Martin Mayhew: Master of the Art of Silence and Draft-Related Misdirection?

Pancho SmithCorrespondent IIApril 10, 2011

Jahvid Best
Jahvid BestNick Laham/Getty Images

You can be certain that Lions GM Martin Mayhew is not deceiving anyone when he says that it’s his intention to build a Detroit franchise that will consistently reach the playoffs, contend in and win Super Bowls.

Beyond that, everything Mayhew says or doesn’t say in public is designed to help the Lions reach that goal. Mayhew doesn’t lie. He simply doesn’t say things that will help his opponents. And beyond that, he practices ethical misdirection and subterfuge.

Martin Mayhew is a very smart man. He understands the art of war and how it applies to NFL football. He’s well on his way to becoming a master of the art of silence and misdirection.

In the NFL, victory is accomplished by assembling a strong, well-balanced, well-trained team led by an aggressive head coach who prepares and executes game plans that relentlessly attack opponent’s weaknesses on both offense and defense.

The goal is to outsmart, outplay and dominate your opponent every week until finally, yours is the last team standing at the end of the Super Bowl and you have earned the right to hoist the ultimate team prize in the world, the Lombardi Trophy.


Teams that consistently draft well become consistent winners

Over time, the NFL draft is the single most potent means teams have to improve their rosters. Teams that draft well all have five things in common.

They all:

-   Develop specific player profiles for each position on their team.

-   Evaluate every trade opportunity and free agent in the NFL at positions of interest.

-   Thoroughly scout, evaluate and rank every player in the draft as well as a pool of players at positions of interest who are likely to be available as undrafted free agents.

-   Utilize silence, misdirection and subterfuge to enhance the probability that the players ranked highest on their draft boards will be available when they are on the clock. They never publicly rule out the possibility of drafting any player at any position.

Martin Mayhew and  the Lions are becoming adept at each of these practices.

A few examples:

-   Last season the Lions hosted visits by numerous players in the draft pool. Jahvid Best wasn’t among them. Yet not only did the Lions draft Best, they moved back into the first round to get him.

-   More recently, the Lions “accidentally” sent a partial list of players who have visited them this year to the other 31 teams in the league and have also begun posting news items about player visits on their website.

Even though head coach Jim Schwartz has warned not to read too much into predraft visits and Mayhew has explained that visits are sometimes conducted to get the latest possible medical information available or to get a look at players who weren't invited to the scouting combine, these visits still trigger speculation that the Lions don’t discourage.


Is the “Best Player Available” draft strategy really still in effect for the Lions?

There are three basic draft selection philosophies that teams practice:

-   Pick the best player available (BPA), regardless of position.

-   Pick players that can provide the most impact at high impact positions.

-   Pick players that fill an important position need.

Under Martin Mayhew, the Lions have consistently stated that their draft strategy is to select the best player available. So far, that appears to have been the case—witness the selection of Brandon Pettigrew with the Lions 20th overall pick in 2009 and the selection of Jahvid Best at pick 30 in the first round in 2010.

When a team has a lot of holes to fill like the Lions did after their disastrous 0-16 season in 2008, a strict BPA strategy makes a lot of sense. It also makes sense if your team is already flush with talent.

But Tom Kowalski at has reported recently that Mayhew has conceded that while the Lions still have a lot of needs, there are some positions where they don't need help.

Are we supposed to believe that a team that went 6-10 last year and wants very much to improve its record this year would be rigidly dogmatic and draft the BPA regardless of position, even it means stacking players up at that position while ignoring positions of obvious need?

Or has the definition of BPA morphed a bit as the Lions’ roster has strengthened and it now really means selecting the best player available at high impact positions or positions of greatest need?


The working definition of BPA can be very important

If there is a general league-wide consensus on who the next best player available is when your team goes on the clock and other teams behind you are convinced that you’ll select that player regardless of need and some of them covet that player, it creates an incentive for those teams to offer to trade up to your position to nab that player.

That’s what happened in 2009 when the Jets moved up from the 17th overall pick to the 5th overall pick to grab Mark Sanchez. That trade netted the Cleveland Browns three players from the Jets roster that season plus a second-round draft pick the following year. 

On the other hand, if the teams behind you believe that you’ll pass on the BPA and draft a lower-rated player to fill a position of need, you won’t get an offer to trade down that might be attractive to you.

From that perspective, it would be smart to maintain publicly that you have a purist BPA philosophy. It would also be smart to occasionally select the best player available at one of your most pressing positions of need just before the clock runs out.

It pays to keep ‘em guessing.


Reaching for stars

Don’t be surprised this year if the Lions take an educated gamble and “reach” for a player in the first round if the guys they really want are off the board and they don’t have the opportunity to trade down.

Lots of highly-rated players have been busts and lots of great players were undervalued on draft day.

You never want to reach for a player in an earlier round that you might have been able to get in a later round. But you never really know what’s going to happen.

When the object of the game is to win championships, a player’s true worth can seldom be reduced to a number on a draft chart. There are worse sins in football than occasionally gambling that you won’t be overpaying for a player.

In retrospect, how many teams would have gladly “reached” for Tom Brady, a 6th round draft pick, or Kurt Warner, an undrafted free agent, both of whom guided their teams to Super Bowls?

If your team becomes too predictable, either on the field or in the front office, your opponents gain an advantage by being able to predict your moves in advance. Martin Mayhew is smart enough to understand how winners play the game. Silence can be golden and misdirection has real value.


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