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.