Should the Detroit Lions Draft a Quarterback?

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Should the Detroit Lions Draft a Quarterback?
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Before we go any further, let's clear up any mistaken premise you might glean from the title:

Matthew Stafford will be the starting quarterback for the Detroit Lions for at least the next five years. There's no chance in that changing. None. Take great comfort in that fact.

This is about the depth chart behind Stafford, which is primed for a change for the first time since the 2010 season.

Longtime backup Shaun Hill is a free agent, and it's extremely unlikely he will return. Between the salary demands for such a quality veteran and his desire to find an opportunity to actually sniff the field, it's a virtual certainty Hill will be wearing another uniform in 2014.

That leaves Kellen Moore as the only other quarterback on the roster. The third-year pro from Boise State has never taken a regular-season snap. In fact, he was not even active for any game in 2013.

Moore is a lightning rod for fans. Many look at his stellar college career, where he racked up a NCAA-record 50 wins for the upstart Broncos. He was both proficient and efficient, as noted in his official Boise State football bio:

...he left a lasting mark on the NCAA record book, with the most wins by a quarterback and ranking in the top five all-time in FBS history in touchdown passes, passing yards, pass efficiency, completion percentage and lowest interception percentage. He led the nation in pass efficiency as a junior in 2010, and finished among the top three nationally in 2009 and 2011.

 

That's a heck of a resume. So why should the Lions worry about him as Stafford's primary backup?

It's a matter of arm strength. The lack of zip on his throws and downfield range caused Moore to go undrafted in the 2012 draft. 

It was that painfully lack of velocity he showed as a rookie that did little to foster any real hope. He epitomized the "product of the college system" label.

Rick Osentoski/Associated Press

Thankfully, Moore shed some of the skepticism in the 2013 preseason. As Zach Kruse noted in a piece from late August here on Bleacher Report, Moore upgraded his arm strength demonstrably. As noted in Kruse's piece, others took notice of his stunning improvement.

He effectively vanquished the more experienced, more mobile Thaddeus Lewis from the roster. There is definitely a lot more optimism surrounding his potential going forward.

Still, I'm not convinced that Moore could lead the Lions to a victory or two in extended relief of an injured Stafford. While his arm strength has clearly improved, it's still nothing more than barely adequate; that's how far he had to travel from his college days. 

Adding a third quarterback is a necessity for offseason camps and preseason. The question then becomes, what kind of player should the Lions bring into the mix?

The smartest option is to save money and keep their toes out of the free-agent pool. The likelihood of this new quarterback playing even a single snap in the regular season are remote, so it's a spot on the 53-man roster to save precious cap room.

I advocate finding a rookie with a similar skill set to Stafford. Right now with Moore as the backup, the Lions would have to change the offense to tailor to his skills. He's nothing like Stafford as a precision marksman or downfield bomber.

There are some reasonable facsimiles to be found late in the draft. 

Brian Kersey/Getty Images

Foremost is Ball State's Keith Wenning. He's got Stafford's wind-slicing velocity and overriding confidence in his own arm to rifle passes to tightly covered receivers. 

I wrote this about Wenning at Detroit Lions Draft after watching him perform in the Shrine Game practices: 

Wenning conveys something of a poor man’s Philip Rivers to his game; not very mobile but with toughness and stability to absorb hits without going down. He’s got a great arm. Not good, not decent, but a great arm with excellent velocity on throws.

 

Of course, I also noted there's a reason why he's regarded as a sixth- or seventh-round prospect:

In fact, part of his problem is that he lacks touch at times. There are also times where he has some Jake Locker to him, when even though the fundamental mechanics are solid the throw still goes wildly off-target. 

 

If Detroit general manager Martin Mayhew decides pushing Moore for the No. 2 spot is even more of a priority, taking one of Stafford's successors at Georgia makes a lot of sense.

Aaron Murray lacks size and doesn't have quite the cannon, but he's a polished passer with the ability to hit precise spots all over the field. He's coming from an SEC program at which he was a four-year starter in the same offense that produced Stafford, so he knows how to run a pro-ready scheme.

Going after Murray, who blew out his knee late in the season and missed the Senior Bowl as a result, is likely to cost the Lions a fourth-round pick. That's where both Optimum Scouting and Bleacher Report's Matt Miller have him roughly projected.

Is that too much to invest in a player who hopefully never sees the field outside of the preseason? It probably is for most fans, and I would agree. As much as it scares me to have Moore one shot away from running the offense, that pick is a resource more valuable being allocated to addressing more pressing roster needs.

If the Lions choose the undrafted free-agent path as they did with Moore, one name to watch is Dustin Vaughan from West Texas A&M. His arm strength is comparable to that of Stafford...perhaps even stronger. It's a freak of nature, like Randy Johnson's flamethrowing left arm.

Vaughan's very much a developmental prospect, coming from a small school with his relatively raw all-around game. But man, his arm is drool-worthy. He is also quite the free spirit, which would bring a decidedly different dimension to the Lions locker room.

To illustrate, check out his performance in this awesome YouTube clip:

 

With the departure of Nate Burleson and Louis Delmas, two of the most entertaining and congenial presences in what can be an otherwise dour locker room, Vaughn's playful personality could be a real asset. 

No matter how the Lions choose to address the quarterback depth chart behind Stafford, at least one new passer will don the Honolulu Blue before the end of draft weekend. 

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