Detroit Lions Need to Draft a QB at No. 1

Duane WinnCorrespondent IApril 13, 2009

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 22:  Quarterback Matthew Stafford of USC passes the football during the NFL Scouting Combine presented by Under Armour at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 22, 2009 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Scott Boehm/Getty Images)

Forget the caveat.

And you know what it is.

They say drafting an undergraduate quarterback with the overall No. 1 pick can only bring grief to an NFL team and that those who choose to ignore history are doomed to repeat it.

Tim Couch was the hot shot at Kentucky, and Cleveland made him the No. 1 overall pick in the 1999 NFL draft. Several injury and surgery-riddled seasons later, Couch drifted out of the league after a failed fling with Jacksonville in 2007.

The San Francisco 49ers struck out, too, when they drafted Alex Smith of the University of Utah first overall in the 2005 NFL Draft. Injuries, a frighteningly high turnover rate in offensive coordinators, and a constant state of flux in key offensive personnel hasn't help his cause, but he's currently battling Shaun Hill for the starting nod.

These examples being given, though, there's a substantial difference between the Lions' situation in 2009 and the Browns' and the 49ers' previous predicaments. The latter teams selected quarterbacks with shaky credentials that made their ability to impact the NFL highly questionable.

Couch turned heads in his breakout year in 1998, but that was against the likes of 1-10 South Carolina, 2-9 Vanderbilt and Eastern Kentucky, and 4-7 Indiana. Still, those bottom feeders (plus Louisville, a team that couldn't beat Marshall in a bowl game) nonetheless intercepted Couch four times.

The Kentucky Wildcats finished 7-5 that year, and note that Couch was the only member of that squad drafted into the NFL. That speaks plenty for the quality of opposition Couch faced.

Similarly, Smith led the University of Utah to a 12-0 record in 2004 which was capped by a 35-7 victory against Pittsburgh in the 2005 Fiesta Bowl. But suffice it to say that among most of the teams he faced that year (which included Air Force, Colorado State, Utah State, New Mexico, and UNLV) one wouldn't have found an abundance of NFL talent.

On the other hand, the top two quarterbacks in the upcoming draft, Matthew Stafford (Georgia) and Mark Sanchez (USC), excelled for big-time college football programs which are accustomed to playing in major bowl games or for national titles.

They've had the best coaches, the best training staffs, the best weight-rooms, and the best practice facilities, all things that are necessary to ready a player for success in the NFL.

And not only are they physically suited for the task, but Stafford and Sanchez also are mentally prepared to withstand the rigors of an NFL season. In contrast to their status as undergraduates, both seem mature enough to weather a short apprenticeship if need be before they take to the big stage.

Granted, neither Stafford or Sanchez is a "sure thing," but it's a gamble the Lions should take. Daunte Culpepper, who is merely a stopgap solution, isn't likely to lead Detroit to the promised land.

A higher-percentage move for the Lions would be to choose an offensive or defensive lineman, or perhaps a linebacker, with their first pick. They wash out much less often than receivers or quarterbacks.

And an 0-16 team like the Lions needs to maximize their draft choices, since they have so many needs to fill. However, you can strike gold at these positions in later rounds much more often than you can at quarterback.

There's no need for the Lions to overthink this draft choice. The NFL is a quarterback-driven league. The selection of either Stafford or Sanchez, both of whom come from colleges which produce more than their fair share of impact NFL players, may enable the Detroit Lions to eliminate a score of dreadful draft choices and bad hires that have prevented them from attaining a winning season since 2000.