The last two off seasons have been great for Martin Mayhew. He has had two excellent drafts and has managed to make good decisions with trades and free agents. Now that the Lions are getting better, and were picking outside of the top 10 in the draft, more evaluation is necessary and the margin of error just got significantly smaller. My hope is that Mayhew takes a page out of Matt Millen’s book and the Michigan Wolverines book as a lesson of what NOT to do. Win a popularity contest.
We look back over the last decade and we think about all the draft picks the Lions picked up, all the FA signings and trades Millen made and we can't help but cringe. We also think about Lloyd Carr's retirement and bringing on Rich Rodriguez as Michigan's new coach. What do they have in common? Popularity Contest.
Let me elaborate.
The way that Michigan played football had always been fairly simple. Power I, one to two back formations. As boring as it was compared to other schools in the south who like to run the spread, it always seemed to work and keep Michigan in championship contention. After Lloyd retired, the fans wanted the spread. Most people will come on here and say stuff like "I never wanted that, I wanted it the same." Others will even turn this into a survey much like somebody decided to do last week when I made the comment that most people on POD were probably born after 1980. Whatever.
I for one was somebody who thought that maybe Michigan was getting to predictable on offense and teams were figuring out how to stop us come bowl time when we have a 50 day break. USC did it twice. Now that I saw what the result was, I honestly wish they simply didn't listen to the fans and kept to the Michigan way.
When Millen was hired by the Lions in 2001, he started to draft the most popular player on the board. Charles Rogers was phenomenal at MSU and was a top 10 pick. His issues were already widely speculated but despite this, he was still on "Kipers Best Available."
When Mike Williams was drafted, I personally hated the idea. He hadn't played football in almost 18 months and he couldn't wait to leave USC to get into the NFL and start making the dollars. When we were on the clock at the #10 pick in the draft, Mel had him as the best available. Look what happened. The problem with that pick is not only was he NOT the best available at the time, but he wasn't even a need for the Lions either! We still had Roy Williams who was doing well, we were still expecting something out of Charles Rogers, and we still had Az Hakim who probably would have done better playing at the #3. But yet, Williams was the sexiest pick and that’s who we took.
Fast forward to 2009, the fans were screaming for Aaron Curry from Wake Forrest. We were so hungry to make an impact right away and I guess we were not so convinced Stafford wouldn't start right away and even though he was truly the smartest pick to take, the Lions fans didn't want the investment, we wanted the immediate impact!
Mayhew kept his eye on the board and played it cool. He knew who he wanted to take and ignored the popularity vote and took Stafford. Then we had more hope for defense because #20 was coming later on that morning. We wanted either James Laurinatis or Rey Maualuga desperately... we took Brandon Pettigrew. The funny thing is we really needed a TE just as bad as a MLB! But in our minds, a bad ass MLB is a sexier pick than a TE.
Then the 1st pick in the 2nd round, Laurinatis was still there. We passed and took Delmas, a safety from WMU. We needed a Safety just as bad too! But was more popular? An LB from Ohio State or a safety from WMU? It didn't matter, Delmas was the better player and that’s why we grabbed him.
These 3 gentleman are exactly what Mayhew said he was looking for. Investments for the future of the Lions. Obviously last year, Suh was a massive exception and we all saw how great it was for us! Look at the investment though... we have him for a 4 more years and his face has been everywhere. He went to the Pro Bowl and told the Free Press he planned on recruiting. These guys are starting to mold into the Lions and turn around everything, we just were so thirsty at the time that we couldn't see it. Now we’re starting to look better to players. Vanden Bosch came over, Burleson came over and it’s only going to get better.
I personally have been very happy with Martin Mayhew so far. And he is a perfect example of what his philosophy is. When the Lions fired Millen and we heard that two people within the Lions organization were just going to be promoted, even Roger Goodell stepped in and basically asked Ford Sr. "Are you sure you want to do that? I do have some names of people who would do well." Despite Mayhew not being the popular pick, I would certainly say he was a good decision by the Lions.
Tomorrow is a big day for Mayhew, fans are desperately hoping that we take a CB in the first round and Amukamara is the most popular pick for the Lions. But will it be the smartest pick? As unpopular as it would be to take an OT at #13, it might be exactly what Mayhew has in mind to continue on this formula he has been working on since late 2008 and if it gives us a better chance to win eventually in the future so we can be contenders year after year than bring him on!
A good reason to trust Mayhew's judgment is this question. Since Mayhew has brought in, give me one bad decision he has made since he stepped in?
-Trading Roy Williams for a bunch of draft picks? Nope, that was a fantastic decision, look how productive Roy is with a "Good Team." I know Dallas sucked last year but in my mind they were an underperforming team and they were good at the time he was traded. Plus, it gave us a lot of draft choices including Pettigrew.
-Trading Corey Redding for Julian Peterson? Nope, Corey's production for us dropped drastically and we had zero linebackers, it was worth the risk.
-Drafting Stafford over Curry? Nope, Curry has played very well for Seattle but certainly nothing overwhelmingly enough to say it would have been worth not taking a franchise QB.
-The entire 2009 draft? In my mind, probably had the best draft out of any team in the NFL that year. We generated 6 starters out of 9 picks.
-Showing no interest in Julius Peppers and going after Kyle Vanden Bosch instead? LOL Considering our DL was our showcase last year and we had no problem filling in Kyle's gap after he was injured, I'd say we were ok. And don't give me crap about him being injury prone either. His leg was the concern and his season ending injury was his neck... freak injury.
-Trading away Ernie Sims for in a 3 way trade for Tony Schaeffler? Well the Lions TE tandem was considered one of the best last year based on statistics so I would say no. Could we have just traded a 5th round for Tony? Maybe but I think Javid Best pretty showed how good Ernie really was last year a couple of times :-)
Play it cool Mayhew, and you could very well have a 3peat for good drafts.