After three full drafts by Martin Mayhew, with Tom Lewand, Shack Harris and the scouts, and Jim Schwartz and the coaches providing input, we’d like to think we understand the Lions’ approach. BATFAN, a term first coined by Josh at Roar of the Lions, seems to encapsulate it: “Best Available that Fits a Need.”
This strategy can be seen at work in the selections of players like Brandon Pettigrew: Tight End was a need at the time, if not nearly the most pressing one, and Pettigrew a special talent. Pettigrew was derided as a “luxury pick,” but it became apparent that locking down the tight end position with a dynamic two-way player was a luxury the Lions couldn’t have afforded to pass up.
We see BATFAN at work in the selection of Titus Young; he perfectly fit a need we were barely aware the Lions had. Was he the “best available player”? It didn’t seem so at the time, but quick flip through the players drafted after him reveals many walked into camp as starters and ended the season on the bench. Few made the impact Young did, or have as clear of a long-term future.
But with the Lions’ draft slot lower, and roster better-stocked, than it’s been since I was but a fanling, BATFAN is being twisted around to mean “whoever I like the best.”
Who are the best prospects that could fall to the Lions’ spot at 1.23? What are the Lions’ “needs”? These are murky concepts. Martin Mayhew said last week there are “about 4-7” prospects the Lions would feel ‘very comfortable’ taking there. When I heard that, I knew the one thing the Lions absolutely should not do: draft a player at 1.23.
Let’s look over our (as yet incomplete) Old Mother Hubbard needs list, sorted in my own opinion of most-pressing to least-pressing:
- Dominic Raiola's heir at starting OC, possibly backing up or pushing starters at OG.
- A CB who can immediately contribute in nickel and dime packages, and push to start in 2013.
- Jeff Backus' heir at starting LT, possibly pushing Gosder Cherilus at RT.
- A pass-rushing DE to compete with Cliff Avril, Lawrence Jackson, and Willie Young for a long-term starter's role.
- An OLB who can stop the run and cover the pass, ready to start in 2013.
- A S who can rotate/compete with Amari Spievey.
- A developmental TE.
Note that I haven't completed the RB, WR, or QB OMHs yet. Something like "Home-run threat RB to compete with Jahvid Best, Mikel Leshoure, and Kevin Smith" will likely be added, as will "Boom-or-bust developmental quarterback."
This puts our list of positions that have a need at: QB, RB, TE, OT, OG/C, DE, OLB, CB and S . . . basically, the whole team. Outside of QB and probably TE, the Lions could justify spending a late first-round pick on almost any position on the roster—yet, don't NEED to spend a first-round pick anywhere on the roster.
If the Lions get on the clock at 1.23, and have seven players they’d be equally happy with, they must trade down. They’d ideally slide down six slots, add a pick or move up in another round, while still nabbing one of the players they’d have been “very comfortable” taking at their original position.
That sounds great, but the window of opportunity a late-first-round rookie has to contribute to this team is small. Nickel corner, situational runner or situational pass rusher . . . that's about it. If the Lions stand pat at 1.23, it's likely they'll be drafting a developmental player who'll help the team in very specific, limited ways—much like Young’s role last season.
BATFAN, by definition, is a passive strategy. It’s one thing to take the “best available player” when you’re drafting 2nd, or 13th. You can let the draft board come to you. But at the 23rd pick, how other teams draft has a huge say in who the Lions will end up with. If the Lions are going to get a player that has a major impact on how many games the Lions win this year, they must trade up.
Don’t be scared. As I wrote for Bleacher Report, Trading Up is the New Trading Down. Don’t forget, the Lions traded up from the second round into the first for Jahvid Best in 2010—then in 2011, traded up from the third into the second to get Mikel Leshoure. In both cases, the Lions saw a player of great value, the last of a tier, sitting high atop the remaining prospects on their draft board. In both cases, they saw the value of getting an impact player at a position of need, and went and got them.
For years, the going thought has been that the Lions should add value by adding draft picks; by trading down and fleshing out the middle of the roster they’ll get better. But now the strategy must change. It’s no longer about accepting the best of what falls to them, because their needs are so vast almost anything will do. It’s about getting the best possible player to fill their very specific needs.
The Lions cannot risk being left with no immediate-impact prospects, not unless they’ve been compensated for a slide down the draft board. They must aggressively target the player they believe will help them win the most games in 2012, and go get him.