Lions are 6-10.
The issue has been there for a couple of seasons, but this offseason it hit a new low. The team has poorly managed the draft which has led to a lack of talent available to be able to play. The team had to live under Matt Millen's reign, a story that we all know, as he was the worst general manager in the history of sports.
Once he was finally fired, Martin Mayhew, an assistant to Millen, was promoted to general manager. While any move was better than leaving Millen in charge, the track record for Mayhew has been less than stellar. It all comes down to poor drafting, which has not allowed the team to improve, which explains their situation this year.
They have not finished better than 19th in points allowed over the past four seasons and twice finished
last. One would expect that with such a poor defense, the team would focus on that in the draft.
This year’s draft was a disaster. They spent their first-round pick on an offensive lineman, Riley Reiff. While he may eventually be a good lineman, he has not cracked the starting lineup. While getting a good run-blocking lineman was necessary, it was far outweighed by their defensive needs.
In the second round, they drafted receiver Ryan Broyles. Detroit fans immediately panicked knowing Millen’s history with drafting wide receivers. Broyles was an exceptional college player, setting the FBS record for receptions and receiving yards while playing for Oklahoma.
Towards the end of his senior season, he tore his ACL which ended his season. It also dropped him from being a sure high-end pick in the draft. While it is true that he could be a steal late in the second round, it did not fill a need for the Lions. They already have Calvin Johnson, Nate Burleson and Titus Young at the receiver position. This means that Broyles is only the fourth receiver on the depth chart.
Very few teams could afford to draft backup players with their top two picks in the draft, and the Lions are definitely not one of those teams. Yet here they are with two bench players instead of addressing their huge needs on defense.
Sadly this is not a one-year problem. Besides not addressing needs they have just missed on too many draft picks.
There is no doubt that Pettigrew has talent. He is a big, fast tight end that could be a great safety valve for a quarterback. He does have a major problem with dropping too many passes. Also the next tackle he breaks will be his first.
Still his selection has less to do with his play than with the needs of the team. James Laurinaitis, Rey Maualuga, Clay Matthews, Vontae Davis, Ziggy Hood or Michael Oher are just a few of the players that were available. Each of them filled a more glaring need that the team had.
Best is a case of failing to understand a player’s history. When on the field, he can be a real asset to the team, especially catching passes out of the backfield. In college he took a hard hit that resulted in a concussion. It was not his only concussion as a college player or his only injury. Along with the concussions, a dislocated elbow and a couple of surgeries should have should have been a warning sign to the team.
Instead, they drafted Best only to see him miss almost as many games as he has played. While you cannot always predict injuries, when a player has that type of track record, it is wise to pass them up.
Fairley is another player that seemed too good to be true when he dropped to the team with the 13th pick. Yet again the team has spent a first-round pick on a backup player. That pick would have been much better spent on players that would actually be on the field helping for more than a couple of snaps a game.
The lack of drafting quality players and enough of them has hurt this team. Not only do they lack enough quality starters on the defense, once they have injuries that are scraping the bottom of the barrel in trying to field a team.
Their subs are now starting when they would normally be on special teams duty. This means that practice squad level players are now on the special teams unit, a unit that has given up four touchdowns in the last two games.
This lack of team building has now caught up to the Lions. Sadly there is no quick fix either. The road ahead appears rather grim. Four of their next five games are on the road including back-to-back games at Philadelphia and Chicago.
Their next seven games are against teams with a combined 15-9, with Jacksonville having the only losing record in that stretch. That will be a brutal stretch that will likely bury the team’s playoff dreams.
On the plus side they should end up with a decent draft pick. Hopefully the team has learned the error of their ways and will fill their needs with talent rather than going after a name. The old motto of drafting the best available player can no longer be used. They need to pick the best player to fit their needs.
PJ Sapienza is a featured columnist covering the Detroit Red Wings as well as many other sports.
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