Lions draft strategy; Get more players

With a dismal 3-9 record, it might be time to take a sneak peak at next April's NFL draft. Lions' insider Mike Fowler writes that Detroit has to continue to build through the draft, and they have the right man for the job: Vice president of player personnel Bill Tobin, the man responsible for the Lions' current crop of young, exciting talent.

(ALLEN PARK, MI) -- With the Detroit Lions playing out the string of another disappointing season, it's painfully apparent the team just doesn't have enough contributors. Even more disturbing, some that have been counted on to contribute are showing signs of age and aren't providing the leadership the team needs.

If that wasn't bad enough, younger players are seeing some of the bad habits of older veterans, and getting bad advice. Some are trying to hang onto a paycheck and who quite possibly have their own agendas.

The Lions have to continue the necessary process of turning over the roster and infusing it with younger, faster, hungrier players who possess talent and want to make an impact. Thankfully for the Lions, they have one of the shrewdest talent evaluators in the NFL, Vice President of player personnel Bill Tobin, brought out of semi-retirement by Lions president Matt Millen in his best move to date.

Tobin has quietly restocked the Lions in two drafts with nearly 25% of their current roster. Players like Jeff Backus, Joey Harrington, Shaun Rogers, Chris Cash and Kalimba Edwards will be fixtures on this team for years to come. Others like Dominic Raiola, Andre Goodman and John Taylor will be solid contributors.

Still, this is not enough. Detroit needs to add more contributors at key positions quickly. With a weak crop of free agents coming on the market, and Millen's mixed results in acquiring past free-agents, Detroit needs to add at least six contributors to next year's team through the draft and here's how they could do it.

While Michigan State's Charles Rogers and Miami's Willis McGahee are tempting targets for Detroit's brass, are the Lions really in position to go the "triplets" strategy? That's how the Indianapolis Colts did it, when Tobin acquired Marvin Harrison with the 19th pick and Bill Polian finished it up with QB Peyton Manning and RB Edgerrin James. With the quarterback in the fold, Detroit might be tempted to add the impact receiver (Rogers) or the franchise running back (McGahee) to produce a prolific offense with what is likely to be a high first round pick (3rd to 5th overall range).

But if they draft one high profile player, will they win enough games in 2003 to see the fruits of their labor pay off?

Detroit might be better served by trading down. If the Lions could get a team like New England to bite, perhaps by waiving a potential McGahee pick to a team that has virtually no running game, the Pats might be induced to give up their 10th and 20th overall picks. That's the kind of move that could help Detroit land a receiver, like maybe Texas' Roy Williams AND a quality cornerback, such as Kansas State's Terence Newman or Oklahoma standout Andre Woolfolk -- and still come back in the second to pick up more talent.

How could such talented players still be available so late in the draft? Six of the top 20 teams could and should be looking for quarterbacks. Cincinnati, Chicago, Arizona, Carolina, Seattle, Dallas, Jacksonville and Baltimore cannot be ruled out and with a talented group that is likely to include Ole Miss' Eli Manning (brother of Peyton), Texas' Chris Simms (son of Phil), Marshall's Byron Leftwich, Texas Tech's Cliff Kingsbury, Florida's Rex Grossman, Louisville's Dave Ragone and Iowa's Brad Banks, teams may figure this is the year to make the grab.

While some team will opt for a retread from free agency like Pittsburgh's Charlie Batch, Arizona's Jake Plummer, Tampa's Shaun King or Philly's Koy Detmer, most will be looking to grow their own. That could push some extremely talented players to the second round.

Who knows, maybe talented running backs like Oregon's Onterrio Smith, USC's Sultan McCullough, Virginia Tech's Lee Suggs, Florida's Earnest Graham or Colorado's Chris Brown could still be available.

New Orleans will also be a factor in trade down talks. The Saints have their own #1 which figures to be in the 25-28 range and will acquire Miami's #1 (in the 20-23 overall range) when Ricky Williams passes the 1,500 yards rushing mark. Williams currently has 1,284 and only injury appears ready to stop him from gaining the necessary 216 yards remaining to eclipse the mark with four games left.

Then there's the Oakland Raiders at the bottom of the draft, currently in the 31st position, they will acquire Tampa Bay's #1 pick (around the 30-32 overall range) as compensation for the Buccaneers signing of their coach Jon Gruden.

With Tobin's' track record of success, it would appear the only thing he needs is more ammo to make picks. Detroit should do everything it can to get him more selections by attempting to trade down in each round of the draft. Tobin seldom makes mistakes and Detroit needs help almost everywhere.

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