I am not even going to go into how awful the Lions were last year, their record says enough. A team does not go winless in today’s NFL without having major flaws on both sides of the ball as well as on the sidelines and the front office.
Needless to say, the Lions are approaching the 2009 NFL Draft on a mission: to completely overhaul and revamp their team and image. And to not be completely awful.
Image is easy enough; they have a new logo and new uniforms that will be revealed soon.
Revamping the team is another story completely, but they took a big step toward that when Matt Millen resigned as GM in the middle of the 2008 season. He was the architect of 0-16 and should have resigned two years sooner.
But at least new GM Martin Mayhew is guaranteed to do a better job than Millen—there have never been a smaller pair of shoes to fill than Millen’s. And new Head Coach Jim Schwartz has the energy and football awareness to turn around the team sooner than later.
But you know all that already—what we are here to discuss is the roster and how the Lions can begin reshaping it in this year's NFL Draft. The biggest holes to fill are at quarterback, offensive line, middle linebacker, and defensive line with an emphasis on getting bigger and more physical.
Holding the first overall selection gives the Lions a plethora of options, but also comes with extra pressure: the player they select will get paid like a Pro Bowl-caliber veteran, so he will need to perform like one to justify his contract.
This is where the pick becomes tricky: are the Lions in a position to select a quarterback who could possibly not be ready to lead the team for a year or two? I think so. A team coming off a winless year is justified in taking an extra year to rebuild, so Matt Stafford is who would be the right choice.
I am not going to say they will draft him since there are other factors that come into play such as signability and guaranteed money, but he would be the best selection. Other options include Baylor OT Jason Smith or Wake Forest LB Aaron Curry, neither of whom I would be mad about being a Lion.
But the impact would be felt the most at the quarterback position, make no mistake about it.
Where it gets interesting for Lions fans is the 20th pick they received from the Cowboys in the Roy Williams trade. The player they should target is USC ILB Rey Maualuga. This is the type of difference-maker the Lions need to team with Ernie Sims and Julian Peterson to solidify their linebacking corps.
However, many mock drafts have the USC linebacker going before pick 20. Should the Lions trade up to guarantee his services, or sit at 20 where they could probably get Ohio State’s James Laurinitis and keep their other selections?
Tough call, we need all the picks we have (and could use even more) but I grade Maualuga quite a bit higher than Laurinitis.
If both are gone, then they could target a defensive back or defensive tackle. Illinois CB Vontae Davis, Mississippi DT Peria Jerry, Oklahoma State TE Brandon Pettigrew or Alabama OT Andre Smith (if he should fall this far) would give them decent value at this point in the draft.
The Lions need to focus on taking the best player available, even to the point of finding a potential starter with every pick.
With the first selection in the Second Round, there will still be plenty of top talent available. This is the pick that you want to make the other teams say, “We made a major mistake in passing on him” a couple years down the line.
In addition to the players mentioned above (if they were to slip to pick 33), other players I am looking at here include UConn CB Darius Butler, Oklahoma OG Duke Robinson, Cincinnati DE Connor Barwin, USC DT Fili Moala, or Arizona OT Eben Britton.
All would fit the description of best available or position need (depending on prior selections) and have the potential to become great NFL players.
The Lions have two selections in the Third Round (No. 65 and 82) and players who could be available here are Georgia CB Asher Allen, Richmond DE Lawrence Sidbury, Eastern Michigan OG T.J. Lang, San Jose State CB Chris Owens, South Carolina WR Kenny McKinley, Wisconsin OG Kraig Urbik, Georgia ILB Kevin Ellerbe, San Jose State DE/DT Jarron Gilbert, or even Sam Houston State QB Rhett Bomar.
A few later-round guys I like are FSU RB Antone Smith, NC State TE Anthony Hill, Hawaii CB Ryan Mouton, Iowa CB Bradley Fletcher, and Michigan State QB Brian Hoyer.
The NFL Draft makes for a very exciting weekend full of hope and hype, but half of the fun of it is to try and find players who could possibly make a difference in the future of your favorite franchise.
While you like to get stars with your top picks, looking for the next Tom Brady, Brandon Marshall, or Michael Turner in the later rounds is the joy that so many find in the NFL Draft. Here’s hoping the Lions’ new front office can hit a few home runs this year and reverse their fortunes for 2009 and beyond.