Lions’ 2010 Offseason: Offense or Defense?

>> 2.12.2010

A hot topic of debate these days is whether the Lions should “go offense” or “go defense” in the draft.  Many say the Lions have had the worst defense in the NFL for the past two seasons, and they won’t be competitive until it’s addressed.  Others have argued that the Lions should “complete” the offense—if one unit is very good, the Lions may be more competitive than if both units were merely less bad.

I say it’s all missing the point.

This is the way the typical fan would approach an offseason, were they given the reigns to their team.  Keep the starters who played well last year, and any first- and second-year players.  Declare the remaining, unfilled starting positions “holes”, and add those positions to the “shopping list”. Then, rank the positions on the shopping list in your perceived order of need.

In free agency, go after the names you best recognize who play positions at the top of your shopping list.  As free agents are acquired, scratch their positions off the list.  Then, in each round, note your highest-ranked remaining need, and take the best player available at that position.  If, at the end of the draft, all of the “holes” have been “filled”, your team had a "good offseason".

Unfortunately, that’s not how you build a team.

Last year, the Lions churned the roster like crazy, trying to cycle in any amount of talent they could.  They used and abused their #1 waiver priority, bringing recent cuts from all over the league in for tryouts.  They also added some quality “name” veterans, guys like Larry Foote, Grady Jackson, Philip Buchanon . . . at the time, we called these guys “stopgaps”, players who could play at a decent level for a year or two while the Lions rebuilt the talent base of the team.

The funny thing is, it's now a year later; many of these one- or two-year players now only have one (or no) years left here in Detroit.  We as fans have to get over the idea that when Larry Foote was signed last year to a one-year deal, that the Lions were “set” at middle linebacker.  They were never any such thing; they aren’t now, either.

Unfortunately, it’s going to take at least this draft, and the next one, before Lions fans can look at the “starters” the way normal NFL teams do: as solid pieces that will be in place for several years.  Outside of Calvin Johnson, and most of the players from the 2009 draft class, every single position on the roster is a “hole”.

The Lions simply can’t afford to shackle themselves to perceived need, be it immediate or medium-term.  Practically every position on the field is still in play for practically every round in the draft; about the only thing that the Lions couldn’t use is a quarterback or tight end in the top few rounds.  The Lions can—and should—take the best player on the board, regardless of what position, or side of the field, they play on. 

11 comments:

OregonLion,  February 12, 2010 at 5:35 PM  

This is exactly right. Rebuilding an NFL team is not like remodeling a house, where you decide what your priorities are, then go get more stuff from Home Depot every year when you've saved up enough bucks. The draft is not like a normal store - it's more like a store in the old communist Soviet Union. What's on the "shelves" when you get your chance to "shop" is very limited and random. If your sink is bad, and you see a sink on the shelf, you grab it, even if countertop was a higher priority.

To be a bit less metaphorical, consider what need-based drafting does to your overall talent pool. Let's say your priorities are 1. OT and 2. CB. One year, you've got a B+ OT on the board, and an A CB. You take the OT - priorities, you know. Next year, you see an A OT and a B+ CB - you take the CB, OT is "filled". It should be obvious that if you continue to prioritize need over talent, you'll wind up with a lesser talent pool. This, BTW, is exactly the kind of flawed thinking that got us Cherilus and Dizon (high needs!) instead of the more talented players on the board at the time.

DetFan1979 February 12, 2010 at 6:25 PM  

Fans better get used to more drafts like last year -- the Lions will draft the best player available at ANY position of need. Their board is balanced to reflect the importance of some positions (Oline) over others (Punter).

I've been saying over and over and over: Free Agency fills immediate "needs" -- the Draft is to add top level Talent.

I've done a couple of pieces on this, and I'm sure it will be a theme the entire ifseason as we as fans adjust to having a front office and coaching staff that "get it" -- as in, get how to build a solid NFL team. They were starting from ground zero, so it is going to take some time -- but if they keep being consistent and can repeat last year's draft performance consistently from year to year, then we will all as fans be thrilled with the end result!

TimT February 13, 2010 at 10:43 AM  

Thankfully, Detroit has back-to-back years of polar opposite drafts to gauge by. 2008 was a narrowly-focused need-centric draft. 2009 was an investment in talent. Keep investing in talent and the needs will take care of themselves. Even when we seem to overlook needs, creating positions of strength gives you even more flexibility in trading for players or picks.

Fortunately, the 2009 draft gives the team credibility when drafting. (Something it hasn't had with the fans in about 7 years.) So, building up talent shouldn't be such a tough sell this year with the fans, even though many of them still see specific areas they'd like to fill.

One other fortunate thing this year is the reported depth of the talent pool of interior linemen on both sides of the ball. Detroit could honor the "build talent" mentality while meeting "team needs" the way need-centric fans would draft had they been "given the reigns".

BigAlBundy,  February 14, 2010 at 5:18 AM  

There's a new site "profootballfocus.com" that has a lot of statistical info that isn't readily available to the average fan.

http://www.profootballfocus.com/by_team.php?tab=by_team&season=2009&teamid=11&stats=&gameid=

Big Al - the Bundy experience

Weston Corbitt February 14, 2010 at 2:52 PM  

Very good article. If we went with positions who knows who we would pick? Last year Delmas was the best player available, but James Laurenitiis was still on the board. We needed a MLB of the future, (Foote wasn't it at the time either) but we took the hard hitting safety. That worked out fairly well. We took Aaron Brown at RB although we could have used more defense. Just some small examples why we can basically take who we want when we want in the draft.

Anonymous,  February 14, 2010 at 3:41 PM  

Thanks for this. It is a needed perspective in Lion fandom.

Anonymous,  February 14, 2010 at 11:40 PM  

One advantage of the Best Player Available strategy is that it can deny other teams, possibly a divisional rival, a major upgrade to a position. Since this draft is supposedly loaded with defensive line candidates, the good news is that the Lions have a chance to upgrade a position that is very weak but the bad news is that other teams will also be upgrading that position. Hopefully, if the Lions draft an exceptional defensive lineman, the upgrade to the lions defensive line will be significant, whereas this draft may only yield a marginal upgrade of the defensive line for the better teams. On the other hand, drafting an starting caliber linebacker would not pay the same dividends because the Lions are relatively decent in that position.

Anyway, my point is that the best player available strategy needs some common sense injected to be successful and requires that it include an evaluation of how that player and position can impact the success of the team.

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