Why Drafting Matt Stafford Would Be a Costly Mistake for the Lions

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Why Drafting Matt Stafford Would Be a Costly Mistake for the Lions

Todd McShay. Mel Kiper Jr. These are just a few of the experts who have the Lions pegged to draft quarterback Matt Stafford out of the University of Georgia on April 25th, 2009.

And while there is no denying that Stafford is a highly rated prospect, with a strong arm and experience in a pro-style offense, I’m here to tell you that if the Lions draft Stafford with the number one overall pick in the 2009 draft, it will inevitably go down as just another mistake by the Lions’ organization and be nothing else but a setback in the team’s search of a solid foundation to build upon.

I know who the Lions should draft...and no, it's not a lineman...

QUARTERBACK BLITZ!...

The truth of the matter is, if the Lions traded away every pick they have for a Peyton Manning or Tom Brady, you would soon discover that even the most elite drill sergeants in the NFL would succumb to the lowly ways of the Detroit Lions.

The Lions’ offensive line would be false starting every other play as Manning called his audibles, and Brady would be switching his diet to dirt and turf before he realized that sitting in the pocket is all but an illusion in Detroit.

If the Lions draft Stafford as most experts expect them to do, they will have the options of starting him as early as week one in effort to earn the Lions their first victory since the 2007 season, or they can bench him for a year to adapt to the playbook, polish his skills and absorb the teachings of current quarterback Daunte Culpepper…or whoever else decides to be the headpin in front of that oncoming bowling ball.

JOEY HARRINGTON 2.0?

The Lions can’t draft a quarterback because they have yet to set the foundation for a quarterback to play effectively for a full four quarters of play. Whether it be on the offensive line or on the Lions’ secondary, there are just too many holes in the Lions’ roster for a quarterback to have the right opportunity to play to his full potential.

So who should the Lions draft if not Stafford for his future potential as a star NFL quarterback? All signs point to Stafford to be drafted number one…but not by the Lions.

Detroit should let a team that is ready and willing to bring in and start a rookie quarterback, such as the Atlanta Falcons and Baltimore Ravens of one year ago, to allow Stafford to develop and evolve into the star that he could one day become.  The Lions have greater needs and bigger issues currently at hand.

So what is that greatest need? Well that is more than obvious, and I can throw some numbers your way to prove it…

QUICK! DRAFT ADVICE…“STAT”!

If you were to pick one specific component of the Lions offense or defense and claim it to be the worst, what position would you choose? (I know, it’s like hitting a glass piñata without the blindfold). Is it at the position of offensive tackle? The Lions allowed the 2nd most sacks this past season with 52, and you can’t blame the quarterback on that one as the Lions played five of them throughout the season. 

What about that defensive line? The Lions allowed a league worst 172.1 yards per game on the ground and also ranked last in rushing touchdowns allowed, with 31 on the year…five more than the next worse team. But these stats dwarf in comparison to this next one.

I ask you. How many interceptions did the Detroit Lions record during the 2008 regular season?

The answer? FOUR.

No, I’m not asking how many college basketball teams play in the Final Four…

In 2008, the Detroit Lions recorded a dismal FOUR interceptions!

HISTORY LESSON…

Do you know the last time a team recorded four or fewer interceptions in a single season since the league created the Super Bowl in 1966? If you count the players' strike of 1982, when the regular season was shortened to just nine games, then you have your answer as the Washington Redskins managed to intercept just three balls in the shortened season. But if you want to be realistic and discard that season, then your answer is…never!

The Lions didn’t just break the record for most losses last season. They were also the first team to record only four interceptions in a non-strike season since the first Super Bowl in 1967. (In fact, dating back to 1932, NFL.com has no record of any team recording 4 or lower interceptions other than the 82 Redskins and 08 Lions...).

The Detroit Lions’ secondary could have perhaps been the worst defensive unit in the modern football era. And an 0-16 record doesn’t hurt when trying to back up that statement.  

The Lions need a secondary, about as bad as they need "a" win.

Three of the Lions’ four interceptions last year came against the Vikings’ Gus Frerotte, who was later replaced by Tavaris Jackson. The other interception came against Rex Grossman, who was playing in relief for Kyle Orton. Two were batted into the arms of defensive ends leaving the Lions’ secondary with just two legitimate interceptions.

TWO!

(As a side note, keep in the back of your mind that Falcons’ quarterback Matt Ryan threw a 60 yard touchdown pass on his very first NFL pass attempt against the Lions’ secondary. Also, in weeks two and three of the 2008 regular season, Aaron Rogers and Kyle Orton both threw for career highs in yardage…and let’s not even bring up Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints, who scored on their first seven drives…)

THE SOLUTION…

So should the Lions draft a cornerback? You-betcha! But with the number one pick? To reiterate, You-Betcha!! Malcolm Jenkins out of Ohio State is the cream of the crop when it comes to cornerbacks. He has separated himself from the rest of the pack as the elite collegiate cornerback and managed to intercept as many balls last season as the Lions did as a team.

Detroit has already released starting cornerback Leigh Bodden (the one corner who intercepted a pass last season) and unless they bring in a star free-agent they won’t have much to improve upon from last season.

Jenkins, who has played in a constant model of success at Ohio State, could bring with him a mentality that could compliment the aggressiveness of outside linebacker Ernie Sims, who is about the only ounce of hope Detroit’s defense currently has.

The Lions would do well, however, to see if they could trade down with the Kansas City Chiefs, who more than likely enjoy the idea of bringing in a franchise quarterback, either by draft pick or via trade, and might jump at the opportunity to nab Stafford over USC’s Mark Sanchez.

TWO FOR THE PRICE OF ONE...

To those who would like to see an offensive guard or tackle taken off the board first, I advise you to be patient and wait until the Lions use their second pick in the first round. In the case where Jenkins is the top gun when it comes to cornerbacks, there is a three to four man race for the position of offensive tackle, and you can bet one of them will still be around when the lions draft again with the 20th overall pick.

My money is on Michael Oher out of Ole Miss, who could easily start plowing lanes for Kevin Smith as early as week one of the NFL season (by pick 20 I am assuming the “big three,” Eugene Monroe, Jason Smith and Andre Smith will have already been drafted).

Oher would have to replace either veteran tackle  Jeff Backus or second year man Gosder Cherilus, but the more realistic situation would be to move Oher, who has had problems with speed on the outside, inside to the guard position (which is currently vacant on the roster). Backus, who has been a mainstay in Detroit since he was drafted in 2001, hasn’t missed a game since he was drafted.

However, the Lions haven’t been ranked in the top half of the league in rushing offense in that time-frame either, usually finishing in the bottom half, and have been ranked in the bottom three for sacks allowed for three straight years. His time has nearly run out and the Lions would be smart to replace him with Oher, or bring in another veteran Lineman via free agency.  

With the potential of running back Kevin Smith in the backfield it would be wise to release or trade Backus and bring in another veteran lineman or start Oher, who could immediately make a difference in the running game.

The pieces would be nearly complete for an offensive line to build upon, but the Lions still need that skillful veteran, a Steve Hutchinson of the league, to show the younger players what it means to be an elite in this league. Sadly, Lions’ center Dominic Riola and tackle Jeff Backus have tried and failed to accomplish any such feat. It’s time to move on.

GOAL…1-15?

The blueprint to success will depend on how much the Lions’ organization is willing to draft a few supporting cast members. Recent history shows that the Lions will be eager to draft a player whose jersey is going to sell and, typically, that player is not going to be your cornerback or offensive lineman.

For those of you who still have your heart set on and your mind convinced that Matt Stafford will be leading the Lions into the playoffs next year, I have one name for you—Joey Harrington. The Lions did the same thing back in 2003, selected a quarterback first and brought in the bits and pieces throughout his NFL career.

That system rarely works, and if the Lions could model themselves after the Falcons or Ravens and build a team before they throw in the leader, they just might find themselves winning a few more games than…well…none.

The position at quarterback is not empty in Detroit, unlike the positions of cornerback and guard…literally! Detroit has a capable former pro-bowler at the helm of a rebuilding team, along with a former second round draft pick who has yet to be given a chance to start in the NFL in Drew Stanton.

For a team that is looking to build upon an 0-16 season, that is all the Lions need at quarterback for now. This team isn’t bound for the playoffs. It’s bound for restructuring and a concentration on its foundation, offensively and defensively…things which Matt Stafford cannot bring to Detroit.

If the Lions select Stafford on draft day, it will be a mistake. And sadly, it will cripple Stafford’s chances to be successful in the NFL. With upgrades to the positions of cornerback and guard/tackle, with elite collegiate players using the 1st and 20th picks in the draft, a foundation can be laid for a future quarterback found down the road to play in.

More than likely, the Lions will be drafting early next year as well…and we all know there will be plenty of quarterbacks to choose from in that draft class.

FINAL ANSWER...

First– Malcom Jenkins, CB, Ohio State University

20th– Michael Oher, OT, Ole Miss

With the next pick, I would suggest a defensive tackle…and maybe one more for good measure.

You have to lay the pavement before you can drive down the road…and Ford Field has potholes and loose gravel around every bend. It’s time to fix the mess that is the Detroit Lions.

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