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Lions can’t ignore long-term needs in draft

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

Allen Park — When looking at the NFL draft, it’s easy to be short-sighted. Almost any fan can look at his team’s roster and see the clear holes where starters and key depth are needed.

But NFL teams cannot afford a short-term vision when it comes to selecting the future of the franchise. They must look not only to the next season, but two or three ahead. It’s why selecting the best player available is an effective strategy. If a team chases its immediate needs, sacrificing better talent where a path to playing time isn’t immediately obvious, it weakens its foundation.

“After being here for a year, and going through the season, I think it’s prudent to take the best player available because if you pass over a great player, no matter what the position, I think you’re always going to look back and probably regret that,” Detroit Lions general manager Bob Quinn said last week.

Here’s the reality: Heading into the draft, the Lions have 33 players under contract through 2018. That includes several who are longshots to make the roster, such as linebacker Brandon Chubb, offensive lineman Matt Rotheram and tight ends Kennard Backman and Khari Lee.

Fast forward another year and there are only 16 players signed through 2019, including nine of the team’s 10 draft picks from a year ago.

All that to say, roster turnover happens quickly in the NFL. What might be a strength today is a weakness tomorrow. For example, the Lions currently have good depth in the secondary. Next year, not so much. Glover Quin, Tavon Wilson, Don Carey, Nevin Lawson, Quandre Diggs, Johnson Bademosi and D.J. Hayden are entering the final year of their contracts. That leaves Darius Slay and Miles Killebrew as the only two who have played snaps.

It’s a similar situation at linebacker, wide receiver, tight end and along the defensive line. It’s why Detroit can’t go wrong drafting at any of those positions in the first three rounds, where you typically find your future starters.

About the only two positions the Lions don’t need to worry about in this draft are quarterback and offensive line. And even adding depth there isn’t out of the question with center Travis Swanson on an expiring deal and no third quarterback to challenge Jake Rudock for the backup job.

Immediate need is certainly a factor when determining the best player available. If a team has two prospects graded at the same level, an easy tie-breaker will always be choosing the one that can contribute more quickly.

Ideally, there’s a significant overlap with immediate needs, long-term needs and the way the draft board falls. That’s how it worked out for the Lions last year, Quinn’s first with the franchise.

In the first round, Detroit was able to plug the team’s biggest hole — at offensive tackle — by snagging Ohio State’s Taylor Decker. Even though he was the fourth tackle off the board, he proved to be an outstanding selection, starting from Day 1 and not missing a snap.

A’Shawn Robinson and Graham Glasgow, the team’s second- and third-round choices, found their way into the starting lineup by the end of the season and are viewed as long-term solutions at their position. Killebrew, linebacker Antwione Williams and Anthony Zettel are all providing depth and have the potential to start in the future.

Quinn hopes for similar success in his second draft. But remember, If one of his picks doesn’t make sense, look at the roster situation before this year. Everyone wants to win now, but he’s not just building for 2017.