Ask any Detroit Lions fan where they were when news broke about former GM Matt Millen's firing, and I'd wager every fan—even those claiming apathy—will recall without hesitation.
It was exactly the type of monumental announcement that instantly etches a person's surroundings permanently in their memory.
You can forgive fans then if they didn't immediately sing the praises of the Ford family's decision to promote members of Millen's staff, Martin Mayhew and Tom Lewand, as the new co-managers of the Lions.
Fans clogged the airwaves on Detroit's sports radio stations calling for more popular choices such as Scott Pioli. Instead, it was an army of armchair GMs asking how the Lions could get it wrong again by hiring these two unproven football architects with direct linkages to the worst general manager in the history of sports.
Fast-forward a little more than a year, and the situation has cleared up, as Mayhew is calling the shots on personnel decisions while Lewand continues doing what he does best: managing the cap and signing draft picks.
They wasted little time establishing credibility by somehow convincing Jerry Jones and the Dallas Cowboys to give up a first, third, and sixth-round pick for Roy Williams—an underperforming malcontent with an array of cute little first-down celebrations.
For an encore they arguably orchestrated the best draft of any team in the '09 draft. In fact, Mel Kiper said the Lions picked up four players in the first three rounds (Matthew Stafford, Louis Delmas, Brandon Pettigrew, and DeAndre Levy) he would rank in the first round when he released his retroactive draft grades.
Before recapping last year's draft and looking ahead to 2010, here's a comparison to the Lions' picks in the first three rounds made by Millen from 2001-2008.
2001: Jeff Backus, Dominic Raiola, Shaun Rogers
2002: Joey Harrington (third overall), Kalimba Edwards, Andre Goodman
2003: Charles Rogers (second overall), Boss Bailey, Cory Redding
2004: Roy Williams (seventh overall), Kevin Jones, Teddy Lehman, Keith Smith
2005: Mike Williams, Shaun Cody, Stanley Wilson
2006: Ernie Sims, Daniel Bullocks, Brian Calhoun
2007: Calvin Johnson, Drew Stanton, Ikaika Alama-Francis, Gerald Alexander
2008: Gosder Cherilus, Jordon Dizon, Kevin Smith, Andre Fluellen, Cliff Avril
Since the jury is still out on the '08 draft, looking at the other seven years of picks, nearly 70 percent of the aforementioned players drafted by the Lions in the first three rounds are no longer on the roster. A surprising number of those players are not even in pro football anymore.
In '09 Mayhew and coach Jim Schwartz were determined to begin collecting talent instead of need for the most part, which should be the M.O. once again in the Lions' war room come April.
The Lions began assembling a group of starters that at least resemble NFL-caliber players with franchise QB Matthew Stafford and future Pro Bowl Safety Louis Delmas. Brandon Pettigrew should be Stafford's safety valve and the X-factor of the offense for 10 years.
On the other side, small-school DT Sammie Lee Hill showed promise at a very thin DT position. He's still raw but looks to be a solid part of the rotation.
Perhaps the most pleasant surprise has been the play of former Wisconsin linebacker DeAndre Levy. Coaches, teammates, and scouts have gushed about his feel for the MLB position, and he led the team in tackles the final two games this season.
Sixth-round pick Aaron Brown has carried over the track-like speed he put on display at TCU. He's too small to be an every-down RB, but in this day of teams effectively using two-back systems, he could carve a nice niche for himself that could also include KR/PR duties. The only thing holding him back seems to be upstairs.
Late-round pick Zack Follett was projected to be taken much higher after a storied career in the Pac-10. Fortunately for Detroit, this heat-seeking human missile was still there in the last round of the draft, which probably made him very angry. I don't think it's a good idea to make Mr. Follett angry.
In addition to providing decent depth at LB with Jordon Dizon, the young pair are both special teams demons. They've already formed the most feared pair on returns known as the "pain train."
With the No. 2 overall pick next season, here is my Lions seven-round mock draft. I'd prefer if they could swap this pick with either Seattle or San Francisco for both of their round one picks. For this article, I'll assume they don't.
Round One: DT Ndamukong Suh (Nebraska)
If St. Louis grabs Suh instead of QBs Jimmy Clausen or Jake Locker (assuming he does keep to his word about going back to UofW next year), the Lions should have a contingency plan in place to immediately trade down since they need to strengthen too many areas. A Boy Named Suh is one of the most imposing physical specimens that I recall coming out in the last 10 years.
For those of you not too familiar with the chiseled 300-pound man-beast, simply go to YouTube and watch how he single-handedly almost led the Cornhuskers to an upset over Texas in the '09 Big 12 championship.
Round Two: DE Brandon Graham (Michigan) or DE Jason Pierre-Paul (South Florida)
Detroit's defensive line would go from a weakness to strength if they grab Suh and either of these two ends. Each has one "issue" that keeps both of them out of the top 15.
Graham is a smart, explosive, and relentless player who flies into the backfield in a flash. The only knock is a lack of size. Watching him terrorize the Big Ten this year, he's got NFL-caliber talent.
JPP is a 6'6" playmaker who may be one of the best athletes in the entire draft. Think of a slightly bigger version of Calvin Johnson playing defensive end. How many college players this tall have you ever seen do a standing back flip (with full pads on) after making a big play?
While he only has one year of big-time football under his belt, he's exploded onto the D-I scene this year after tearing up the juco ranks for two years.
Round Three: OG Mike Iupati (Idaho)
I've seen him go as high as the mid first-round down through the early fourth round. Size and nastiness are two things that can't be taught, and this Vandals lineman was the key reason Idaho made history this season after years of college football irrelevancy. Iupati's a very large prospect (6'5", 335) with fantastic instincts and athleticism.
Round Four: DE Brandon Lang (Troy) or DT Vince Oghobaase (Duke)
Again, either of these picks is dictated by the possible positions the Lions address earlier. Not many Blue Devils are lining up on Sundays, but Oghobaase is a shifty run-stuffer who can clog the middle and get to the quarterback. He reminds me of a poor man's Warren Sapp.
Lang is a pass-rushing force who could be the next in a growing list of defensive stars to come out of Troy in the last eight or nine years.
Round Five: WR Blair White (Michigan State)
The Lions desperately need a smart, tough, dependable receiver to line up opposite Megatron. White does not receive much attention, but he has quietly been the Big Ten's best receiver the last two years.
He's a grinder who runs crisp routes and catches everything thrown his way. Fast-forward three or four years, and I think Blair White will have carved a niche for himself in this league somewhere between a Kevin Walter and Wes Welker.
Round Six: K Brett Swenson (Michigan State)
I know Jason Hanson is very close to surpassing Darrell Green and another longtime NFL player for most games played. Let him set the record (about eight games into next season) and make room for the No. 1-rated kicker in the draft. For the first time in his career, Hanson seems to have really taken a couple steps back.
Round Seven: If they can get somebody halfway as mean and ferocious as last year's pick Zack Follett, we will be thrilled.
Looking forward to three days of 2010 NFL draft coverage.
Joe J. Brown
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