2011 NFL Draft: The Detroit Lions Are Now on the Board
Last season, the Lions started in a new direction. On the first day of free agency Kyle Vanden Bosch and Nate Burleson signed to come to Detroit. In the case of Vanden Bosch, head coach Jim Schwartz actually parked outside of Vanden Bosch's gated community. He waited until the clock struck midnight on that first day of free agency to talk to Vanden Bosch and his wife into the wee hours to tell him why he should come to Detroit.
That is not a move a Lions coach makes, until now. Only reason was the draft. With the second pick the Lions picked Ndamukong Suh out of Nebraska.
Many, including myself, knew Suh was special as I am a closet Husker fan so I saw his work during the prior season. Yet no one could predict that Suh would take the league this much by storm. He won every rookie of the year award, was named an All-Pro and to the Pro Bowl team. He didn't play, but he was rumored to be recruiting prospective free agents to come to Detroit. He could play due to shoulder surgery suffered in college which means he wasn't playing his full potential.
His presence on the team is a big reason why this season is different as the Lions finished 6-10 and would not be picking one of the top-10 picks in a long, long time. But with the recent lockout, the Lions could not pull another coup in free agency prior to the draft.
As a result, there is a greater reality that the Lions' draft strategy will not load up on players during the draft as much to see what is available. Not because of a lack of talent in the college players but because the Lions might hold up and go for the veteran at that position instead.
Regardless, there are some good players the Lions can still get that will play for them on Sunday this season.
1st Round: No. 13 Is Prince Amukamara, Nebraska
Prince Amukamara is not a once-in-a-lifetime pick like his former Husker teammate Ndamukong Suh. However he is still a "black shirt."
The Prince brings a high-end talent to the cornerback position which has been lacking on the Lions for what seems an eternity. He isn't so high up the draft board like Patrick Peterson nor does he have the baggage of Jimmy Smith.
His talent speaks for himself. He ran a 4.43 40 at the combine so he is already fast enough for the position. It is great speed, and he should hold his own chasing down the receivers in the Central Division. The only player in the division that could pose a problem would be Percy Harvin, but the QB situation in Minnesota could cool Harvin's jets.
His height at 6'0" is about the same as Charles Woodson, but he isn't Woodson.
He played with Suh, and so, he knows what Suh will expect of him which is really what Vanden Bosch will want of him. It was Vanden Bosch who as quickly as possible met with Suh to tell him when to arrive and learn his work ethic to adjust to the speed of the NFL.
However, if the Prince is not at No.13, there are two other players the Lions should go for. Ryan Kerrigan from Purdue and J.J Watt of Wisconsin. Both are defensive ends out of the Big Ten who played different seasons but still were seen.
Kerrigan played on a Purdue team long removed from the Brees era, and yet, his play earned him both Big Ten Defensive Lineman and Defensive Player of the Year. To be the top defensive player with the likes of Watt, Greg Jones and Cameron Heyward is quite remarkable. These three players were on teams that shared the Big Ten title. Yet, it was the combination of speed and tenacity that got Kerrigan such acolades.
Watt, on the other hand, is 290 lbs. to Kerrigan's 267lbs. But their heights are similar with Watt at 6'5" to Kerrigan at 6'4". The weight advantage does decrease his speed when compared to Kerrigan. However, the weight means he should be able to go toe-to-toe with many of the OT's that the Lions will face.
The possibility of drafting an offensive tackle with this pick is possible, but the risk of drafting offensive lineman this soon means they are ready to start, and these guys with the exception of Joe Thomas, Jake Long and Michael Oher can't always make immediate impact as they have to take time to adjust to the speed of the league. The need to protect Stafford and both of his shoulders is important, but the Lions need to make that defense be feared which will take the pressure off Stafford to do everything.
2nd Round: No. 12 Is Orlando Franklin, Miami (FL)
By forgoing on an offensive lineman in the first round, the Lions still need to bring fresh talent to a line that takes a lot of flak in the press back in Detroit. Not everyone has forgiven Jeff Backus for missing his assignment on Julius Peppers in Week 1 which led to Stafford having his shoulder jammed into Soldier Field.
Orlando Franklin, hopefully, will be there in the second round. This is because, he is a beast at 6'7" 316lbs. He brings the kind of size to be on either end of the line. He could make an immediate impact and start as Gosder Cherlius has not been living up to his potential.
The need for a guard or center is also a pressing need. But for the guard, it is better to go free agent as the Lions need some experience on the line. Not only in terms of being used to the speed of the NFL game but also in discipline as the Lions were jumping offsides a lot last season.
3rd Round: #11 Is Greg Jones, Michigan State
The Lions do need linebackers as DeAndre Levy is still learning to be the inside linebacker and Zach Follet is recovering from a neck injury. Jordon Dizon hasn't met all expectations either.
To bring in Greg Jones makes sense. One of the greatest linebackers to play for the Spartans, Jones brings the leadership and the overall talent that made him a three-time first team All-Big Ten, two-time first team All-American and the 2009 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year as well as part of Michigan State's 2010 Big Ten Championship team.
He is not the fastest linebacker in the draft nor the biggest. But the overall talent makes him the ideal player to compete at any of the three linebacker positions on the Lions 4-3 defense. He can pursue on the ends and quarterback the defense on the inside and also take on covering the running backs.
4th Round: No. 10 Is Scott Tolzien, Wisconsin
Having the Lions draft a quarterback is a gamble. Shaun Hill did decent in filling in for Stafford after his various shoulder injuries last season. Drew Stanton also put on a good show after getting a chance to lead the team after Hill broke his arm. However, Stanton is a UFA so he might go, but it is hard to tell as he doesn't have a lot of film to prove his worth.
To bring on another QB to the fold will create fresh competition if Stanton does go. Hill did lock up the second string position; he will need a backup if Stafford does get hurt again. It is tough to predict Stafford's demise but he will be entering his third season, and he hasn't played enough games to relieve the fans concerns of him being injury-prone.
Tolzien did play on a Big Ten championship team that upset the Buckeyes. He doesn't have the hype of the big names for his position which means he will be cheaper in negotiations. His talents is not in any one tool but being an all-around QB. Once again, being on a team that wins means he will have the work ethic that any coach prefers.
5th Round: No. 23 (from Kansas City) Is Kristofer O'Dowd, USC
To pick in the fifth round, the Lions will chose Kristofer O'Dowd out of USC. He is a center who could be shadowed with Dominic Raiola. Being 6'4", 304 lbs., he is bigger than the 6'1", 295lb Riaola, this is also ideal for a team looking to upgrade their protection of Stafford.
O'Dowd ran a 5.16 at the combine which is a good speed for someone ready to help push the line downhill. As a player from the Trojans, he is also used to winning, so he will have the work ethic ready from Day 1 to start the workout at Allen Park. Plus, practicing with Suh on a daily basis will also improve his skill set considering Suh is seen already as one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL.
7th Round: No. 2 (Denver) Is Keith Smith, Purdue
The Lions will finally draft a wide receiver in the seventh round to close out their draft picks. For once, this position is not seen as a position of need in the earlier rounds. However, having another won't be a stretch in case Bryant Johnson keeps dropping passes, Derick Williams continues to drop on the depth chart and the dreads of Tim Toone aren't ready from prime time.
The kick returner is locked up with Stefan Logan who was a steal from the Steelers. But having another WR does aid Calvin Johnson and Burleson in getting open. Smith is only 6'2", but not all of the WR's can be the size of Calvin.
Smith does not have the all important combine stats, but for a lower pick, it won't be too much of a stretch to pick him up. Once again, the free-agency period will be a factor to hold off on who to pick.