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Youth movement makes 2015 season different from 2012

The Detroit Lions' recent draft classes give the team playoff hopes in 2015.

Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

There are lots of comparisons that are and could be made between the Detroit Lions' 2012 season and the upcoming 2015 season. The main one being the Lions are coming off a playoff berth and look to have done little to improve the team so far this offseason. In fact, they actually could look worse on paper given the fact that their best player, he who shall not be named Ndamukong Suh, is now a Miami Dolphin. But there's one glaring difference between the two teams and reason the Lions should have playoff hopes again in 2015 -- their recent draft classes.

And I'm not talking about the upcoming draft. I'm talking about the previous ones. Here's a look at the two drafts before 2012:


1. Ndamukong Suh, DT

1. Jahvid Best, RB

3. Amari Spievey, CB/S

4. Jason Fox, OT

7. Willie Young, DE

7. Tim Toone, WR


1. Nick Fairley, DT

2. Titus Young, WR

2. Mikel Leshoure, RB

5. Doug Hogue, LB

7. Johnny Culbreath, OT

There have been countless articles written on the failures with these two draft classes, but what I want to focus on is the consequences of such poor drafting/player development/luck. It really does involve all three of those factors. Some were just poor decisions -- Jahvid Best might have seemed like a good risk at the time, but quickly turned out to be a big one. The same goes for guys like Nick Fairly, Titus Young and Mikel Leshoure. It took Fairley three years to get motivated. Young showed some promise (81 catches for 990 yards and 10 touchdowns in two seasons), but soon went off the deep end. And Leshoure could never bounce back after Achilles surgery derailed his rookie season.

One poor draft pick after another is a tough way to build a solid core of young talent on a team. By 2012, the Lions needed guys like Best, Fairley, Amari Spievey, Willie Young and Leshoure to be blossoming into full-time starters. Instead, the only full-time, reliable starter in two years of drafts was Suh. And the Lions were forced to rely on older, more expensive veterans to fill those roles.

So, yeah, 2010 and 2012 weren't Martin Mayhew's finest years in the draft room. But what the Lions were able to do the next few years, however, should have you excited about the 2015 season.


1. Riley Reiff, OT

2. Ryan Broyles, WR

3. Bill Bentley, CB

4. Ronnell Lewis, DE

5. Tahir Whitehead, LB

5. Chris Greenwood, CB

6. Jonte Green, CB

7. Travis Lewis, LB


1. Ezekiel Ansah, DE

2. Darius Slay, CB

3. Larry Warford, OG

4. Devin Taylor, DE

5. Sam Martin, P

6. Corey Fuller, WR

6. Theo Riddick, RB

7. Michael Williams, TE/OT

7. Brandon Hepburn, LB


1. Eric Ebron, TE

2. Kyle Van Noy, LB

3. Travis Swanson, C

4. Nevin Lawson, CB

4. Larry Webster, DE

5. Caraun Reid, DT

6. TJ Jones, WR

7. Nate Freese, K

Obviously not every draft pick is a home run, but after three years the Lions still have 20 of the 25 players they picked on the roster. Depending on how you look at it, as many as 12-15 players are vying for a starting role next season. Now, not everyone will actually start, but having a group of young players competing for roles is a perfect place to be.

The Lions are also expecting a big jump in play from their 2014 draft class. Guys like Eric Ebron and Travis Swanson are slated to have starting roles next season (and potentially Kyle Van Noy, too). And later-round guys like Larry Webster and Caraun Reid are expected to make contributions on defense. In a recent article discussing second-year breakout candidates, Bucky Brooks spoke to the jump that most players have to make in their second year.

"Young players typically make the biggest jump in development between their first and second seasons. They are finally comfortable with their role in the system; they have had time to acclimate to the speed and intensity of the pro game. Moreover, coaches have a better understanding of a young player's game, allowing them to tailor the game plan around strengths."

All of these factors play a big role in the success of a player, far more than just talent and play calling. If the Lions want to come anywhere close to the playoffs next season, they're going to need big contributions from their recent draft classes. And unlike 2012, they have a solid core group of young guys to build around this time.

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