We have been here before. Let's rewind a little. The year is 2009, a month before the draft and there is a big debate. Who do the Lions take at #1 overall? The top prospect on most people's boards is a linebacker named Aaron Curry and next in line is offensive tackle Jason Smith. A little further down the list is the top quarterback in the class. Many Lions faithful are screaming for them to take the safe pick, one of the best LB prospects in a number of years, instead of gambling on the young signal caller who isn't even a consensus number one pick. The new Lions management made the right move by recognizing the potential the QB had and realizing that you can't pass on the opportunity to solidify the most important position in football.
Rebuilding a Franchise
Taking a team from 0-16 back to being a competitive franchise is a daunting task that takes a solid game plan. By selecting QB Matthew Stafford with the first overall pick, the Lions started to establish the plan that includes acquiring franchise talent at the most important position on the football field and giving him weapons to work with.
As the NFL has transitioned over recent years to a passing league, the most important assets to a team have become passing the football (QB), protecting that passer (LT) and giving the opposing quarterback pressure (DE). It is for this reason that these are typically the highest paid positions on the team and most often drafted in the top three draft picks over the last 12-15 years.
If the Lions are to give themselves the greatest chance at success in the long run, they must stick to the plan of getting the best talent at these key positions. Without protecting the 72 Million dollar investment of Matthew Stafford, the Lions run the risk of ruining another top quarterback prospect. For these reasons, the Lions will make the wise choice, see past the hype and select Russell Okung in the year's draft.
The stat's speak for themselves. There is no need to debate that this prospect had one of the best years statistically of any defensive tackle in college football history. However, stats don't tell the whole story. Fact of the matter is, he doesn't play at one of the top impact positions on the field, he has had two knee surgeries in his career and he doesn't directly help Matthew Stafford.
And if you think that Suh is the no brainer top prospect in this year's draft class, think again. Both Scouts Inc. on ESPN and Mike Mayock of NFL Network have Gerald McCoy as their top prospect for 2010.
Ndamunkong Suh is this year's Aaron Curry, he is the sexy pick, but the wrong one. He might be the top prospect but he doesn't have the value or importance of an offensive tackle. Albert Haynesworth, the most dominate defensive tackle in the NFL today, signed a huge contract with the Washington Redskins yet where do they stand? They are picking two picks after Detroit because they don't have a quarterback or offensive line despite the best DT in the league.
Why is Okung the right pick? He is the best pass blocking offensive tackle in the draft, plain and simple. He solidifies the second most important position on a football team immediately and he improves the swinging gate that has been a Detroit Lion left guard by moving Jeff Backus inside. Nothing should be more important to Lions fans than making sure #9 stays off of his back or history may be doomed to repeat itself.
Selecting Okung isn't about passing on another potentially great prospect, it's about executing a plan to rebuild this franchise. History shows that great offensive tackles are typically high draft choices while defensive tackles like Shaun Rodgers can be found in later rounds.
Rebuilding is a process that takes time. What better way to give a team time and opportunity to succeed than by locking in quarterback and left tackle for years to come? If the Lions give Stafford a chance to fail by not putting the right pieces around him, then they will be starting all over again in 3 years with or without Suh.
Defense, Defense, Defense
There are those that argue that with the worst defense for two straight years, that should be first on the list headed into the draft. While a valid point, hasn't defense been the main focus of this offseason to date? It is this writer's opinion that Detroit's defense is already noticeably better than it was a season ago and with such a deep defensive draft class can continue to improve through late round picks. While far from elite, this defense has already taken some steps in the right direction. Ignoring the other glaring holes on offense to focus completely on defense would be a mistake and only hinder the development of Stafford.
The Smart Move
Management may have finally figured out the winning recipe in the NFL and this draft will prove that. A stud defensive tackle my help to bolster a defensive line but that alone doesn't make the Detroit defense dominant. In the end, Lions fans are stuck with a mediocre defense paired with a mediocre offense and overall a mediocre team. Anchoring the offensive line begins to make one side of the football young, dynamic and exciting.
Detroit fans need to stop buying into all the hype and recognize what is best for the team in the long run. Suh might be a great player, but Okung makes this offense one step closer to being great. When you select a QB #1 overall, that is what you hope to get, a dominate offense for the next 10-15 years. If you build this team correctly, the wins will come.