With the 2008 college football season now over, a lot of attention will start to turn toward the NFL Draft in April.
The Detroit Lions emphatically cemented their position atop the draft board with their unprecedented 0-16 campaign in the 2008 NFL season.
The Lions seem to be set at one of the wideout positions with superstar Calvin Johnson, who managed to finish among league leaders in receptions, receiving yards.
Johnson's stats are even more impressive when you consider he was seemingly the only Detroit player capable of producing anything positive on offense. But that is likely to change as all signs point toward the Lions selecting someone to throw Johnson the ball in the April draft.
The draft process is long, and it is entirely possible that the hapless Lions will decide to solidify their offensive line with LT Andre Smith come April, but at this point it looks like Detroit has to be leaning toward a franchise signal caller that can revitalize a team and fan base that has reached new lows in futility.
The question is which of the top two quarterbacks -- Matt Stafford and Sam Bradford -- should the Lions be leaning towards.
The strong-armed Stafford out of Georgia has had some NFL scouts drooling for the last year. He has probably the best arm in the draft since Jay Cutler in 2006, and while it seems crazy, one of the biggest scouting advantages he has is that he "can take snaps under center", which speaks well of Staffords potential to translate easily into an NFL offense.
Still, Stafford faces some serious questions throughout the draft process. Teams will wonder, if he was so head-and-shoulders above the rest of college football in terms of talent, why did that never fully translate on the field?
The biggest knock against Stafford is the same knock against similarly strong-armed quarterbacks over the past 20 years, and that is the tendency to try and make throws that they shouldn't. Brett Favre is the leading authority in this field, Jay Cutler is working toward his Master's, and Stafford is certainly setting down that same path.
Stafford has had impressive numbers this year—3,500 yards passing, 25 TDs—but not the eye-popping figures one would expect from such a great talent. Are his relatively modest stats a result of the conservative pro-style offense of Georgia, or the top-caliber defenses of the SEC?
Oklahoma's Bradford is fresh off one of the best statistical years in college football history. His Sooners averaged over 50 points per game, and had a remarkable stretch of five straight games with 60+ points.
Bradford, if he comes out, would be the most accurate passer on the board, though questions will be raised about how much of Bradford's success was him, and how much was the talent around him.
Oklahoma ran a spread offense and was blessed with a wealth of talent at the skill positions including pro prospects at wideout in Manny Johnson and Juaquin Iglesias, and tight end in Jermaine Gresham. Tailback DeMarco Murray also proved to be an effective pass catcher as the season wore on.
The biggest question about Bradford will be whether he can handle the pass rush of NFL defenses. The Oklahoma quarterback was notoriously untouched in the backfield last season, with opposing defenses laying a hand on him about seven percent of the time.
Any quarterback playing for Detroit next year would be lucky to not be hit only seven percent of the time.
The wild card in the process may be USC quarterback Mark Sanchez who came on strong late in the season, capping it with his impressive performance against Penn State in the Rose Bowl.
Sanchez was considered a possible mid-first round pick before the Rose Bowl, and that game may be enough to bump him onto the Lions radar as they head towards April.
Whoever the Lions call out first in April's draft is walking into a huge rebuilding job.
The Lions, their fans, and the city of Detroit are all in disrepair right now, and the player they choose will be pegged as the savior of a franchise, and the hope of a city.
For the sake of the Lions and their eventual selection, lets hope they choose wisely.
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