With the NFL Draft hours away, most fans of the Detroit Lions feel either optimistic, anxious, or petrified. In many ways the 2015 draft is make or break for Detroit Lions GM Martin Mayhew. After many busts (Jahvid Best, Mikel LeShoure, Titus Young, etc.) and many disappointments (Nick Fairley, Ryan Broyles, Brandon Pettigrew, etc.), fans have grown weary. Mayhew has had his share of great picks as well (Matthew Stafford, Ndamukong Suh, Darius Slay, and DeAndre Levy). In a town full of fans ready to see consistency, is Mayhew the one to bring it?
Mayhew took over in 2008 for the infamous Matt Millen. Not that this is worth repeating, but the team compiled a 31-81 record. That record was good enough for a winning percentage of .277 and was among the worst ever compiled by an NFL team over a seven-year period. The year that Mayhew took over for Millen, the team was in the midst of a winless season. In 2008 the Lions went 0-16.
Mayhew wanted to make his mark with the team. He fired coach Rod Marinelli and hired Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz as Head Coach. With the #1 pick in the 2009 draft, he drafted QB Matthew Stafford out of Georgia. The Lions went on to finish the 2009 season 2-14.
Mayhew drafted DT Ndamukong Suh with the #2 overall pick in the 2010 draft. The teams showed signs of improvement, but QB Matthew Stafford was injured in the first game of the season and only played 3 games. It looked like these were going to be the same disappointing Lions.
Although the team was steadily improving, there were still many unanswered questions. Optimism filled the air after the 2011 draft. Mayhew was aggressive in the draft. The Lions traded away their 3rd and 4th round picks to Seattle for the Seahawks 2nd round (57th overall). The Lions ended up selecting Mikel Leshoure. They selected DT Nick Fairley and WR Titus Young, with their first two picks. At the time, most experts said that the Lions had one of the strongest draft classes. As we sit here today none of the teams picks from the 2011 draft are with the team. Only one player (Nick Fairley) is still active in the NFL.
In spite of the less than stellar draft, the 2011 Lions were an exciting team who clinched their first playoff appreance since 1999. The team finished the season 10-6 as Matthew Stafford threw for 5,038 yards, 41 touchdowns, and 16 interceptions. There was plenty of optimism around Mayhew, Schwartz, and the core talent of the team.
In 2012, Mayhew looked to address needs rather than his general BPA (Best Player Available) formula for the draft. The teams biggest weakness in 2011 was the secondary, so Mayhew drafted three cornerbacks (Bill Bentley 3rd round #85, Chris Greenwood 5th round #148 overall, and Jonte Green (6th round #196 overall). To his credit he did draft the teams future left tackle in Riley Reiff (Round 1 #23 overall) and attempted to add another dynamic play maker in Ryan Broyles (Round 2 #54 overall).The Lions went on to finish 4-12 in 2012. LB Tahir Whitehead (5th round #138 overall) was an absolute steal and provided his worth while filling in for LB Stephen Tulloch..Five of the eight picks are currently on the roster.
The Lions held the #5 overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft and selected DE Ezekiel Ansah. With a need at cornerback the Lions selected CB Darius Slay in the 2nd round (#36 overall). They also picked G Larry Warford (3rd round), DE Devin Taylor (4th round) P Sam Martin (5th round), WR Corey Fuller (6th round), and RB Theo Riddick (6th round). The Lions went on to finish 7-9 after having a record of 6-2 through the first half of the season. All of the players previously listed are still on the active roster and have all made contributions, albeit some more than others. Coach Jim Schwartz was fired and the team sought out a coach to get them to that next level.
Mayhew hired Jim Caldwell as head coach, even though Caldwell was not his first choice (Ken Whisenhunt turned down the offer and instead took the Tennessee job). The 2014 draft class didn't exactly blow up the stat sheets for the Lions. With the #10 overall pick, the team selected TE Eric Ebron. They also selected DE Kyle Van Noy (2nd round #40 overall), C Travis Swanson (3rd round #76 overall), CB Nevin Lawson (4th round #133 overall), DE Larry Webster (4th round #136 overall), DT Caraun Reid (5th round #158 overall), WR T.J. Jones (6th round #189 overall), and K Nate Freese (7th round #229). The only pick not on the roseter is Nate Freese, who was released Week 4 after going a dismal three for seven kicking field goals.
Mayhew stayed consistent in the 2014 draft and drafted based upon need rather than the best-player available formula he had previously implemented. He must do the same this time around. The Lions are in desperate need for an interior lineman, even if a depth pick. They also need depth at defensive tackle, running back, and cornerback. Someone to help in the return game would also be nice, but don't expect the team to address that until the later rounds. Keep in mind that throughout his tenure, Mayhew has never stood pat in a draft. He has made at least one trade in every draft that he has been a part of.