Most draftnics and Lions fans continue to mock draft for the Lions based on need, or based on depth of the draft, or based on value for a pick, or any of a number of other incorrect methods that won't get them close. Others will simply say BPA (Best Player Available) and then try to wedge someone onto the roster still based on need but insisting that "such and such player" IS the best player available for the Lions to pick. Still others will say they (the Lions) can get a -insert position here- later in the draft and won't draft this or that player at this or that draft spot. And finally, there's the group that says the Lions won't draft this or that player because they don't need a player at that position or that particular player because of his history.
Somewhere in that mix there are a few who realize that the Lions won't draft certain players because those specific players don't fit what they do or if they do fit what they do, there is no roster spot for the player. Now even though that small group is closer to correct then the rest, they are still off on one thing, if a high enough ranked player drops to the Lions and they can't get decent value to trade out of their spot they will take said player. Should you have read all my blog posts you would probably figure I fit into this last group (and you would be right) and you would also know I got caught being wrong when the Lions DID in fact draft a defensive tackle last year despite my insistence they would not.
Hold up, say the BPA crowd, taking Fairley was what they should've done. But BPA means they won't package picks and trade up to target LeShoure, or Jahvid Best the year before. The Lions did not wait until it was their turn and then take the BPA, they targeted a specific player and went after him. How does that fit in with BPA?
Just what is the Lions draft plan?
In order to figure that out, you need to change the way you think about the draft.
The Lions do not see the draft as a way to fill a need, the Lions see it as a way to add talent to the roster... the entire roster.
Unlike free agency the salary cap isn't a part of the equation and so the Lions are free to add whatever talent they can acquire. They want the best they can possibly get whenever they draft a player.
You also have to drop the notion that the Lions aren't set at a position. That they have holes in the roster. As far as the front office is concerned, the Lions can and would field a team based on their current roster. That doesn't mean the current roster are guaranteed jobs, in fact, they are not (well, most of the players are not anyway). Some contracts guarantee certain players will in fact make the final roster but the majority of the team have no such guarantee. So while they would field a team of 53 from their current set of contracts they aren't against upgrading anywhere they can.
Then, you have to drop the notion that the Lions ARE set at a position. As far as the front office is concerned, any position is upgradeable and will attempt to give a player a chance to win a job from another be that player a free agent or a draft pick.
This is the part most do not get. The Lions are perfectly happy with their roster as is, right now, without more free agency and/or without a draft. The Lions are also perfectly happy to upgrade any position on the team right now, no matter what player would have to fight for his job or risk being cut (or traded). Because they are happy with their current roster they will often times take the best player available (based on their ranking criteria) and allow that player to compete for a job. However, because they are perfectly willing to upgrade any position on the roster they will target certain players who they have ranked substantially higher then their current roster and position themselves (via trade) to take that player.
Either way, they are in fact adding talent to the roster. Someone gets added, someone else doesn't make the final roster (or gets traded away). The team as a whole improves.
Yeah, that might mean they draft a DT, a RB, and a WR when they "need" a CB, OT, and LB. In the end though, the team as a whole improved talent-wise even if a specific position group did not. You keep doing that and you keep fielding a team with talent... instead of a team with no talent who goes 0-16.
The players on the roster have been ranked. The players in the draft are being ranked. The Lions will be looking to add talent to their roster in the draft, whether they target a specific player and go get him or take the BPA that falls to them at their draft spot remains to be seen. At some point it is simply not worth trading (up or down) if the "dance partner" wants too much (or is offering too little) so the "plan" is somewhat dependent on what others will do (and who others take).
When the draft is over, the Lions will continue to add to the roster with players who can compete with the current roster of names in an attempt to further upgrade any and every position, even if that position is 3rd string QB or 5th string WR. An upgrade is an upgrade, the 51st through 53rd ranked guys on the roster will never ever be safe... the Lions will always be looking to get better, even if one position group suffers (a little) for a season while they build on another.
No team has a perfect roster. No team has 53 pro-bowlers. Every team has holes. As long as your team is constantly upgrading, constantly improving, they will do better then they did before. If you draft the very best player you possibly can every time you pick in the draft, you get better as a team as well. In the end, what more can you ask for?
Okay, back to the 2012 draft. Applying the Lions "draft plan" to the hundreds of draftable players and what do we get? First, the Lions may target a specific player and try to trade up to get him. If the "cost" is too high they will not pull the trigger. If the "cost" is acceptable, they trade up and pick the guy they really want. You can bet that player is an immediate starter and a definite upgrade to the current starter if it's in the first round. Someone who will be an improvement to the team for years to come. Since it's very rare to get that great trade or player in that way, it's more likely the Lions will have a group of 4 to 8 guys they want at pick #23 and will wait to see who is still there when they are on the clock. If all 4 to 8 guys are there, they will entertain offers to trade down... 3 to 7 spots... so that they can still get one of their guys. If no trades look decent, they pick... the BPA out of the group they predetermined they want. As so it'll go for each round. If it's later in the draft, the draft pick will be an option to upgrade a backup position. ALL backup positions are supposed to constantly be competing to be the starter, both right now and eventually on down the road.
The things that help a potential draft pick be ranked higher include (in no particular order) a hard worker, a strong guy, a fast player, a smart player, a leader, someone who gets along with others who are hard workers, and of course... talent. Health, be it physical or mental, are negatives. Talent still trumps physical and mental health though, so at some point even a player with negatives becomes the best player available. Some players are simply not suited to the Lions style of play and are more or less exempt from consideration.
Find a player who is very talented, a hard worker, who is strong and fast and smart, someone who is a leader and fits the Lions scheme and you probably found a player the Lions will try to move up for in order to draft him. If the cost is too much, they will simply wait and take someone else who is nearly ranked as high. If you can figure out what the other teams will do and who is left then continue looking at talent and effort and strength and speed and leadership and of course one who fits the Lions schemes and you have the pick... you had better have completely forgotten about what position that player plays as you can be sure the Lions did... at least as far as need goes. The one caveat here is that the pick must be ranked as high or higher then the current player on the roster... so unless the 23rd pick is a QB ranked higher then Stafford that QB isn't going to be picked... or a TE higher then Pettigrew... or a WR higher then Calvin Johnson... etc.
What I mean is, at pick #23, the player taken could be a CB, or a Safety, or a LB, or a DE, or a Guard, or a Tackle as long as said player is ranked higher then the current Lion holding that position. The 1st rounder is considered to be a starter, later rounds, a backup, so the ranking must match the player the draft pick will be competing against for a roster spot. What position is needed more then another is irrelevant.
The Lions draft plan is to increase the talent level of the 53 man roster. Nothing more, and most definitely, nothing less.