What Brian Xanders Means in Detroit

January 30th, 2013

Jeff Risdon, DLD Editor

The Lions made a fairly unexpected splash by bringing in former Broncos GM Brian Xanders as Senior Personnel Executive under GM Martin Mayhew. His role is being described as overhauling and modernizing the scouting system for the team, both at the collegiate and pro levels.

On the surface this is a very positive development. Xanders showed a real eye for finding underrated talent during his time in Denver, both in the draft and castoffs from other teams. He thrived at finding players with holes and figuring out how those holes fit into the team and could be managed. Tackle Orlando Franklin is a great example. He had issues with handling outside speed and with hitting targets in space. But in then-coach Josh McDaniels system, they used a tight end to cover him to help on outside rushes and had a mobile, left-handed QB to escape. They seldom asked him to do more than down block or cut the edge in the run game, minimizing his lack of mobility. Another case is Demaryius Thomas, a wideout who was great at getting deep but struggled to run and catch the ball on shorter routes. He fit well because the QB (Tim Tebow, you might have heard of him) couldn’t throw the ball on short routes and wanted a deep option to open the field. That’s a synergy of talent and playing to the strengths of the talent while mitigating the weaknesses.

This has not been a strength of Mayhew’s, or Jim Schwartz as a coach. And this is why I think the Xanders hiring is critically important. It’s a tacit acknowledgement that those men need to work together better and smarter. They’ve done some nice things working in step together. The Ryan Broyles pick, the Rob Sims acquisition, unearthing Joique Bell, and keeping Shaun Hill are all strong, long-sighted moves that have worked well. But too many times the team has chased players that were either valued too highly as prospects by the scouting department (Tahir Whitehead, Derrick Williams) or were a good draft value but a poor fit for the team Schwartz is trying to build (Titus Young, Doug Hogue).

Xanders specialized in that sort of synergized team-building vision in Denver, and before that in Atlanta where he served for several years in the scouting department. Where Xanders ran into trouble in Denver was in handling greater responsibility as the general manager. Mike Shanahan wanted him to be a rubber stamp, but that’s not Brian Xanders. He is opinionated and not one to hold his tongue about those opinions. I know one former coworker of Xanders who described him diplomatically as “someone who knows he’s good at his job and won’t skip any chance to let you know it”. He was known for pushing his scouts to do more than expected. That is not a negative quality in a leadership position, but it must be done with respect and aplomb, and Xanders is not noted for either.

Perhaps he has learned from his mistakes. He spent the last year out of football after John Elway pushed him out the Denver doors, and that sort of experience can be humbling. Xanders comes to Detroit with a specific task to perform and a great deal of successful experience doing that task. I appreciate that Martin Mayhew is secure enough in himself and his job to bring in such assistance, because many a skeptic will point out that he might have just hired his successor. It seems that Schwartz, who has more reason to worry about his long-term fate, is fully on board as well. This is a very positive development for the Lions, a genuine step forward. Here’s hoping it works out as planned.

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