Jason Hanson Signing/Giveaway!

>> 4.27.2012

Once again, I'll be teaming up with Legends Sports & Games to bring you a Lions signing/giveaway opportunity. Tomorrow (Saturday) at the Woodland Mall in Grand Rapids, Jason Hanson will be signing from 11:00 am - 12:30 pm.

I'll be there too, giving away a sweet Lions mini-helmet--which you can get autographed--and maybe one of those cool Lions DirecTV remotes. Comment on this post if you're coming!


Great Barrier Reiff: Lions Draft Their Tackle

Detroit Lions selected Iowa offensive tackle Riley Reiff with their 2012 first-round pick.

The Detroit Lions did not trade their first-round pick, as I said they must. They stood pat and took mighty Iowa offensive tackle Riley Reiff, brilliantly named the “Great Barrier Reiff” by Lions Tweeter @crino22.

I said the Lions must trade their first-round pick for two reasons: 1) the players who could provide an immediate upgrade to the starting lineup would come off the board well before No. 23, and 2) the Lions would have quite a few decent options at 23, and therefore should try to trade back.

I wasn’t wrong about 1). Reiff addresses what I thought was the Lions’ most pressing need: a backup for, and heir apparent to, Jeff Backus. He’ll also have the opportunity to back up, push and/or supplant either Stephen Peterman or Gosder Cherilus until his time at left tackle comes. But Reiff doesn’t make the Lions’ starting 22 any better.

Depth and youth and the future are critically important. I pushed for the Lions to draft tackle Nate Solder last season, for this very reason; the Lions couldn’t afford to wait until Backus was irrevocably broken to search for his replacement. But we must understand taking Reiff at this spot means a team trying to win the Super Bowl this season passed up their last, best opportunity to make this season’s team better.

What I was wrong about was 2). It simply did not occur to me that Riley Reiff and David DeCastro would both be sitting there for the Lions at No. 23. I thought both of them would go in the 10-20 range, and closer to 10 than 20. With either of those players on the board, let alone both, trading down would not have been the right move. Matt Miller of Bleacher Report and New Era Scouting had Reiff and DeCastro as his 13th- and 6th-rated prospects, and Miller graded the Lions’ pick of Reiff as an A+.

What has been the fans' reaction? This was the scene at the Lions' official draft party at the Fillmore Theatre:

Appreciation for a pick well picked; excitement for a bright future. Not unbridled exultation, as when the Lions drafted Ndamukong Suh. Not the dawning of a glorious new era in Lions football. Just a good football player who addresses a great need coming at a fantastic value spot.

Now, the second and third rounds: Draftsmas Eve all over again. Will the Lions trade up? Trade back? Stand pat? Draft one of the risky corners? All the same questions, ready to be answered again. Tonight is the last chance the Lions have to add impact talent to this season’s roster without giving something up . . . will they take it?


Draftsmas Eve

>> 4.26.2012

I can’t sleep.

I made my list, I checked it twice, and I have no doubt this draft will be nice.

The Lions are picking late in the first round—and as I discussed earlier, the board makes it unlikely they’ll get good value there. Will a fantastic prospect fall? Will the Lions move up? Will they trade back, picking quality over quantity? Will they trade draft picks for a veteran who can help right away—or will they trade a veteran like Cliff Avril for draft picks?

I don't know! Any, none, or all of the above could happen. It’s going to be a surprise—a present. This draft is going to be an exercise in sitting around in our bathrobe eating candy out of our stocking while the losing teams claw and fight and scrap their way through a hurricane of tape, ribbon, bows and shredded gift wrap.

Here are some of the presents on my wish list:

  • Peter Konz, Wisconsin OC. A perfect medium- and long-term replacement for Dominic Raiola, he’s got the size and grit to back up both guard positions.
  • Nick Perry, USC DE. He's an edge rusher with speed, and originally from Detroit. He's got Avrilesque tools—and while he may need Avrilesque time to learn and develop, the part you can’t teach is there?
  • Zach Brown, UNC OLB. Kind of a mini-Kevin Durant, Brown’s athleticism is a perfect fit for the Lions’ scheme—and ended up on the Lions in all four instances of the #MockOne series of drafts. Remember, Durant and Deandre Levy are both on one-year deals.
  • Josh Norman, Coastal Carolina CB. Norman knocked the socks off Michael Schottey at the East-West Shrine Game, and displayed a combination of good run defense, solid coverage, and a ballhawking knack most Lions DBs lack.
  • LaMichael James, Oregon RB. His game is much like Jahvid Best’s, and therefore is perfect backup for him. James doesn’t have quite the size or strength of Best; a definite specialist rather than an undersized every-down back. But he’s got the important bit: the open-field home-run ability.
  • Ryan Lindley, San Diego State QB. Dude has some severe holes in his game, but he’s got all the tools. Total boom-or-bust prospect, perfect fit for the late-round developmental role.
  • Seriously Every Michigan State Spartan. Kirk Cousins. Edwin Baker. Trenton Robinson. Brian Linthicum. Even if Cousins won’t fall to a low enough slot for the Lions to consider, they could seriously use any one—or possibly several—of the Spartans up for consideration. Heck, they could vote a straight party ticket. Would a draft class of Worthy/Cousins/Robinson/Baker/Linthicum /B.J. Cunningham be so horrible? I'm kidding on that point, but I'll be surpised if the Lions don't end up with at least one Spartan.
I’m going to try to make it out to the Lions’ draft event at the Fillmore; I won’t be able to get there until late, but the Lions won’t be picking until late! Keep an eye on this space for updates; I may live-blog from my phone as I did for last year’s Hard Rock event.


Detroit Lions Must Trade Their 2012 1st-Round Pick

>> 4.23.2012


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.


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