2011 NFL Draft: Detroit Lions's Picks Filled Something Other Than Roster Spots

Chris StewardContributor IMay 2, 2011

GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 10:  Nick Fairley #90 of the Auburn Tigers reacts during their Tostitos BCS National Championship Game against the Oregon Ducks at University of Phoenix Stadium on January 10, 2011 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Its been a long time since I’ve posted anything in this space, but I think now is a good time to come back.  Nothing fuels the creative juices more than a good debate.  While we all agree on the talent our favorite team has acquired, some are unhappy about the “holes” we have on the roster. 

And this is why I am here.

I can see both sides of the argument.  Why draft a defensive tackle when you have Ndomakung Suh and Corey Williams?  Calvin Johnson, Nate Burleson and Jahvid Best are already solid players, we don’t need another wide receiver or halfback, why not get a corner?  And while those are good questions, lets attempt to address this in another fashion.  Instead of looking at the “holes” in the roster, lets take a look at one really big “hole” in the Lions’ overall performance.

Fact: the Lions lost 10 games last season.  Fact: half of their loses were after holding second half leads.  Fact: four of those five loses were to playoff teams.  Fact: three of those four loses came to teams who played in their conference championship games.  The other loss was to a talented but underachieving Dallas squad.

Now, you may be asking how this relates to the draft picks, or you may see where I’m going.  Either way, here it is:

Drafting Nick Fairley is an outstanding choice.  We all understand the need to be strong on the front four.  However, what we need to understand is what it takes to remain strong on the front four, most importantly, for 60 minutes.  While everyone expects Fairley to start on Day One along side, I don’t.  Corey Williams had a monster year last season.  While the numbers do not jump out at you, they would have had they remained on the same pace they were on before the bye week.  Williams had 20 of his 37 tackles before Week 7. 

Five of his remaining 17 tackles came against Miami alone.  Say what you will, but I believe fatigue may have been a factor.  Some of it may have been teams actually accounting for him, but fatigue makes that an easier task.  Fairley will see a lot of time and will be a factor, but what he does is lighten or removes the drop out when Suh and Williams are resting.  And remember, offensive lineman do not rotate the way a defense does.  So while the offense is consistently trying to deal with Suh and Williams, they do not get a break with Sammie Hill and Fairley in the game, essentially, filling the same exact roles—Hill starring as Williams with Fairly as Suh.  There you have a consistent and fresh presence up front.

On the same topic of second-half collapses, the Lions never had a lead protecting running game.  Ever.  Jahvid Best is flashy, exciting and fast.  But he is also hesitant and not a fan of contact.  Maurice Morris did a wonderful job late in the year when Smith went down, but he is not the answer and Smith is fragile.  If he can stay healthy, Mikel Leshoure can change that.  Listed between 227 and 233 lbs and standing at 5’11", he will be the load of a HB the Lions need.  Also, I don’t know about you, but I could not stop grinning when I read this: he never fumbled his entire college career.

You read that correctly. 

424 carries, 2,557 yards, 23 TDs and 37 receptions with no fumbles.  Sounds like a reliable ball carrier to me, capable of at least 15-20 carries—hopefully most of them coming in the second half to protect those leads.  Besides, as nasty as the defense is getting, the offense could use a little attitude as well.

Now that I beat that horse to death, let look at something else that plagued the Lions last year; production from the slot.  Look, no one is complaining about the production of Detroit’s two tight-end offense.  But its usefulness is limited when you need points in a hurry or want to stretch the field.  This is where Titus Young comes into play.  We saw what the Bryant Johnson experiment got us.  Nowhere.  Actually, he was publicly called out numerous times for lack of production (18 catches, 210 yards with 0 TDs.  Really? Scheffler had 20 catches after four games). 

Young is being compared to DeSean Jackson for his speed and explosiveness.  And honestly, if Detroit can get 80 percent of that out of Young, it's pleased.  Along with an emerging Pettigrew, who may be happy to see Young more than anyone because his speed will keep the safeties honest, will keep LB dropping back and opening up running lanes while distracting safeties from Megatron.  However, this is an irrelevant matter if Matt Stafford cannot stay healthy; no other QB on the roster can throw the ball accurately after 25 yards (sorry, Shaun and Drew, but you know I’m right).

So, to recap:

Of the 10 losses last season by the Detroit Lions, 50 percent of those were after leading in the second half.  80 percent of those come-from-ahead losses were by playoff teams (Chicago twice, New England and NY Jets. The Jets and Chicago were one game away from the SB). So while on paper the team seems to have glaring needs at certain positions, they seemed to have addressed a glaring need in strategy and game planning.