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I Would Love to Go to Detroit…

Brian CampanaContributor IMarch 13, 2009

By Brian Campana

*****

I’m being completely honest, and it has nothing to do with money, but…

The Detroit Lions should not even consider Matthew Stafford for their first overall draft pick.  Call me a pessimist, remind me that I dwell on past discrepancies, but we swung for the fences with Joey Harrington, and we struck out.  But the problem is not with Stafford.  It’s not you honey, it’s me…

Matthew Stafford is going to be a great quarterback in the pros, maybe even a Pro Bowl selection one day, but the focus of the Lions needs to be almost entirely devoted to the defense.  The Lions defense gave up way too many points last season, simple as that.  The Lions were far and away the worst defense in the league, giving up a ridiculous 517 points. For those of you not disgusted by this, I will elaborate.  The Lions gave up 32.3 points PER GAME on average.  How is that for pressure on the offense?

Imagine, for a second, that you are Matthew Stafford.  You were selected first overall in the 2009 NFL Draft by the Detroit Lions.  You look up at the scoreboard at the end of the first quarter and your jaw drops.  In the Lions first four games of 2008, they were finding themselves in trouble early.  They trailed the Falcons by a score of 21-0 early in the second quarter.  The Packers also put up a quick 21 points before the Lions really got going.  Even San Francisco and Chicago found themselves leading by scores of 21-3 and 17-0 in the first half.

But no pressure kid, you will be fine.  Oh, and your offensive line is terrible.  And you don’t have a polished NFL running back to keep defenses honest.  Stafford would simply drop to the ground and move into the fetal position just to avoid the four or five opposing players coming his way.  Detroit’s defense is terrible, and their offensive line is not much better.  But that is what the draft is all about, rebuilding.  And fortunately for the Lions, they have a lot of picks to work with.

The Lions have the pleasure of having the first overall pick.  However, this is bittersweet because how much “pleasure” can be found in being the worst team to ever lace up the spikes and take the football field?

*****

I’m being completely honest, and it has nothing to do with money, but…

I, along with other fellow Lions fans, do honestly believe that the offense (minus the quarterback spot) was not all that bad last season.  While there were a few guffaws made (sorry Dan, but you can’t run out of the end zone like that) the Lions did actually have a decent offense.

A few future faces of the franchise were in the spotlight last season, namely Calvin Johnson, one of the league’s premier receivers.  Calvin racked up 1331 yards and 12 touchdowns on only 78 receptions.  Only Larry Fitzgerald was more dominant.

Ernie Sims, the Lions’ first round draft pick in 2006, had another impressive season, notching 113 tackles.  Sims has averaged 124 tackles a season in his three years with the Lions.  Sims appears to be a foundation on this defense.  This is promising, one spot down, ten more to go.

Gosder Cherilus went through a rough first half of the season, but the fact that fellow rookie Kevin Smith found room to run on the right side leads me to believe that Cherilus may be legit.  Now I am not saying that Sims, Smith or Cherilus are or ever will necessarily be Pro Bowlers, but they can have solid careers in Detroit.

*****

I’m being completely honest, and it has nothing to do with money, but…

The Lions WILL draft with money on the mind with the first overall pick of the 2009 NFL Draft.  I know that commissioner Roger Goodell will walk out and say, “With the first pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, the Detroit Lions select Matthew Stafford, quarterback, from the University of Georgia.”  What they SHOULD do is go after an anchor for their offensive line or defense.

But in reality they won’t, they need to sell tickets and offensive linemen just don’t do that.  But just go with it for a second, Baylor’s Jason Smith goes first.  Or even Eugene Monroe out of Virginia.

It may pain sports fans to see lineman go first overall, but the fact is that a solid offensive lineman can change your whole team.  A lineman that is devoted to a franchise, that can be the foundation on which to build around, can lead to great things.

Look at the St. Louis Rams for example.  Orlando Pace has been one of the best in the business since he was drafted by the Rams in 1997.  Pace has been nothing short of stellar for his entire career, something the Lions should be actively searching to find in their first pick.

Though the offensive line does need help, adding another stud on defense would be a smart pick as well.  Aaron Curry, linebacker out of Wake Forest, has really impressed me and fellow Lion faithful (I feel weird using the word faithful) at the NFL combine.

His combination of speed, athleticism and strength really impressed the Lions front office.  Curry managed to be the top linebacker at more than half of the combine events.  He ran a 4.56 in the 40 yard dash.  His vertical was measured at just over three feet.  Curry was also impressive in the 60 yard shuttle (11.35 seconds) and the broad jump (10 feet, 4 inches) to make him the premier linebacker in the draft.  The Lions could go after Curry to flank Ernie Sims, cementing a linebacker corps that is sure to be around for years.

*****

I’m being completely honest, and it has nothing to do with money, but…

Sure, the Lions may go after the “sexy and trendy” pick with Matthew Stafford, it does make for a great story.  It also puts fans in the seats.  But it does bring a bit of curiosity to my gut.  As a journalist, the relation between Matthew Stafford and Bobby Layne makes my mouth water.  As a Lions fan, however, it does make me wonder if maybe fate is bringing Stafford to us, or Layne laughing his ass off from the grave.

As many Lions fans know, Bobby Layne led the Lions to three NFL Championships.  In the last of the three, Layne got injured and the Lions wanted to jump ship.  As far as the Lions were concerned, Layne was history; his career would soon be over.  So they got rid of him.  As Layne was leaving for his new team, the Pittsburgh Steelers, Layne vowed that Detroit “would not win for 50 years” and that “I’d like to win a championship for the Steelers and for myself to shove down Detroit’s throat.”  This became known as the Curse of Bobby Layne.

That was 50 years ago.  That’s right, in the final year of the “you won’t win for 50 years” curse, the Lions managed to do just that, not win.  What many people may not know, though avid sports fans have heard the ironic relation, is that Stafford and Layne share a common bond.  Bobby Layne is a member of the Highland Park High School Class of 1944, while Stafford graduated in 2006.  Intriguing, right?  What if, and it is a big if, the Lions can somehow turn it around (Tampa Bay Devil Rays anyone?) and make a run at the NFC North title.  It is far-fetched to believe they will win a game in the playoffs, but the NFC North isn’t the toughest conference in football.  Like the kid in Angels in the Outfield said, “it could happen.”

Plus it is our year, we are due.

*****

I’m being completely honest, and it has nothing to do with money, but…

As much as the Lions do need a franchise quarterback, is Stafford really the guy?

The last few weeks have seen the Lions addressing their number one concern from last season, the defense.  The Lions traded journeyman gunslinger Jon Kitna to the Cowboys for cover corner Anthony Henry.  They then followed that up with the signing of Eric King, a reserve player of Jim Schwartz’s from Tennessee.  They then signed veteran cornerback Philip Buchanon to a two-year deal.  So what slim chances there were of maybe trading down to take Malcolm Jenkins are out the window.

The Lions then signed running back Maurice Morris to a three year deal.  They also added wide receiver Bryant Johnson to a three year contract.  Therefore any chances of the Lions maybe dropping to take Michael Crabtree are gone.

That leaves four legitimate contenders for the Lions at number one:  Matthew Stafford, Eugene Monroe, Jason Smith and Aaron Curry.  But there could be a dark horse.

*****

I’m being completely honest, and it has nothing to do with money, but…

The Lions need to avoid making the “Millen” pick, which would mean they go after the trendy pick.  Sure, Matthew Stafford could be great.  But the Lions need to go after defense in this draft.  And with first year head coach Jim Schwartz, I think they are going to do just that.

The Lions picked up Grady Jackson, a Band Aid for the defense for the time being.  Rookie Cliff Avril showed some promise last season.  But in the whole scheme of things the defensive line needs some work.

The key needs the Lions need to fill this season, in no particular order of importance, are offensive tackle, linebacker, defensive end, quarterback, secondary and an entirely new front office.

The candidates for offensive tackle are clearly Jason Smith (Baylor) and Eugene Monroe (Virginia).  The Lions have Cherilus on the right side, so a left tackle would be ideal.  Smith and Monroe both can provide years of solid play on the offensive line, allowing the Lions to focus more on their offensive weapons and their defense.

The linebacker candidate is Aaron Curry.  The kid is explosive, and shows the type of pash rushing presence the Lions so desperately need.

Defensive ends Brian Orakpo (Texas) and Everette Brown (Florida State) both could potentially see themselves in Detroit next season, though it is not as likely as the big four of Monroe, Stafford, Curry and Smith.

The quarterbacks in the draft are Stafford and USC’s Mark Sanchez, though Sanchez isn’t a good fit for Detroit.

The secondary has apparently been addressed through free agency, with the acquisitions of Buchanon, Henry and King.

*****

I’m being completely honest, and it has nothing to do with money, but…

Look at what the Miami Dolphins did last year in the offseason, and then look at the offseason the Lions have currently been having.  The focus of Miami last season was to address every single problem position, not just by making blockbuster trades and draft picks, but rather under the radar free agent signings.

The Lions have quietly bolstered their secondary, clearly deciding to address the issue on the waiver wire as opposed to wasting picks in the draft.

The Lions then got a solid running back option in Maurice Morris.  Kevin Smith is our running back of the future, but Morris can provide short yardage conversions when needed.  The tandem of Kevin Smith and Maurice Morris should make for a pretty balanced offense when coupled with the passing game.

The Lions released Orlovsky, traded Kitna and signed wideout Bryant Johnson.  That leaves Daunte Culpepper as the leader of the Lions passing attack (for now) and showcases Calvin Johnson as the big play-maker on offense.

The Lions also added signed offensive tackle Daniel Loper and linebacker Cody Spencer.

So far, the Lions are following the model of minor upgrades across the board before draft day.

*****

I’m being completely honest, and it has nothing to do with money, but…

Not counting the compensatory picks at the end of the late rounds (3-7), the Lions have eight picks at their disposal.  Obviously they have the number one overall pick.  They also have the 20th pick of round one, acquired from Dallas in the Roy Williams trade.  The Lions open up selections in the second, third, fifth and sixth rounds, while also having the 18th pick of the third round and the 19th pick of the sixth round.  Moral of the story, the Lions have five of the first 82 picks.

If I were the GM of the Lions, my draft would look a little like this for the first thee rounds.

Round 1, Pick 1, Detroit selects Aaron Curry (LB – Wake Forest).  This kid has too much potential for the Lions to pass up on.  He has shown his explosiveness and strength at the combine, and I feel that the pure talent of the Wake Forest linebacker is too much to pass up on.  I know the golden rule of the NFL draft, the old cliché, is that “if you don’t have a franchise QB, get one.”

Round 1, Pick 20, Detroit selects Josh Freeman (QB – Kansas State).  6’6”, 250 pounds and a laser rocket arm.  Freeman has the body of an NFL quarterback, and one that can take the hits as the offensive line gets settled in.  Freeman played a pro-style offense under Ron Prince at Kansas State and has all the weapons needed.  His calm demeanor makes him a great fit in Detroit, in a system that is on the rise offensively.

Round 2, Pick 1, Detroit selects Michael Johnson (DE – Georgia Tech).  With the Lions running a 4-3 defense, as coach Jim Schwartz plans to do, you need a stronger player inside and a pass-rusher outside.  Grady Jackson is a temporary fix for now on the interior of the defensive line.  Johnson is a strong player that can provide pressure from the outside, while allowing Jackson, Curry and Sims to handle the interior gaps.

Round 3, Pick 1, Detroit selects Fili Moala (DE/DT – USC).  And then the Lions had a defensive line.  Free agency has seen the Lions fill the voids in the secondary.  With the young combination of Curry and Sims, the linebacking corps is set (Dizon could be a future stud as well), and the defensive line needs one more solid young star.  Moala provides that, and provides it well.  It is highly likely that Moala will be picked late in the second round, but if it’s me and he is available, consider it done.

Round 3, Pick 18, Detroit selects Jason Watkins (OT – Florida).  Watkins is a very well built lineman, with his speed off the line being a huge asset.  He has strong arms and is extremely coordinated.  I take Watkins here to give the offensive line a boost, and if it doesn’t work out, I focus on the offensive line for my first pick of the draft, wherever that may be.

*****

I’m being completely honest, and it has nothing to do with money, but…

Three rounds and five picks later, the Lions could be looking at a stud linebacker, a consistent gunslinger, a pair of defensive linemen and an offensive tackle.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Lions take a WR or a safety in the later rounds, but I like the idea of going after Curry then focusing on the lines.

Freeman would be the exception simply because I just cannot put a vote of confidence in Daunte Culpepper to lead the Lions next season.

All in all, as a Lions fan, I am not going to be happy with the draft.  I cannot remember the last time that I was, frankly.

NFL Draft day will come on April 25th. I will throw on my jersey with the hope that with Millen gone that this year will be different.  But when Millen got fired, they just promoted from within, so what really changed?  I will walk away with my head down thinking where we could go any more wrong from last year.  The Lions will come out in 2009 and probably still be the worst team in the NFC North.  But we are still rebuilding.  To the Lions front office I ask you to, please, make the smart picks that produce wins, not season ticket sales.

I’m being completely honest, and it has nothing to do with money, but I would love to go to Detroit.  Well that is a good thing Mister Stafford, because it’s looking like you are coming to Motown.

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