The Lions and defensive end Cliff Avril could be headed for a parting of the ways next month, an indication of how hard it can be to keep all your veteran starters on a team in our current football age.
Surviving those departures and continuing to be a successful team requires a constant influx of young, cheap talent via the draft. The Lions have had a few hits in the last three years, but their recent drafts have been studded with far too many choices that have failed to meet expectations. Lions president Tom Lewand said that has to be different for this year’s draft class and that some of the holdovers from previous years need to take on larger roles as well.
“When you talk about building a team through the draft, those draft choices have to continue to develop as players,” Lewand said, via the team’s website. “We’ve seen some of that … and we certainly need to see more and more as we move forward both with last year’s class, the 2011 class and this year’s class. Rookies come in and contribute right away in this league and this year will be no exception.”
The reasons for disappointment have ranged from injuries (Jahvid Best, Bill Bentley, Ryan Broyles, Mikel Leshoure) and bad behavior (Nick Fairly, Titus Young, Leshoure) to on-field struggles (Amari Spievey, Leshoure). Even Ndamukong Suh’s first three years have been a bit less than the Lions probably hoped for when they selected him with the second overall pick in 2010. That doesn’t look great for General Manager Martin Mayhew’s ability to select talent or coach Jim Schwartz’s ability to manage and develop it.
Drafting players like Calvin Johnson, Matthew Stafford, Brandon Pettigrew and Avril helped the Lions go from 0-16 to 10-6 over three years. They’ll need similar success to right the ship after a 4-12 season in 2012 or someone else is going to be doing the picking in Detroit.