Talent over immediate team needs.
That is the Detroit Lions' draft mantra, as it has been since 2009. The idea behind it is that it's a bad idea to pass over a superior player for an inferior player in an area where the roster happens to be thin.
It's a philosophy that makes sense. People like to get "instant impact starters" out of their drafts, but the reality is the vast majority of players—even first-rounders—won't be very good in their first years. It is rare to find the quality rookie starter, and even they won't be maximally effective until their third or fourth year in the league.
In that sense, then, why draft for need? To fill a starting spot, the answer is not to use a draft pick, which will inevitably take years to get up to speed anyway. By the time those draft picks are fully-developed, consistent starters, the team will have a bunch of new needs.
To illustrate this point, consider: Very few people were calling for the Detroit Lions to take a defensive lineman in 2011. In fact, the defensive line appeared pretty well set from top to bottom. Two years later, the Lions have a massive hole at defensive end, and the only defensive tackles left on the team were they ones they drafted in 2010 and 2011.
And I seem to remember a lot of people in 2011 saying the Lions didn't need a DT. Having an extra DE on the roster from that time wouldn't have hurt anything, either.
So as the Lions draft this year, remember that they're not drafting for this year. They're drafting to fill the spots they may need filled years from now. And as such, here are the players they can't afford to reach for, whether to fill a need or for whatever reason they may be on the board.
To be fair, it didn't seem like there were a ton of calls for the Lions to make this pick in the first round even before they grabbed Louis Delmas and Glover Quin.
The Lions now have perceived strength at the safety position, and while I wouldn't rule out a mid-round draft pick on a safety (remember: Delmas is still a health risk), there's little reason to invest a high draft pick on Kenny Vaccaro.
Vaccaro looks like a good player, but only once-in-a-generation players go in the top five in the draft from the safety position. It just doesn't happen. The Chiefs did it with Eric Berry, but he was a consistent superstar at Tennessee who even pulled (limited) Heisman Trophy consideration.
Vaccaro isn't that guy. He's just a good all-around player with limited flaws. Unless the Lions manage to trade back about 15 spots in the first round, Vaccaro should be off the table. With the team's activity in free agency, Vaccaro wouldn't even qualify as a need-based reach now.
With their two starting tackles from last year now off the team, there is very little doubt that the Lions would love to bolster the tackle positions with some new blood.
Jeff Backus held down the Lions' blind side for 12 years, and it's time the Lions find the man to hold it for the next decade. The answer could be Eric Fisher, who at No. 5 would perhaps be the ultimate cross-section of value and need.
But assuming Luke Joeckel is drafted first overall, and Fisher goes in the next three picks, who's next on the docket?
That would be Oklahoma offensive tackle Lane Johnson.
Don't let me say too much about Johnson. He's likely to be a good player at the NFL level. But much of his meteoric rise into the top 15 on big boards around the country has to do with his impressive combine statistics.
That's not necessarily a bad thing, and yes, Johnson was a good player at Oklahoma. But the Lions taking Johnson at No. 5 overall would mean they're taking the third-best OT in the draft with the fifth overall pick.
That's almost a reach by nature. The question is simple: is Johnson the fifth-best player in this draft? Absolutely not. Solid, yes, but there is better talent to be had.
If Fisher is off the board by the time the Lions draft, they need to swallow that reality and move on, not reach for a position just they want a player in that position. That's how teams end up with Brandon Weeden.
You'll notice a common theme among these players. They're all good football players, and in a neutral context, I would not object in the slightest to having them in Honolulu Blue.
Sure, Cordarrelle Patterson looks like a fine player. He is pulling some comparisons to Percy Harvin, even though like all pro player comparisons, take that with a serious grain of salt. People also compared Mark Ingram to Emmitt Smith.
And yes, the Lions also need a wide receiver.
They also need a bunch of other things. This is a draft class that has talent at wide receiver, but none of it is true top-15 talent. Patterson (and maybe Tavon Austin) is likely to crack the top half of the first round just because teams have a tendency to fall in love with skill-position players.
The Lions themselves have been guilty of that in the past, as they've take a wide receiver in the first three rounds for three of the last four years. Unfortunately, they've missed horribly on two of those (and the jury's out on the injured Ryan Broyles).
Patterson could complete the offense in terms of skill players and serve as a bandage for the Titus Young debacle. But so could Darrius Heyward-Bey or a third-round pick. The Lions just need a solid player, not another superstar. There's only one ball.
Yes, Chance Warmack is a mauler. He's a special talent. Once-in-a-generation. If this were a sport like basketball, where a star at any position carries approximately equal value, he'd get drafted right after Sam Bowie.
But this isn't a sport like basketball, and there is an inherent inequality between positions. Before you argue, find me the placekicker who got drafted first overall.
In fact, find me the guard who was drafted first overall (the only time an purely interior offensive lineman was drafted first overall was center Ki Aldritch in 1939). And show me how many Super Bowls the Seattle Seahawks, Minnesota Vikings and Tennessee Titans won with seven-time All-Pro guard Steve Hutchinson leading the way.
Actually, Adrian Peterson had his career year the same year Hutchinson left Minnesota, didn't he?
Every position on the football field is important. If they weren't, they wouldn't be there. But that doesn't mean every position carries equal importance, or should have the same resources invested into them.
The fact is, great guards are nice, but they do not carry football teams. They hardly even affect them.
The Vikings floundered for years regardless of the performance of Hutchinson, the Bucs missed the playoffs after signing Carl Nicks and four-time All-Pro Jahri Evans didn't keep the New Orleans Saints from posting the 25th-best rushing attack in 2012.
So if the absolute best guards in the league have so little impact on wins and offensive production for their teams, why in the world would Warmack be any different?
And why would the Lions spend the fifth pick on the draft on a player who, while talented, will have minimal impact on wins and losses?
The difference between Denard Robinson and the other players here is that no sane person is advocating Denard Robinson in the first round.
For my purposes, though, I'm not sure at what point Robinson ceases to be a "reach" pick. The sixth round, maybe.
The big problem with Robinson is that he has no apparent position at the NFL level. The NFL isn't like college; it's not possible to dominate with sheer athletic ability alone.
We're talking about a league full of some of the most incredible athletes on the face of the Earth. You mean to tell me that Denard Robinson, a man contained and beaten down by the Alabama defense, is such a superior athletic talent that he can just succeed by outrunning the entire NFL?
No. That doesn't happen. Athletes with more ability and more training than Robinson have tried and failed.
Now, to be fair, I give Robinson credit. Instead of trying to go the Tim Tebow route, he accepted that he was a great athlete but not a great quarterback, and is trying to re-brand himself. He just might succeed at it, too. There's no question that he is talented.
But it's not going to happen anytime soon. He has more to learn than almost any other draft pick. He's going to have to learn a position at the NFL level that he has literally zero experience playing. Whether he ends up at wide receiver or running back, you or I could walk into an NFL training camp and have effectively the same amount of experience as Robinson.
If Robinson is a success in the NFL, it will be a testament to his incredible work ethic, and it will be a great story. But it's a huge gamble, and not one that seems worthy of betting a draft pick on.