Let’s be clear, this is in no way a predictive article about what the Detroit Lions will actually do with their richly deserved No. 1 pick this weekend. With decades of futility under their belt, I’ve given up trying to understand how their front office operates.
So if I say they’d be asinine to do anything, there's probably a decent bet that they’re seriously considering it. That’s a pretty good place to start.
This will also mark my first words written about the Lions since I penned my season finale, Inglorious perfection: the story of the 2008 Detroit Lions, as I was too emotionally drained after the abysmal 0-16 embarrassment, to have much to say about what the Lions could do to possibly right the ship.
Really, though I did my best to frame how devastatingly normal it is for a Lions fan to witness a ridiculous product on the field, the futility of the 2008 season spoke volumes about itself. What more was there to say?
But this is the time of year that hope springs eternal in the hearts and minds of the Lions nation. And this time around, there have actually been some surprising acts of competence exhibited by various Lions higher-ups that add a legitimacy to our dreams. Could someone with some gray matter finally be running the show?
Martin Mayhew appears to know what he’s doing, and has made some masterful moves since taking over from elephantine moron Matt Millen.
First, he fleeced the Cowboys by trading Roy Williams for another first-round pick and some high quality later-rounders. Then he fleeced them again, when he somehow got value for disgruntled balloon-thrower Jon Kitna and landed a starting quality defensive back in the form of Anthony Henry.
In any other season of recent memory this alone would rank as the absolute best front office maneuvering in decades, but Mayhew wasn’t done.
He then proceeded to unload disappointment Corey Redding and his albatross contract to the Seattle Seahawks in return for pro-bowl linebacker Julian Peterson, signed what many considered the best “sleeper” skilled position player available when he nabbed wideout Ronald Curry, and provided some blocking support in the backfield by signing Arizona FB Terrelle Smith.
He also did his best to help shore up his offensive line by re-signing some key players and bringing in a couple good backups.
Oh, and let’s not forget the hiring of Tennessee defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz as the head coach, a move that’s been hailed unilaterally by pundits, cynics, skeptics, and Lions fans alike.
So with these moves under his belt, I would be very surprised if the Lions picked Matthew Stafford with the No. 1, as it’s not a smart move, and could really set the organization back (again) for a number of years.
Here’s why they need to look elsewhere.
First, of all the positions on the field, the Lions don’t really need a quarterback. Veteran Dante Culpepper has returned to camp in shape and in form, and should be able to do a serviceable job at the position, while Drew Stanton who’s showed signs of having some potential can get a legitimate shot at being groomed for the future.
If anyone should know that you don’t need a prototypical “franchise quarterback” in the NFL, it should be Jim Schwartz, whose Tennessee teams showed what you can do with outstanding offensive/defensive line play and a journeyman like Kerry Collins under center.
Does anyone actually think that Collins is a better player than Culpepper? I certainly don’t.
Obviously, Culpepper isn’t the long-term solution to decades of Lions quarterback woes, but he can certainly get the team through this year.
Since it would be a stretch to suggest that the Lions can make the playoffs—with or without Stafford, you can bet that if they still need a QB, they’ll be able to nab one from the deep and outstanding class of quarterbacks coming out next year, all of whom seem to be able to throw the ball more accurately than Matthew Stafford.
This brings us to some problems with Stafford as a player.
Though he is big and strong and can make “all the throws” needed in the NFL, his college career was really a mild disappointment, marked by poor performances in big games and the inability to throw the ball accurately. In the NFL, this later part is a BIG problem.
Though it’s been noted that he is still an underclassman and has room to grow, the history of underclassman quarterbacks entering the draft early is not rosy, including the likes of Ryan Leaf, Todd Marinovich, Andre Ware, Vince Young, Rick Mirer, Tim Couch, and Rex Grossman.
Underclassman quarterbacks almost always fail. The notable exception would be Ben Roethlisberger, whose collegiate numbers where considerably better than Stafford’s, and Drew Bledsoe who actually had a pretty solid if not spectacular career.
Based on previous selections, Stafford has less than a 10 percent chance of being even marginally good. Less than 10 percent!
Though no NFL prospect is a sure thing, the Lions need to do a whole lot better than that if they’re going to pay anyone the $40 million that seems to be guaranteed to the No. 1 pick these days.
This leads us to the problem of the No. 1 in general: it’s getting awfully pricey.
If they can find a taker, the Lions need to absolutely trade down. It doesn’t even matter too much what they get for doing it.
A team like the Lions needs to be stockpiling draft picks and keeping their salary cap situation flexible, and you don’t do that by picking No. 1, particularly for a player that isn’t No. 1 material.
Granted, it’s become harder and harder to move off the top position because of the cost associated with it, but even a straight up swap might be worth it. If they really decide that they need a quarterback, there’s a pretty good shot that they could move down as far as the nine and still get Stafford.
The wild card would be St. Louis as they aren’t exactly sold on Bulger, but they could then still take Sanchez—in my opinion as good a bet as Stafford—for millions and millions less. What that could do for their ability to sign good free agents in the off-season would be immeasurable.
Scouts inc. rates Stafford and Sanchez as the eighth and ninth best players in the draft respectively, which means there isn’t a whole lot of difference between the two and that neither really warrants a No. 1 pick.
Some have suggested that the Lions could do worse than simply letting their time expire and move down the draftboard if indeed they wanted a quarterback.
Let’s talk sense for a little bit. Any young QB that steps into the Lions situation right now is going to struggle.
It’s the NFL and that’s how things work. Having a good QB does not guarantee success in this league, and more and more I’m starting to view the QB position as a finishing piece, not the building block it was once thought to be.
Teams need to be solid up front and the Lions need desperate help in that regard. There are so many questions that need to be answered before we start looking for that franchise QB.
Question One: Offensive line
Here they are actually closer than one might expect, but for their gaping hole at left tackle. Were they to draft Jason Smith out of Baylor with the No. 1, I certainly wouldn’t complain, as scouts feel he’s ready to contribute right away, and the recent success of converted tight ends to left tackles bodes well for his future.
He’s athletic, with great feet and lateral quickness, which has become the most coveted ability when facing today’s outside speed rushers. This would allow the Lions to move Jeff Backus to the guard position, and put promising second year man Gosder Cherilus at the right tackle.
The Lions could actually end up with a very deep and talented O-line when all was said and done, and with this move complete, every single one of their remaining picks should be spent on defense, as they put on the worst defensive display the NFL has ever seen last season.
Question Two: Defensive Line
Here they are in need of some big help with an emphasis on big. Right now their front is smallish and accustomed to being shoved ten yards down the field at the snap of the ball.
For all his excellence on the field, Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry could do little to help this situation, as he is not accustomed to playing the middle, and even if his transition was flawless, he would need some sort of protection.
Massive B.J. Raji could fit the bill in the middle and certainly has the attention of coach Schwartz who is looking for an Albert Haynesworth to anchor his new defense.
What might make more sense however, would be taking Aaron Curry with the one and then grabbing Mississippi DT Peria Jerry with the 20 for a one-two defensive punch that would surely improve their ability to hold the line.
I certainly wouldn’t argue with the scenario whereby Smith was taken at the one and Jerry at the 20 either. The point is this: they need first round help on the D-line.
Question Three: Defensive backfield
Right now it’s hard to see a scenario whereby the Lions draft a DB in the first round. They still might be able to grab a Louis Delmas or Darius Butler in the second round and will probably be looking hard to bring in another in the late rounds.
The Lions do have a serviceable bunch of veterans back there if they can all get healthy, and the addition of a couple more young players could only help.
Let’s be honest, if the Lions continue to get absolutely nopressure on the opposing QB, then DB’s are going to struggle. This is why it’s probably better to draft defensively up front in the early going, while trying to land themselves some DB help through offseason free-agency or in the 2010 draft.
So many holes to fill, and only one draft to do it. With the many needs of this team it's becoming pretty apparent that the Lions will need at least two full drafts to get this thing turned around.
Do you get where I’m coming from? Even if Stafford was No. 1 material (which he’s not), even if the record of QB’s entering the draft early wasn’t so abysmal, even if Stafford had completed more than 55 percent of his collegiate passes, it still would be a pretty bad move to pick him up with the one.
They would simply be setting him up to fail.
So let’s pick up some pieces that we really need. Let’s pick up some players that will be around ten years from now. Let's think long-term.
Picking Mathew Stafford No. 1 would be asinine.
It’s not the numbers play, and I’ll tell you, I’ve seen enough of Martin Mayhew now to believe that he won’t make that mistake.