The Detroit Lions have plenty of needs heading into the offseason. Included among those are two positions most fans will bemoan spending any perceived early pick on since the follies of the Matt Millen-era are still fresh in their minds.
Fortunately for them it appears as if the leadership infrastructure is in place, might just be a functional unit starting with GM Martin Mayhew down to Coach Jim Schwartz.
The crop of talent gathered in the 2009 draft seems like Motown has capable NFL-caliber decision makers at the vanguard of the Lions future.
Heading into the 2010 draft, Mayhew will try to build on last year’s successful draft including a franchise quarterback and his safety valve (Tight End Brandon Pettigrew) and two playmaking cornerstones for his defense with Louis Delmas and linebacker DeAndre Levy.
His late-round selections appear to be insightfully foretelling with third-down running back Aaron Brown and defensive tackle prospect Sammie Lee Hill. Grabbing special teams assassin and reserve Zack Follett in the last round may prove to be one of his better picks when they look back in retrospect several years later.
Best-Case: Ndamukong Suh, DT, Nebraska—If St. Louis decides to make finding a franchise quarterback a priority the Lions will grab this pass-rushing, run-stuffing playmaker. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a 300-pound football player with the muscle Suh has. One of the best defensive line prospects to come out in the last 10 years.
Worst-Case: Russell Okung, OT, Oklahoma State—The Lions need help on the offensive line, especially with their franchise depending on their ability to keep Matt Stafford upright. However, there are far more dire needs on this team than a tackle—especially with Gosder Cherilus still in the beginning of his career.
Most Likely: Gerald McCoy, DT, Oklahoma—Most of the scouting reports on Suh pretty much apply to McCoy, too. Detroit has a glaring deficiency at the interior defensive line positions. Beyond last year’s mid-round pick, Sammie Lee Hill (Stillman), they don’t have acceptable NFL talent. McCoy was the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and he has just as high a ceiling as does Suh.
Best-Case: Brandon Graham, DE, Michigan—Even prior to his fantastic showing at the Senior Bowl (Defensive MVP), Graham was on a steady ascension up the rankings. He’s freakishly quick and strong against the run despite whispers of being undersized. Graham’s already the same size as Colts star Dwight Freeney, to whom he draws consistent comparisons too.
Worst-Case: Donavan Warren CB, Michigan—This isn’t a knock so much against Warren’s talent as it is his style of play. He’s a burner (4.4) and capable tackler but doesn’t play with the aggressiveness or physical nature defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham is trying to instill.
Most Likely: Kyle Wilson, CB, Boise State—There weren’t many players who improved their draft position in the 2009 season and post-season Senior Bowl than Wilson.
Some will cite his lack of eye-catching tackles as a tendency to shy away from contact. However, that’s an indication of teams avoiding his side of the field. He can blanket receivers as well as, if not better than any other cornerback in this draft.
His ability to also return kicks and punts is icing on the cake. Lions coaches were somewhat smitten with Wilson’s swagger, which he backed up, and aggressiveness. (Note: How many other prospects roll up to the Senior Bowl parking lot in a full-size RV with a customized mural of himself painted over the entire vehicle?)
Best-Case: Corey Wooton, DE, Northwestern—Detroit was unable to generate even a remotely impressive pass rush without bringing more players than they should on all-out blitzes. At 6'7", Wooton is a run-stopper first with the physical skill-set to be a dynamo pass-rusher. With the right coaching, he could be one of the better value picks in the 2010 draft.
Worst-Case: Damian Williams, WR, USC (Junior—The one-time Arkansas Razorback led the Trojans in receiving the last two seasons. He fits a definite need as a speedy, tough, elusive receiver to line up opposite Megatron (i.e., Calvin Johnson). Forgive Lions fans if they cringe though at the thought of drafting another USC wide receiver. Hopefully Williams is gone by the time they pick in the third round so they aren’t forced with making this decision.
Most Likely: Alex Carrington, DE, Arkansas State—Scouts are drooling over every measureable of this small-school product (6-5 285 4.75). The only thing holding him back from a first-round selection is the level of competition he faced.
As a counter to that argument, I’ll suggest the level of coaching he was exposed to perhaps limited his potential. Somebody at his size capable of running a 4.7 forty is almost unfathomable. Several teams have major voids of talented pass-rushers. A team such as Detroit could end up taking Carrington.
Best-Case: Jared Veldheer, OT, Hillsdale (D-II)—Unless you’re a draftnik or a raging fan of the GLIAC conference, this name probably doesn’t ring a bell. Veldheer passes the eye-test coming in at 6'8" and about 325 pounds.
Many high schools in Michigan have twice as many students compared to Veldheer’s alma mater. Barely recruited, the D-II All-American lineman is making a name for himself for his atypical combination of size, speed, and footwork.
Coaches and teammates appear to agree about the unusually high level of dedication and commitment of this towering, late-bloomer type of prospect. Jeff Backus isn’t a spring chicken anymore and a player like this is the kind of prospect Mayhew needs to begin grooming for the future—if not sooner.
Worst-Case: Mardy Gilyard, WR, Cincinnati—Had a nice showing in the Senior Bowl, but the Bearcats run somewhat of a gimmicky offense. I’m not sure how well that’s going to transfer to the next level. Not so much of a “worst-case” as he is a player with too many question marks.
Most Likely: Eric Decker, WR, Minnesota—One of the more underrated, yet prolific, receivers (MSU WR Blair Receiver the other) in the Big 10 the last two years is also a heck of a baseball prospect.
Decker was drafted in both the 2008 and 2009 MLB Amateur draft. Scott Linehan needs to figure out some way to draw coverage away from Calvin Johnson. Ideally, they grab a player who catches everything, has above-average speed, runs tough routes and is fearless over the middle. Decker fits the profile and is an extremely intelligent prospect which will likely translate to being a quick study in Linehan’s offense and under Wide Receivers Coach Shawn Jefferson’s tutelage.
Best-Case: Mike Neal, DE/DT, Purdue—Senior lineman was one of the more consistent performers on an otherwise forgettable season for Boilermaker players and fans. Neal is similar in stature to both of the Lions targets in the first round (6'4",300) with Suh and McCoy.
He’s nowhere near as talented but he’s the type of player who can find a place as a longtime component of a rotation who won’t miss assignments. The Big Ten is full of big, tough offensive linemen so the fact Neal competed against them only bodes well for his future. Jim Schwartz is a big believer in versatile players and Neal has experience at both defensive line positions.
Worst-Case: Kyle Calloway, OT, Iowa—This is where the elite teams find varying degrees of talent from diamonds in the rough to special-teams ace. With two fifth-round picks (via ’09 trade with Denver) Martin Mayhew and his staff have the luxury of gambling on two players who’ve fallen due to an error in judgment or immature behavior.
Calloway is not that type of player and doesn’t come with any intriguing risk-reward potential. This Hawkeye was not a dominant player in the Big Ten and rarely faced the burden placed upon his teammate Bryan Bulaga.
Worst-Case: Boo Robinson, DT, Wake Forest—Besides the enjoyment of watching novice fans ask those sitting next to them, “Why is everybody booing?”, Boo Robinson is a boom-or-bust kind of prospect.
He’s slow and a step behind and relied on his low center of gravity to bull-rush offensive linemen, a characteristic that won’t translate well to the pros. He’s built very low to the ground similar to former Lions nose tackle Jerry Ball but has nowhere near the motor or level of productivity “The Governor” was capable of.
Best-Case: Antonio Brown, WR, Central Michigan University (Junior)—Local prospect Lions' scouts are very familiar with. Has speed to burn (4.42) and could fill the KR/PR role last year’s third round pick Derrick Williams (Penn State) never seized. Also adds depth to a very thin WR corps.
Brown was the number one target of highly-regarded quarterback prospect Dan LeFevour. Another year of leading the MAC would probably have earned Brown a much higher selection—not to mention another zero or two on his contract.
Best-Case: LaGarrette Blount, RB, Oregon—Readers of this article may claim this is much too late to grab a running back considering the uncertain future of Kevin Smith as he responds from major knee surgery.
Backup Maurice Morris ran well when given the opportunity but he’s on the wrong side of 30. All indications are his surgery went well but he’s still a non-factor in the offseason workouts as well as the start of training camp next summer.
Blount is just over six feet tall with a frame that carries a solid 240 pounds. The only reason he may be available this late is for the infamous sucker punch he gave a Boise State player. He’s a chain-mover although his speed is still decent (4.5). If Smith doesn’t recover as expected, Blount could create a nice backfield tandem with current Lions speedster Aaron Brown.
Lions coaches had the opportunity to catch a first-hand glimpse into the personality and character of the Oregon back during a week of Senior Bowl activity on and off the field.
Best-Case: Brett Swenson, K, Michigan State—Jason Hanson—God bless him—has endured more losing seasons than probably 99 percent of any other NFL player.
He’s been a class act since arriving in Motown almost 20 years ago. However, father time seems to have caught up to him this past year. Swenson is one of the top two kickers in this draft and he’s been a tremendous asset to the Spartans arsenal.
An offseason of training with NFL and MSU legend, Morten Andersen has paid off. He set numerous Spartans records (field goals & points) this year and was the first Spartan kicker to ever be voted as Team MVP in their almost 80-year history.