The Lions have a new regime in place, and like many other teams they will anoint their franchise QB during this transition period. Last year, three out of four teams with new coaches added a quarterback in the first two rounds of the 2008 NFL draft.
Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco had success as rookie QBs, while Chad Henne was groomed by Chad Pennington during the Dolphins' amazing turnaround. Even the Broncos' new coaching staff didn’t seem content having Jay Cutler, a 25-year-old Pro Bowl QB, guiding their team and attempted to acquire Matt Cassell from the Patriots.
Detroit has Dante Culpepper, a former MVP and a player that knows new coordinator Scott Linehan’s offense at the helm. Culpepper may not be his former self, but for a 0-16 team, he allows them the opportunity to sit a rookie QB for a year or two while personnel moves continue.
With this luxury, a rookie QB would be able to learn from the sidelines without his jersey getting dirty, keeping his body and pride intact. This will allow the team to draft an offensive lineman in the later rounds of the 2009 or sometime in 2010.
There is no consensus No. 1 pick in the 2009 draft, yet Matthew Stafford seems to be one of the favorites to be selected first overall. He has publicly stated his desire to play for the Lions and even declared ” his agent works for him” and that he would be at training camp on time when his sign-ability was questioned, a far cry from former QB prospects such as John Elway and Eli Manning.
Stafford has an elite arm and has been compared to QBs like Brett Favre and Jay Cutler, but there is an obstacle to overcome, as no underclassman QB has been productive in the NFL.
NFL draft experts have acknowledged Stafford has the physical capability to compete in the NFL; yet his bust potential is greater than most No. 1 picks due to his decision to declare for the draft after his junior year, as well as his mediocre completion percentage.
Sam Bradford and Colt McCoy will be among the top QBs selected in the 2010 draft, barring injury or a decline in their play. Bradford and McCoy both play in the Big 12 conference, a conference known more for their offensive firepower than their defense.
In 2009, five offensive players from the Big 12 are projected to be first round picks: Jason Smith, Michael Crabtree, Jeremy Maclin, Brandon Pettigrew, and Josh Freeman. The Big 12 has always boasted offensive talent, but has produced only six defensive first round draft picks between 2004-2008.
Michael Huff, a safety from Texas, was the only top 10 overall pick, chosen by the Oakland Raiders, during this five year period. In fact, five of the six players drafted in the first round came from the University of Texas, with Tommie Harris being the only non-Texas first rounder drafted.
With the lack of talented defensive players in the conference, the number of Big 12 QBs starting in the NFL is staggering. Amazingly, Sage Rosenfels is the only potential starting NFL quarterback from the Big 12.
The SEC conference boasts NFL starting QBs Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, Jay Cutler, Jason Campbell, and JaMarcus Russell, which is pretty impressive compared to the Big 12 touting only Sage Rosenfels. In the last five drafts, the SEC had seven defensive players drafted in the top 10 and 16 players drafted in the first round all together.
Florida has won the national championship twice in the last three years and LSU won it in 2007, giving the SEC a current three-peat and stranglehold on the championship. Stafford and Bradford were being compared before Bradford decided to return for his junior year.
During these comparisons, the fact of the SEC’s more talented defenses didn’t seem to be brought to light. The SEC had 10 more defensive players drafted in the first round and has four more QBs starting in the NFL.
In 2008, Stafford did not compile the best statistical year including completion percentage; however, his percentage did progress in each of his three years. Starting as a true freshman, his percentage was 52.7, increasing to 55.7 his sophomore year and finally up to 61.4 his junior and final college year.
In each of Stafford’s three years at Georgia, the SEC had won the BCS Championship, proving to be a difficult conference. Georgia started the 2008 season as the preseason favorite to win the national championship.
Head coach Mark Richt said before the season started, ”To me if you’re thinking you are a preseason No. 1, you need to be stacked at every position. I just don’t see us there yet. We’ve got offensive line issues.” Richt also stated, “One of the main reasons we’re going to be ranked high, supposedly, is because of what last year’s team did. That team is gone. Those leaders are gone. That chemistry is gone.”
Georgia had three starters returning on the offensive line, including Trinton Studivant, sophomore left tackle, who was named first-team freshman All-SEC and All-American in 2007. Studivant had suffered a season-ending knee injury before the season started and Chris Davis, another starter, was suspended early in the season due to an alcohol-related incident.
Davis was moving from guard to center and Clint Boling, the last returning starter, moved from left guard to right guard. Their starting right tackle sophomore Kiante Tripp began his college career as a defensive lineman.
There was no real experience on the line and the only upperclassman was junior Vince Vance, a junior college transfer, who was entering his second season with the Bulldogs. Vance suffered a season-ending knee injury in October. During 2008, a total of 19 Georgia players endured season-ending injuries.
Many of those injuries were on the offensive line, which forced the Bulldogs to start five different line combinations. While Stafford, an elite talent, should overcome some obstacles, this is a good reason his season wasn’t as bright as it could have been.
The other major negative attributed to Stafford is that no underclassman QB has lived up to their potential. Aaron Rodgers faced a similar barrier when he was labeled a Ted Tedford QB.
Tedford had coached many top college QBs who did not meet expectations, including Trent Dilfer, Akili Smith, Joey Harrington, and Kyle Boller. Rodgers slipped from a probable No. 1 pick to the 23rd pick, being tabbed as the future Packers QB.
Rodgers had a good 2008 season, his first as a starter, completing 63 percent of his throws, including 28 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, proving that labels are not always correct. If drafted by the Lions, Stafford could have the opportunity to learn from the sidelines for a season or two.
The Lions now have offensive talent that was not around when Joey Harrington was drafted. Calvin Johnson is one of top receivers in the NFL, accompanied by Kevin Smith, who was just short of the 1,000 yard milestone in his rookie season.
Detroit has stated they want to build their team from the inside out. While their rebuilding will take a few years, strengthening their offensive line will be a priority for the new regime.
Drafting Stafford first overall will not change the Lions overnight, but it will put them in a better position to win in future years. Nothing is guaranteed, but as showed above, the Big 12 QBs are not certainties themselves, and unfortunately for Detroit, Eli Manning doesn’t have a younger brother.