ALLEN PARK, Mich. — The Detroit Lions used to openly talk about potential draft picks.
Detroit didn't hide how much it thought of Ndamukong Suh before taking him with the No. 2 pick two years ago and publicly gushed about Matthew Stafford being a franchise quarterback prior to selecting him first overall in 2009.
The Lions have the No. 23 slot in the draft Thursday night — their lowest first-round pick since 1992 when they drafted Robert Porcher 26th overall — and hope at least one of seven players they want is still available.
"You can stand here and say how much you like Suh," Detroit general manager Martin Mayhew said. "I think when you start talking about getting down in the 20s and you have a limited number of prospects, who you really have a great feel for that fit your organization in a great way, you don't want to pump anybody up or knock anybody down."
Mayhew has refused to say anything about possible picks — such as Alabama cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick or South Carolina cornerback Stephon Gilmore — to avoid feeling as if he gave another team a reason to take somebody he wants.
"I think at 23 especially, it's really important to be cognizant of being careful about who you're talking about and how you're talking about them," Mayhew said.
The Lions are in unfamiliar territory, drafting toward the end of the first round, after winning enough games to earn their first playoff appearance since the 1999 season. They have one glaring void, at cornerback, after losing Eric Wright in free agency. Every other starter from a team that went 10-6 and lost in an NFC wild-card game is back, but Mayhew insisted the team will take the top player on its draft board in the first round unless he's a quarterback.
"It's about not reaching for a particular position," Mayhew said. "If we have a need or something that we perceive as a need, we're not going past five or six good players to get to a guy that plays that particular position. We're going to take the best players and then if we have to fill in gaps later, we'll do that during the rest of the offseason."
If Detroit doesn't take a cornerback in the first round, though, there's a good chance it will as soon as the second round Friday or later in the draft on Saturday.
"We think there are a lot good corners out there," Mayhew said. "We think the depth at a lot of positions is going to be there in those mid to late rounds."
The Lions might look to bolster their depth at running back with Jahvid Best and Mikel Leshoure coming off injury-stunted seasons, on the offensive line behind aging veterans, at defensive end and perhaps safety.
Detroit drafted defensive tackle Nick Fairley in the first round last year, then took receiver Titus Young and Leshoure in the second, and all three were backups as expected.
There's a good likelihood, unless the Lions are lucky enough to have a cornerback at the top of their board when they draft 23, they will select a player Thursday night that will be another reserve. Mayhew is OK with that after being an assistant to former general manager Matt Millen during the previous decade when draft picks were asked to attempt to make an instant impact for a franchise full of holes.
"We can take guys that don't have to play right away," Mayhew said. "Having been here through some tough seasons, we've been in situations where we wanted guys to come in who were third- and fourth-round picks and start for us.Comment on this story
"Fortunately, we're not in that situation now."
The Lions might be in a position to select players with a history of problems off the field soon and will not necessarily shy away from they soon after Fairley and Leshoure had marijuana-related traffic stops. Mayhew and coach Jim Schwartz stand by what the organization does to do homework on every potential pick.
"You take everything into account, whether it's something that happened off the field, whether it's something that happened on the field," Schwartz said. "All that stuff goes beyond the film. The film obviously is the most important thing, but some of those things round out the picture and it's all those things that are addressed."
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