Re-Drafting the Detroit Lions' Entire 2012 Draft After First Half of NFL Season
Hindsight is a wonderful tool to have when making decisions.
It's too bad nobody has it when they actually need to make those decisions.
But we have it now, with half an NFL season's worth of work in the books. And while there are plenty of prospects that are performing well this year but may tank in the long run, we now have a much better idea of who's going to perform well from here on and who isn't, even if it's not a perfect measure.
So with that in mind, if the Lions could do it all over again, what would they do? Who would they take? Why?
Ask Jim Schwartz or Martin Mayhew and they'd probably say they're thrilled with the players they have and wouldn't change a thing. Realistically, though, they have to be looking around at other teams' players that have made an impact and wondering what those same players could do in Detroit.
With that type of hindsight, here are the players the Lions might take with their picks (the ones they actually made; I'm not going into re-working draft trades) if they could do it all over again.
Round 1 (23rd Overall): Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa
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Actual Pick, Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa
I don't think the Lions would change a single thing about this pick.
At the time, some thought that perhaps David DeCastro of Stanford would be a better pick, and I can absolutely understand that. But DeCastro is down with injury, and Reiff is so good, he's getting onto the field even though there isn't truly a tackle position available for him.
Reiff has been playing effectively as an extra offensive tackle on running downs, and he has had an incredible single-handed impact on the running game.
He still needs some polish before he unseats Jeff Backus at starting left tackle, but he has been a bulldog in the run game, and is exactly the player the Lions need for the coming years. Full marks on this pick thus far.
Round 2 (54th Overall): Peter Konz, C, Wisconsin
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Actual Pick: Ryan Broyles, WR, Oklahoma
He may have started slowly, and he may have a long way to go as a starter, but Peter Konz is now playing at right guard for the Atlanta Falcons, who are 8-0.
Are the Falcons 8-0 because of Konz? Of course not. But Konz came off the board with the 55th overall pick, immediately after the Lions picked Broyles, and he has grown up fast into a starting role. He's playing at guard now, and will likely grow into a starting center role eventually.
The Lions love multi-functional offensive linemen, and while Konz may not have been ready to start immediately in Detroit, he could just as easily have been stashed as a future starter the way Reiff is.
In 2001, the Lions drafted Jeff Backus in the first round and Dominic Raiola in the second. Some 11 years later, both players are aging and need replacement. The Lions bit on Backus' replacement, so why not Raiola's?
To be fair, Ryan Broyles' production in the last couple weeks makes it seem like a decent idea to keep him on board, and if I had to make a second pick, it likely would be Broyles. But Konz seems like the better long-term decision.
Round 3 (96th Overall): Dwight Bentley, CB, Louisiana-Lafayette
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Actual Pick: Dwight Bentley, CB, Louisiana-Lafayette
This is where we start to see just how small of a sample size a half season is.
There are lots of players taken in the late third/early fourth round that could have fit with the Lions. But have any of them proven to be far-and-away better than Bentley? Not necessarily.
Granted, some of those players are less injured than Bentley is right now, but none of them appear to be Pro Bowlers just yet. I don't think the Lions would be much happier at this point with Brandon Boykin or Jayron Hosley instead of Bentley.
Might one of those guys turn out to be a better overall player than Bentley? Perhaps, but with the information we have now, Bentley looks just fine, injuries notwithstanding.
Round 4 (125th Overall): Chris Rainey, RB, Florida
Actual Pick: Ronnell Lewis, DE/LB, Oklahoma
First things first. Ronnell Lewis has lots of time to turn things around, but at present, he doesn't appear to belong anywhere near a football field. He may end up released next season, Doug Hogue-style.
That said, Chris Rainey, despite leaving last Sunday's game with injury, appears to have been a fifth-round steal for the Pittsburgh Steelers. He has energized the Steelers' return game, and has the kind of speed and agility that defines a Darren Sproles-type player.
Had the Lions known back in April what they know now about Jahvid Best, I can't help but think they would have been very aware of their need for a speed-based running back.
Granted, Mikel Leshoure and Joique Bell have revitalized the Lions' rushing attack, and they have Kevin Smith in the fold if they need him. But none of those players are really burners. That's why the Lions remain the only team without a 20-yard run this season.
Next season, the Lions are going to need to find a running back with game-breaking speed that can replace Best, unless Best is actually cleared before next year. But had they drafted Rainey, they could have taken care of that beforehand.
Round 5 (138th Overall): Tahir Whitehead, LB, Temple
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Actual Pick: Tahir Whitehead, LB, Temple
Tahir Whitehead hasn't gotten on the field much just yet, but that has a lot more to do with the Lions than with Whitehead himself.
The Lions feel pretty good about where they are with their linebackers, but two linebackers are set to be free agents after this year, and the Lions are still not in a great salary cap position. It is entirely possible that Whitehead may need to step in as a starter (or primary depth player, like Bobby Carpenter once was) in 2013.
If so, it is good that Whitehead, who impressed greatly during the preseason and training camp, is on the team now getting seasoned and familiar with the Lions' defensive system.
That said, Ashlee Palmer seems surprisingly serviceable playing for the injured DeAndre Levy, so it's entirely possible that Whitehead has a little further to go before he cracks the rotation.
Still, Whitehead seems like a talented player who just needs some coaching and a chance to play. I don't think the Lions would change anything here.
Round 5 (148th Overall): Alfred Morris, RB, Florida Atlantic
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Actual Pick: Chris Greenwood, CB, Albion
It's probably bad timing to suggest that the Lions draft two running backs immediately after their best rushing performance of the season.
But if you look at it as Chris Rainey taking the place of Stefan Logan, and Alfred Morris taking the place of Kevin Smith, what's the problem? Would anybody say no if those trades were offered to the Lions right now?
It's entirely possible that Morris' 793 rushing yards and five touchdowns through nine games have more to do with the fact that he's a Mike Shanahan running back. Maybe Morris would get to Detroit and tank.
But really, would anybody particularly object to swapping him in for Smith to find out?
Round 6 (196th Overall): Jonte Green, CB, New Mexico State
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Actual Pick: Jonte Green, CB, New Mexico State
Jonte Green was not drafted in the sixth round to be a starter for the Lions.
Yet he has had to fill that role on more than one occasion this season due to injury, and he has been...decent.
Ultimately, Green is playing at a level slightly higher than what I would expect from a sixth-round rookie cornerback, and has made some big plays and shown long-term potential.
Green isn't perfect right now, but he's not supposed to be. Considering his position, his draft status and what he's given the team this year, it's hard to imagine the Lions being much happier with someone else.
Round 7 (223rd Overall): Alfonso Dennard, CB, Nebraska
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Actual Pick: Travis Lewis, LB, Oklahoma
It's hard to find a player who has made a major impact on his team to this point in the season.
Travis Lewis has been great for the Lions to this point in the season as a special teamer, and he seems to have a great deal of long-term potential. However, Alfonso Dennard is developing rapidly and contributing as a starter for the New England Patriots.
Dennard was taken one spot after Lewis.
After half a season, can we say that Dennard is the better prospect? Of course not. But he seems to be the seventh-rounder with the most impact to this point in the season.
Considering the Lions' need to rely on Jonte Green in the face of repeated injuries, it's hard to think they wouldn't have liked having Dennard in the fold, if only as an option.