By Cory DeCoursey
One of the most fun things I do with my pathetic little NFL Draft-obsessed life is to go back in time.
Like many of you, I love the NFL Draft and will occasionally (or fanatically) make mock drafts. But there is nothing sweeter than going back and laughing at my selections.
I will compare my picks to The Gurus’ mocks, and be like, “Yeah!! I scored because I had the Giants taking Andre Brown!!!” I had him in the second, they actually took him fourth. But these are the victories in my life.
Then I sit back after the draft and say, “I am not a professional NFL scout, and these guys are smarter than me.” No matter if a pick fails or not, these guys are doing more homework than the casual fan.
This doesn’t absolve the decision-makers, but it does paint a clearer picture as to why teams do what they do on draft day.
However, today I had the idea to look back at mock drafts from ages past. I decided on 1998. As a Tennessee boy, this was a big year for me and Volunteer fans who to this day love Peyton Manning like a brother. Or uncle. Or something.
I also chose it because of the Manning/Ryan Leaf drama as well as the fall of The Great Randy Moss—although then he was just called "That Tall Skinny Troubled Super-Athletic Country-Boy Wide Receiver from a Small School". Anyway I decided to use this draft to see what The Gurus were saying about the prospects and try to apply that to the 2009 draft.
What I came away with was that mock drafts are never close, Al Davis and Jerry Jones are as crazy now as they were 11 years ago, and that nobody on this planet knows for sure how good these players will be.
I tell this story as a Lions fan who is sick and tired of Lions fans’ grotesque hatred and mistrust of whoever is in charge. They swear that bums off the street can do better than whoever is doing the picking, and it makes me sick.
Inexact science, meet fan-boy know-it-alls. Product? Failing logic and massive headaches.
Back to the 1998 Draft. I won’t give away the specifics—look it up and enjoy yourself—but suffice it to say that nothing changes in sports.
People love them some potential, and baggage is only a minor deterrent. Ryan Leaf was loaded with potential (as well as hidden baggage), so much so that then-Chargers GM Bobby Beathard said he would rather have him than Manning.
Al Davis wanted to trade out of the Charles Woodson pick (he preferred the faster Duane Starks, I presume). Andre Wadsworth was called a young Bruce Smith.
Randy Moss had more potential than all of them, but his baggage caused him to drop to the Vikings. Jerry Jones liked Moss at pick 8, but Moss' baggage kept Jones from taking him because—get this—the Cowboys were trying to clean up their act.
The 2009 NFL Draft also had uber-quarterback drama, a dropping super-wideout, potential galore, and fans nit-picking every move (a given for draft-day). The talent that came out of the 1998 class was enormous, and we can only hope that 2009 lives up to it as a whole.
Michael Crabtree hopes his career mirrors that other falling receiver’s and Stafford hopes he possesses the same inner strength Peyton used to turn the league’s worst franchise into a perennial Super Bowl contender.
But what confuses me is the backlash I have seen from fans who can’t believe their team didn’t take “their” players.
The Lions said all along that they were going to pick their best players available. This was no secret.
What fans didn’t know was what order new GM Martin Mayhew had his list, or how blindly he would follow said list. The selections of Brandon Pettigrew and Louis Delmas didn’t merely raise eyebrows, they enraged Lions fans who were dreaming of Rey Maualuga and some offensive or defensive line help. Count me in that estimation.
But upon further analysis, I produce the same verdict: “I am not an NFL scout, and these guys are smarter than me.”
Pettigrew will be a massive force for the Lions, hopefully for the next decade. Delmas is a headhunter and a terrific football player who will help solidify our weak secondary.
In effect, Mayhew provided a major boost to the running game and the passing game with Pettigrew, and the pass defense and run defense with Delmas. It’s actually brilliant how much those two positions can improve a team if they are utilized correctly. And the Lions need help on all phases.
The Lions' later selections also proved another thing to me: special teams will not be ignored. Derrick Williams and Aaron Brown are questionable as position players, but dangerous return men.
Zack Follett and DeAndre Levy will contribute on special teams, regardless of whether either is man enough to start at middle linebacker immediately. Mayhew also tabbed two great project players in Sammie Lee Hill and Lydon Murtha.
And don’t write off final pick Dan Gronkowski, who has the all-around game to stick with the Lions. He has a great NFL body, blocking skills, and he ran a 4.68 at the combine to go with 26 reps. He is James Casey with better size and blocking skills, but lesser hands.
Did we fill our holes with precision? Not really. Were we going to compete for the Super Bowl in 2009 anyway? Not a chance, but we have laid a great foundation.
The trick to being a good fan is to trust that the evaluators are smarter than you. After that, it becomes easier to understand their methods.
With Lions fans, I know that is difficult after Millen became our worst nightmare, but already writing them off as a disaster and predicting three wins is extremely harsh at this point. Give them a couple more years before you bang on their moves. Hell, give them a couple weeks.
I know the stakes are higher in today’s NFL draft, where a busted top-5 pick will set your team back five years, but this is not as easy as it looks. I understand Lions fans wanted Aaron Curry or Jason Smith, but in five years we can look back and make that assessment. Going out and lambasting the new front office over prospects who may or may not succeed is not the way to go.
Give it some time, I beg, before you tear this new staff down. Remember, we loved a lot of Matt Millen’s selections when they were made, and look where that got us.