Draft experts and fans seem to agree that the 2009 draft was one of the Detroit Lions most productive in recent memory.
In fact, it may be the best they’ve had in almost 20 years when they netted Robert Porcher, Jason Hanson, Tracy Scroggins and “Big Play” Willie Clay in 1992.
GM Martin Mayhew and Coach Jim Schwartz are hoping they continue the late April magic that caused draft guru Mel Kiper Jr.to proclaim the Lions—with only two picks in round one—had managed to pick four first rounders.
He believes S Louis Delmas and LB DeAndre Levy would’ve been taken within the first 32 picks alongside, Matt Stafford and Brandon Pettigrew.
This year with the second overall pick, fans are longing for Ndamukong Suh to be the game-changing type of talent the Lions haven’t had in the middle since three-time Pro Bowl nose tackle Jerry Ball.
Assuming Suh is still available at two, the Lions don’t do what I suggest, then yes Suh is the logical pick.
Even if St. Louis takes Suh first overall, Gerald McCoy is just as tantalizing a prospect. However, there are a few teams Detroit could swap draft picks with benefiting both sides.
The supercilious stupidity of Matt Millen set this franchise back further than anyone can imagine. Thanks to his decisions, Mayhew’s first priority is finding the missing—or never placed —pieces of the foundation such as defense and players that don’t play wide receiver.
The Lions need to concern themselves with areas such as the frame of the house before they add the inground pool.
With St. Louis, Washington and Kansas City all picking ahead of Seattle at the sixth round, they may fear the top two quarterbacks, Jimmy Clausen and Sam Bradford, may be gone. However, I don’t think Detroit can gain enough value trading with the Seahawks with only four slots separating the two.
The 49ers have two picks in the first round at 13th and 17th from a previous trade with Carolina. With one of the deeper drafts in recent memory—especially on defense—Detroit would give San Francisco the second overall pick for the 49ers two first round picks.
In addition, the Lions obtain their third round selection which is in the middle, 15th, of that round.
The Lions agree to give up their 2011 third round pick which San Francisco believes will once again be one of the top few in that round after the Lions barely improve upon this season’s performance once the record books close next season.
Why would the 49ers be interested?
For starters, while Alex Smith may have started to erase the bust tag, according to a few within the organization, but he’s nowhere near a sure thing. He may be the smartest QB in the league, but that will only negate some of the physical deficiencies he has—such as arm strength.
But that won’t be enough to convince Coach Mike Singletary to push for such a deal. Instead, it’s the guarantee his defense could add one of two elite DT prospects, Suh and Gerald McCoy, that would likely take his defense from a steadily rising unit in the league up to one of the top three.
The Hall of Fame linebacker knows what a massive, disruptive clogging force in the middle did for the ’85 Super Bowl Chicago Bears—let alone for his own achievements. Of course I’m talking about William Perry. To this day, “The Refrigerator” and “Samurai Mike” were part of the most dominating defensive unit—ever.
And now, a positional audit. What are the Lions most glaring needs?
A lot, mostly on defense, but Kevin Smith’s injury and Bryant Johnson’s failure to secure the No.2 wide receiver position, is reason enough. Detroit needs to focus on grabbing more picks.
Cliff Avril, DE: The second-year defensive end led the team in sacks (5.5) after coming on a bit toward the end of the season—especially the last three games. Avril also forced three fumbles and if the Lions do land a productive defensive tackle, his production could jump considerably.
He’s still young; he is the team’s best pass rusher; and he deserves to garner a look for more of an every down role.
Sammie Lee Hill, DT: Hill showed why the Lions took a chance on a player from a one stoplight city and a product of the very small Stillman College in the fifth round in ‘09.
Hill is huge-framed, powerful, quick and a coachable player that won’t be in Pro Bowl consideration every year but has the tools to at least help clog the middle for the next six to seven years.
Ernie Sims, LB: Not big enough to play the middle, but hopefully he won’t need to with the emergence of Levy.
I actually don’t believe Sims has fulfilled his potential but a lot of that is due to injuries. When healthy, he’s another relatively young piece of the future. Nobody can question his passion, work ethic or intensity. But he barely makes this list and quickly needs to prove why the Lions spent a Top 10 pick on this former FSU animal-lover.
DeAndre Levy, LB: One of the best values of last year’s draft. The former Wisconsin Badger is a smart, dependable tackler blessed with nice speed and good character. I think Levy benefited the most by being around and learning from the leadership and approach by hometown LB Larry Foote.
He actually reminds me of a quicker Foote but with a bit more talent.
Louis Delmas, S : Fiery playmaker—who if he was a weapon—would likely be described as a heat-seeking missile. Delmas is a future perennial pro-bowler who plays like a cross between former Lion star defensive backs, Lem Barney and Bennie Blades.
Shunned in the Defensive Rookie of the Year voting results, he became the second NFL player—not rookie—to record a safety and touchdowns on both an interception and fumble return since the Rams Jamie Martin in 1984.
Julian Peterson/Larry Foote, LB : Both are respectable, if not spectacular, veterans with hometown ties. Foote was everything the Lions expected and then some. He led the team in tackles and tackles for loss while providing an example to his much younger teammates about how to approach their jobs.
If the price is right, it might make sense to re-sign Foote for another year but not at the expense of Levy’s continued development. Peterson was decent and proved he’s still capable of making plays (five forced fumbles) although his sack production was down.
The former Michigan State Spartan is owed $7.5 Million in 2010.
Defensive Line: Terrible pass defense had a two-fold impact besides giving up huge chunks of yards through the air and failing to stop teams on third downs. The Cornerback’s inability to cover anybody longer than three seconds prevented any hopes the line had of putting any type of pressure on the QB.
On the contrary, the front four’s lack of disruption whatsoever set up their teammates in the secondary for failure. Even the best cornerbacks in the league can only be expected to effectively blanket their assignment no more than five or six seconds.
Through the draft or a mixture of the draft and free-agency, any type of upgrade at one unit (DL or Secondary) will have a direct, positive impact on the other.
The secondary is put in a position to make plays primarily when the line is consistently disrupting the quarterback’s timing. On the other hand, talented corners and safeties that can blanket receivers a few extra seconds provide their defensive line extra chances for a sack or hurry.
Most importantly, it can stop Lions opponents who have constantly whipsawed them on third downs.
With the Lions situation though, it’s apparent the roster is so devoid of talent at both the front four and both corner spots, their best bet is to forget about this mutually-beneficial relationship and just shore up both spots.
Cornerbacks: Horrendous production out of the revolving door, third-string, and Arena league talent they trotted out there every week. That’s why I have them taking two prospects in next year’s draft.
If they do, it would make sense to still try and land one of the more proven—yet young enough—free agents such as Dominique Foxworth or Bryant McFadden.
Matthew Stafford, QB: Seems to be the franchise quarterback they’ve been looking for. His performance against the Browns and the footage/audio capture by NFL films put the entire league and fan base on notice that Detroit has an absolute warrior—instead of a piano-playing prima donna.
Calvin Johnson, WR: Perhaps the most talented and physically gifted wide receiver in football. Only thing he's missing: a dependable threat to line up opposite and draw at least one of the double, or triple-team DBs he faces every play.
Offensive Line: Hardly a top-tier group, and questionable call on my part to lump them in here, but they are functional. If they find nice value in the third or fourth rounds of the upcoming draft and the light finally goes on for the inconsistent third-year, first-round pick, Gosder Cherilus, I think this unit could go from neutral to strength.
Brandon Pettigrew, TE: Every elite QB seems to have a go-to safety valve at their disposal—a top-five tight end to depend on. Peyton has Dallas Clark and Rivers has Gates. Pettigrew has similar abilities to these tight ends but he is perhaps the best blocker of them all.
Kevin Smith, RB: Smith is a gamer but he simply lacks the burst needed to become a serious threat. Now he faces an uncertain future after an early season-ending knee injury. Even if he comes back no worse for wear, he would be a nice complementary back to a more explosive runner the Lions may find in the draft or free-agency.
Bryant Johnson/Dennis Northcutt, WR: The Lions haven’t had a truly solid slot receiver since Johnny Morton was sent packing in 2001. Sadly though, Morton’s only other claims to fame included convincing Jay Leno to kiss a donkey’s rear-end and proceeding to get knocked out in 38 seconds in his MMA debut—before he was suspended for testing positive for anabolic steroids.
Kick return/Punt return: Third-round pick from Penn State, Derrick Williams, was supposed to be an instant upgrade but he never capitalized on his opportunities. If he doesn’t turn things around in 2010, he’s gone. As a backup plan, Mayhew will use one of the two corner backs that can serve double-duty.
2011 Draft : The next building block
With these new positions in April’s three-day extravaganza, otherwise known as the 2010 NFL draft here is my ideal scenario:
1.13 Joe Haden, CB, Florida (5'11" - 190)
Early-entry prospect consistently shut down his side of the field. Impressive enough, but even more so considering the depth of wide receiver talent in the SEC.
Haden has everything teams look for in a cornerback including speed (4.42), athleticism, and an uncanny desire to mix things up on the physical side of things. A few scouting reports stated a “lack of awareness” as one of his weaknesses.
However, I’m not sure how one goes about measuring such a trait.
Regardless, the Florida Gator standout is—by all accounts—a very coachable and fiery competitor which fits the defensive mold Coordinator Gunther Cunningham is all about.
1.17 Brian Price, DT, UCLA (6'2" – 300)
Another early-entry player who fills a glaring hole. What he lacks in height, he is compensated with explosion and quickness.
Price doesn’t have any character concerns and film reveals a non-stop motor. Not as short as Warren Sapp, Price is the kind of short, stocky lineman who is a human ball of momentum rarely able to be blocked by one opponent.
If there is one drawback to consider, it would be his likely lack of presence in the passing lanes.
2.2 Jonathan Dwyer, RB, Georgia Tech (6'0" – 235)
Many have this human bowling ball as high as the second-best back behind C.J. Spiller—and for good reason. The early-entry junior is all about two things: power and speed.
Dwyer added some noticeable weight last offseason, but it didn’t impact his production. In fact, it helped him cement his reputation as a strong, north-south threat. He resembles Carolina Panther running back Jonathan Stewart with a similar physique, but a more powerful lower body.
The biggest knock on him is the unorthodox offense the Yellow Jackets ran; it might present a steeper than usual learning curve in the NFL. Regardless, I like Dwyer as Stafford’s dependable workhorse allowing Kevin Smith to be used sparingly his first year back from major knee surgery.
Even if Smith responds well the two of them would wear down defenses in game with the speedy Aaron Brown busting a long one now and again.
3.2 K yle Wilson, CB, Boise State (5'10" – 185)
My pick for the Lions 2010 version of a “Louis Delmas” pick. In other words, when the pundits play Monday morning draft guru, Wilson will be one of those guys whose production warrants a much earlier pick.
The playmaking corner is a multi-dimensional player that can immediately fill the role of kick or punt return. With top-end speed (4.41), he is one of the more athletic prospects in the draft. Wilson is aggressive and not afraid to mix it up.
Much like Delmas, he also plays with an edge, if not swagger-like style.
He was a leader on and off the field for the Broncos this season. Wilson earned Second Team All-American, First Team All-WAC and ESPN Second Team All-Academic honors.
The only knocks on him: a slight lack of bulk and an occasional tendency to bite on pump-fakes, both correctable areas.
3.15 Eric Decker, WR, Minnesota (6'3" – 215)
The most prolific receiver in the Big 10 the last two years is also a heck of a baseball prospect. Decker was chosen in the later rounds of the 2008 and 2009 MLB amateur draft—with the latter going about 15 rounds higher.
To draw coverage away from Johnson, Detroit must line up some type of threat opposite him. Bryant Johnson is not the answer but he does provide decent depth.
More than anything, the receiver they draft or acquire via free agency must have excellent hands and toughness—like a bigger, stronger version of Mike Furrey. That description alone basically describes Decker. Quickly grasping an NFL offense should be of little concern to coaches and fans of the 2009 Biletnikoff finalist is a stellar student as proven by his numerous All-American academic awards.
4.2 Lindsey Witten, DE, Connecticut (6'4" – 260)
Witten is a late-bloomer who continues to excel with better coaching and maturity. One of the fastest defensive ends (4.65) in the country, he led the Huskies with 11.5 sacks in 2009.
He’s a muscled-up athletic kid with intriguing upside. Witten’s brother is NFL safety Donte Whitner of the Buffalo Bills. He could step in immediately for a team utilizing the 3-4 or as a standup edge rusher.
Other possibility is small-school standout, Austen Lane, DE, Murray State (6’6 – 260).
5.2 Brandon Carter, G, Texas Tech (6'6" – 345)
Even if Carter fails to materialize as a decent pro, he’s the most intimidating football player person I think I’ve ever seen. One of the better blockers in the Big 12, he was awarded with First Team All-Big 12 and Third Team All-American honors.
Carter was held in much higher regard this time one year ago. He finished the 2008 season without allowing a single sack which led to his inclusion on the Sporting News First Team All-American list.
While he may have failed to meet—let alone exceed—similar production this season, he’s still an imposing force with the quickness to match.
5.18 Ed Wang, OT, Virginia Tech (6'5" – 300)
Another athletic offensive lineman that adds to the Lions depth within the security blanket assigned to protecting their prized franchise quarterback.
Wang was a highly-recruited tight end coming out of high school so he’s likely two years away before expectations set in for playing time or performance. He’s an extremely athletic and agile lineman who excels in pass protection, but needs to add some bulk to become the dependable road grader when need be.
At the very least, he’s a quality prospect that projects as a low-risk developmental Tackle who can slide over to Guard if he fails to add another 15-20 pounds.
6.2 J ohn Estes, C, Hawaii (6'2" – 300)
This is the part of the draft that historically separates teams like New England from Detroit.
Incumbent Center Dominic Raiola’s tumultuous relationship with Lions fans and the media is well-documented. However—despite those sideshows—he has been a steady performer for the team for some time now.
In fact, he’s one of the elder statesmen on the roster and will turn 32 during the season. Assuming he has one, maybe two, years left perhaps the coaching staff pushes for a developmental prospect to replace him.
Estes has flown somewhat under the radar for no other reason than the 2,400 miles between him and the motherland. He lays claim for the NCAA record for career, and consecutive starts at 54 all while earning Team MVP honors and being selected as a captain.
Besides his well-deserved reputation as a durable, tough, scrappy player, Estes also possesses undeniable leadership qualities coaches look for at his position.
7.2 Joique Bell, RB, Wayne State University (D-II), (5'11" – 225)
An extremely strong runner who can bowl over or pass a defender seemingly at will. He’s recorded an astonishing 59 touchdowns the last three seasons at this Detroit, MI university.
Bell is a tireless running back with an impressive array of balance, speed and power. His shiftiness is the most underrated aspect to his skill set.
Even though he’s torn up the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference—four straight All-State first team awards—he must prove himself against other running backs at the combine who are used to bigger, faster, and more talented defenders.
Still it’s hard to argue against the productivity of this year’s Harlon Hill Award Winner, D-II version of the Heisman, and Top 10 members in both yards from scrimmage and scoring—in the history of the NCAA.