Traverse City Record-Eagle

Sports Columnists

May 1, 2012

James Cook: Lions' pick of receiver makes long-run sense

Calmed down yet?

The NFL Draft's second round is four days past us, and a lot of die-hard Detroit Lions fans have been foaming at the mouth at Detroit's selection of Oklahoma's Ryan Broyles with their second pick.

Yes, a wide receiver.

Why a wide receiver?

The most common rant seems to be that Matt Millen somehow snuck his way back into the Lions' war room and made the pick himself. Crediting Millen with sneaking into anywhere is a little generous.

But after you get by the surprise and start thinking about it, the pick makes sense.

True, there were some cornerbacks on the board that may or may not have helped the Lions shore up a porous secondary.

However, it's also a relief to see Detroit in a position where the team is taking the best player on the board and looking to the future rather than reaching for needs. This is how the Green Bay Packers were built.

And the pick reminds me of the Pack's selection of Jordy Nelson in 2006.

Green Bay was loaded with receivers at the time, having Donald Drive, Greg Jennings, Robert Ferguson and Koren Robinson in the fold. The position didn't seem to be one of need. But Nelson slipped in the draft due to a knee injury and they took him anyway. Fans seethed at the pick. But it worked out pretty well.

Broyles is much the same. He was a sure-fire first-rounder until he tore his ACL on Nov. 5 against Texas A&M. The month before, he set the all-time FBS career reception record at a school not known for airing it out. The kid caught 45 touchdowns for the Sooners.

Add in that Nate Burleson's production is slipping a bit and he'll likely only be a Lion for another year, and the selection of Broyles starts to clear up. By the 2013 season, he'll have the year under his belt that it usually takes receivers to adjust to the NFL and will hit the ground running as Burleson's replacement opposite Calvin Johnson. Broyles, Titus Young and Johnson will be a receiving trio for years to come that NFC North teams will have to contend with.

Riley Reiff gives Detroit a tackle for a decade — and one that may take the right tackle job from Gosder Cheilus this year before moving over to left tackle to replace an aging Jeff Backus.

Donnell Lewis — Broyles' teammate at Oklahoma — adds versatility to the defense and was a steal in the fourth round. His ability to play both defensive end and linebacker could allow the Lions to employ some gimmick defense, morphing from 4-3 to 3-4 formations on the field. Fellow linebackers Tahir Whitehead (fifth round) and Travis Lewis (seventh round) add depth to a linebacking core that lost top backup Bobby Carpenter and special teams ace Isaiah Ekejiuba to free agency.

And the position the Lions passed up to get Broyles — cornerback — was addressed by quantity later in the draft. Third-rounder Dwight Bentley, fifth-rounder Chris Greenwood and sixth-rounder Jonte Green will compete with three veterans for the opportunity to start opposite Chris Houston. All three corner draftees are speedy, and Greenwood (6-1 out of Albion College) and Green (5-11 from New Mexico State) have the size and speed teams covet at corner. In the late rounds, the Lions targeted specific players they liked and moved around to get them.

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