The Lions 2009 draft will go down as a great one if Matthew Stafford keeps healthy. However, it could have been a whole lot better.
In the third round, the Lions selected Derrick Williams, hoping that he would develop into a solid deep threat to draw coverage off Calvin Johnson. As it turns out, drafted two spots after Williams was the current premier deep threat wide receiver in the NFL, the Pittsburgh Steeler's Mike Wallace.
In this article I will try to explain why the Lions went for Williams over Wallace and then track forwards through history as I show you what would have changed if they selected the burner from Ole Miss instead.
Firstly, Williams was seen to be a far safer pick than Wallace at the time. Williams had been an electrifying receiver and returner for Penn State during his college tenure and impressed coaches at the Senior Bowl with his body control and speed.
On the flip side, Wallace was one-year wonder with speed, an impressive catching radius and not a lot else. His hands were questioned and his route running and ability to beat press coverage was unrefined.
In summary, both receivers ran sub 4.4 40-yard dashes, but Williams was more versatile as a return man and was more refined footballer in general. All in all, it seemed to be a steal for the Lions to pick him in the middle of the third round.
However, history tells us a different story. While Williams has failed to perform in the NFL, Wallace is fresh off a 1,200-yard season and has averaged over 20 yards per catch in both his seasons as a pro. The Detroit faithful can now only dream off what could have happened. Just as I am about to do.
The primary impact that Wallace would have had is one the field. It is unlikely that he would manage a 1,200-yard season opposite Megatron and would be unlikely to average 20 yards per catch with Shaun Hill lobbing him bombs, his presence would be felt. Teams would be unlikely to rotate a safety over Johnson and allow Wallace to run deep routes without safety help. This would make life much simpler for Johnson.
While I said that Wallace would not put up a 1000-yard season, production similar to his rookie year when he made 750 yards off 39 receptions while hauling in six touchdowns would be expected. This is more than any other Lions receiver not named Calvin has made these past two seasons.
His secondary impact would have been on the draft philosophy of the Lions in 2010 and 2011. While they probably would still have taken Tim Toone with the final pick of the 2010 draft, in 2011 Titus Young would not have been their second pick.
Instead of taking the dynamo from Boise State, the Lions may have selected Mikel Leshoure with that pick, removing the need to trade up to select him later. Not trading up would have allowed the Lions to make selections in the third and fourth round, and given them a chance to draft a solid cornerback like Curtis Marsh, Johnny Patrick or Curtis Brown, and/or another linebacker such as K.J. Wright, Mason Foster or Akeem Dent. The depth that this would have added to their defense would be very valuable in the upcoming season.
Another scenario would see the Lions taking a different player with their first second-round pick, and persisting with the trade up to grab Leshoure. Instead of Titus Young getting that phone call, it might have been Stefen Wisniewski, Ben Ijalana or Brandon Harris who became a Lion. This would be invaluable in addressing the areas of need that the Lions still have.
While sadly Mike Wallace did not become a Detroit Lion, we can accept Titus Young as a very capable alternative. Whats more, for all his failings so far, it is not too late for Derrick Williams to salvage his career and become a solid fourth wide receiver for the Lions.