By Ashley Dunkak
ALLEN PARK (CBS DETROIT) – As far as whether the Detroit Lions will draft a player to shore up a positional weakness or simply draft the best player available, Detroit Lions general manager Martin Mayhew strikes a balance.
“We’ll take the best player available for us,” Mayhew said Monday. “We’re not going to reach for need. When I say reach for need, I mean if you’ve got three or four guys that are similarly graded that you can take that will come and play for you, contribute something, I don’t think you reach down nine spots to take somebody because they play a particular position. That’s what I’m saying. It’s not necessarily the numerical grade is one tick above the next numerical grade so you take that guy even though he’s not going to be able to get on the field for you.”
The evaluation of players can include watching tape, visiting campuses to talk with the players and their coaches in person. and even bringing players out to the team headquarters in Allen Park. Ultimately, how a player is graded reflects the opinions of Mayhew, head coach Jim Caldwell, the coordinators and the position coaches, as well as other executives like vice president of pro personnel Sheldon White and senior personnel executive James Harris.
“During the draft, before we’re on the clock, we talk about our options and how we would use these guys,” Mayhew said. “‘If this guy is here, what’s your plan for him?’ And that’s the question that I’ll ask the coordinator, ask the head coach. And so we have time to formulate some of those thoughts. We know where we’ve graded them talent-wise, but there may be a guy with a tick higher grade, but we don’t have a solid plan for him, and you take the guy below there.”
As far as what players Mayhew and the Lions want most, Mayhew shed no light whatsoever. He began listing potential positions of need, starting with cornerback and linebacker, but quickly broadened the criteria considerably.
“Besides a punter and a long snapper, we’re open to taking just about any position,” Mayhew said. “It’s the same as always. We need good football players. We need guys that can help us win football games. It doesn’t matter what position those guys play.”
Though Mayhew said the philosophy of drafting players – take the best player for one’s particular team – has remained steady, the way in which the Lions come up with their draft board has seen some revisions over the years.
“We’ve changed a lot from the way we did things in the past,” Mayhew said. “I would start with the database that we put in place last year has been very helpful in terms of consolidating information and having information in one place. We really were back in the dark ages technology-wise. We’ve arranged, we’ve changed some responsibilities. We’ve gotten some other people involved in the process. Sheldon White’s very involved in the process, [James] Harris has been very involved. We changed some roles. We changed some of our grading, how we graded the medical grades, for example. We’ve changed that process around. We have a new doctor, Michael Workings joined us a couple years ago as part of that plan, so there’ve been a lot of changes, and that’s really what the goal is.
“The goal is to continually improve the process every year and make it a little bit better, and that’s what we’ve been trying to do every single year,” Mayhew added, “so there’ve been a lot of changes every year.”
Another way the Lions have altered their approach is to look for later-round players with special teams experience rather than evaluating special teams potential based on measurements like height, weight and speed along with less quantifiable qualities like how physical a player is and how well he operates in space. If the statistics and skills were favorable, the assumption might be that a player would fit in on special teams – even if he had never spent much time on special teams before.
“Some guys didn’t play a lot of teams, but you’d say, ‘This guy could probably play teams,’” Mayhew said. “We found a lot of times, [special teams coordinator John Bonamego] Bono didn’t want some of those guys. We’re saying this guy can play teams, and Bono wanted a guy who actually played teams – or [former special teams coordinator] Danny Crossman or whoever the teams coach was at the time. So we actually spent more time delving into some of those later-round guys who play on special teams, who play four phases, and trying to locate some of those guys later in the draft or in free agency.”
Mayhew said the Lions are open to moving up, moving back or staying put at the 10th pick. He has talked with other general managers around the league about all those options, though he will take all they tell him with a grain of salt.
Mayhew laughed when asked how many other general managers he can trust.
“None,” Mayhew said with a smile, “but you can listen to what they say, though. It’s a very competitive business. Hey, we’re all trying to win. I understand that.”
Long term, Mayhew and his staff evaluate their drafts based on what players do on the field, albeit not necessarily what they do right away.
“We want to find three starters in every draft, we want to find three guys that contribute in every draft and three developmental guys,” Mayhew said. “That’s our goal going into every draft. It’s been that way since 2009 when I first got here. That’s what we seek to achieve.
“You don’t always hit on it,” Mayhew said. “Sometimes you hit a little bit better, so it just varies.”
The draft begins Thursday at 8 p.m.