Judgment Day for Mayhew and others

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert
Martin Mayhew seemed prepared for the question. Detroit's new general manager was more than ready to address concerns about his apprenticeship in the failed tenure of predecessor Matt Millen.

"I would say this: Judge me by what I do," Mayhew said, "and don't judge me by who my friends are or how I got here. Judge me by my actions. To me, at the end of the day, that's what it's about. It's what happens here."

Mayhew spoke those words in January. Three months later, Judgment Day has arrived. Mayhew's clean slate, assuming you gave him one, is about to receive its most significant etch. He has directed the Lions to an internal decision on whom to select with the No. 1 overall pick in Saturday's draft, and while the choice has yet to be revealed publicly, it will forever define his career in Detroit.

A good decision will jumpstart the Lions' resurgence. A poor choice, or even one that goes awry for reasons unforeseen today, will cement his connection to Millen and dig an even greater hole for the franchise.

Consider the shining moment in the career of Indianapolis general manager Bill Polian: Choosing quarterback Peyton Manning over Ryan Leaf with the No. 1 overall pick in the 1998 draft. Polian already had built a strong reputation by then, but the success of his decision catapulted him to at least 11 more years of employment with the Colts.

On the other hand, can you even name the general manager who selected quarterback Alex Smith with the top pick in 2005? (San Francisco coach Mike Nolan made the final decision.) What about the man who drafted defensive end Courtney Brown in 2000? (Cleveland general manager Dwight Clark.)

Such polarity prompted Polian to offer some sobering advice earlier this winter. Asked what he would say to Mayhew as the Lions contemplate their options at No. 1, Polian said: "Pray a lot. And recognize that you can't be right [all the time]. You're going to be wrong 50 percent of the time."

To a certain degree, all four of the NFC North's top personnel men are facing a crucial set of decisions this weekend. Let's look at the remaining three, in order of their current selection in the first round:


Top decision-maker: General manager Ted Thompson Most-trusted lieutenant: Director of football operations John Schneider
Director of college scouting: John Dorsey
Coach's influence: Thompson and coach Mike McCarthy have a traditional split in duties. McCarthy and his staff participate in the draft process, but Thompson's personnel department ranks prospects and makes draft-day decisions.
First-round position: No. 9 overall
Total picks: 9
Judgment Day: By largely sitting out the free-agent market, Thompson has placed all of his eggs in the proverbial draft basket. In one weekend, he must retrofit his defensive personnel to a 3-4 scheme while also addressing depth concerns at both offensive tackle positions. Thompson could face a number of philosophical crossroads in the first round as well. If Boston College nose tackle B.J. Raji is available, would Thompson take him despite having an established starter (Ryan Pickett) at the position? And what about Alabama offensive tackle Andre Smith? The Packers could sure use a blue-chip tackle, but what does Thompson make of Smith's conditioning and character concerns? These are among the issues Thompson must address.


Top decision-maker: Vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman Most-trusted lieutenant: Director of player personnel George Paton
Director of college scouting: Scott Studwell
Coach's influence: Coach Brad Childress often refers to his prototype draft target as "good people who are good football players." Childress participates in the evaluation of some players, especially quarterbacks. But the widely held belief that he has final influence on draft decisions is exaggerated. Owner Zygi Wilf always has empowered Spielman with that authority.
First-round position: No. 22 overall
Total picks: 6
Judgment Day: Spielman must continue the delicate balance of "building the donut." That's one way of describing the Vikings' aggressive attempts to shore up every position but quarterback. With the team committed to pitting Tarvaris Jackson and Sage Rosenfels in a training camp duel, the Vikings must find more ways to enhance their quarterback play through other positions. Does that mean Spielman grabs a playmaker like Florida receiver Percy Harvin? Wilf has a relatively strict set of rules for drafting players like Harvin who have character issues. Or will the Vikings try to improve their offensive line by taking the best-available right tackle at the No. 22 spot overall? One way or the other, Spielman must figure out the best way to make life easier for whoever starts at quarterback.


Top decision-maker: General manager Jerry Angelo Most-trusted lieutenant: Director of college scouting Greg Gabriel
Coach's influence: Coach Lovie Smith signs off on individual targets after Angelo and his staff identify them, sometimes planning his pro day visits around that list. Smith has a style of player he prefers -- fast on defense, physical on offense -- but Angelo mostly takes it from there.
First-round position: None. The Bears don't pick until the second round, No. 49 overall.
Total picks: 7
Judgment Day: Angelo filled his biggest need by acquiring quarterback Jay Cutler, but the Bears still have more holes to fill. Unfor
tunately for them, the Cutler deal left the Bears with limited assets with which to do that. The Bears have only one pick in the top 98 selections, but Angelo must find a way to get Cutler more help at the receiving position while not totally ignoring a defense that at least needs a new safety to replace Mike Brown. A longtime scout, Angelo is going to have to hit on some low-round selections to solidify his roster for 2009.