Friday, April 18, 2008

What is a Need?

Not sure if he reads this blog, but DetroitFan99 had a spectacular post that was pretty much ignored on Mlive. Well, here it is so that we can examine it more:

Posted by detroitfan99:

The concept of "need" when it comes to any football team is an interesting concept. How does one prioritize the "needs" of a particular team?
Is a need always prioritized by the position where the team is weakest? So if you are really weak at punter and have a slightly below avg running back is punter the greater "need" because it is the greater weakness?
Or is a need prioritized by what will improve the team the most if filled with a high quality player even if that particular position is not as weak as other positions?
Should the prioritization of a need be affected by how strong the team is at other positions that are directly effected by the play of that particular position?
All good questions to consider regarding the Lions' "needs" and upcoming draft day.

Very good questions to think about this time of year when there are "experts" who have done nothing but read other experts' mock drafts. There was a great piece on sports that talked about how the draft, and mock drafts in particular, have changed over the years - and what to look for. It also showed how they can have an affect on teams, if they allow it.

When you look at that in context with the above questions, it can easily burst the bubble of "know it all Mel Kiper with better hair" persona many begin to affect this time of year. How many mocks have the Lions taking a RB in round one -- yet, if we truthfully answer the questions above in regards to "should they?" -- then it is obviously a punter-type situation. You may want the top punter, but he's going to be there in the 5th or later. You may even be able to get an UDFA punter who will do as well or better. I think RB falls into that category. As nobsnubber pointed out, the Lions currently have a "speed back" in Calhoun, a "one cut runner" in Bell and just need a grind 'em up steamroller to fill out the current roster. Don't need to take one of the first, or even second, round backs to get that punishing runner. About a 90% chance one of their top choices will still be there for the first pick in the 3rd.

How about a QB in the 5th again if the right prospect falls - to give Orlovsky, Stanton, and Kitna more competition? I'd prefer they wait til later -- perhaps a 6 th or 7th round flier on a possible Tom Brady (LOL -- that has to be thrown into every mention of late round draft picks, right?) Again, looking at need as it is questioned above, those are good things to keep in mind.

I think that, using the criteria above the only true need the Lions have is...nothing. Surprised you there, didn't I? I know that MLB is probably the weakest position on the team right now -- but is it more of a need than a top speed rusher, if they feel the "right guy" is there in the first? Which will impact the defense more -- an immediate upgrade to the Pass Rush, or an upgrade to the MLB? Sure, I'm not saying they couldn't use both -- but there is also the matter of who can you get where?

While I often mock-mocks, the Lions (and every NFL team) not only has their own draft board, but tries to make an educated guess as to who other teams are, or may be, targeting. Does this cause teams to sometimes pick someone "early"? Of course -- but is it better "early" or not getting the player you wanted?

I personally feel that the draft is, at its core, about developing talent. There are some "impact" rookies, but most are just like any other college student entering the workforce -- whether they think so or not, they all need work. That is why passion for the game, character, and work ethic are also very important. A person can have all the talent in the world, but if they aren't willing to learn how to focus and improve it -- they will never rise above the level of gifted amateur to be a real professional. I know that I've blogged on this before - "I can teach an average salesperson how to be good, and a good one how to be great -- but I can't really do much with a potentially great salesperson who won't listen, won't learn, and tries to coast on natural ability. I can get way more production out of the first two people than I can the third -- because they are willing to listen, and work." Nobsnubber pointed out the fact that flexibility isn't the only important factor, and that work ethic plays into how flexible a player is or is willing to be. I didn't bring it up in that post, but still believe that is always the first priority when looking for Marinelli-type players.


minker said...

Hi, I'm new to blogging and have been following yours for the last month now and I really look forward to reading it daily on my lunch break. Your post was demonstrating that a lot of our needs have already been met and we may be looking for wants now. Having Devon-DON'T KICK IT TO-Hester in our division, I believe that a good kick/punt returner might be a real need for us and after seeing Chris Johnson's 4.2 video on YouTube, I am blown away by his incredible break away speed and ability to get into the open field. He's a running back who can make people miss and can also catch passes so he has a lot of the sought after versatility mentioned in one of your previous posts. I understand that he is a gym rat and a humble guy (I may have made that last part up) so it sounds like he would fit in with our team's new philosophy. But, his speed was so impressive on that video, I'm wondering, is a return specialist/running back/receiver a need for us? He sure is a tempting pick to me (along with Lofton, Flowers, Otah and Crable).
Please keep up the good work Detroit Lions Fan 1979!

DetFan1979 said...

First of all, thanks for the compliment - everyone's readership and input on the comments is very appreciated.

I'm not enamored of Johnson for two reasons: 1. I don't want them to take a back in the 1st and 2. I think there is a better chance Mayo will fall to 45 in the 2nd than it is Johnson will still be there. Atlanta in particular has Turner, but need a speed back/receiver out of the backfield and a KR -- I expect them to pick someone like Johnson who would fit multiple needs for them with one of their early seconds if possible. Good News is if they do, they also need LB and OT -- so at least one of Detroit's need areas heading into the second round will be hit by one less selection.

If a healthy Calhoun returns, I'm not really thinking that a return guy is high on the list of priorities. While Hester is a freak of nature return guy right now, lets not forget Eddie Drummond -- he was the best returner in the league for two seasons, and gave Detroit the same kind of spark Hester does for the Bears. However, the life of a return specialist is about 3-4 years max. All it takes is one or two injuries, and that balzing speed is no longer so blazing. Supreme confidence that you are taking it to the house, and a wanton abandon and reckless running style are also a must for an "electric" retun man. Drummond had it -- and then lost it after the injuries; he was nothing more than tentative and average his last season in Detroit.

Also realize that Hester and Drummond also have another thing in common: Neither makes/made any significant contribution at their "listed" position. The "best" kick returners do great things with the ball in space. However, that is something that rarely happens on offense -- it's a lot harder to catch the ball as a WR than it is as on a PR/KOR -- and as a RB a reverse or a flip screen is about as close as you get; still, the contributions of these types of players in other areas never seem to materialize on a consistent basis.

There are essentially two types of KR: Electric and Consistent

The electric guys (like Drummond) are a threat to go to the house, but also result in a lot of touch-backs, usually don't contribute to the O or D, and are a specialist. Nice to have, but they do take up a roster spot, and again limit the roster. They also tend to be so focused on the "big play" that their total return yards per each are not that much higher than a consistent return guy -- that is because they are so focused on the big play, that they often will not go for the guaranteed 15 yard gain, for the gamble on a 30 -40 yard gain that ends up being 5 yards.

The Consistent guys (ala Calhoun, or even Cason last season) pick up above average yardage, and occasionally break a big one. But they contribute to the roster in other ways, and while they are not going to be "feared" -- they are going to put the offense in good field position almost every time, and sometimes great, and will very seldom end up with a bad return.

I haven't looked up the stats, but it would be an interesting study to see if my initial isntincts on these two types are correct, or if I am making a faulty assumption.

While I think that they need more from the return game than they got last year, I think UDFA WR's with great speed and return possibilities whould be brought into camp -- the top 4 WR are extremely solid, and the 5th WR would be the most logical choice, outside of a RB already on the roster, to return kicks. Lets not forget Devale Ellis, who is an excellent returner and more than adequate 5th WR is still on the roster as they hid him on IR last year. If he comes back from injury 100%, I think this discussion is a moot point. I think the fact they didn't re-sign Walters, who was a cheap, quality 5th wideout suggests this may be the case.

A CB with return skills would also be a consideration. As for a RB -- the Lions really need a bruising, punishing "bulldozer" runner -- not the type of back who normally makes a good return man.

So I guess the short answer is: Either a CB with return skills in the mid rounds, or a 6th or 7th rnd or UDFA WR. I'm leaning to the UDFA WR. More of a chip on the shoulder should make them "run angry" -- which alway helps. Let them compete with Ellis, Calhoun, and Cason -- and see who adds the title of "returner" to their list of positional flexiblity to help them make the final cut.

PS - Marinelli has already explicitly voiced a preference for the consistent type of returner who contributes in other areas -- which is another reason Drummond was let go.

JJLions20 said...

Need is in the eyes of the beholder, and the beholder(s) would be Marenelli and Millen. I would agree that "need" goes beyond the upgrade of a position and it does go towards making the overall team better. The key is what does Rod think the team needs to do to get better.

It's obvious to me watching Rod through the last couple of years, that there is a different definition of need, that extends to the draft and Free Agency. Although Rod wants talent that can dominate the opponent he wants football character and players who can play the cover-2 defense. He wants offensive players to be physical.

Lets look at what Rod did in the past. He took Ernie Sims with his first NFL pick. It was not as much of filling a need at week-side linebacker, he took a kid that many thought was a stretch. But he brought a hitting mentality. Good football character. I’m not really sure how much of the rest of that Draft was Rod’s and how much of it was Millen and the scouting staff.

Last year, WR may not have been a need from a position stand point, but once again, the best talent was one that could dominate at his position, and he was a physical WR. He could team with Roy and cause a real problem for opposing defenses. He can be a physical player who can dominate the smaller safety’s in the league. He also was a high football character kid. In the 2nd round QB, DE, & S, could not have been considered position needs as Kitna was firmly planted as the starting QB, White and Edwards were thought to be the DE’s, and Bullocks and Kennedy were the safety’s. But Marenelli felt he needed talent and leadership at key positions on the field. So he attempted to upgrade those positions, but it was an upgrade for 2009 or 2010.

In summary, Marenelli feels that more than anything else, to improve the Lions, they need is football character. So you can bet that when looking at a number of talented players, he will place an emphasis on the player that can bring the greatest amount of football character to Detroit.