Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and this time I will use it to reveal what would have happened if the Detroit Lions took Vontae Davis instead of Brandon Pettigrew in the 2009 NFL draft. This was a widely criticised pick on the day because both Vontae Davis, a cornerback, and Michael Oher, a left tackle, were left on the board by Martin Mayhew.
To be honest, it looked like he was channelling his inner Millen. Fortunately Pettigrew has matured into a good tight end, but with the level that Davis is playing in Miami, I cant help but look back and wonder what might have been.
In each slide, I will lay out the changes it would make to each subsequent draft and how that would allow the Lions to have a better team today.
I also reserve the right to make one draft pick change regardless of whether the pick would have been made at the time. Writer's privilege.
This slide is obvious. While the Lions would still take Matthew Stafford with the first overall pick, in this hypothetical world, they will also pick Vontae Davis with their second pick. This would have huge, positive repercussions on the Lions defense.
First of all, Davis is a very versatile defensive back. Although his best position is cornerback, he weighs 200 lbs and is very strong for a defensive back. He is also a good, aggressive tackler. These attributes would allow him to play as a free safety if he did not pan out as a cornerback for whatever reason.
However, the most likely scenario sees him become the number one cornerback in a weak Lions secondary. As his play in Miami has shown, he has the strength, length and technique to press any cornerback, and the speed and agility to cover them downfield.
His proficiency in press coverage would fit perfectly with the Lions dominant defensive line. If he successfully knocked the primary wide receiver off his route, then the chances of putting pressure on the quarterback increases exponentially.
Another value at cornerback would be his skill against the run. Because of the Lions great line, teams often run outside to take advantage of the poor linebacker corps and secondary. Davis' skill as a tackler would help improve the Lions ability to stop outside runs on his side and allow the linebackers to stack themselves towards the other.
While these advantages seem to be enough to warrant this different selection, the trickle effect of this pick would create further advantages.
Although Louis Delmas has been a great player for the Lions in his two seasons, it would have been unlikely for the Lions to make a second pick to help their secondary so early in the draft, especially with the boom-or-bust label that Delmas had earned. Also, two middle linebackers with mid first-round grades had fallen out of the first round, and the Lions would love to take one of them if. The selection of Davis with their second pick would have allowed that.
I think the more likely pick would have been James Laurinaitis. While Rey Maualuga was graded higher, injury concerns and the quality of his surrounding cast dropped his value. For starters, while Maualuga was a Californian, Laurinaitis came from Ohio. Laurinaitis was also a quality player in college, and his play on the field did not back up his lacklustre combine performance.
This pick would make the Lions defense far more formidable. Laurinaitis has revealed himself to be a savvy middle linebacker who is a great quarterback of the defense. He is at his best stuffing the run but has the smarts to be good in zone coverage despite his athletic limitations.
This round would probably not change at all. Although the Lions picked Laurinaitis with their third pick in my re-draft, they did have a serious need at linebacker coming into the draft. Even more pressing was the need for a good outside linebacker.
That was the role that DeAndre Levy was initially picked to fill, and therefore in the re-draft, I see no need to change that. Stopping the run has always been key to winning games, and the woeful Lions defensive line needed all the help it could get back then.
The other third-round pick of Derrick Williams would also not change. The Lions needed another wide receiver following the trade of Roy Williams, and DWill seemed to be a great value pick that late in the draft.
The Lions needed serious help on the defensive line in 2009, so the selection of Sammie Lee Hill was, and still is, a good one. He was selected to be a powerful big body who can be a force against the run and a decent power rusher.
While the later selections of Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh have made Hill a less important part of the Lions defense, he still plays a rotational role and could develop in time into a great 4-3 nose tackle.
The Lions made four selections from the fifth round on in the 2009 draft, and all of those picks stay the same with the selection of Davis.
The first was Aaron Brown in the sixth round. While he has never really done much for the Lions, at the time he was selected as a speedy change of pace back to complement the yet to be developed power running game.
The other three were all third-round selections and were all pretty good value selections. They were Lyndon Murtha, an offensive tackle, Zach Follett, an outside linebacker, and Dan Gronkowski, a tight end. While none of these players have really made much of an impact on the Lions as of yet and Gronkowski has been traded away, they were all solid picks at the time.
Ndamukong Suh. This pick is absolutely impossible to fault. He is one of the elite defensive tackles after just one season pro and looks to be lining up a Hall of Fame career so far.
The Lions second pick in the first round is a bit more questionable. While I do not fault the Lions for taking Best, who looks to be an explosive playmaker, I do believe that they should have not traded up for him. There are plenty of explosive third-down backs who can be taken in the middle rounds (Taiwan Jones to name one example), and the Lions would probably been better served taking a player from a higher value position like Roger Saffold or Patrick Robinson with their second first-round pick.
Despite my questions over the pick, it is unlikely that the Lions would have done it any differently had this alternate scenario taken place, so I will leave things as they are.
I'm sure by now you have realised that this pick is not going to be Amari Spievey. With the successful selection of Vontae Davis in 2009, the Lions would not be rushing to draft another cornerback so early in the draft, especially when there are still high value offensive linemen on the board. The two options are Jared Veldheer and Jon Asamoah. However, while Veldheer may develop into a better player, he was at the time yet another epic Al Davis reach for an athletic lineman from a Division II college.
In contrast, Asamoah was a standout interior mauler for Illinois who was graded as the second best interior defensive lineman by some draftniks. He is a powerful run blocker and athletic enough to be solid in pass protection. He could have started from day one and filled the right guard spot instead of the often injured Stephen Peterman.
As an added bonus, he could also move over and play centre when Dominic Raiola retires. This pick would have made 2010 a far easier season for Best and lessened fears over Detroit's offensive line in 2011.
The Lions made another well informed pick with their fourth of the day. Although they did pick Asamoah a round earlier, Fox fills the continuing need for an offensive tackle. While his injury forced him out of contention in his first season, he has the physical tools and smarts to be a capable NFL starter at left tackle.
Fox remains to be a good pick, and even in a re-draft, it is unlikely that this pick would change. It is definitely hard to fault Mayhew's work here.
In the seventh round, the Lions made a great pick when they drafted Willie Young out of NC State. Although he saw very limited playing time in 2010, he picked up two quarterback pressures and showed real game speed and burst off the snap. This selection fitted the needs of the Lions at the time, as they had only Cliff Avril at defensive end, and is good value.
However, I will use my one wild card pick on the Lions Mr. Irrelevant pick. The Lions drafted Tim Toone in the hope he would develop into a top slot receiver. This was not a bad pick, but in hindsight, I have no doubt that Detroit should have picked LeGarrette Blount. He was a dynamite runner in the second half of the season, accumulating 1,000 yards in just 10 games. He showed he could be productive behind a only OK offensive line and would have given the Lions the power running game that they need.
He would have been a first- or second-round pick without his harsh college suspension, and even with that and a disappointing NFL combine, he was still expected to go off the board in the first five rounds.
For a little bit of history, it would also be the first time a Mr. Irrelevant was nominated for any rookie awards.
Although it came as a shock to many fans, the selection of Nick Fairley is actually a very good one for the Lions, and it looks even better in this redo. The criticism of this pick is that the Lions did not fill a position of need. Cornerback Prince Amukamara and offensive tackle Anthony Castonzo were both still in play, and selecting one of them would have helped the team out more. However, in this scenario the Lions have a shut down corner back in Vontae Davis and a more solid defensive line with the selection of Jon Asamoah.
Fairley will light up the NFL in his rookie season because of the presence of Suh, and in my hypothetical Lions defense with Davis covering the opponent's best corner and Laurinaitis and Levy playing behind their already elite defensive line, Fairley would be the icing on the cake.
The Lions once again made some great picks, this time in the second round of the draft. With their first pick, they drafted Titus Young, who I believe to be the third best wide receiver in the draft. His speed, safe hands and sharp route running will set him up to contribute as a deep threat and as a slot receiver with the running skills to make yards after the catch.
With the second pick of the second round, the Lions traded up with the Seahawks in return for the pick to select Mikel Leshoure. However, because of the likely success of Blount in 2010, this selection would become irrelevant. I still believe that Lions would trade back into the second round after they saw Brandon Harris fall so far.
Harris may not have the ability to become a top number one cornerback, but with Davis occupying that spot, Harris would give the Lions one of the best young cornerback tandems in the league. He is not tall but has a good vertical leap, great game speed, fluidity and effort in run support. He is strong in man coverage and is more than a match for most number two wide receivers.
In the fourth round, the Lions could probably go for three different players. The first is Chris Hairston, a mauling offensive tackle. However, the players available in the late rounds are not much worse than him, and he could well end up as a depth lineman because of his weakness in pass protection.
Another option is to take a safety. Because the Lions did not take Louis Delmas in 2009, there is a hole at the back of the secondary that needs to be filled. While the sexy pick would be a player like Robert Sands or Quinton Carter, both hard hitting safeties who are average in coverage, I think that Mayhew and Schwartz would instead be drawn to the likes of Shiloh Keo or Ahmad Black.
This is because they are intelligent players who are solid tacklers and fluid in coverage. Both have great instincts, acceleration and intangibles which allow them to play much faster than their 40 times.
Of the two, I think the Lions would take Shiloh Keo. He was a leader on defense for the Vandals, performed very well at Shrine game and the Combine, including the best three-cone time of the meet. Detroit would pick him instead of Black, despite the differing levels of play. Black played and performed in the SEC, but he is very slow and small for the position.
This raises the question of whether he would be able to still perform in the NFL where everybody is much faster and bigger. Keo, being one-tenth of a second faster, more agile and 30 lbs heavier has a better chance to become a three down starter.
Keo would be competing for the strong safety position for the Lions. While he may only be a situational starter in 2011, by 2012 he should be well entrenched as the starter beside John Wendling or Erik Coleman.
The Lions major need that remains is depth at offensive tackle and guard. With that in mind, there is no reason for them to change their original pick of Johnny Culbreath in the seventh round. He is an athletic and powerful prospect who has the potential to become an elite right tackle.
He is fleet-footed, has long arms and has the strength to be a road grader in the run game. While it may take him two or three years to realise this potential, but it is definitely there.
In all, my foray into the whimsical is not meant to be a dig at the scouting team of the Lions. Rather, it is meant to illustrate how far the reverberations of one pick can be felt. For example, the Lions defense would have five different starters with my re-draft by the 2011 season, and the offense would have two.
I hope you enjoyed this article regardless of whether or not you agreed with my picks.
For easy reference, I will quickly run over all the draft picks that have changed.
2009 Round 1: Vontae Davis for Brandon Pettigrew
2009 Round 2: James Laurinaitis for Louis Delmas
2010 Round 3: Jon Asamoah for Amari Spievey
2010 Round 7: LeGarrette Blount for Tim Toone
2011 Round 2 (2): Brandon Harris for Mikel Leshoure
2011 Round 4: Shiloh Keo for Doug Houge (Round 5)