In May, Detroit Lions general manager Martin Mayhew will run the team for his sixth NFL draft. He'll have been involved with the team's personnel decisions, at that point, for 10 seasons.
While Mayhew's first draft as the team's actual general manager took place in 2009, he had been working with the team since the middle of the 2004 season as the Lions' assistant general manager. He did not make final decisions when it came to the draft in those first few years -- Matt Millen was still the general manager then -- he was certainly part of the group that helped influence what happened with the Lions.
In 2011, Mayhew's first season with only one first round selection, he took a gamble on a ridiculously athletic defensive tackle from Auburn who could have become a dominant pairing with his 2010 first round pick. While that didn't work out quite as Mayhew had hoped, he didn't draft a complete bust as Nick Fairley has still been occasionally productive for the Lions.
The pick: No. 13
The player selected: Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn
The player's credentials at the time: Fairley won the 2010 Lombardi Award and set Auburn records for sacks (11.5) and tackles for loss (24). He was the Associated Press' SEC defensive player of the year and named a first-team All-American by multiple outlets. In two seasons with the Tigers, he had 88 tackles, 27.5 tackles for loss, 13 sacks and three fumble recoveries.
Did the pick make sense at the time: The Lions selecting Fairley a year after taking Ndamukong Suh in the first round ended up being somewhat of a surprise, but the logic behind the move for the Lions was trying to build one of the more dominant defensive fronts in the NFL. Fairley was and still is a freakish athlete who -- when he plays to his potential -- could be better than Suh. He won the Lombardi Award, so he was clearly a talented individual.
Did he end up being a good pick: Debatable. When Fairley has been motivated, he has been one of the better defenders the Lions have had. Combined with Suh, they form the dominant pair in the middle the team had hoped for. But Fairley can also disappear for games and has not looked worthy of the first round pick during these absences. That the team is trying to use not picking up his fifth-year option as an incentive speaks to how much the team feels like he needs to be motivated. He has 84 career tackles in 38 games, including 12.5 sacks.
Who should the Lions have taken at No. 13: Although Fairley has not been a bad player for the Lions, they probably should have gone a different direction in retrospect. Considering the team's issues in the secondary, Amukamara might have been the better pick in the first round, especially as he blossomed with 85 tackles last season. The smartest pick, though, would have been to stay on the defensive line and take Quinn from North Carolina. He has turned into one of the best defensive ends in football with 19 sacks last season and 34.5 in his career. Even if the Lions wanted to steer away from Quinn because of what happened with Mike Williams, who also sat out his final season before the 2005 draft, the team would have been better off taking Kerrigan from Purdue. He has 24.5 sacks in his first three years and has made 184 tackles. He's also played in every game of his career.
What can Detroit learn from this: This was somewhat of a gamble pick and while it has yet to pan out as the potential game-changing pick it was trying to be, it was a decent chance for the Lions to take. Yes, the team could have gotten a more productive, consistent player, but if Fairley can finally discover his motivation and reach that potential, he becomes a better pick than any other player the team could have taken.