The Detroit Lions stuck to their drafting philosophy throughout the NFL draft.
According to an interview with the Detroit News, Lions GM Martin Mayhew said the draft is about building the future of your club, not reaching for players to fill immediate needs. This philosophy doesn't mean you don't look for players who can have an immediate impact, but it does mean you look for players who have the most value. With all five picks the Lions made this year, value trumped need every time, and I think the Lions will be better off for it.
In the first round, the Lions were probably as shocked as just about everyone to see Nick Fairley still on the board. The Lions had him rated higher than anyone else still available and saw Fairley as a way to upgrade an already impressive defensive line.
A good defensive line helps mask weaknesses in the back seven, far better than the other way around. I really like the Fairley pick, because I think it gives Detroit one of the top three defensive lines in the NFL and the best defensive tackle rotation in the NFL.
Fairley is widely considered to be an elite athlete and is the best pass rusher at his position. He posses elite-level quickness and has the nasty streak you want in a defensive tackle.
There have been a couple of questions regarding Fairley, and that is the reason why he dropped in the draft. The biggest concern is of little concern to the Lions. The question with Fairley is how hard he'll be willing to work, as he was seen to be taking plays off while at Auburn.
Detroit isn't overly concerned with this because of two players and two coaches.
Kyle VandenBosch is widely known as one of the hardest workers in the NFL, and he pairs with another equally hard worker in Ndamukong Suh, to provide Fairley the peer-mentoring he'll need to succeed.
Having Jim Schwartz and Gunther Cunningham as his head coach and defensive coordinator respectively will also pay big dividends. Neither coach accepts sub-par work and they will push Fairley, similar to how Schwartz pushed Albert Haynesworth when he was in Tennessee.
In the second round, the corners and linebackers who would have made sense and been an roster upgrade were already off the board, so the Lions again went with their highest-rated player and addressed a need that's been a sore spot for some time by adding a sure-handed big play capable third receiver in Titus Young.
Young has very quick feet and gets his separation by using his speed to beat defenders. Young's a good route runner and does a good job of finding soft sports. Like most players coming out of college, Young has some areas which need attention. At the head of the list is the need to improve his run after the catch and blocking. There is also some concern about his football focus off the field. In Detroit, he will fit well in the offense and should see some favorable match ups with Calvin Johnson, Nate Burleson, and the tight ends drawing most of the attention.
When the Lions saw Mikel LeShoure still available late in the second round, a player they had graded out to be the second best running back in the draft and a early second or late first round talent, they jumped at the opportunity to get him. Again this is the Lions viewing the linebackers and defensive backs as not being much of an upgrade. LeShoure will provide the power running to compliment speedster Jahvid Best.
LeShoure is a big back who has been productive. One of the big knocks against LeShoure is his immaturity, but according to his coach at Illinois, he matured during his time there, and now has a better understanding of what he needs to do. By moving into the second round, the Lions basically gave up a fourth round pick. Which defensive back or linebacker is really going to be a starter coming out of the fourth round? All the DB's and LB's have big weaknesses and are going to need time to develop into productive NFL players.
By adding Young and LeShoure, the Lions have pretty well finished off the "skill" positions on offense. They need to get younger along the line and find a replacement for either injured or non-effective Stephan Peterman. They have two tackles now in Jason Fox (fourth round pick last year) and Johnny Culbreath (seventh round this year) who they are developing. Corey Hillard is another player the Lions like and has provided the team with some insurance and solid play.
In the fifth round, the Lions went after a developmental linebacker in Douglas Hogue. Hogue is a decent prospect with good size and speed. He's far from an elite every-down linebacker, but Schwartz and Mayhew said he might be able to contribute to special teams as early as the upcoming season (assuming the NFL and the players work out a deal).
Hogue is a former running back, having spent the first two years of college as a runner. Because of this late transition, he is still very raw, but despite only playing two years, he ranked ninth in career tackles-for-loss at Syracuse. One of the things I like about Hogue is he knows he has a lot to learn and he isn't afraid to work at it.
During an interview with the Detroit News, Hogue said "I think I did OK at the college level, but I still have a lot to learn. Coming in with this organization, they are going to teach me a lot and make me a better player." Every first-year player has a lot to learn when they enter the NFL. There is a large gap between the collegiate level and professional football. I think Hogue understands this and is willing to put in the necessary work.
In the seventh round, the Lions selected a developmental OT in Johnny Culbreath. The Lions believe Culbreath is capable of being groomed into either a tackle or a guard. Culbreath is a big athletic man at 6'5" and 322 lbs, is known as a good blocker in both rush and pass, and shows "good leverage" on film (Detroit News). The Lions will monitor Culbreath's progression and than decide where along the offensive line he fits best.
This is an odd year for the NFL and its teams. Normally after the draft there is a pretty clear picture as to how a team is looking going into the NFL regular season. However, this year because of the labor dispute, there has been no free agency period, so teams who still have holes will have an opportunity to fill some of them.
The Lions still have some holes. Schwartz and Mayhew have said they like the players they have on their roster, and think they will be able to compete without having to add anyone else. I'm becoming more comfortable trusting the evaluation of Schwartz and Mayhew, but I think if for nothing else, the Lions still need to add at least one defensive back (probably two), and at least two linebackers (possibly three) to help with the depth issues which surfaced last year.
Here are four undrafted free agents the Lions may pursue once the a labor agreement has been reached.
Joseph Lefeged: Safety from Rutgers. I'm fairly surprised Lefeged was not drafted. He is better against the pass than against the run which would be workable in Detroit, whereas Louis Delmas is more of a in-the-box type safety. Lefeged is also a solid special teams contributer.
Nicholas Bellore: Inside Linebacker from Central Michigan. Bellore has good instincts and was a great leader at CMU. Bellore has below average speed and needs to improve his tackling ability. Bellore would fit as a practice team type, and could contribute on special teams or as a situational linebacker.
Mark Herzlich: Outside Linebacker from Boston College: Herzlich is probably best known for his return after beating cancer. Before he was diagnosed with Ewing's Sarcoma he was considered a likely early-round selection. Herzlich is a hard worker and was a team leader at BC. He has great size, but slightly below average speed. He has good instincts and can deliver a hit, but needs to improve his tackling as he too often tries to force a fumble rather than make a sure tackle. I might be biased towards Herzlich because he's a cancer survivor, but I really like the kid and think he can be a very good NFL player. He needs to continue to improve, but I think he could contribute on special teams right away.
Kendric Burney: CB from North Carolina. Burney is a bit undersized and lacks the speed to stay with top level receivers. His instincts, recognition and ball skills are all above-average and he appears to be a student of the game. Because of his height and speed limitation, he probably isn't more than a situational defender or nickel back at the NFL level, but I think he can be a benefit in special teams and passing situations.
Overall the Lions had an excellent draft. They added talent and it is always better to add talent than overreach for a position of need. Only time will tell how well these players perform at the NFL level, but on the surface, I'd give the Lions an "A" for their draft and their draft strategy.