Detroit Lions Deciding on the No. 1 Draft Pick: It's Stafford's Spot to Lose

David McClureCorrespondent IMarch 16, 2009

The Detroit Lions have been on the clock for some time now. Football fans across the country have been watching free agency for nearly a month to try and get an idea as to what they're planning.

For a while, they asked if the club would sign Matt Cassel.

After he was traded to the Chiefs, the public's attention went to Kurt Warner. He could still play a few years, right?

Trade down rumors have also abounded; Jay Cutler has looked pretty available for a while now.

But any move besides taking UGA's Matthew Stafford with the first overall pick is unlikely at this point.

Stafford has clearly become the top quarterback prospect this year; he has always stood out for his impressive arm strength and prototype size. But concerns regarding his decision-making have caused many fans, including myself, to be uncertain.

The Lions have visited with Jason Smith, the top left tackle prospect, as well as Aaron Curry, the top linebacker prospect, yet have not shown favor towards any of the three major candidates.

Many experts and fans alike have called Matthew as the pick, believing that the answer in Detroit is to get a franchise signal caller if you need one (a popular "Mel Kiper-ism").

Others have said that the defense is the biggest concern for the Lions, as it was giving up nearly 200 yards per game on the ground and was one of the worst units the League has seen in recent memory.

Analyzing the makeup of the current roster would reveal many holes; I guess that's to be expected of the first-ever 16 loss team. On the shopping list are a quarterback, offensive line help, a slot receiver, a tight end, a middle linebacker, a strong safety, a cornerback, a defensive tackle, and a pass-rushing defensive end.

If the Lions hope to compete for anything more than five wins, they will need to address most of these concerns.


Free agency has been a curious period for the Lions. At first, all were unsure if Martin Mayhew, the Lions' new general manager, would stick with what he said he was going to do and not make any big splashes in the market, instead signing a lot of middle-tier guys.

Fans in Detroit, like those in many other cities, wanted to make a run at Albert Haynesworth, the defensive tackle from Tennessee, but the price tag was much too high in Mayhew's opinion.

So he kept his word. He signed many low- to middle-tier free agents and made two quality trades, jettisoning Jon Kitna, Cory Redding, and a fifth-round draft pick for Pro Bowl linebacker Julian Peterson and starting defensive back Anthony Henry.

The trade with Seattle to acquire Peterson has made the choice for the No. 1 spot this year a little more clear. Peterson is a strong-side 'backer, which is the same position Aaron Curry will probably play in the pros. Curry has the ability to play the middle, but the Lions could pick up a solid MLB with one of their later picks.

Jason Smith is still considered an option, but the Lions still have Jeff Backus on their roster, and it is believed that he would struggle trying to play at the left guard spot.




This being said, I believe Stafford is the pick, unless he messes it up for himself.

The Lions have two very intelligent coaches in Jim Schwartz and Scott Linehan. Linehan is known for being able to work with quarterbacks and develop offenses. Scott's success as a quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator are well documented.

If Linehan feels he can develop Stafford, then the former Bulldog will be the pick. If he interviews well and makes it through the testing, then there is no reason for Detroit to not select him No. 1 overall.

He likely will sit his first year (or at least most of it) and watch Daunte Culpepper run the show. Stafford could start, and his three years of starting experience in college are significant, but that's the best scenario for an underclassman quarterback prospect.

It appears likely that Detroit will want to add one or two more free agents that can hopefully start on the defensive side of the ball before the draft. If they can do that, Stafford will be further cemented as their choice.


Detroit's next pick, No. 20 overall, will likely be used on an offensive lineman. Depending on their feelings about Backus and Raiola, they will likely go with either William Beatty or Alex Mack, assuming none of the other top tackle prospects fall that low.

The third pick, No. 33 overall, will be used on James Laurinaitis (if he falls) or the best defensive player still available. Peria Jerry, Evander Hood, Sean Smith, Patrick Chung, and Alphonso Smith are some likely candidates.


If you're still of the opinion that the Lions will (or at least should) take Smith or Curry, think about this: In all likelihood, the three top quarterback candidates will be selected before the Lions' second pick.

As long as that happens, they will be forced to wait two years to start a new quarterback, unless they want to overpay a free agent or make a trade. And both of those solutions appear to be outside of Mayhew's comfort zone.

Matt Stafford simply needs to show that he can be disciplined on the field and make smart plays. If he can prove that to the coaches and Mayhew, then he's the pick.