The Detroit Lions entered the 2012 draft in uncharted territory.
This is the first time that the Lions' opening selection in the NFL draft has occurred past the teens since 2000, when they drafted offensive tackle Stockar McDougle with the 20th overall pick.
As owners of the No. 23 overall selection, the Lions were targeting some players but were destined to be victims of circumstance.
The owners of the 22 picks prior to Detroit’s would direct the team's strategy depending on the players that were removed from the board.
The Lions attempted to put themselves in a higher draft positions, presumably to select one of the top cornerbacks available.
Top cornerbacks Morris Claiborne and Stephon Gilmore were off the board within the top 10 picks and the Lions' interest in moving up may have been extinguished when the Cincinnati Bengals selected Dre Kirkpatrick with the No. 17 selection.
Moving down was also considered, presumably due to the fact that the first-round caliber cornerbacks were no longer available.
“We looked at all of our options,” said general manager Martin Mayhew. “We tried to go up and at one point we were talking about moving back. We ended up staying put and taking a really good player.”
It is unlikely that the Lions truly expected Riley Reiff, the second rated offensive tackle in the draft, to be available at pick 23.
The surprise was a pleasant one.
“It’s not very often that the second offensive lineman off the board goes off at No. 23 overall,” said head coach Jim Schwartz. “You’ve seen historically there (are) usually about four guys off the board by then. So we were very fortunate to be able to sit at 23 and still end up with a player that we liked.”
Some have questioned whether Reiff projects as a left tackle or right tackle in the NFL. However, the Lions made their thoughts clear; they look at him as an eventual fixture on the left side.
“Riley is a left tackle; he fits the criteria for that position,” said Schwartz. “Athletic, former tight end, the guy was a three-time state-champ wrestler. Went to Iowa as a tight end, they moved him. He comes from a great tradition of offensive linemen at Iowa. He’s a good run-blocker and he’s a good pass-blocker.”
Reiff is capable of pushing for a starter job immediately. It is unlikely that he will surpass Jeff Backus on the depth chart for the starting left tackle position but his versatility makes him a potential first-year starter anywhere on the line, save for center.
Still, Reiff isn’t penciled in as a starter.
“We’ll put them all out there and we’ll play,” said Schwartz. “Their play in training camp and the offseason program, the OTAs and the preseason games, that will determine those things, not anything we’re thinking right now.”
The Lions are comfortable with their starters on the offensive line but recognized that some of their most consistent contributors in the offensive trenches are also aging.
Backus is 34 and center Dominic Raiola is 33.
“We like the guys we have; we have five quality starters,” said Mayhew. “But it’s good to have a young guy in the pipeline with Riley’s talent level. So we’re excited about what Riley brings to the table.”
If you want to know exactly what Reiff brings to the table, his new coach will happily enlighten the curious.
“No. 1, he’s smart; No. 2, he’s a good athlete; No. 3, he’s big – that goes a long way. He’s not a mismatch as a run-blocker or as a pass-protector,” said Schwartz. “We (weren’t) taking a guy that you wanted to see something else from; we liked what we saw. He is multidimensional; I think that adds to his value.”