The 2011 NFL draft is in the books. Since then we have seen the grades come out on the draft and witnessed the Detroit Lions get the highest grade given out by ESPN analyst, Mel Kiper, Jr., an 'A-'. The Detroit Free Press staff were not quite as impressed with the Lions picks, though Dave Birkett did give them a 'B+'.
What do these grades mean to the Lions front office? Nothing.
Jim Schwartz (coach) and Martin Mayhew (GM) are not looking for pats on the back. They followed their own draft board and took the guys who had the highest value.
The fact that the Lions did not take a CB, OLB (until the the fifth round) or an OT (until the seventh round) stumped many analysts. But I can guarantee you that what others outside of the organization thought did not even make the footnotes on Mayhew and company's post draft script.
The reason for not taking a CB or OLB or even an OT high in the draft was because the right players were not there. This team is looking for the best players, period.
The Lions proved this by attempting to trade up in the first round to get CB Patrick Peterson. When they saw the price tag and factored in the number of picks they would have to forfeit, they chose not to. So they got another top five player with the 13th pick in DT Nick Fairley.
The rest of the Lions' picks may not have given the team a new shut-down CB, a top tier OLB, or a high value OT, but they did get much needed depth and an even brighter future.
Schwartz and Mayhew were not guilty of being short-sighted.
Some might try to argue that they were, but they are not seeing the bigger picture, which rings more than a little of being ironic.
Schwartz has been criticized for wanting only the 'blue chip" players at whatever cost. The biggest perceived cost being if these players are taken over other positions of need.
On NFL Network's Path to the Draft Schwartz recently talked about the previous administration taking Calvin Johnson. As many Lions fans may remember, there wasn't a need at that position in terms of numbers because Millen drafted wide receivers every year.
However, Schwartz applauded the decision because Johnson was such an outstanding player. As much as that comment might strike fear in the hearts of Lions fans who don't ever want to return to the days of Matt Millen, Schwartz is right about Calvin "Megatron" Johnson. Millen struck gold with this pick but only because of the kind of player Johnson is.
Next up, Schwartz gave the example of the New England Patriots drafting Tom Brady with three QB's already on their roster. They didn't need any more players at this position but Brady presented the kind of talent they valued and eventually became their franchise QB.
Taking a quality player that fits your scheme over others who don't, even if they don't represent your team's highest position of need, is Bill Belichick's drafting philosophy.
Schwartz has learned a few things by being in the NFL for 19 years. He spent his early years with coach Belichick learning how to scout players and developing draft strategy. If you look at Belichick's success it would appear that Schwartz is on the right track for the Lions. However, this is not exactly the mold Schwartz is following. He has added a few important changes.
Every player they drafted fit a need on the Lions roster. They may not have been evaluated by others as the highest needs, but they were needs, nonetheless.
If there is any doubt left in anyone's mind that Schwartz and Mayhew know what they are doing, perhaps this will put it to rest.
Schwartz is not just looking for any "blue chip" player, he is looking for players who will make this team multi-dimensional and very, very difficult to play against for years to come. He is also not trying to fill all of their immediate needs with rookies.
When DT Nick Fairley was still on the board at 13 the Lions did not hesitate to hand in their draft card. They had spent a great amount of time scouting him and projecting how he would fit on the Lions defense.
But the importance of this pick was really two-fold. It's not only because of his incredible talent and skill set, but also because they value Ndamukong Suh's health and longevity.
Fairley will ensure that both DT's get plenty of playing time without over-extending themselves or risking injuries due to fatigue and constant pounding. In fact, Schwartz recently disclosed that Fairley, Suh, and DT Corey Williams will rotate at that position to keep all of them fresh. It is possible that Suh will also be used as a DE on certain plays.
The WR Titus Young again fit exactly what the Lions were looking for in a second deep-threat wide receiver. Teams have set up their entire defenses to try to shut Calvin Johnson down.
Adding veteran Nate Burleson in to the mix made it more difficult to take the receiving game away but we still needed a third deep threat so that Burleson could be moved back to the slot. Bringing in Titus Young will make it nearly impossible to cover everyone in the slot and backfield. Who will teams try to double up on now? That is a luxury being taken out of the game and, again, was completely by design.
The more key players you have that can rotate as necessary or take some of the pressure off another player means there is less of a chance of injury and a greater chance of keeping your players fresh.
Add in Jahvid Best and Mikel LeShoure at running back and tight ends Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Schefler (specifically named by Schwartz) and the offense becomes a nightmare for other teams to cover. It also gives the Lions an opportunity to make adjustments from week to week as needed against their opponents defensive schemes.
The most important and defining statement Schwartz made was how bringing in the players they got will greatly increase the durability of all of the players and sets you up to be built to last in the playoffs.
Think this is a team who is being led by a short-sighted front office? I would suggest quite the opposite.
Schwartz and Mayhew are building a structure that supports the durability and depth of its players so that they can not only become a full four-quarter team in each of their 16 regular season games but also a team ready for the post-season. They are building a legacy.
My next article will address how to continue to add to the durability and strength of this Detroit Lions team through free-agency acquisitions.