We're months deep into mock draft season, and with the insatiable hunger for more mock drafts comes certain patterns of behavior from draftniks. First, analysts were overwhelmingly in agreement that selecting a defensive tackle was the right move for the interior defensive linemen needy Detroit Lions. Then the primary focus shifted to offensive tackle after the first wave of free agency hit. If you look in the background now, you can see a slow contingent of NFL Draft mockers trending toward the Lions selecting a wide receiver in the first round, led by the face of all draft experts, Mel Kiper Jr. Kiper selected Laquon Treadwell for the Lions in the first round of his latest mock draft, but that would end up being a huge mistake for Detroit.
It's easy to see why national pundits think wide receiver would be a good choice for Detroit. With limited time to cover each team individually, they look at the Lions' big moves from this offseason. The biggest news, of course, being the loss of all-star Calvin Johnson. On the surface, replacing Johnson with Marvin Jones and Jeremy Kerley looks painfully inadequate. However, this oversimplified argument assumes one, inherently wrong thing: the Lions should be looking to replace Megatron.
Calvin Johnson was a once-in-a-lifetime superstar. There is no Calvin Johnson in this draft, and there likely won't be one in the next ten drafts. The guy was a physical freak, a workaholic and a kind soul to go along with it all. If the Lions were going to go out and try and find a replica of Johnson, they would undoubtedly fail.
But why would the Lions even try to do that? With all due respect to Calvin, the Lions offense was terrible with Johnson as the primary focus. The Lions' offense would have been worse without him, but it's clear centering the offense around one dominant receiver was never working for the Lions. In Johnson's nine years with the Lions, Detroit ranked in the top ten in scoring just once, and finished in the bottom ten four times.
There was one year, however, that the Lions had a top ten offense, both in DVOA (10th) and points scored (fourth). That year was 2011. What was one key difference that year? The Detroit Lions' running game. That year was the only season during Johnson's career that the Lions were in the top half of the league in yards per carry, averaging 4.3 yards per rush.
If the Lions were to go out and draft Laquon Treadwell in the first round, they would be replicating a system that hasn't been as successful as perceived and doing it with inferior talent. Detroit doesn't need to replace the star wideout, they need to refocus their vision on offense. Having the most talented wide receiver in the league hasn't been the key to success for Detroit or any other team in the league for that matter. The Lions' receiving team is adequate. Putting their two nice offseason additions aside, the Lions also have non-traditional receiving talent in Theo Riddick and Eric Ebron. It won't be the best receiving corps in the league, but it doesn't have to be.
If the Lions are going to focus on offense early in the draft, they need to focus on improving the running game. The Lions haven't placed in the top half of the league in rushing yards since Barry Sanders' last season. That's nearly two decade of a below-average rushing attack.
So far, Detroit has done little to improve that aspect of their game, which ranked last in yardage and 26th in yards per carry last season. They've replaced hometown hero Joique Bell with the inconsistent (and fumble-prone) Stevan Ridley. They've replaced one veteran depth lineman (Manny Ramirez) with another (Geoff Schwartz). And that's it.
But the Lions still have a chance to upgrade the offensive line with a high pick in the draft. Whether it be a guy like Taylor Decker, who makes pancakes more often than IHOP, or Ronnie Stanley, whose tape is so boring for its consistency, Detroit will have a couple of valuable options should they decide to keep their No. 16 overall pick.
I don't like the idea of locking your team into one specific position for a draft pick, but I do believe you can and should take yourself out of the running for specific positions that aren't of a pressing need. And the Lions should not even consider a wide receiver in the first two rounds of the NFL Draft.