The Lions made some interesting picks in the 2009 NFL Draft and many Lions fans walked away disappointed. Taking a more in-depth look at the draft, the Lions added many key players to help them recover from the first 0-16 season in NFL history.
Time will tell if the Lions were successful in this draft, while draft grades are fun and interesting they do not have any insight on the future of these players.
Detroit added 3 players ranked as the top prospect from their respective positions in Matthew Stafford, Brandon Pettigrew, and Louis Delmas.
Matthew Stafford became the No. 1 overall pick the night before the draft, signing for a guaranteed $41.7 million dollars, around the same amount of guaranteed money that went to this offseason’s free agent prize defensive tackle Albert Hanyesworth.
Everyone believes that is an absurd amount of money to give an unproven rookie, which is the reason NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is looking to change the rookie salary structure.
The Lions needed a quarterback and Stafford filled that need with Sam Bradford and Colt McCoy being other options in the 2010 NFL Draft but no guarantee the Lions would be able to select either of them.
Brandon Pettigrew was a surprise pick at No. 20 overall with OT Michael Oher and MLB Rey Maualuga still on the board. Pettigrew was probably the best talent left on the board and does fill a need in Detroit.
He has been compared to the Dallas Cowboys superstar TE Jason Witten. Witten is responsible for much of the hype surrounding quarterback Tony Romo. Witten is Romo’s favorite target, getting him out of jams and making necessary catches to move the chains while providing superior blocking on other plays.
Pettigrew can similarly help Stafford along with his overall abilities and his blocking which will help both the running game and passing game.
Louis Delmas was the first safety drafted at the beginning of round two. Patrick Chung, a safety, was selected the very next pick and the run on safeties continued with a total of five safeties being drafted in round 2. The Lions didn’t continue the run; they started it, a major change from the past.
One player the Lions passed up on was Rey Maualuga, the top MLB linebacker in the draft, and a player many Lions fans would have been happy with at No. 20 overall.
Maualuga appeared to be the potential savior of the Lion’s defense; dropped from a mid first round selection to the middle of round two. There obviously were questions about his ability, character, or something else the entire league didn’t seem to like, allowing a talented player to slip.
It probably doesn’t help his case that he scored low on the Wonderlic with the middle linebacker position being the “quarterback” of the defense, or the fact he was out benched by his USC teammate and kicker, David Buehler.
Later round picks didn’t seem to focus on defense as much as Lions fans would have liked. Many of these players seem to be developmental prospects rather than players capable of producing day one.
Lions Head Coach Jim Schwartz was a personnel scout under Bill Belichick during his Cleveland Brown’s years and has a certain reputation of being a “moneyball-style” statistical analyst. Schwartz may have a different perspective than many head coaches and may have a better understanding of his characteristics he wants in players.
OLB DeAndre Levy mentioned the Lions have talked with him about a possible move to MLB, after playing outside in Wisconsin’s defense.
At 236 lbs, he seems a little small to fill the position in the middle, yet Schwartz stated Ray Lewis entered the league at 228 lbs and Levy is a “thumper” he wants in the middle and will have an opportunity to fill that need.
Defensive tackle was a major need for Detroit after trading lightweight Cory Redding to Seattle. It was a very weak position in the draft and the Lions didn’t address the need until the fourth round with project Sammie Lee Hill from Stillman.
Hill is 6’4" and 330 lbs, a similar size to Lions free agent pickup Grady Jackson, who at age 36 won’t be around for very long. Hill needs to work on his technique, though Jim Schwartz mentioned he preferred to work with Hill, rather than add a different player who needed to add 30 lbs or didn’t fill their scheme.
Another late round selection was Zach Follett, another undersized, hard hitting linebacker from Cal drafted in round seven. Draft analysts seemed surprised Follett was available that late in the draft. He has an opportunity to be a backup linebacker, having played all three positions in college and contribute on special teams.
Two players that may improve a mediocre return game are WR Derrick Williams and RB Aaron Brown. This area needed to be improved with the league understanding what a top flight returner adds to a team.
Devin Hester of the Chicago Bears is the most feared returner in the game. His abilities of returning any kick or punt for a touchdown can instantly change a game and give his team better field position.
Williams and Brown should be able to improve that area; however they are a long way from being on Hester’s level.
In 2008, the Lions never won a game, finishing the season with 16 straight losses. Eight of those losses were by deficits of 10 points or less. The Lions 2009 Draft focused more on offense than defense.
Adding players like Stafford, Pettigrew and the returners Williams and Brown may be able to add a few points in 2009, giving the Lions a few more wins.
A returned kick off or punt for a touchdown would swing momentum in the Lions direction adding seven more points which would have changed the outcome of several games in 2008.
Pettigrew should help the Lions continue drives, instead of the consistent three-and-outs they are used too. By keeping the offense on the field, it improves the defense, giving them time to rest and not allowing their opponents' offense the chance to score more.
While the Lions didn’t fill all their needs in one draft, they did add quality players that will improve the team and keep them going in the right direction.