Not since the “Barry! Barry!” chants echoed through the Pontiac Silverdome have the Detroit Lions garnered this amount of positive media coverage. Phrases like stellar draft, divisional contention, win streak and impressive growth are now terms used to describe the once “hapless” Lions.
Looking down the road, this turnaround by the Detroit Lions could be viewed as one of the greatest in sports history. The statistical turnaround the Detroit Lions defense enjoyed in 2010 directly correlates to a specific date, Thursday, April 22nd 2010.
It was the 75th annual NFL draft, a draft in which the best player available fell to the No. 2 selection. Looking back it was one of those moments, a moment that something spectacular happened. It was a moment that’s been frozen in time, at this very moment, while reading this, you can envision where you were at when the Detroit Lions selected Ndamukong Suh.
On Dec. 7, 2009, Suh was named a finalist for the Heisman Trophy Award. Ndamukong was the first defensive tackle to be invited to the Heisman Trophy award ceremony since Warren Sapp in 1994.
Shortly thereafter, Suh was named the Bronko Nagurski award winner, an award given to the top defensive player in the nation. The last Bronko Nagurski award winner to receive the Heisman Trophy Award was former Michigan stand out Charles Woodson in 1997. Suh was the first defensive player to win the Associated Press College Player of the Year honor since the award's inception in 1998.
Though Suh finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy Award voting, he finished his senior season with an unprecedented six major collegiate awards.
Coming out of Nebraska, Ndamukong Suh was one of the most highly touted defensive tackles to enter the NFL draft since Miami University defensive stand out Warren Sapp. ESPN.com's draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. described Suh as “maybe the most dominating defensive tackle I've seen in 32 years."
The media was enamored with Suh coming out of college. He was an extraordinary physical specimen, who looked to be a polished NFL ready starter by Week 1. Some NFL analysts balked at Suh’s projected draft position prior to the draft. Those analysts stated that in recent memory, teams investing in defensive tackles at the top of the draft have suffered.
For months leading up to the draft, Suh was projected to go first overall to the struggling St. Louis Rams. Instead, the St. Louis Rams selected Sam Bradford first overall, and without hesitation, the Detroit Lions selected Suh immediately thereafter.
When asked if he had any concerns with drafting a defensive tackle second overall, Martin Mayhew has this to say.
“Not my concern at all, like I said before, you've got to believe what you see on film, and I saw great things out of this player on film and I feel great about it.” When asked about his forthcoming role with the Detroit Lions Ndamukong, without an ounce of hesitation, said "I'm a guy who can help that defensive unit out tremendously.”
If not Ndamukong Suh, then who?
Suh went to Detroit with a cut throat mentality. It was personal, he took it upon himself to “Restore the roar.” Detroit teammates talked of Suh described him as “a grown man,” alluding to his athletic ability and massive stature.
Warren Sapp said, “Ndamukong’s God-given intangibles cannot be taught, Ndamukong’s play is the direct product of a mentality.” It only took three NFL preseason games for the national media to understand just what Sapp was alluding to.
In a Week 3 preseason affair versus the Cleveland Browns at Ford Field, Suh collected his first NFL fine and established an identity that would carry the 2010 Detroit Lions defense through the regular season.
With just under nine minutes remaining in the second quarter it happened. Suh powered through a double-team that included Pro Bowl center Alex Mack and gave chase to a scrambling Jake Delhomme. At 6’4" and over 300 pounds, while in chase, a determined Suh grabbed the inside of a fleeing Delhomme’s facemask. Then with a ferocious precision, Suh wrapped both arms around Delhommes helmet and violently threw him to the turf.
Ndamukong Suh doesn’t stop at the quarterback; he runs through them. That hit set the standard, Ndamukong Suh had arrived, and the NFL definitely took notice.
After only one full NFL season, Ndamukong Suh is considered by most to be the most dominant figure on the defensive front, rivaled only by Haloti Ngata. NFL.com's Brian Baldinger says of Suh, “He’s one of a kind; he really has no weaknesses in his game. I’ve never seen anyone play the position quite like Suh.”
It isn’t the 10 sacks in his rookie season. It isn’t the interception or the violent forced fumble. It isn’t the touchdown or even the 66 tackles. Numbers aren’t representative of Ndamukong Suh’s talents. Ndamukong Suh demands a double team at all times. Blessed with a nonstop motor, he plays the run with a certain level of physical violence.
"I was fortunate to be able to grasp my role in our scheme and to flourish in it," Suh said. "I'm just going to keep working hard to improve because I'll never be satisfied."
With an official 4.98, 40-yard dash time Ndamukong is faster than Pro Bowl quarterback Tony Romo. It’s the power, speed and tenacity paired with his uncanny ability to recognize NFL plays with veteran precision that makes Suh dominant. When Suh impacts the ball carrier or quarterback, it’s with over 3,200 pounds of pressure. That’s a larger impact than that of future Hall of Famer, Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis.
You’re a rookie defensive tackle drafted to the Detroit Lions, who in 2008 became the only team in NFL history to go 0-16. You’re supposed to fall in line and accept your role on a team in the bottom of a top heavy NFC North division.
How do you solidify yourself as one of the most dominant defensive players of all time?
You take that team, you take that city. You inject hope through hard work and tenacity. You demonstrate a merciless physical demeanor and play with a certain level of arrogance. You take out NFL MVP candidate Michael Vick, Super Bowl Champion Aaron Rodgers, Jay Cutler, Jon Kitna, Eli Manning (1.5x), Donovan McNabb (2x) and eventual NFL MVP Tom Brady on Thanksgiving.
You forearm shiver Jay Cutler to the turf with such callous that, though legal, draws you a personal foul penalty. You do your part in transforming a Detroit Lions defense that was, prior to your arrival, a perennial NFL bottom feeder.
You carry yourself with such confidence that it resonates through an entire city. You say things like, "I don't see a reason why we can't be 16-0.” That’s how you become the most dominant figure in the NFL, and in my mind, ever.