With the Lions free-fall last season and serious questions looming about how the team conducts its draft research, GM Marty Mayhew and head coach Jim Schwartz will be performing under a microscope.
Being the helpful soul I am, I thought I'd put together a handy-dandy list of traps which can lead teams, GMs and coaches to ruin in the hopes that we can help the team put all those doubts to rest.
Some of these should be obvious, but for some reason every year, otherwise sane scouts, analysts and GMs get suckered into overlooking them anyway.
Off-the-Field Issues and Attitudes
Without a doubt, the Lions need to be careful who they hand a jersey to.
That isn't to say that if there is a player who has run afoul of the law, campus restrictions or anything else, that they are to be completely removed from the board.
However, the Lions need to be more careful with the guys they decide are worth the risk.
Titus Young is the biggest reason for this as he had the most off-field red flags of the Mayhew-Schwartz era, and of course completely imploded last season.
Young had issues several times at Boise State, including getting suspended after three games for violating team rules as well as possession of alcohol. It might sound familiar to Lions fans, since Young would later be suspended for lining up in the wrong spot on purpose. He was also suspended by the Lions for sucker-punching teammate Louis Delmas during the early summer.
Teams are conflicted on Boise State wide receiver Titus Young. He was an absolute star in practices, inspiring one front office man to compare him with DeSean Jackson. But his interviews were a little concerning. He also might have a little DeSean in him as far as his personality goes.
The Fairley experiment worked out so far despite two arrests last offseason. The same can't be said for Young.
The Lions will be looking for good leaders as well as good players this year, and that starts now. They have to take a closer look at personality issues and reports for the players they're interviewing if they want to get to the level of play that fans are expecting.
Work Out Warriors
Every year there are the Vernon Gholstons of the world—guys who flash at the combine and blind teams to the reality that while they are great in shorts and an Under Armor shirt, they aren't worth much on the football field.
The old adage "if it's not on tape, it won't be on the field" is one the Lions should be very careful with this year. With all the holes to fill, they can ill afford to miss on their picks, especially in the first few rounds.
If Detroit sees a player perform unexpectedly well, they should make sure they very carefully go over the tape again.
Of course, sometimes you find a hidden gem on the field or in the interview room.
But good in shorts doesn't always translate to good in pads and a helmet.
So far the Lions haven't fallen into that trap under Mayhew—let's just make sure this year they don't start. It's a deep draft in many spots, but that also means there aren't a ton of "elite" prospects.
Which means a player who has a great combine can make teams jump early, hoping to catch lightening in a bottle.
One Year Wonders
Just like the Workout Warriors, the One Year Wonders always find a way to hop up draft boards. In fact, there are probably more teams who fall for the "one good year" phenomenon than they do a good combine.
Why? Because timing is everything. Every scout is looking for an edge and catch a rookie who is peaking to come right in and provide instantaneous impact.
After all, every coach and scout knows he's got a limited window to hang onto his job (unless he's Andy Reid, but even The Walrus got the axe finally).
So just like with the Workout Warriors, the Lions have to figure out which guys just started peaking in college and which guys just had the year of their lives.
Again, it's a matter of making every pick count. For this, they may need to go with junior year tape (or in the case of juniors, sophomore tape if it exists).
But the extra effort is worthwhile if it keeps you from drafting a guy with a high pick who just parlayed a huge final year into a very expensive spot on the bench.
Pure Upside Guys
Here is the flipside of the One Year Wonders—the guys who haven't been tremendous their entire career but have shown flashes that they could be great.
Potential.The dirtiest word in scouting.
There's no one version of this guy, and he can overlap with any or all of the flags above. In some ways, Young was an upside guy and so is Fairley. In a lot of ways, Tim Tebow is the ultimate Pure Upside Guy.
In fact, you can argue he's never been anything but upside.
He is the guy who shows just enough potential for you to overlook a flaw—or two, or three. His speed, his hands, his leadership, his versatility—something makes you look at what he does badly (and sometimes it's a lot) and say "no, he's going to overcome that and blow up!"
For every guy who comes out of nowhere and reaches that upside, there are countless more who don't explode but instead implode.
Guys like Blaine Gabbert. It's a little too early to write him completely off, but he was drafted more for the upside the Jaguars saw in him than anything we witnessed on tape. Certainly the production in his last year in college was mediocre in many ways.
I think this is the trickiest trap to avoid for teams because upside is almost impossible to safely quantify.
It's there, but it's not.
Which is why, above all else—checking the tape, scouring reports, debating with other scouts—the Lions should avoid picking any Pure Upside Guys early in the draft.
As with all the above, it's not just about making the right choice, but also minimizing the risk on the wrong one.