By Chris Morgan
The Detroit Lions are currently using two running backs primarily. One is Mikel Leshoure, a second round pick. He has missed an entire season with an injury and two games due to a suspension. The other is Joique Bell, an undrafted free agent. They’ve been about equally good. This is, in part, perhaps indicative of an issue with the Detroit Lions’ front office. Back in the day, we all lampooned Matt Millen for his drafting strategies, and with good cause. However, the current brain trust, while better, hasn’t been optimizing the NFL Draft either.
Pretty much every NFL team realizes you don’t draft specialists, kickers and punters, until very late, if at all. Teams that don’t adhere to that, such as the Jacksonville Jaguars, are clearly organizations with issues. However, it is becoming clear that, generally speaking, most skill position players shouldn’t be taken early either. Take a look at the list of the best running backs in the league. Yes, Adrian Peterson is up there, but he is a once in generation talent. Calvin Johnson is a similar player. They are the rare running back and wide receiver truly worth taking in the first round. However, the league is brimming with running backs and wide receivers who were drafted late, if at all, who have become some of the league’s best players. Adrian Foster, Victor Cruz, the list goes on.
Meanwhile, think of how many quarterbacks and offensive tackles who are among the league’s best who weren’t drafted in the first couple of rounds. They are few and far between. There are less of them available, and they are, in a way, more important, or at least less easy to replace. Running backs are also players with short shelf lives generally speaking. If you can take a running back in the fourth or fifth round, and have their chances of being successful be fairly close to that of a first rounder, and considering the injury risk, why wouldn’t you avoid the early rusher and focus on drafting them later?
At this point, unless you are getting a truly elite prospect, you should probably avoid taking a running back or a receiver in the first two rounds. Save those picks for quarterbacks, offensive linemen, and defensive players, particularly guys in the secondary or on the defensive line. Take a look at the guys the Lions have been taking in the first couple of rounds. Jahvid Best was a late first round pick. Brandon Pettigrew was a first rounder. In the second round, the Lions took Titus Young and Leshoure, and then they took Ryan Broyles. That’s a ton of skill position players. Look at how well they’ve panned out. Are any of them busts? It’s too early to say that, and generally speaking none of them look like potential busts, unless Young’s behavioral issues are quite serious.
Detroit could have been taking players to help their secondary, or their offensive line, and gotten played just as good, or better, later. The Lions are not making the best use of their draft picks. They aren’t screwing things up royally like Millen after did. He, after all, took three wide receivers in the first round in three straight years. They just aren’t doing as well as they could, and perhaps as well as they should.
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Chris has been a diehard Detroit Lions fan through the good (Barry Sanders) and the bad (Matt Millen) and that love has led him to take jobs writing about sports, including as a fantasy sports “expert.” His work can be found on Examiner.com.