The Detroit Lions have a quandary to start their first pick of the first round, Matthew Stafford, or to sit him in his rookie year. No one could blame the Lions for sitting the young quarterback after going 0-16 last season. The Lions did not have much to be happy about last year except knowing they would get the first pick of the draft.
It may be crazy but I believe the Lions should start Stafford in year one. I will tell you why I think they should. If you look at quarterbacks taken No. 1 over all since 1989 you can see a pattern if you look hard enough.
That quarterback taken No. 1 in '89 was a kid out of UCLA that was going to play for an owner that fired a legend at head coach and replaced him with a college coach out of Miami. The quarterback was Troy Aikman and the owner was Jerry Jones, and the coach with the hair that did not move was Jimmy Johnson.
All were trying to rebuild the Dallas Cowboys after they were one of the best teams of the 70’s and early 80’s but had fallen on hard times in the latter part of that decade.
The first year Aikman was in the league with the Cowboys gave no one any ideas that he would be a hall of fame quarterback. Aikman spent more time running for his life than he did enjoying wins. That Cowboys team finished 1-15, but Aikman was able to take his lumps and learn from his mistakes.
Yes, I know that the Cowboys made one of the greatest one sided trades in NFL history by trading Herschel Walker to the Minnesota Vikings for several players and draft picks. Dallas used that trade to build a team around Aikman. A team that went on to win three Super Bowls in the 1990’s and could have won more if egos had not ended it all early.
Instead of having to make a great trade the Lions can use free agency and, if they are wise, the draft to build a team around Stafford. Just playing that first year the Lions can find out what kind of player they have in Stafford.
Stafford should do better than the first overall pick taken the year after Aikman which was Jeff George in 1990 taken by the Indianapolis Colts. George came in to the league with a Prima Donna attitude and never really was able to get a promising career going. Mentally Stafford has not shown he is that kind of player.
That makes it easier to start him in season one known he knows what kind of team he is going to and that the playoffs or a winning record for that matter may not be in the cards for some time.
The next quarterback taken over all was Drew Bledsoe by the New England Patriots. Bledsoe played in his rookie season and helped to improve the Patriots and eventually led them to a Super Bowl. Bledsoe had a solid career as a pro quarterback and although he is not a hall of famer he was not a bust as a first pick.
Again starting that first year and being able to take the lumps of a bad team help Bledsoe as a quarterback. There is something that you cannot teach a rookie quarterback but you know when you have it after that first year. There is just a mental toughness the great ones have.
Look at the next quarterback taken No. 1 overall by the Colts as they struck gold with Peyton Manning out of Tennessee in 1998. Once again, it was a tough first year for the young Colts quarterback. Manning eventually went on to win a Super Bowl after learning while taking it on the chin that first year.
There is something you can just not measure as a scout or coach. What will happen to your quarterback that was taken No. 1 after a bad first season? Will he become a better quarterback or will he loose his confidence never to get it back again?
A quarterback that did not have what it takes being taken first overall was Tim Couch in 1999, and he never really got going in Cleveland after he was drafted out of Kentucky. You could use the argument that Couch played behind a bad offensive line, but if you’re the first pick in the draft the team that picked you did so for a reason.
Most of the teams that pick quarterbacks at number one do not have stellar offensive lines. I will however admit in Couch’s case he was injured early in his career which could have hurt his development as a quarterback.
Couch never had the ability to rise above that first year when he was batter while playing for a bad team. The same thing happened with David Carr, who was drafted by the Houston Texans in 2002 out of Fresno State. Carr was beaten in front of a bad offensive line his rookie year and could never regain that swagger as a quarterback.
I will note that with the recent legal problems with Micheal Vick, I have to wait since it looked like he was at least going to be a solid starter in the NFL before dog fighting charges put his career on hold.
Carlson Palmer drafted in '03 and if you want to count Philip Rivers drafted in '04 as a No. 1 pick, both sat for a year, and although Palmer has had injures he has been a solid starter for the Cincinnati Bangles when healthy. Rivers was able to study behind Drew Brees before he was trade and has become a great quarterback for San Diego.
But in the win at now NFL, few teams get the chance to sit the first pick taken in the draft. Eli Manning took his lumps half way in to his rookie of the year in New York and was able to deliver a Super Bowl after he was drafted in '04 then traded since he did not want to play for the Chargers.
That brings us to Alex Smith drafted by the 49ers out of Utah who has been a bust so far since he was picked in '05. Smith has not panned out as a starter and has not been able to rise above that first year in the league.
I would rather learn that the quarterback I have drafted will be an Aikman or Manning as a pro. Does he have the mental toughness and swagger as a quarterback to rise above a bad team in his first year? Or will he fold after a rough first year like Carr and Smith have done?
It’s better to start Stafford early and see if he has what it takes to be a great quarterback or at least a solid starter or by the end of year two or three will we see that he cannot shake off the effects of a bad year.
Even if the Lions start him in year two, I cannot believe they will be much better than they will be this year. Let’s find out now if Stafford can be the man that gets the Lions going in the right direction. Waiting may not get them there.